Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

At Bury St. Edmunds, the parliament is still underway. Two murderers rush onstage and, meeting with Suffolk, inform him that they have done as requested. He promises them a reward and dismisses them. King Henry enters, along with Queen Margaret, Somerset, and the Cardinal. He asks Suffolk to summon Gloucester to his trial. Moments later Suffolk returns and (feigning shock) announces that Gloucester is dead. Henry falls into a swoon but quickly revives. Once he is recovered Queen Margaret upbraids him for being more moved by his uncle's death than by his own wife's suffering.

Warwick and Salisbury enter to report that the Commons have learned of Gloucester's demise and suspect murder. Hoping to control the crowd, King Henry orders an inquest into Gloucester's death; Warwick brings the body, but Henry refuses to look upon it. Warwick announces that the corpse bears all the telltale signs of murder, but Suffolk claims this is ridiculous: who, after all, would do such a thing? Calling Suffolk's bluff, Warwick accuses him of the crime, leading to a loud and haughty quarrel between the two noblemen.

Salisbury, who has gone to calm down the Commons, now returns and presents their demands. He says they will revolt unless Suffolk, whom they regard as Gloucester's murderer, is executed or banished. Suffolk accuses Salisbury of stirring up the rabble, but Henry agrees to banish Suffolk over the objections of Queen Margaret, who has been Suffolk's secret lover for some time now. All exit except for the queen and Suffolk, who bid each other a long farewell. As they are taking their leave of one another, Vaux (who appears only in this scene) hurries in to announce that the Cardinal is near death.

Analysis

With the murder of Gloucester, Suffolk and the Cardinal have finally gotten rid of their greatest mutual enemy at the English court. In killing the duke the two conspirators had hoped to clear a path to their own greater influence over the throne. Neither man, however, will live long enough to realize that dream: the Cardinal's illness will carry him off in the next scene, and the banished Suffolk will die at the hands of the pirates before he can even leave the country. Since neither of Gloucester's children appear in the Henry VI plays, and the Cardinal is a celibate cleric with no heirs, the Gloucester/Cardinal story arc from Part 1 effectively ends here.

Like its predecessor this scene piles on the evidence of King Henry's inability to rule. He reluctantly orders the inquest into Gloucester's suspected murder but cannot even bear to look at the body himself, leaving Warwick to spearhead the investigation. Even the Commons seem to doubt that the king can take care of himself, though Salisbury may be egging them on in this belief. Certainly Warwick and Salisbury have their own reasons for wanting to ensure Suffolk's banishment since Suffolk is a close ally of Queen Margaret (the two earls may or may not know that he is also the queen's lover). Margaret, as is increasingly evident, is the real power behind the English throne, especially with Gloucester now dead. Thus by removing Suffolk from the playing field, Salisbury and Warwick have cleared a major obstacle from the path of the Duke of York, their patron.

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