Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 2 | Character Analysis


King Henry VI

King Henry has a deep religious faith and a strong sense of justice, but he is either unable or unwilling to handle complex affairs of state. His efforts to rule, though sincere, are further hampered by his youth compared to the leading statesmen of his realm: in Part 1 Henry is portrayed as a child or an adolescent, and he doesn't seem to have grown up much by the time of Part 2. As a result, Queen Margaret and the English noblemen step in and manage the kingdom on Henry's behalf, leading to the outbreak of civil war in Act 5.

Queen Margaret

Unlike her husband, Queen Margaret is ambitious and politically savvy. She seizes control of the House of Lancaster (and with it, the throne) as her husband grows increasingly unable to govern. The queen's reaction to the banishment of her lover Suffolk shows her in a rare sentimental moment.

Duke of Gloucester

Known as "Good Duke Humphrey," Gloucester is popular with the common people and is the most principled and selfless of King Henry's supporters. His position as Lord Protector exposes him to the envy and malice of the other noblemen. In Act 3 Gloucester is summoned to take part in a parliament at Bury St. Edmunds. There he is arrested for treason despite the king's protests. Before a trial can be convened, Gloucester is murdered at the instigation of Suffolk and the cardinal.

Duchess of Gloucester

The Duchess of Gloucester is unsatisfied with being the second most powerful woman in the realm. She wants the crown for herself, though she sees no clear way to accomplish this task. Hoping to further her ambitions, the duchess enlists a group of conjurers to summon a spirit who will answer her questions about the future. Her plans come crashing down, however, when she is arrested for witchcraft and banished to the Isle of Man.

Duke of York

From the first scene onward, the Duke of York puts the audience on notice that he will be seizing the crown as soon as it is practical to do so. He convinces Salisbury and Warwick to join his cause, but he does not openly oppose King Henry until Act 5. York's victory at the end of Act 5 puts King Henry on the defensive and sets up the major conflicts of Part 3.

Jack Cade

Jack Cade is a Kentish ex-soldier hired by the Duke of York to stir up the commoners against King Henry. His success in this pursuit is remarkable but short-lived. Cade pillages his way through much of London, but he is deserted by his followers after King Henry offers them pardon. Soon afterward Cade meets a miserable end: half-starved and on the run from the law, he wanders into the garden of Alexander Iden and is killed in a sword fight.

Duke of Suffolk

At the beginning of Henry VI, Part 2 Suffolk's career seems to be on the up and up. He starts the play as a marquess (already a step up from his earldom in Part 1) and is soon promoted to Duke of Suffolk. He is the secret lover of Queen Margaret and seeks to help her eliminate Gloucester, who is hampering her control of England. After he is implicated in the murder of Gloucester, Suffolk is banished from England. Before his ship can reach France, he is captured by pirates. His haughty speeches to his captors ruin his chance of escaping and hasten his demise.

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