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Free Study Guide-Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes
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The king, queen, Cardinal Beaufort, Suffolk, York, Buckingham, Salisbury and Warwick enter the Parliament. The king wonders why Gloucester has not yet arrived. The queen points out to King Henry how strangely Gloucester has been behaving recently. He has completely changed from being the mild and submissive man he used to be to a man with an angry nature. The queen further warns that the king should be careful: the next one in line for the throne is Gloucester, who is no small man in England. Margaret claims that Gloucester is as powerful as the lion, which symbolizes both England and the crown. She adds that it is only by flattery that Gloucester has won the hearts of the common people.

He is so popular among the common people that they may follow him if he wants to start an uprising. Now is the time is to remove him, just as in spring the weeds are pulled up. If they are not destroyed, they will overtake the garden and suffocate the existing plants. Queen Margaret stresses that her ardent concern and love for her husband has prompted her to examine the duke closely and to notice these qualities in him. She appeals to the lords present to reprove her if she is in the wrong. Suffolk adds that had he had the chance to say what was on his mind, he would have told them that Gloucester himself encouraged the duchess to undertake her “devilish practices” and to plot the fall of King Henry. The Cardinal points out that the duke “devise(d) strange deaths for small offences.” York accuses the duke of taxing the people throughout the realm in order to pay the soldiers in France, who never received their money.

The king patiently says that the lords’ attempt to remove the “thorns” that annoy him is admirable. However, the king assures them that the duke is completely innocent of plotting against him. Queen Margaret quickly retorts and says that the king’s foolish trust in Gloucester is very dangerous. Somerset then enters and delivers the news that the king has lost his territories in France. This bad news upsets the king, but he consoles himself by saying that God’s will is done. York says to himself that this is bad news for him, too, because he had hopes of gaining lands in France, as well as in England. He compares his hopes to a plant whose blossoms have faded and whose leaves have been eaten away by caterpillars. He firmly resolves to remedy this loss.

Gloucester enters and first wishes the king all happiness, then apologizes for his delay. Suffolk announces that he is going to arrest Gloucester for high treason. Gloucester replies that nobody can accuse him of treason when he is not guilty. York says that Gloucester took bribes in France, and that while he was the Protector, he did not pay the soldiers, and as a result, the king has now lost France. Gloucester assures them that he has never taken bribes nor robbed the soldiers of their pay. He has never betrayed the king.

York further accuses Gloucester of devising strange tortures for prisoners, causing England to be accused of tyranny. Gloucester protests and says that while he was the Protector, he would always melt at an offender’s tears; only cold-blooded murderers were punished. Suffolk dismisses the duke’s protests and repeats that the duke is under arrest: he will be supervised by the Lord Cardinal until the time of his trial. The king says that he hopes that Gloucester will be cleared of all these charges and emerge innocent after the trial. Bitterly, Gloucester says that these days are dangerous, as virtue is choked by ambition. Foul subordination is predominant. He knows that the lords want the end of him, and if his death will make the country happy, he is ready to die.

Gloucester then addresses the queen and says that by her domineering attitude she has laid disgrace on his head and become his enemy. He does not wish to be accused by liars. Suffolk berates Gloucester for speaking this way about the queen. Buckingham hastily says that the duke is now Cardinal Beaufort’s prisoner. Before leaving, Gloucester says that the king is throwing away his crutches before his legs are firm enough to carry his body. He expresses his fear that the king will also soon be killed.

The grief-stricken king decides to leave the Parliament. He can see the mark of honor, truth and loyalty on Gloucester’s face and wonders which evil star is making it so that all the lords and his queen despise him. He knows that the duke has not done any wrong but he nevertheless stands accused. The king is so helpless that he can only silently witness the duke’s torment and is not able to save him.

The queen tells King Henry that he has too much compassion for Gloucester, whom she portrays as a cunning deceiver. She once again tells the lords that it is wise to get rid of Gloucester so that they can be free from the fear that he inspires in them. Cardinal Beaufort says that the duke should be condemned by law because they must have a legal pretext for his execution. Suffolk says that the king will save him, and the common people will also rise happily to his defense. They do not want the duke to be remembered as an innocent man who was put to death.

Then Suffolk says that he is prepared to kill Gloucester in order to save his king. The Cardinal steps in and says that he can provide the executioner. Queen Margaret, Suffolk and York agree, and the execution of the duke is decided.

