Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Act 5, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Out in the fields at Tewkesbury, Queen Margaret attempts to rally her troops, cheering them up after the deaths of Warwick and Montague. She is joined onstage by her son (Prince Edward), Somerset, and Oxford; the latter two noblemen, she says, will be the new "mast" and "anchor" of the English army, and the French forces will help to make up for the casualties at Barnet. Besides, she says, anyone thinking of deserting had better think again: Edward and his brothers will not be merciful. A messenger arrives to announce the arrival of King Edward's army; a few moments later King Edward appears in person, with Richard and Clarence at his side. The two rival monarchs urge their troops to fight, and the Battle of Tewkesbury begins.

Analysis

To judge from Queen Margaret's speech, the Lancastrians have been left at a huge disadvantage by the defeat at Barnet:

the mast [is] now blown overboard,
The cable broke, the holding-anchor lost,
And half our sailors swallowed in the flood?

If the situation is really this dire, it is all the more imperative that Margaret lift her troops' spirits—a task she undertakes with remarkable gusto, given that her speeches in this play usually consist of insults rather than encouragement. Yet despite the change in tone, this address to the troops is perfectly consistent with Margaret's character on a deeper level: it embodies the resourcefulness and determination that underlie her whole attempt to recapture the throne.

In fact Margaret's depiction of their predicament somewhat overstates the historical reality: Edward's troops may have been better armed, but they did not outnumber the Lancastrian forces to any significant extent—if anything, the numerical advantage lay on Margaret's side. Only when the battle was actually joined did the tide begin to turn in favor of the Yorkists: a failed Lancastrian assault left Margaret's forces vulnerable to counterattack, leading to the queen's capture and the death of Prince Edward (both depicted in the next scene). These tactical details, however, are not dramatized: on an Elizabethan stage it's hard to imagine how they could be. Instead, Shakespeare (via Margaret) describes the situation at Barnet as a shipwreck, thus foreshadowing the grim outcome at Tewkesbury and making the Lancastrian defeat seem natural.

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