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Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Quotes


[F]rowns, words, and threats/Shall be the war that Henry means to use.

King Henry VI, Act 1, Scene 1

Although his country has devolved into a state of open civil war, King Henry still doesn't seem to get it: "frowns" and angry "words" are simply not enough to subdue the Yorkist uprising. For the past two plays Henry has been steadily refusing to take charge of his kingdom, passing that responsibility off to his noblemen (Parts 1 and 2) or to God (Part 2). This scene is arguably Henry's last real opportunity to stop the war: all of the chief Yorkist rebels are gathered in the palace, and Henry's supporters are eager for bloodshed. Instead, to his peril the king continues to rely on words when swords would be more effective.


Farewell, faint-hearted and degenerate king,/In whose cold blood no spark of honor bides.

Earl of Westmorland, Act 1, Scene 1

For King Henry, who abhors bloodshed, any deal that ends the war is a good deal, even if it means adopting York as his heir. Henry's followers, however, are disappointed and even angered by the king's unwillingness to put up a fight. Elsewhere in this scene Westmorland hints that he has lost his father in the Battle of Saint Albans, giving him a strong reason to hate the Yorkists.

Westmorland is not the only one to abandon the king in this scene: Northumberland and Clifford, also present, take their own rhetorical parting shots at Henry before leaving the stage. Itching for a chance to avenge themselves on the House of York, the latter two noblemen join Queen Margaret in her attempt to reclaim the crown. Westmorland himself is not heard from again after this scene.


Now York and Lancaster are reconciled.

Duke of York, Act 1, Scene 1

This statement is not quite a lie: the Duke of York may well believe that hostilities between himself and Henry are at an end—for now anyway. Still, in the very next scene York is easily persuaded to resume the war, which suggests he is merely "playing nice" here to throw Henry off his guard. Moreover, even if the dukes of York and Lancaster (King Henry) are "reconciled," their followers still hate each other. Despite the friendly embrace, England remains a powder keg, ready to re-erupt at the merest spark.


[F]ather, do but think/How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown,/Within whose circuit is Elysium,/And all that poets feign of bliss and joy.

Richard, Act 1, Scene 2

Richard is positively mesmerized by the prospect of being king; thus it is natural for him to idealize the crown as the sum of all possible joys. These lines reveal not only Richard's infatuation with rule (which later speeches will confirm) but also his skill at persuading others to action. Though not physically attractive—as his enemies constantly remind him—Richard has his own brand of charisma that grants him great influence over those who listen to him.


My father's blood/Hath stopped the passage where thy words should enter.

Lord Clifford, Act 1, Scene 3

With this terse utterance, Clifford rules out any possibility of mercy on his part: Rutland must die and that's final. A savage combatant who is unwilling to spare even the child of his enemy, Clifford is almost the opposite of King Henry, who would no doubt be horrified at the bloodshed in this scene. Although Clifford does not necessarily enjoy fighting, he seems to have an inexhaustible appetite for revenge, which makes him extremely dangerous to noncombatants like Rutland.


O, tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide ...

Duke of York, Act 1, Scene 4

This insult encapsulates much of York's angry speech to Queen Margaret just before his death. He chastises Margaret for being unfeminine in her cruelty and cunning—arguing, in essence, that no "real" woman would brag about killing a child.

This line is also important for historical reasons: a paraphrase of the quotation can be found in Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit (1592), where Shakespeare is charged with having "a tiger's heart wrapped in a player's [i.e., actor's] hide." This bit of shade constitutes the first recorded reference to Shakespeare in a printed work.


O God! Methinks it were a happy life/To be no better than a homely swain.

King Henry VI, Act 2, Scene 5

By this point in the play Henry is done with being king. He just wants to retire to the country and let war-torn England sort itself out. Unfortunately for him, medieval kings don't get to take early retirement: even after Edward seizes the throne, Henry will be seen as a threat to a stable dynastic succession. From the Yorkist point of view, even a soundly deposed King Henry is too great a liability to be left alive.


[W]hat makes robbers bold but too much lenity?

