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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT I, SCENE 2
The scene takes place in Gloucester’s house. Duke Humphrey and his wife, Eleanor, enter. The duchess asks her husband why he looks so dejected. He is staring down at the earth. Curiously, she asks if he is looking at “King Henry’s diadem,/ Adorned with all the honors of the world.” She suggests that he stretch his hand to reach the crown, and she offers to help him. Gloucester tells his wife to banish the canker (sore or ulcer) of ambition from her mind if she truly loves him.
He says that he would rather die than entertain the thought of treason. He is troubled by a dream he had in which the Cardinal broke his (Gloucester’s) office-badge and placed the heads of Edmund, Duke of Somerset, and William de la Pole over the broken pieces. Eleanor dismisses the dream as an indication that whoever crosses Gloucester will suffer for it. Ever ambitious, she was expecting that Gloucester would recount a dream in which she became the queen and enjoyed the sight of Queen Margaret kneeling before her. The enraged duke chides her for this, calling her “ill-nurtured Eleanor.” He reproves her for this wicked thought, which could disgrace her husband, who is the Protector of England.
A messenger enters and asks the Lord Protector to ride to St. Albans to join the king and the queen. When alone, the duchess says to herself that she cannot improve her situation when she is married to such an unambitious man. Had she been a man and the closest relative of the king, she would not have hesitated to “remove” any obstacles to the throne. Then Hume enters and tells the duchess that her title can be “multiplied,” meaning that there is a way for her to become queen. The duchess had earlier revealed to Hume that she wants to use black magic to secure the throne, and he says he has made the necessary arrangements. Hume insists that the plan he has devised be kept secret. After Eleanor’s exit, however, Hume boasts that he will bring about the fall of the Duke of Gloucester.
This scene reveals the cause of Gloucester’s inevitable decline. The ambition of the duke’s wife, Eleanor, is the main reason for his downfall.
The duchess asks her husband why his head is hanging “like over-ripened corn” and why he is staring downward: “Why are thine eyes fixed to the sullen earth?” (Here, the sullen or sad expression in the duke’s eyes is attributed to the earth itself.) Eleanor’s implication is that Gloucester should feel grieved by the glory that his nephew enjoys as king and that he should want to seize power from him. The duke, however, is portrayed as an honest and humble man who asks his wife to banish all ambitious thoughts from her mind.
Eleanor’s ambitious nature is evident in all her conversations with her husband. She offers to extend her own hand to capture the crown and imagines that the dream her husband has had portrays her as the queen, with King Henry and Queen Margaret kneeling down before her. Her nature is contrasted sharply with that of her husband. Gloucester’s dream seems to be coming true when Hume reveals in his soliloquy that he is working (against Gloucester) for Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort. The superstitious belief that morning dreams come true is suggested here.
The conversations between Eleanor and Hume show the depth of treachery in the mind of the duchess. In his soliloquy, Hume reveals that he is being paid by the Cardinal and the Duke of Suffolk to work against Gloucester. They, knowing the ambition of the duchess, have hired Hume to undermine her plans. Hume will be the duchess’ ruin, and her destruction will be the duke’s fall. Hume’s own ambitious attitude is likewise revealed here. He will charge the duchess for his “services” while he is actually deceiving her.
This scene brings out the conspiracy that exists at various levels without the king’s knowledge. Gloucester’s loyalty and love towards King Henry is highlighted here. Then the scene introduces the duchess, whose plotting ways will overshadow her husband’s good intentions. Another important character, Hume, serves as the link between the main conspirators (Suffolk and Beaufort) and the duchess. Hume in turn has his own plans for deceiving the duchess. In short, the audience is given an outline of where the characters’ loyalties lie. Subsequent scenes will provide the details of their plots and deceptions.