Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

The Yorkists have won the day at Tewkesbury. A victorious King Edward comes onstage to the sound of trumpets, accompanied by Richard and Clarence. Queen Margaret, Oxford, and Somerset are brought in as prisoners. Edward decrees that Oxford be imprisoned and Somerset executed; both are taken offstage. He then announces that whoever finds Prince Edward (Queen Margaret's son) "shall have a high reward," adding that the prince's life will be spared.

In no time at all Prince Edward is brought in under guard, and King Edward begins to interrogate him. The prince answers with palpable contempt, calling Edward a traitor and referring to Richard as "misshapen Dick." Angered by his insolence, the three York brothers stab the prince to death, an action King Edward immediately repents. Margaret, seeing her son lying dead, falls into a faint; Richard slips away for London in the ensuing commotion.

When Queen Margaret rises, she lets loose an angry scream at the men who have killed Prince Edward, calling them "butchers," "villains," and "bloody cannibals." She begs for her own death but is instead led offstage under guard. King Edward asks what has become of Richard, and Clarence tells him a "bloody supper" is likely to take place in the Tower. Marveling at Richard's efficiency, Edward commands his remaining forces to march for London.

Analysis

The theme of this scene might be summed up as "Bad Timing Runs in the Family." Prince Edward is as high-spirited (some might say haughty) as his mother, but (like his father) he has never learned the crucial skill of picking his battles. Having, perhaps, been assured that his life is not in danger, the prince makes no effort to hide his scorn for his captors. He goes too far, however, lashing out at all three York brothers in terms calculated to offend them. In earlier scenes, King Edward has shown himself to be extremely touchy about his hasty marriage to Lady Grey; Prince Edward, apparently aware of this fact, calls him "lascivious." Clarence's defection from the Yorkists to the Lancastrians and back again is a sore subject for everybody; Prince Edward probes this wound by pronouncing Clarence "perjured." Richard has been called "misshapen" before; indeed it's the least inventive of the many insults heaved at him on account of his appearance. To be frank, however, it doesn't much matter what the prince calls him: Richard is not known to pass up an opportunity to practice his knife work. In fact, once Richard is done with the prince he tries to finish the job by stabbing Queen Margaret as well—only to be restrained by a remorseful King Edward.

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