Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 2 | Act 4, Scene 10 | Summary

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Summary

Jack Cade has fled back to his home county of Kent, but things are not going so well for the former rebel leader. The bounty on his head means that he must live in hiding, which has left him nearly starved. He now enters the garden of Alexander Iden, a Kentish gentleman who is out for a walk and does not even notice his visitor at first. Cade draws his sword on Iden, who responds with an indignant speech before drawing his own. The two fight, and Cade is mortally wounded, though he has time for one last lofty speech.

When Iden learns that it is Cade he has slain, he rejoices for the honor he has won by defeating such a "monstrous traitor." Cade, not quite dead, taunts Iden by insisting he has been "vanquished by famine, not by valor." Iden, who resents having his triumph spoiled by a dying man, replies that he will drag Cade to a dunghill and cut off his head, "leaving [his] trunk for crows to feed upon."

Analysis

This tragicomic scene helps to add some depth to Cade's character. Throughout Act 4 Cade has come across as something of a blowhard, a trash-talking ruffian who ruled his troops by sheer force of personality. Now at the end of his life Cade shows a different, more sympathetic facet of himself. He presents himself as a man of honor, not because he is of noble birth (he isn't) or because he has assumed the lordship of England (those days are over), but because he will not back down from a fight, even in the face of his probable demise. Weakened with hunger, he nonetheless draws his sword on Iden rather than meekly turning himself in. In fact much to Iden's annoyance, Cade's brave speeches continue several lines after he has received the fatal blow, undercutting the Kentish gentleman's victory.

Iden, meanwhile, is in some ways the perfect counterpoint to the overambitious Cade. Rather than a workingman who wants to be king, Iden is a country gentleman who just wants to be left alone to tend his garden. At first he seems like the kind of person against whom even Cade could have no grudge: he is content with his lot in life and does his best to look after his poorer neighbors. Underneath this surface of calm, however, Iden is as easily provoked as any of Cade's rebels: indeed he seems personally offended by Cade's "saucy" act of trespass.

Although he is a minor character, Iden might be said to embody one of the key ideas from Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince (1513), a manual of political philosophy read with great interest by Shakespeare's educated contemporaries. In an oft-quoted passage from this famous book, Machiavelli warns prospective rulers of the actions that will most provoke their subjects: "When neither their property nor their honor is touched," he says, "the majority of men live content." Certainly this is true of Iden, who is happy to steer clear of the rebellion altogether until Cade threatens his property (by trespassing) and his honor (by drawing his sword).

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