Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Act 5, Scene 7 | Summary

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Summary

At the palace in London, King Edward is celebrating his victory over the Lancastrians. Queen Elizabeth stands at his side, with their infant son (Prince Edward) borne by a nurse. Also present are Richard, Clarence, and Lord Hastings.

Edward begins his speech by reflecting on all the Lancastrian royals and nobles he has killed to clear his path to the throne. He then addresses the infant prince, claiming that he and his brothers have been laboring to make England safe for the child's future reign (i.e., as Edward V). Richard, in a bitter aside, promises to prevent that from ever happening. Clarence and Richard come forward to kiss the baby as a sign of allegiance to the heir apparent. This leaves an exultant Edward with one last item on the agenda: sending the captive Queen Margaret back to France in exchange for a hefty ransom. Then, calling for drums and trumpets, Edward declares an end to the "sour annoy" of war and a beginning to the "lasting joy" of peace.

Analysis

With his dynastic rivals dead or exiled, Edward could be forgiven for thinking all is well, at least for the moment. The play's events have culminated in a decisive Yorkist victory: if only the House of York were itself united, the "lasting joy" Edward predicts would be a real possibility. Unfortunately for him, the most formidable enemy is still onstage—smiling, applauding, and cooing over the baby prince. In fact with the war at an end Richard can pursue his quest for power in an even more direct fashion, "heaving" aside the remaining obstacles with all the strength his deformed shoulders can muster.

Edward's reign, newly resumed in this scene, is a midpoint between two nearly opposite types of monarchy. This play—indeed, the whole Henry VI trilogy—has charted the downfall of a softhearted ruler, whose abhorrence of bloodshed allowed his enemies to prosper and civil war to erupt. Edward, of course, is not perfect either, but he at least has the willpower to prosecute a war and protect his own interests. He is impulsive and lustful, but he's neither a despot nor a sap. The pendulum, however, will not stop in the middle of its stroke: after Edward's death the crown will pass to Richard, a tyrannical "anti-Henry" who positively revels in violence and subterfuge.

Of the five royals onstage in this scene, none—including Richard—will meet with a happy fate in Richard III, the tetralogy's final play. Two of them, Clarence and Prince Edward, will be murdered at Richard's instigation, as will the prince's yet-unborn younger brother. Edward IV will die offstage, his failing health fatally exacerbated by grief and guilt over Clarence, and Richard himself will fall at the Battle of Bosworth after a brief and tumultuous reign. Only Queen Elizabeth will be left alive, but her survival is a hollow triumph at best: by the time she makes her last appearance onstage, Elizabeth is emotionally shattered by the deaths of her sons and husband.

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