A messenger from Ireland enters and delivers the news that some rebels are planning an attack, and it is better that the lords try to stop it before it gets out of control. York snidely suggests sending Somerset as Regent to Ireland, considering the luck he had in France. Somerset says that if York had been the Regent of France at that time, he would not have lasted. York sarcastically points out that they lost France and brought dishonor home. He says that Somerset would never win a battle because he is too concerned about his own physical safety. The queen makes them stop arguing. Cardinal Beaufort then asks York to go as Regent to Ireland, to which York agrees. Suffolk agrees to provide him with the necessary soldiers. Cardinal Beaufort promises that he will see to it that they have no more trouble from the duke. York tells Suffolk that within fourteen days he will be expecting soldiers at Bristol, and from there he will set off for Ireland.

When alone, York says to himself that it is good that they are sending him with a host of men, because he will need an army to take the crown. He reveals his scheme: he has enlisted the help of a man named John Cade to start a rebellion in England. Cade will pose as John Mortimer, a member of the family through which York traced his claim to the throne in Act II, Scene 2. York is confident that he will be in a position to seize power when he returns from Ireland. Gloucester will be dead by then, and York does not anticipate that the king will offer much resistance.


The scene is a very long one and takes place in the hall of Bury St. Edmunds. Everyone enters the House of Parliament.

The king notices that Gloucester has not come and wonders why. The queen points out to him that Gloucester has not been the same man lately. By putting on a show of concern before the king, she is actually starting her real attack against Gloucester. She warns Henry to be careful, lest Gloucester deprive him of his throne and kill him. Henry’s close association with Gloucester (Duke Humphrey, his own uncle) could prove to be fatal, according to Queen Margaret. In any case, she reminds the king of Gloucester’s popularity among the commoners. She uses the metaphor of the nation as a garden to illustrate the threat posed by the duke: Gloucester is like a weed that must be killed for the greater good of England. A similar gardening metaphor is used in Richard II.

Following the queen’s attack on Gloucester’s character, Suffolk also tries to poison the king’s mind with the false report that it was the duke who encouraged the duchess to plot against Henry.

King Henry’s consistent faith in the duke is revealed when he speaks of Gloucester as being as innocent as a “sucking lamb or harmless dove.” He assures the lords that the duke would not work against him. The queen mocks the king’s foolish trust in the duke, and says that Gloucester is not a dove, but a raven, and not a lamb, but a wolf. When Gloucester enters, he is already under attack, but he is confident in his own innocence, even after Suffolk puts him under arrest: “A heart unspotted is not easily daunted/ The purest spring is not so free from mud/ As I am clear from treason to my sovereign.” The duke’s firm belief that truth can never be hidden by falsehood is shown here. But he will not be able to overcome the combined efforts of Cardinal Beaufort and Suffolk.

The desperate duke laments the corrupt state of his world, and when he is led away, he makes a sort of prophecy: he says that the king is throwing away his crutches before his legs can carry him. He means that he is the crutch to the king, and the king, being weak, needs firm support to sustain him. By separating Gloucester from King Henry, their enemies are actually devising methods to achieve the downfall of the king. The king further says that in spite of all the allegations showered on the duke, he still finds in the latter’s face honor, truth and loyalty. The consistent trust and love between them is very clearly portrayed here: “Ah, uncle Humphrey, in thy face I see/ The map of honor, truth and loyalty.” According to the king, the duke is being treated like a calf taken away to the “slaughter-house” The king compares himself to the mother which silently witnesses the loss of her young, but can do nothing about it. He, likewise, is powerless to help his uncle.

Animal metaphors abound. The queen further compares Gloucester to the “mournful crocodile” and the cunning snake, luring a child away from safety. York says, “an empty eagle were set/ To guard the chicken from a hungry kite.” The kite, now comparatively rare in England, was the common scavenger of Elizabethan London. It would prey on partridges as well as chickens. Suffolk speaks of the duke’s death in the following terms: “No--let him die in that he is a fox,/ By nature proved an enemy to the flock...” Gloucester proved to be an enemy of the king, just as the fox is the enemy of the flock.

When news arrives that the Irish rebels are troubling England, York says that Somerset should be sent to Ireland. York’s animosity towards Somerset is revealed here, as he makes a reference to their earlier rivalry for the regency of France. Then, in his lengthy monologue, York introduces a “John Cade of Ashford” whom he has convinced to pose as John Mortimer. York has seen Cade’s abilities as a warrior, and he knows he can stir up a rebellion among the English people.

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Free Study Guide-Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare-Free Plot Summary


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