Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

The battle between Yorkists and Lancastrians has begun. In the town of Saint Albans, York kills Clifford in single combat, then runs off to join another fight. Young Clifford enters and, seeing his dead father, swears vengeance on the House of York. He carries the elder Clifford's body away. Richard and Somerset are the next to fight; Richard wins, and Somerset dies under the sign of the Castle Inn. After Richard has left the stage, King Henry and Queen Margaret rush by in the midst of a retreat from the battle. They are joined by Young Clifford, who urges them to flee so that they may fight another day.

Analysis

With its quick succession of entrances and exits, this scene captures the frantic nature of the battle without demanding a huge cast. Young Clifford, who will succeed his father and be known simply as Clifford in Part 3, will be a character to watch from this point on in the trilogy: his bloody vows of revenge will be fulfilled in large measure before he is killed at the Battle of Towton. The part about killing children is perhaps the most disturbing part of the speech:

Meet I an infant of the house of York,
Into as many gobbets will I cut it
As wild Medea young Absyrtis did.

Clifford does indeed kill a child, though not an infant, in Act 1, Scene 3 of Part 3. He meets York's 12-year-old son fleeing from the battlefield and, despite the boy's pleas, mercilessly cuts him down. Then with his allies Clifford moves on to torture and kill York himself in the very next scene. A lot of Shakespearean characters utter vows and curses on the battlefield, but (Young) Clifford means business.

For those keeping score, Somerset's death is the second of the spirit's three prophecies to come true. (The third will have to wait until Part 3.) In Act 1, Scene 4 the spirit summoned by the conjurers had suggested that Somerset "shun castles." Since the prophecy was uttered, Somerset has not made any special effort to avoid castles—he was hanging out at Kenilworth just a few scenes ago—but so far he has not suffered for it. In the end, however, the spirit's advice proves to have been grimly appropriate: as Richard here points out, Somerset dies in front of the Castle Inn. Really Somerset's death is a "twofer" in terms of prophecies, since it was also predicted by Gloucester's weird dream in Act 1, Scene 2.

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