Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 2 | Quotes

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1.

And force perforce I'll make him yield the crown/Whose bookish rule hath pulled fair England down.


Duke of York, Act 1, Scene 1

This couplet, like the longer speech it concludes, captures a transformation in York's character since the events of Part 1. York is open, at least with himself and the audience, about his willingness to use violence in order to seize the English crown.

The second half of the couplet expresses a sentiment widely shared by King Henry's enemies: the king is too "bookish"—too meek, prayerful, or pious—to make an effective leader. York is taking things to extremes in saying Henry's rule has "pulled fair England down." Still the fact remains that Henry, for all his virtues, is a politically and militarily weak leader. Henry's followers, and not the king himself, will offer the fiercest opposition to York.

2.

My troublous dreams this night doth make me sad.


Duke of Gloucester, Act 1, Scene 2

At home with his wife the duchess, Gloucester recounts a gloomy, symbolic dream in which his staff of office (as Lord Protector) was split in two and the heads of Suffolk and Somerset were placed on the broken pieces. One part of the dream comes true almost immediately: surrounded by enemies at court, Gloucester is forced to give up the protectorship before the end of Act 2.

The remaining part of the dream is prophetic as well, but on a longer timescale. Suffolk survives Gloucester but is murdered by pirates at the beginning of Act 4; Somerset dies in the Battle of Saint Albans, near the end of Act 5.

3.

What, shall King Henry be a pupil still/Under the surly Gloucester's governance?


Queen Margaret, Act 1, Scene 3

There may be an element of personal vendetta here, but Queen Margaret's main reason for opposing "surly Gloucester" is a practical one. As Lord Protector the Duke of Gloucester functions as a kind of regent; so long as he holds that title Henry's powers are limited. Any restriction on Henry's rule imposes an indirect limitation on Margaret as well. Since Margaret wishes to control the realm in her own right, it is natural for her to resent Gloucester's influence.

4.

The duke yet lives that Henry shall depose/But him outlive and die a violent death. By water shall [Suffolk] die and take his end. Let [Somerset] shun castles.


Spirit, Act 1, Scene 4

Although the Duchess of Gloucester was probably hoping for clear answers from her undead friend, the spirit—like literary oracles before and since—prefers to speak in riddles.

One by one the spirit's prophecies come true in unexpected ways. In Act 4, Scene 1 Suffolk dies not by water, but by the hand of a man named Walter. Somerset, who was told to fear castles, is killed in the middle of the town of Saint Albans—but he dies under the sign of the Castle Inn. The prophecy about King Henry will not materialize until Part 3, in which York deposes Henry but dies before him, and both men meet a violent end.

5.

Yea, man and birds are fain of climbing high.


King Henry VI, Act 2, Scene 1

Henry, in all likelihood, means this remark innocently enough. He sees human thought, with its capacity for reaching great heights, as a gift from God; thus it makes sense to liken it to the spectacle of a falcon in flight. His observation, however, also illustrates one of the major dramatic ironies of the play, in which the audience knows more than the character: Henry is surrounded by political "climbers" who will seek either to supplant or to control him. In fact three such "climbers"—Queen Margaret, Suffolk, and the cardinal—are present in this scene alone.

6.

Now, God be praised, that to believing souls/Gives light in darkness, comfort in despair.


King Henry VI, Act 2, Scene 1

This line, perhaps more than any other in the play, highlights Henry's credulousness; beyond that it shows his dogged persistence in believing the best of everyone. The "miracle" that prompts Henry to praise God is a sham blindness cure, which Henry is characteristically eager to chalk up to divine intervention. Gloucester, however, readily sees through the ruse.

7.

Who cannot steal a shape that means deceit?


Queen Margaret, Act 3, Scene 1

Here Margaret accuses her enemy Gloucester of merely pretending to be innocent—a wolf in sheep's clothing, so to speak. Suffolk and the cardinal, Margaret's main co-conspirators, endorse this view in the hope of discrediting the Lord Protector.

