Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 2 | Act 4, Scene 7 | Summary

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Summary

Jack Cade and company continue their march through London, pillaging and burning as they go. Intoxicated by his victories, Cade declares a state of martial law and the abolition of private property. A messenger announces that Lord Saye has been captured; a moment later Saye is brought onstage under guard. Cade unleashes a tirade against Saye, charging him with a long list of crimes great and small. Saye maintains his innocence and notes that, although he is a nobleman, he has never abused his power: instead he has worked for the public good as a diplomat and a patron of the arts.

Cade is momentarily moved by Saye's pleas, but then he remembers that educated men—above all, educated noblemen—are his sworn enemies. He orders his henchmen to take Saye away and behead him, then fix his head upon a pole alongside that of Saye's son-in-law Sir James Cromer. The deed is done offstage, and one of Cade's rebels returns with the two severed heads. Cade announces his plan to "ride through the streets," carrying the heads like maces and stopping periodically to bring them together in a "kiss."

Analysis

In this scene Cade's transformation into a despot is nearly complete. He has largely stopped pretending to care about the public good; instead he urges his followers to pull down palaces, legal offices, and other symbols of state authority. In his more generous moments, Cade capriciously dishes out favors to those who flatter him, though these lackeys are only goading him on to greater feats of tyranny.

Although his followers continue to joke behind his back, their jests are more morbid than before; they seem to realize, on some level, that they have created a monster. Holland comes closest to the mark with his observation that, if Cade's word becomes law, "we are like to have biting statutes—unless his teeth be pulled out." Nobody, however, dares even to suggest how this bit of dentistry might be accomplished. As a result Cade continues his rampage unchecked—even proposing to revive the barbaric custom of ius primae noctis, in which maidens must yield their virginity to their feudal lord before marriage. The gruesome "kissing" gesture at the end of the scene is just the icing on the cake.

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