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King Henry is the protagonist of the play. Though his role is too insignificant to be that of a hero, he is the central figure of the play. He is portrayed as an inefficient monarch whose inefficiency results in political and economical conflict. He never acts according to his insights and always looks to heaven for miracles. Henry’s religious inclinations blind him to political realities. Still, he is the central figure around whom all the other actions revolve. Gloucester can be considered as a secondary protagonist who fights for the same ideals as the king, and who shares many of the king’s enemies.
Because of the complexity of this play, it is very difficult to identify a single antagonist. Cardinal Beaufort is perhaps the chief antagonist of the play. He leads the opposition against Gloucester, and his long-standing rivalry with the duke is evident in his words. He is portrayed more as a soldier than as a clergyman.
Another silent conspirator against the king is York, who rises to power when he takes advantage of favorable conditions. York’s triumph is the climax of the play as he claims his right to the throne.
Queen Margaret should also be considered as a possible antagonist since she pursues her own goals from the moment she arrives in England and openly deceives the king.
The political climax of the play comes in Act V, Scene 1 when York triumphs over the king. The authority of the monarchy is called into question. York’s claim to the throne is based on actual events: in that sense, the first battle of St. Albans in the last scene of the play is a true victory.
The outcome of the play is the victory of York. The authority of the monarch is confronted by an alternate source of power and authority. History takes another turn.
It is difficult to class this play as either “tragedy” or “comedy.” If the audience considers King Henry to be the protagonist, then both the outcome of events and Henry’s personal weaknesses justify the designation, “tragedy.” It is also important to recognize that this play is the second in a series of three, and that the trilogy needs to be considered as a whole.