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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT III, SCENE 2
This scene takes place in Gloucester’s bedchamber and then in a stateroom of the same hall as in the preceding scene, Bury St. Edmunds. Two murderers are on stage after murdering Gloucester. The first murderer says that they should inform Suffolk about the murder. Just then Suffolk enters and promises to reward them for their bloody deed. The sound of trumpets is heard and the king enters with the queen, Cardinal Beaufort, Somerset, and attendants. The king asks the lords to call Duke Humphrey for a trial to prove his innocence. Suffolk agrees to call him. The king requests the lords to take their seats and to treat his uncle in a polite manner. The queen prays that God may bless Gloucester and allow him to prove his innocence.
King Henry is pleased to hear this and thanks her. A pale and worried Suffolk returns and announces the death of Gloucester. The Cardinal says that he had dreamed that night that the duke was dumb and could not speak a word. Hearing this news, the king faints. The queen fears that he is dead, but soon he regains consciousness. When Suffolk consoles the king, the king responds angrily and says that Suffolk is actually mocking him with these words of comfort.
The king refuses to be touched by Suffolk because he says Suffolk’s hands frighten him “as a serpent’s sting.” Queen Margaret asks the king why he is accusing Suffolk in this manner. Although the duke was his enemy, Suffolk laments his death, and the queen also claims to mourn for him. In a lengthy monologue, she regrets coming to England, which she now compares to a “scorpion’s nest.” She is hurt by King Henry’s sudden hard-heartedness towards her. She declares that it is better to die rather than to incur the wrath and hate of the king.
Warwick enters and says that it is reported that Gloucester was murdered by men commissioned by Cardinal Beaufort and Suffolk. The common people have risen up in revolt and are demanding an explanation for his death. The king reports that he knows that Duke Humphrey is dead, but he does not know how he died. He asks Warwick to go and look into the matter. When the king is alone, he expresses his concern that “some violent hands” are responsible for Gloucester’s death.
Warwick returns and agrees that there has been foul play. Displeased at hearing this, Suffolk challenges Warwick to explain himself. Warwick says that he has seen a person who has died from natural causes, in which case the face always looks pale, but Gloucester’s face is “black and full of blood.” His eyeballs bulge out as if somebody had strangled him, and his nostrils appear to be “stretched with struggling.” His hands are also positioned as if he had been involved in a struggle as he died. Suddenly, Suffolk asserts that he and the Cardinal, who were guarding Gloucester, are innocent. Warwick says that it is a well-known fact that the duke was not their friend. The queen questions Suffolk as to whether he is the murderer and asks to see his knife. Suffolk replies that he has no knife, and his sword is rusted from lack of use. He says it is not proper for Warwick to accuse him of murdering the duke, but Warwick does not back down.
The Cardinal and Somerset exit. The queen speaks up for Suffolk and tries to outwit Warwick. Warwick tells the queen to keep quiet because every word she utters is slander to her royal dignity. The enraged Suffolk insults Warwick by calling him a “blunt-witted lord, ignoble in demeanour.” He even goes to the extent of commenting on the chastity of Warwick’s mother, who is not of the Neville’s noble line. Warwick says that it is only Suffolk’s guilty conscience that makes him speak like this.
Warwick and Suffolk continue their quarrel while exiting. They then return with weapons in their hands. The king reproves them for being so bold as to draw their weapons in his presence. Salisbury enters and says that the common people outside will grow violent unless Suffolk is executed or banished from England. They fear the king will also die at Suffolk’s hands, and it is only out of love and loyalty to King Henry that they demand Suffolk’s banishment. The people threaten to break in if they get no answer from the king.
The king tells Salisbury to go and tell the common people that he thanks them for the love and concern they have for him. He admits that his thoughts also prophesy that Suffolk will cause his death. Therefore, he swears that Suffolk shall be banished within three days. The desperate queen pleads for Suffolk. The king further declares that if Suffolk is found in England after three days, the queen’s life will also be in danger. He calls Warwick to accompany him to discuss an important matter. All exit, except for Suffolk and Queen Margaret.
