Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Back at Sandal Castle in Yorkshire, Richard, Edward, and Montague attempt to persuade York to seize the crown by force. In arguing with their father, Edward and Richard put a favorable spin on the events of the previous scene: York, they say, was the rightful king when he walked into the room, so it's really King Henry who deposed him. York protests that he swore an oath of loyalty to Henry, but Richard insists the oath was coerced and therefore not valid. York, it turns out, does not require much persuading: "I will be king or die," he tells his sons, and immediately makes plans to raise an army.

Just then a messenger rushes in, bringing word that Queen Margaret is on her way, with 20,000 troops at her command. York, in contrast, has only 5,000 men at his disposal. Nonetheless, he decides to try his luck in open battle: after all, York reflects, he has faced much worse odds in his French military campaigns. With the help of his sons and uncles, York prepares his troops for the imminent clash with Margaret's army.

Analysis

When they first appear at the end of Part 2, Edward and Richard are similar in many respects: both stand ready to defend their father—with violence, if necessary—against King Henry and his partisans. In this scene the differences between the two brothers come into sharper focus. Both want York to seize the crown from Henry, but they go about persuading their father in different ways and for different reasons.

Edward seemingly harbors a hope that his father will seize the throne and live to enjoy it: later scenes show him to be impulsive and superstitious, but not truly evil. In urging York on to rebellion, his reasons are simple and practical: "By giving the house of Lancaster leave to breathe," he warns, "it will outrun you, father, in the end." In other words Henry may later decide to renege on his promise, in which case this is York's only chance to secure the throne for himself. For Edward, taking the crown back is a matter of justice, and doing it now is a matter of sound policy.

Richard, on the other hand, speaks with Machiavellian eloquence of the joys of being in power. His own desire to rule rings through in his persuasive speech to York:

Father, do but think
How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown,
Within whose circuit is Elysium
And all that poets feign of bliss and joy.

Like Edward, Richard also insists on his father's right to rule and the justness of breaking his oath: after all no judge witnessed the vow, and Henry wasn't really king when he came back from Saint Albans. For the ambitious Richard, however, it goes much deeper: kingship is a kind of heaven on earth, worth seizing for oneself at any cost. This "Elysian" view of monarchy is not just a rationalization for starting a war, though Richard is happy to supply those as well: rather it is a central tenet of Richard's worldview, one to be revisited and elaborated in later speeches.

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