The verbal irony of this statement, in which a character says the opposite of what they feel or mean, becomes clear later in this scene when Margaret then proceeds to "steal a shape" of her own. In discussing the Gloucester problem with Suffolk and the Cardinal, she pretends she is concerned for the safety of her husband; in fact she just wants an excuse to eliminate Gloucester.

8.

But I can give the loser leave to chide.


Queen Margaret, Act 3, Scene 1

This line, spoken to Gloucester after he is arrested for treason, is a vicious taunt that speaks volumes about Queen Margaret's character. She knows she has won: Gloucester will be tried and found guilty, if he even survives to stand trial. Still Margaret is brimming over with resentment for Gloucester, who has been her staunchest opponent since before she arrived in England. A little of that bitterness splashes out here in the form of an acerbic one-liner.

9.

Ah, thus King Henry throws away his crutch/Before his legs be firm to bear his body.


Duke of Gloucester, Act 3, Scene 1

Right up to the end Gloucester is concerned for England first and foremost, as personified in his nephew King Henry. Although he knows he is being led to almost certain death, Gloucester does not fixate on his own downfall. Instead he laments the danger to which the king is now exposed.

10.

It is impossible that I should die/By such a lowly vassal as thyself.


Duke of Suffolk, Act 4, Scene 1

For a man who has been captured by pirates and is about to be beheaded, Suffolk is remarkably sure of himself here. In a way it's admirable how consistently he sticks to his principles—even if those principles are founded on an arrogant elitism. Nonetheless, as the rest of the scene demonstrates, it's a bad idea to call someone a "lowly vassal" when they're deciding whether or not to spare your life.

11.

The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.


Dick, Act 4, Scene 2

Like Cade's hanging of the Clerk of Chartham, this line betrays a powerful hatred for the educated classes. Dick is not, however, merely expressing a personal grudge against lawyers: as earlier courtroom scenes (e.g., Act 2, Scene 3) show, Cade and his followers have plenty of reasons to distrust the fairness of English law.

12.

Ignorance is the curse of God,/Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.


Lord Saye, Act 4, Scene 7

Like Suffolk in Act 4, Scene 1, Lord Saye has fallen into the hands of his enemies and is now trying to convince them to spare his life. But just like Suffolk, Saye makes his passionate speech without taking his audience into account. A few short scenes ago, Cade had a man hanged for being able to write; his accomplices want to do the same to all clerks, lawyers, and other educated professionals. Saye is unlikely to persuade such men of the value of book learning.

13.

Was never subject longed to be a king/As I do long and wish to be a subject!


King Henry VI, Act 4, Scene 9

Finally we have it on record: ruling a kingdom, with all its tough decisions and ethical gray areas, is just too much for the mild-mannered King Henry. This short, sad speech echoes back to all those times—most notably Act 3, Scene 1—when Henry, faced with a difficult problem, simply threw up his hands and said, "Decide for me!"

In Part 3 Henry (sort of) gets his wish after the House of York deposes him, but he does not live long to enjoy it.

14.

Henceforth I will not have to do with pity.


Young Clifford, Act 5, Scene 2

Young Clifford is understandably enraged by the battlefield death of his father, one of the first major casualties of the Wars of the Roses. He vows to take revenge on the House of York, even if it means slaughtering their children.

Although he utters it in a moment of anger, the oath is one he intends to keep. In Part 3 Clifford will show how pitiless he has become, first by killing York's school-aged son then by torturing and slaying York as well.

15.

Can we outrun the heavens?


King Henry VI, Act 5, Scene 2

Even in defeat King Henry sees his circumstances as a reflection of divine justice. Perhaps thinking back to the trial by combat in Act 2, Scene 3, he now wishes to stand and face his enemies, leaving the outcome in God's hands. Queen Margaret rejects this idea as nonsense; instead, she suggests, Henry should flee to London and seek out his supporters there.

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