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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT I, SCENE 3
This scene takes place in the palace. Three or four petitioners enter, along with Peter, the armorer’s man. The first petitioner tells the others to be quiet until the Lord Protector arrives so that they can make their requests together. Then Suffolk and Queen Margaret enter. The queen sees the men waiting for the Lord Protector and asks to hear their petitions. The first petitioner’s complaint is against John Goodman, one of the Cardinal’s men, who has kept his (the petitioner’s) house, lands and wife away from him. The second petitioner complains about the Duke of Suffolk for “enclosing the commons” (fencing in communal land for private use) of Melford. Peter’s supplication is against his master, Thomas Horner, for saying that the Duke of York is the rightful heir to the crown. Suffolk calls for a servant and asks him to take Peter away and to summon Thomas Horner to be questioned before the king.
Queen Margaret haughtily tears up the petitions and dismisses the men as lowborn wretches. The queen then asks Suffolk why the English court permits the Lord Protector to have authority over the king. She wonders if King Henry will still be only “a pupil” under the guidance of Gloucester and she a queen only “in title and in style (name).” This is essentially a question of power. She tells Suffolk that when he came to Tours and impressed everyone with his courage and manners, she had assumed that King Henry would be similarly dashing. However, now it appears to her that Henry is more inclined towards prayer and introspection. She jokes that Henry could even qualify as pope.
Suffolk tries to pacify her and assures her that since he was the cause of her coming to England, he will also be the cause of her happiness in England. The queen points out that the Lord Protector’s wife, Eleanor, irritates her more than all the lords together. She walks with a troop of ladies in the court as if she were an empress, and not just Duke Humphrey’s wife. She wears the duke’s money on her back, and strangers might mistake her for the queen. Queen Margaret longs to take vengeance on Eleanor. Suffolk consoles the queen by saying that he has already set a trap for Eleanor. As revealed in the preceding scene, Suffolk has hired some men to keep the duchess busy and to steer her away from achieving her goal, the crown.
Hume is one of these men, and he takes advantage of the duchess’ confidence in him and will try to misguide her. Suffolk tactfully advises the queen to join Cardinal Beaufort and the other lords until Gloucester is disgraced. Together they can do away with their rivals.
Then King Henry, Gloucester, Cardinal Beaufort, Buckingham, York, Somerset, Salisbury, Warwick and the Duchess of Gloucester all enter. A heated conversation ensues between Margaret and Gloucester regarding the king’s power to make and enforce his own decisions. Gloucester chides the queen by saying that King Henry is old enough to make his own decisions and that women have no place in these matters. The queen angrily asks why Gloucester remains as the Protector even now. Suffolk asks Gloucester to resign his post, and Gloucester consents.
The Cardinal points out that the clergy has little money left due to the exorbitant expenditure under Gloucester’s rule. Somerset claims that the cost of Eleanor’s attire has been a strain on the public treasury. Buckingham’s charge against the duke is that the latter’s strict execution rules have exceeded the law. Greatly disgraced, Gloucester exits. Then he returns and says to the lords that he has come to talk about the commonwealth affairs and to prove that their spiteful accusations against him are false. He then tells King Henry that York is the most suitable man to be the King’s Regent in France. Suffolk objects to this.
Horner and Peter enter. Horner is supposed to have overheard the Duke of York say that he (York) was the rightful heir to the English crown and that King Henry was an usurper. Horner now denies having ever reported this information, but Peter substantiates it. Horner pleads with the king not to cast away an honest man like him because of a villain’s accusation. King Henry asks Gloucester for advice, and the latter now advises the king to choose Somerset as Regent of French. Horner and Peter are now to fight each other to resolve their conflict. The king agrees to Gloucester’s proposal and sets the last day of the month as the “day of the combat” between Horner and Peter. He then orders them to be taken away to the prison.
The scene takes place in the palace where three petitioners gather to deliver their supplications to the Lord Protector. Suffolk and the queen enter, and the queen becomes at once the dominant character of the scene. The fact that she enters with Suffolk is very important. She forcibly takes the supplications from the petitioners and starts reading them. Margaret appears not only ambitious but even aggressive in this scene.
The second petitioner’s charge is against the Duke of Suffolk for enclosing the commons of Melford. The landowners’ practice of fencing in and thereby appropriating common lands had been a cause of popular discontent and had motivated the anti-enclosure legislation, which the Parliament repealed in 1593. Suffolk’s oppression of the poor is strongly implied here. The petitioners’ grievances are closely linked to the main plot of the play. The third petitioner’s charge is against Thomas Horner for saying that the Duke of York claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne. Shakespeare links this incident with York’s claim to the crown and to the overall movement of conspiracy within the play.
The queen’s dominant nature is demonstrated in her words of scorn to the petitioners: “Away, base cullions (rascals)! Suffolk, let them go.” Bitterly, she criticizes the custom of the court of England, where everything is under the governance of Duke Humphrey (Gloucester). She questions whether King Henry is still a pupil and she a queen only in name. She openly criticizes King Henry’s meek disposition and says that he would make a better pope than a king. Margaret continues her tirade, saying that the duchess irritates her.
Suffolk calms the queen by saying that he has employed some men to confuse the duchess in her designs on the throne. He compares the trap he has laid for her with a method for capturing birds, in which the branches of a tree were smeared with a sticky paste: “Madame, myself have limed a bush for her...”. The duchess will be trapped like an animal as she tries to climb to the throne.
A sennet announces the entry of the king and his lords. A sennet is a set of notes played on the trumpet used as a signal for the ceremonial entrance or exit of a body of players. A heated debate now occurs over who will be the Regent of France. Here, the queen openly attacks Gloucester, and several of the others join in. Important actions contributing to the main plot of the play are initiated and developed in this scene.
Suffolk considers York unfit for the post of Regent of France. But York says in his own defense that during the Siege of Bordeaux (1453), Somerset had refused to supply him with reinforcements. Warwick supports York in this matter, but Suffolk insists that York may be a traitor, especially if he has stated that Henry is not the rightful king. Shakespeare links this incident from English history (the Siege of Bordeaux) to the main plot by introducing the allegation of treason (the Duke of York’s claim to the crown). Here, York is discredited and Somerset becomes Regent of France.