Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

At his house in London, York has just finished dining with the earls of Salisbury and Warwick. He requests their opinion of his claim to the English crown, and Salisbury asks to hear the claim repeated in full. York happily obliges.

It all goes back, he says, to King Edward III, who had seven sons. King Richard II, who died childless, was the only heir of Edward's first son, Edward the Black Prince. At that point descendants of Edward's second son should have taken over, but the second son had no children. The third son, however, did have heirs—including, eventually, York. According to the ordinary rules of succession, "the issue of the elder son/ Succeed before the younger," so York's claim to kingship is stronger than that of the current dynasty, who claim descent from Edward III's fourth son.

Both Warwick and Salisbury readily assent to York's claim. They kneel on the spot to pledge their loyalty to "our sovereign Richard, England's king!" York points out, however, that he is not really king until crowned. He advises his new followers to proceed with caution and wait for the infighting among the other nobles to reach a critical level. Once the others have killed off Gloucester, he says, it will be time to strike.

Analysis

York has evidently been thinking a great deal about his claim to the throne and its legitimacy. He learned of his royal lineage—apparently for the first time—in Part 1, where his uncle Edmund Mortimer led him through a shorter version of the claim York now rehearses. Ultimately, as York understands full well, such claims are only as powerful as the army that backs them; hence his recruitment of Warwick and Salisbury long before he intends to make his bid for the throne. By himself, the "bookish" Henry (as York calls him in the play's opening scene) might not pose much of a threat, but the weak king has some strong supporters. York knows this, which is why he intends to wait for Gloucester and the other noblemen to be "fall'n at jars" (i.e., embroiled in quarrels) before he makes his move.

Warwick and Salisbury are not fools either. Although their pledge of fealty to York seems sudden, they too have been reflecting on England's political future, as their speeches at the end of Act 1, Scene 1 show. Their primary concern, it seems, is to be on the winning side when the inevitable civil war breaks out. Publicly they do not admit this: instead Salisbury and Warwick profess to be working for the good of the commonwealth. Likewise, in this scene they claim to be extremely interested in preserving the correct order of succession—to the point that Salisbury insists on hearing York's entire pedigree from the time of Edward III onward.

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