Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 2 | Act 4, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

Lord Scales, another of the king's supporters, is standing atop the Tower of London and directing the defense of the city. One of the citizens below tells Scales that London Bridge has been taken and that the Lord Mayor is in urgent need of aid. Scales tells the citizen to regroup at Smithfield, where he will send whatever help he can spare.

Analysis

At a mere 13 lines, this scene is among the shortest not only in Henry VI, Part 2 but in any of Shakespeare's English histories. It serves mainly as a "pivot" between the stateroom action of Act 4, Scene 4 and the frantic street violence of the next several scenes. However, Scales's questions also allow Shakespeare to sneak in a brief update on the progress of the rebellion. For the play's original audiences, the place names used throughout this act would have been self-explanatory, painting a vivid picture of the rebels' encroachment on the city center.

For most 21st-century readers, however, a quick play by play will be helpful. Cade's battle against the Staffords (Act 4, Scene 2) takes place in Blackheath, eight or so miles southeast of the Palace. Marching northwest, the rebels make it as far as Southwark by Act 4, Scene 4. This is where, in Shakespeare's time, the Globe Theatre stood; more importantly, it is a mere two miles from the Palace of Westminster, where King Henry is awaiting news of the revolt. Proceeding north from Southwark, the rebels take London Bridge and then (in the current scene) besiege the Tower of London, which is on the other side of the Thames. Scales's proposed rallying point, Smithfield, lies west of the Tower, putting it between the rebels' current location and the Palace. King Henry, meanwhile, is fleeing for Killingworth Castle (modern spelling Kenilworth), some 90 miles northwest of London and well out of the rebels' path.

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