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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT II, SCENE 3
In a Hall of Justice in London the sound of trumpets announces the entry of the king, the queen, Gloucester, York, Suffolk, Salisbury, the Duchess of Gloucester, Margery Jordan, Southwell, Hume and Bolingbroke. The king accuses Duchess Eleanor of being guilty of engaging in conspiracy and says her sin is great in his eyes and in God’s. He asks her to be prepared to face the death penalty. The other four are taken back to the prison and from there to the place of execution. The witch shall be burned in Smithfield, the place of execution for heretics in London. The other three shall be hanged, and the Duchess, considering her noble birth, is banished and given into the custody of Sir John Stanley on the Isle of Man. The brave Duchess openly welcomes banishment and death, and she is taken away along with the other prisoners.
The grief-stricken Gloucester laments with his eyes full of tears. The king tells Gloucester to remain there, but to give up his badge symbolizing his Protectorship. Henry will be the protector to himself, and God shall guide him. Henry further consoles Gloucester by saying that his affection towards him is not altered in the least. The queen joins in and says that a king has no need to be protected like a child. England shall be ruled by God and King, and she, too, urges Gloucester to give up his staff. Gloucester says that he is ready to part with his staff as wholeheartedly as he had received it from his father. He is sure that it will be ambitiously received by those eagerly waiting for it. He bids the king farewell. The overjoyed queen says that with the departure of Gloucester and the banishment of the duchess, two goals have been achieved, and the staff of honor will be in Henry’s hand, its the rightful place. Suffolk says that the decline of Gloucester is like the drooping of a lofty pine tree, and Eleanor is the shoot of the pine. York reminds the king of the combat arranged for that day and requests him to witness it.
The king asks if everything is ready for the fight, and prays to God to defend the innocent. Then the Armorer and his neighbors enter drinking to the well being of Horner, one of the participants in the combat. Through the other door, Peter enters with a drum and sandbag, while prentices drink to him. Peter thanks everybody for praying for him, and he bids them farewell, thinking that this is going to be his end. Horner arrives and has a verbal duel with Peter, and then they fight. Horner dies from the blow Peter gives him, but not before confessing. Peter thanks God. The king rewards Peter for his honesty and innocence.
In this scene all the traitors and those guilty of fraud are punished. The fall of the duchess and the duke is portrayed. The Lord Protector is stripped of his staff and Protectorship, and the king is confident in his own judgment. King Henry makes frequent references to God, from whom he derives his authority. The scene presents two trials: the conclusion of that of Duchess Eleanor and the trial by combat between Horner and Peter.
Gloucester’s decline is another striking moment. The good, virtuous Lord Protector, who enjoyed his title, suddenly faces defeat caused by his wife. The king, however, appears to be lenient in his attitude towards the duke, even after the incident. By contrast, the Queen’s animosity towards Gloucester is pronounced. Her aggressive nature is once again revealed when she urges the Protector to give up his staff and stresses that the king need not be protected like a child in future. She insists that the staff belongs in the hands of the king.
The queen’s words express a cruel delight in Gloucester’s misfortune: “...two pulls at once--/ His lady banished and a limb (the Protector’s staff) lopped off.” The descriptions of infirmity are continued as Suffolk comments sarcastically about the duke’s decline. He makes an allusion to a “lofty pine” with drooping branches that are like Eleanor’s dying pride.
The last part of the scene presents the combat between Horner and Peter. The challenger and the defendant meet in a place designated for the duel. The combat begins, and Peter strikes Horner down, which symbolizes that truth triumphs over falsehood. Horner’s confession implies that Peter was telling the truth, and that York really did make a claim to the crown.