Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 2 | Act 4, Scene 9 | Summary

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Summary

Meanwhile at Killingworth (i.e., Kenilworth) Castle, King Henry is reflecting on the evils of kingship. "Was never subject longed to be a king," he complains, "as I do long and wish to be a subject!" Clifford and Buckingham enter, bringing welcome news: Jack Cade has fled. Along with the two noblemen come "multitudes" of former rebels with halters (i.e., nooses) around their necks, ready to receive the king's "doom of life or death." King Henry, as is his nature, pardons them on the spot.

Now a messenger arrives bringing word that York has landed with an army and is marching for Killingworth. York claims he intends only to "remove" Somerset, not to overthrow the king. Even so King Henry is distressed by the news; he asks Buckingham to go and sound out York's intentions. In the meantime the king orders Somerset to the Tower of London, where he is to remain (presumably for safekeeping) until York's army is disbanded.

Analysis

Henry, for all his idealism, seems to understand that York's arrival spells trouble. He likens his state (meaning both his personal condition and the "state" of England) to "a ship that, having scaped a tempest,/Is straightway calmed and boarded with a pirate." Calling York a "pirate" is an unusually bold rhetorical move for Henry, who is more likely to envision his noblemen as submissive lambs and doves than as seafaring marauders. Later in the same speech, he describes York as "second[ing]" Cade; that is, acting as reinforcements or backup for the rebel leader. Taken together these striking images suggest that Henry is uncomfortably aware of the threat against his sovereignty. With civil war about to break out in earnest, Henry's varnish of optimism is finally beginning to crack.

Buckingham has appeared intermittently throughout Part 2 without ever truly coming into focus as a major character. In this scene and Act 5, Scene 1 he unsuccessfully attempts to mediate between York and King Henry. He does not, however, appear in the battle scenes that close the play, nor does he make an appearance throughout the entirety of Part 3. Nonetheless, after this long hiatus Buckingham resurfaces in a major way: he serves as the king's confidant throughout Richard III, the fourth and final play in the First Tetralogy.

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