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Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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



Edward and Richard have escaped the fighting at Wakefield and are now leading their army across the plains of Herefordshire. Edward wonders what has become of their father, and the two sons commiserate. As the dawn breaks the brothers behold "three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun," which they take as a sign that the three sons of York should join forces "and overshine the earth."

A messenger—seldom a good thing in this play—announces that the Duke of York has been slain and recounts the cruel manner of his death. Edward grieves; Richard, who "cannot weep," vows revenge. Into this unhappy scene enter Warwick and Montague, who have already heard of York's death and bring further distressing news: after Wakefield, their army met with Queen Margaret's forces again. Warwick's soldiers, apparently lacking the heart to fight, ultimately fled. Richard chides Warwick for retreating, but Warwick (a little annoyed) insists he will yet "pluck the diadem from faint Henry's head/And wring the awful scepter from his fist." He then proposes that their combined forces march on London, where they will have the best chance of intercepting Queen Margaret's army. Just then, however, another messenger enters; he reports that the queen and her forces are nearby and seeking a parley.


This scene, like Act 1, Scene 2, helps to elaborate the differences between the York brothers, casting Edward as the golden boy and Richard as the misanthropic loner. Edward's reaction to his father's death is, understandably, one of shock and sorrow, but Richard disdains mourning as a self-indulgent and counterproductive behavior. Tears, he says, are for babies; revenge is the grown-up response.

Richard's lack of empathy for his brother and apparent lack of grief for his father are just two more ingredients in a bubbling, swirling stew of unsavory character traits. Elsewhere in this scene, a large scoop of misogyny is added to the cauldron. It is true this is not the first time Richard has said something sexist: in Act 1, Scene 2 he dismisses Queen Margaret's capacity to lead an army by scoffing, "A woman's general; what should we fear?" Here, however, he doubles down on the sexism with a remark that Edward should plan to have daughters rather than sons, since he "love[s] the breeder better than the male."

As cringe worthy as the term breeder is, it's worth pausing to understand the source of Richard's contempt for women, which is linked to his preoccupation with the order of succession. Every heir "bred" by Edward's future wife will put Richard one step further away from the crown; thus Edward's amorous inclinations—as symbolized by the fact that he already has children out of wedlock—pose a genuine threat to Richard's dream of ruling England. Richard, meanwhile, sees himself as too ugly and misshapen ever to be of interest to the opposite sex; this point is developed at length in the closing speech of Act 3, Scene 2.

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