Lord Clifford, Act 2, Scene 6

Fatally wounded, Clifford finally has the freedom to speak candidly about Henry's disastrous reign. He says what a lot of readers are likely thinking at this point in the play: the Wars of the Roses might have been avoided if Henry had just governed a little more strictly—or indeed if he had governed a little more, period.


Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,/And cry "Content" to that which grieves my heart,/And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,/And frame my face to all occasions.

Richard, Act 3, Scene 2

This snippet comes from Richard's "villain song" speech halfway through the play. Having come to the conclusion that his ugliness disqualifies him from normal society, Richard reaffirms his commitment to seizing the crown. This, he recognizes, will be a challenging pursuit, but he trusts himself to get by on deceitfulness and quick thinking.

Frankly, Richard's smiling-while-murdering skill set doesn't get much play in Henry VI, Part 3. The people he's out to get—Henry and his son, Prince Edward—already see Richard as an enemy, and no amount of flattery would likely persuade them otherwise. In Richard III, however, he has the trickier task of murdering (or arranging the murder) of immediate family members. For that task it will be essential to disguise his motives.


I was the chief that raised him to the crown,/And I'll be chief to bring him down again ...

Earl of Warwick, Act 3, Scene 3

Having helped to oust King Henry and set King Edward up in his place, Warwick now regards himself as the maker and breaker of English kings: as such he demands respect even from the monarchs he claims to serve. When he suspects that Edward is merely toying with him, Warwick quickly abandons the king out of a sense of wounded pride. At the end of Act 3, Warwick is still a significant threat to Edward's hold on the throne; his defection is bad news for the Yorkist project. In later acts, as Edward and his brothers grow more powerful, Warwick will continue to insist on his status as kingmaker, but this unofficial title will count for less and less.


What Fates impose, that men must needs abide;/It boots not to resist both wind and tide.

King Edward IV, Act 4, Scene 3

This is an uncharacteristic display of patience from King Edward, who at this point may well believe that his tenure as monarch is over. In his meek acceptance of fate, he sounds almost like his enemy King Henry, whose go-with-the-flow style of governing has hastened England's descent into chaos.


What is the body when the head is off?

King Edward IV, Act 5, Scene 1

This question, posed late in the play, is meant to be rhetorical: Edward is suggesting that the Lancastrians will be powerless, or at least confused, without their leader. What he fails to acknowledge here is that Queen Margaret, not her captive husband, is the real "head" of the Lancastrian faction. She is the one who must be defeated to bring the war to a close.


Why, what is pomp, rule, reign, but earth and dust?/And live we how we can, yet die we must.

Earl of Warwick, Act 5, Scene 2

This is a surprising line coming from Warwick, entirely out of keeping with his prior focus on establishing himself as the power behind the throne. None of that, he realizes ruefully, will matter now that he is about to expire on the battlefield.

Throughout this play the approach of death seems to confer a kind of clarity on the war's various victims. The dying Clifford, for example, is finally able to understand the extent of the ruin that King Henry has inflicted on the country through his refusal to govern. Warwick likewise recognizes the futility of his kingmaking efforts only after they have gotten him killed.


Thy mother felt more than a mother's pain/And yet brought forth less than a mother's hope ...

King Henry VI, Act 5, Scene 6

In this scene, moments before his death, King Henry finally shows his teeth. Angered by the murder of his son and aware that his own assassin is at hand, Henry gives up his longstanding practice of being nice to his enemies. His gibes at Richard's deformed appearance sound more like Queen Margaret's taunts than like anything the king has said so far. Unfortunately, Henry has chosen to stand up to Richard at the last possible moment, when all he can accomplish thereby is the hastening of his own death.


Down, down to hell, and say I sent thee thither.

Richard, Act 5, Scene 6

Frankly, it's hard to imagine the meek and pious King Henry roasting away in hell after being murdered in cold blood; it seems like an unlikely fate for a king whose biggest flaw is being too bookish. The "tell 'em Richard sent you" bit, however, makes perfect sense: brazen, pitiless, and fond of stabbing unarmed prisoners, Richard seems like just the sort of person who would have the devil on speed dial.

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