Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Act 2, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

Clifford, seriously wounded, staggers onstage as the battle rages on. He laments his own imminent death but expresses deeper sorrow for King Henry, whom he predicts will not be able to withstand the Yorkists without Clifford's help. As soon as he is finished speaking, he falls into a faint. A retreat is sounded offstage, and Edward enters, accompanied by his brothers (George and Richard) and supporters (Montague and Warwick). They arrive just in time to hear Clifford's final groan. Warwick urges the brothers to cut off Clifford's head and place it on the York gates, just as Queen Margaret and her allies did to their father. First, however, the sons of York take a moment to mock Clifford's corpse as a further form of revenge.

The battle, Warwick now announces, has been a decisive victory for the Yorkists. Now that it is over, he announces a new course of action: the brothers will march to London, where Edward will be properly crowned. Warwick, meanwhile, will travel to France and petition the Lady Bona, the French king's sister-in-law, to be Edward's queen. This, he says, will secure peace with France, which might otherwise prove to be a nuisance and distract Edward from domestic affairs. Feeling triumphant, Edward grants dukedoms to his brothers: he creates Richard Duke of Gloucester and George Duke of Clarence. With that the four men exit, bringing Clifford's body with them.

Analysis

With his dying breath Clifford drives home the implicit criticism of King Henry from the previous scene, where the king was shooed away to the sidelines of the battlefield. In Clifford's view, this whole messy York versus Lancaster affair boils down to mismanagement on Henry's part. If Henry had simply taken charge and suppressed the Yorkists at the first sign of trouble, there would have been no civil war and certainly no Battle of Towton:

Henry, hadst thou swayed as kings should do,
Or as thy father and his father did,
Giving no ground unto the house of York,
They never then had sprung like summer flies ...

Clifford's invocation of Henry's forefathers—Henry IV and the even more illustrious Henry V—is a striking reversal of a longstanding pattern in the trilogy. In earlier plays, and even in Act 1 of this play, Henry's supporters have defended his claim to the throne by focusing on the strong leadership and wartime heroism of the previous two Henries. (The elder Lord Clifford, for example, uses the name of Henry V to overawe a pack of rebels in Part 2.) These arguments emphasize the practical results achieved by the House of Lancaster, in contrast to the hereditary right to rule claimed by York and his descendants. The problem, as Clifford recognizes here, is that Henry VI has very little in common with his father and grandfather, either temperamentally or in his ability to get things done.

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