My Time of Shakespeare: The First Tetralogy – Henry VI Second Part

13 Mar

From the Painting in the Boydell Gallery, by Sir Joshua Reynolds

What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted!
Thrice is he arm’d that hath his quarrel just,
And he but naked, though lock’d up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.

In this second part of Henry VI’s story, we see the bricks of the English realm begin to fall and crumble into wasted building blocks.

It seems that any bold citizen would dip their hands into the bloody cauldron filled with the jewels of English power. From lowly laborer to noble duke, conspiracy and revolt surround Henry VI. Every character played a role in this seditious plot by either promoting it or by aligning themselves with the honorable and noble few who would suffer only an untainted heart as consolation.

I enjoyed Shakespeare’s loud and sometimes bombastic language in this second part. I imagined villainous players bellowing their words in passionate dynamics and dramatic conviction. It contrasted the tone of Henry VI who, I admit, frustrates me a bit. Despite the tumult and revolt happening all around him, he does not take control of the situation or exhibit any ability to bring down an iron fist. It seems he stands only as a flat symbol of his position while the other characters portray personality, ambition, honor, malice and other aspects of humanity. Henry VI might have made a better priest than king and York and others see this as an opportunity to overthrow such a king.

I also appreciated Shakespeare’s presentation of justice in this second part. It would seem that justice does not save the blameless but it assuredly avenges them. Henry VI and Gloucester, and even Lord Say, have faith that the law will protect their untainted hearts, that no man can attack the righteous because of their blameless character. Of course, this proves far from a reality. Are we to lose our own faith in justice – the virtuous falling to the discontented? Why would anyone, then, adopt virtue?

Yet while the loyal fall, the villains suffer the resulting justice – not directly by the hand of Henry VI but seemingly by natural course. While the honorable remain so remembered in the annals of history, the villains lose life and name as well. Perhaps justice acts as an avenger rather than a protector. And if this theme carries into the third part, I anticipate Henry VI’s demise and an even more horrible fate for his opponent.

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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in William Shakespeare


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