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Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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



The armies are still in Yorkshire, but the scene has shifted to Towton, some 15 miles southwest of York. Warwick staggers onto the stage, exhausted from fighting, and proceeds to lie down. Edward runs in a moment later; he is soon joined by his brother George, who announces that the Lancastrians have routed the Yorkists and are chasing them down in retreat. Richard appears and urges Warwick to return to the fight, reminding him of their duty to avenge the fallen. On bended knee Warwick and Edward vow not to rest until they have made the Lancastrians pay for the deaths of their kinsmen. After a parting embrace, Warwick and the three sons of York rush back into the fray.


What Richard lacks in grace and good looks he makes up for with his oratorical skills. Here his charismatic speech operates as a form of damage control, reframing the battle not as a lost cause but as an opportunity to avenge the fallen. George, when he comes onstage, is absolutely demoralized and just wants to know which way to flee; rather than addressing this hopeless proposition head on, Richard turns to Warwick and recounts (perhaps invents) a grimly inspiring anecdote from the battlefield:

Thy brother's blood the thirsty earth hath drunk,
Broached with the steely point of Clifford's lance,
And in the very pangs of death he cried,
Like to a dismal clangor heard from far,
"Warwick, revenge! Brother, revenge my death!"

The gambit succeeds: spurred on by his brother's personal appeal for revenge, Warwick pledges to keep fighting, and Edward joins him. Even George, who a moment ago just wanted to run away, is now ready to rally his own troops and "plant courage in their quailing breasts." For better or for worse, Richard has turned the situation around with just a few well-chosen words.

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