Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 2 | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

The scene shifts to another part of Blackheath. A battle ensues between the Staffords' army and Jack Cade's followers, with the latter winning the day. Cade seeks out Dick the butcher and praises his ferocity during the battle, saying the king's soldiers fell before him "like sheep and oxen." He promises Dick a reward for his services, then dons Sir Humphrey Stafford's armor and helmet, which he has claimed as spoils of war. Suitably attired, Cade orders his rebels to march onward to London.

Analysis

In this ultra-short scene, Cade continues to show his contempt for the nobility and to shower favors on his followers. The reward Cade offers to Dick is perfectly suited to his status as a butcher; moreover it highlights the restrictive nature of English law, helping to explain why Dick would be in such a rush to "kill all the lawyers" in Act 4, Scene 2.

At first glance, doubling the length of Lent—making it "as long again as it is"—might not seem like much of a reward for anyone, least of all a butcher. Under medieval and early modern English law, butchers were generally forbidden to slaughter animals for meat during the 40 days of Lent, since Christians were supposed to abstain from eating meat during that time. Cade, however, promises to give Dick "a license to kill for a hundred lacking one," meaning Dick will be legally authorized to slaughter animals for 99 customers during this extra-long Lent. In other words Cade is granting Dick a virtual monopoly on the butcher business for 80 days out of the year.

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