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Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Act 5, Scene 6 | Summary



Richard comes to visit the captive King Henry in the Tower. Henry sullenly greets Richard, knowing—or at least suspecting—that he has come to kill him. He castigates Richard for murdering Prince Edward (see Act 5, Scene 5), but Richard merely answers, "Thy son I killed for his presumption." This sets Henry off: the deposed king rails against Richard in some 20 lines of impassioned insults, calling him an "indigested and deformèd lump." Richard cuts off Henry's speech by stabbing him to death, mocking the king as he does so. As he drags the corpse into the next room, Richard warns the audience that his killing spree is far from over: "Clarence, thy turn is next."


For the first time in several scenes, King Henry shows a genuine spark of life, though it comes too late to have much effect on the plot. Usually gentle and reserved to a fault, Henry has lost his kingdom and now his only son—and thus, finally, he has begun to lose his patience. He insults Richard in the kind of terms that Queen Margaret has used throughout, repeatedly invoking Richard's ugliness and deformity in an uncharacteristically vicious display of anger. Even King-Saint Henry, it turns out, has his breaking point.

Richard, meanwhile, has leveled up his villain game yet again. His lines as he assassinates Henry are glorious in a very dark way: "Down, down to hell, and say I sent thee thither—/I that have neither pity, love, nor fear." There isn't much room left in this play for Richard to plumb the depths of his ruthlessness, but Richard III will afford him ample scope for further murders and conspiracies. In the meantime Richard starts to embrace his deformities as outward signs of his inward state: "since the heavens have shaped my body so,/Let hell make crook'd my mind to answer it." The contrast with Act 3, Scene 2 is remarkable: in the earlier speech Richard laments his misshapen appearance as the one thing keeping him from living a normal life. Here he no longer wishes to have a normal life, reveling instead in his uniqueness. In a final move that anticipates the modern movie-villain playbook, Richard gleefully announces his future victims and gloats about his plans for destroying them.

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