Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 2 | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

The scene returns to the palace in London. A group of petitioners are waiting for Gloucester so they can present their requests. Suffolk enters, accompanied by Queen Margaret, and some of the petitioners mistake him for Gloucester. The first petitioner asks for Suffolk's help in a domestic dispute; the next petitioner has a complaint against Suffolk himself. The third petitioner, named Peter Thump, claims that his employer, Thomas Horner, called the Duke of York "rightful heir to the crown." This gets Suffolk's attention: he immediately sends a guard out to retrieve Horner.

Queen Margaret angrily tears up the petition against Suffolk and drives away the rest of the petitioners. She then complains to Suffolk about how much power Gloucester has in England. She scorns King Henry's preoccupation with holiness, saying this qualifies him to be pope but not king. Lastly she vents her resentment of the Duchess of Gloucester, whom she sees as a rival. Suffolk promises a solution for each of these three problems—duke, duchess, and king.

King Henry arrives, accompanied by a huge train of nobles: the duke and duchess of Gloucester; the dukes of Somerset, Buckingham, and York; the earls of Salisbury and Warwick; and Cardinal Beaufort. He is attempting to decide who should be the next Regent of France: Should York take up the title again, or should Somerset assume the regency? Salisbury and Warwick favor York; Buckingham favors his cousin Somerset. Margaret begins to voice her opinion, and Gloucester replies that "these are no women's matters."

Irked by this remark, Queen Margaret asks why Gloucester has not yet resigned his protectorship. This leads to a kind of feeding frenzy among the other nobles: Suffolk, Somerset, Buckingham, and the Cardinal all give reasons Gloucester should resign. Gloucester simply leaves the stage in a huff. Then, to escalate matters, Queen Margaret drops her fan and demands that the Duchess of Gloucester pick it up. When the duchess does not do so, the queen slaps her, pretending to mistake the duchess for a servant. King Henry clumsily tries to break up the quarrel, and the duchess runs off after uttering a few sharp words about the queen. Buckingham follows her.

Gloucester, having taken a walk to calm down, now declares that York should be regent. Suffolk, by way of reply, brings Peter and Horner back onstage. He repeats the accusation against Horner, who denies having ever said a treasonous word against King Henry. Gloucester declares that the two commoners must face each other in single combat. In the meantime, because the Horner affair casts suspicion on York, Somerset will end up taking the regency.

Analysis

The political drama from Act 1, Scene 1 now begins to heat up. The major development here is the rift between the Gloucesters and the rest of the English royalty and nobility. Gloucester, as the opening of this scene reveals, is beloved by the common people, who see him as a trusted point of contact with the royal court. In Suffolk's view this makes him dangerous: any plans to dispose of Gloucester will have to be undertaken carefully. Queen Margaret has her own reasons for resenting Gloucester, at least as long as he remains Lord Protector. She sees the duke as unfairly limiting the power of her husband King Henry, thus putting the brakes on her own influence within the realm.

Gloucester is not particularly fond of Queen Margaret either; there is more to his curt treatment of her than mere sexism. While he may or may not have reason to dislike Queen Margaret personally, he is still fuming about the marriage that made her queen of England in the first place. To Gloucester, Margaret represents nothing less than the decline of England's international power: without her father's territories in France, as he rightly predicts in Act 1, Scene 1, England will soon lose the rest of the country as well. Perhaps because he sees her as such a poor match for his king and nephew Henry, Gloucester gravely underestimates Margaret's power at court.

Henry's inexperience as a political leader is no surprise to those who have read Part 1. Those reading Henry VI, Part 2 on its own will quickly learn that Henry is young, naive, and overwhelmed by the responsibilities of ruling England. In Part 1 he was quite literally a child, but he had Gloucester around as Lord Protector to look after his interests. In Part 2 a somewhat older Henry retreats into religion and increasingly leaves political decisions in the hands of his queen and noblemen. With Gloucester's position already threatened in this scene, King Henry may not be able to rely on his Lord Protector for much longer.

The overthrow of King Henry will not be complete until Part 3; even in this scene, however, Henry's political missteps show that he is out of touch with his courtiers. For one thing he openly admits to not caring who serves as Regent of France, thereby virtually guaranteeing that his decision will please neither York nor Somerset. Moreover, by having York essentially "re-audition" for the post he held in Part 1, Henry incurs the further resentment of a man who has already pledged to reclaim England for himself. In choosing a regent Henry was bound to disappoint one of the two rivals, but he goes about the process clumsily, maximizing the ill will he generates among his noblemen.

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