Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Warwick is assembling his army at Coventry, northwest of London. Messengers arrive in quick succession to inform him that his allies are closing in on the city and should be there by the end of the day. When Warwick hears the sound of a drum offstage, he assumes it heralds the arrival of "unlooked-for friends." Surprise! It's King Edward and his brother Richard, at the head of a large army. Edward demands a parley with Warwick, who laments the fact that he has been caught flatfooted. He attempts to overawe Edward by reminding him who made him king, but Edward and Richard merely scoff.

As Warwick and the York brothers continue to exchange insults, Oxford arrives with an army of his own and proceeds to enter the city. Montague and Somerset arrive in turn, each leading their own body of troops and each declaring their support for the Lancastrian cause. King Edward puts up a tough front, but his speeches show that he is less and less sure of victory with each new regiment arriving in Coventry. Clarence shows up, and Warwick expects him to join the Lancastrian force as well. Instead Clarence hurls a defiant speech at Warwick and announces that he is returning to Edward's faction; the elder two York brothers welcome him with open arms. Now backed by Clarence's army behind him, Edward demands that Warwick meet him in the open field, threatening to raze Coventry to the ground if he does not comply. Warwick, realizing the town is not easily defensible, says he will meet Edward at Barnet.

Analysis

Warwick, in this scene, makes one final bid for the role of Kingmaker. On some level he is clearly aware that Edward has escaped his control, probably for good. Still, old habits die hard, and Warwick readily falls back on his reflex of attempting to assert authority:

Confess who set thee up and plucked thee down,
Call Warwick patron, and be penitent,
And thou shalt still remain the Duke of York.

In short Warwick is attempting to shame King Edward into cooperating by reminding him that he could not have seized the crown without the earl's help. Edward does not deny Warwick's role in his accession: he knows full well that the crown was a gift. Instead, his subsequent speech to Warwick amounts to a grown-up, Elizabethan version of "No take-backs," augmented by a few death threats for good measure.

At first Warwick is evidently shaken by Edward's reply, since he knows he cannot defend Coventry from the Yorkists with the few troops he has available. As the other Lancastrians and their armies report in, Warwick cheers up, but this renewed confidence does not last long: Clarence's defection doubles the size of Edward's army, throwing the battle's outcome into doubt once more. Clarence couches this seemingly sudden decision in terms of family loyalty, claiming that it is shameful and "unnatural" to fight against one's own brothers. Self-interest may also play a role: if the Yorkists win he will be second in line to inherit the throne.

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