Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

Two unnamed gamekeepers are staked out in a northern English forest, hunting for deer. King Henry enters in disguise, carrying a prayer book. Failing to notice the gamekeepers, he laments aloud the loss of his kingship. He also reveals that Margaret and Warwick have both gone to France: the former to seek military aid for Henry, the latter (as described in Act 2, Scene 6) to wed Edward to a French noblewoman. He ruefully predicts that Warwick, not Margaret, will win the French king's support.

The keepers, who have been eavesdropping this whole time, approach King Henry and ask him who he is. He replies cryptically, perhaps because he knows he is a wanted man. Despite this the gamekeepers guess the truth and arrest Henry in the name of King Edward. Henry complains about the fickleness of the common people, but he allows them to lead him offstage without putting up a fight.

Analysis

Henry protests that the commons of England—including the gamekeepers who capture him here—are disloyal and capricious; like feathers they are "commanded always by the greater gust." Just as in his idealistic "shepherd speech" (Act 2, Scene 5), he fails to grasp the true nature of their predicament: the war may nominally be a sovereignty dispute between two noble factions, but the commoners are the ones paying the price for their leaders' decisions. Moreover, when the war finally ends the victor will likely proceed to purge anyone suspected of disloyalty to the new regime. (Historically, neither the Lancastrians nor the Yorkists waited until the fighting was over to round up and execute their enemies.) The gamekeepers and others of their rank cannot hope to "win" the war, only to be on the side that suffers less.

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