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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT II, SCENE 4
Gloucester and his men, dressed for mourning, enter the street. Gloucester points out that after the bright days of the summer, the winter comes with its pricking cold. Just as the seasons change, joys and sorrows follow one after the other. His servant tells him that it is ten, the time appointed for the duchess’ punishment. Sadly, the duke says that her tender feet will never be able to endure the flinty streets. He wonders how her noble mind can sustain the shame of walking through the streets. The duchess enters, barefoot, in a white sheet. Sir John Stanley, the sheriff, and some officers accompany her. The duchess sees her husband and asks him why he has come to see her shame; she tells him to hide himself from the hateful looks of their enemies.
The duke consoles his wife by asking her to forget her grief. The duchess says that as long as she knows that the duke is the Protector of this land, she should not be led along in this shameful manner. She laments that the dark shall be her light in the future, and the bright reminiscences of the past shall be her hell. She comments sarcastically that she is Duke Humphrey’s wife, and as a ruler and prince of the land, he ruled in such a way that in the end, he had to stand silent while his wife was made a laughing stock. She points out the inability of the duke to save her, although he once was the Protector of the land. She urges him to be brave until his enemies manage to “snare” him.
Suffolk and the queen hate them, and they, together with York and Cardinal Beaufort, have laid traps for Gloucester. Eleanor knows about her husband’s naiveté, and ironically she comments that he will never seek protection from his enemies. Gloucester replies that he must commit a crime before he can be condemned for one and insists that he is “loyal, true, and crimeless.” He convinces her that he would be in danger of breaking the law if he tried to rescue her. The best thing is to keep quiet, to bear everything patiently and to hope for the best. A herald enters and summons the duke to the Parliament. Before leaving, the duke requests that the sheriff not be too hard on his wife.
The sheriff says that his commission has come to an end, and he must hand over the duchess to the custody of Sir John to be taken to the Isle of Man. Tearfully, the duke appeals to John to treat her well and bids them good bye. The desperate duchess laments that with the departure of her husband, every source of comfort has left her, and she now longs only for death. Stanley asks her to change the sheet covering her and dress herself for the journey, but the duchess refuses, saying that no rich robes can cover the shame caused to her.
This scene takes place in a very public setting, the street. The decline of the duchess is the theme of the scene. Equally desperate is the state of the duke, who must watch his wife suffer. With tear-stained eyes, he sees his wife being brought forward barefoot in a white sheet. She carries a candle in her hand. The words spoken by the duke here show his agony, as well as his concern and love for his wife. The duchess never loses her spirit, even at this dark hour.
The duke remains a man of principle. He assures his wife that however strong his enemies are, they will never be able to damage him as long as he is loyal to the king. This shows how true he is to Henry, and also how innocent he is. When he is summoned to his Majesty’s Parliament, he asks the men in charge not to treat his wife unkindly. The scene ends with the duchess urging Sir John Stanley to take her to the prison. She says that she longs for death now, although she used to fear it. Thus comes the fall of the duchess, whose ambition brought about her decline, as well as that of her husband.