Suffolk asks her to bid him farewell. The forlorn queen takes his hand and sheds her mournful tears. She kisses his hand and begs him to remember that it is the kiss of one who has heaved a thousand sighs for him. She urges him to go quickly because her sorrow increases with him nearby. Suffolk says that the king’s banishment is not as painful as separation from the queen. Even in the wilderness, he should live happily if he had the heavenly company of the queen. In her presence he found all the pleasures of the world, and without her, there is only desolation. Vaux enters and says that the Cardinal has suddenly fallen sick and is near death. He is on his way to announce this development to the king. Suffolk continues that without the queen, his life will be meaningless. He would happily die in her presence, as if he were sleeping soundly on a mother’s lap. In her absence, he will cry out for her. The queen urges him to go quickly to France and asks him to take her heart with him. Suffolk says that her heart is like a precious jewel which he will treasure.
The scene takes place mostly in a stateroom of Bury St. Edmunds. The audience sees two murderers running away from the stage. One of them says that they have done what Suffolk has asked them to do. This reveals Suffolk’s complicity in the murder. Suffolk comes and promises to reward them, and asks whether they have done all as he had directed. This confirms for the audience that with the assistance of Cardinal Beaufort, Suffolk has planned the murder of the duke. When the king asks Suffolk to call Gloucester to face a trial, Suffolk agrees to call him. He puts on a show of innocence. He returns looking pale and worried and declares that the duke is dead.
A show of innocence is also maintained by the queen and the Cardinal. The queen pretends to be innocent and suffering great grief. The Cardinal pretends that he has foreseen the death of the duke in a dream, whereas he actually commissioned the murder.
After a fainting spell, the king gives way to stormy passions and asks Suffolk to get out of his sight. He calls him Suffolk a “basilisk,” a mythic reptile that was supposed to be hatched from a cock’s egg and could kill by its breath and look. When the king reproves Suffolk, the queen tries to plead for Suffolk. The king remains unmoved by her show of grief and tears.
The queen then breaks into a passionate speech noted for its pathetic fallacy (the attributing of human characteristics and emotions to inanimate objects. “Forewarning winds,” “gentle gusts” and “splitting rocks cow’red in the sinking sands” are examples of pathetic fallacy in Margaret’s speech.) The speech is also full of alliteration (the repetition of consonant sounds) and onomatopoeia (the use of words whose sound reflects their meaning, as in “hiss” or “buzz.”) The following lines offer a good example of alliteration, with the repetition of the consonant, “b”: “And he that loos’d them forth their brazen caves,/ And bed them blow towards England’s blessed shore.” The queen also makes references to classical mythology saying, “How often have I tempted Suffolk’s tongue- -/ The agent of thy foul inconstancy--/ To sit and witch me, as Ascanius did,/ When he to madding Dido would unfold/ His father’s acts, commenced in burning Troy!” Margaret is describing the part played by Suffolk in arranging her marriage. Venus gave cupid the semblance of Aeneas’ son, Ascanius, so that he could bewitch Dido, Queen of Carthage, with tales of his father’s deeds at Troy.
The love and concern of the common people for the duke is revealed in this scene alongside the villainy of the queen, Suffolk and the Cardinal. The commoners rise in revolt and demand that whoever is responsible for the death of the duke be executed or banished from the country. They understand that Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort have jointly done this bloody deed. The king also suspects Suffolk and makes the major decision to banish him. King Henry’s sudden decisiveness is the most significant moment in the scene.
The king also appears to be loved and respected by the people very much. They say that the king should be protected from serpents like Suffolk, who will sting him when the moment is right. They demand that the king be well protected by his closest guards when he is asleep.
When the queen pleads for Suffolk, the usually gentle king becomes furious and says that if Suffolk is found within England after three days, the queen’s life will be in danger. The death of his uncle has baffled and pained him so much that all his gentleness appears to have left him.
The two villains of the play say good bye in the last part of the scene. After being banished, Suffolk takes leave of the queen. The queen is so desperate that her words reveal the intense love she has for Suffolk: “O let me entreat thee cease. Give me thy hand,/ That I may dew it with my mournful tears;/ Nor let the rain of heaven wet this place/ To wash away my woeful monuments.” She wishes to kiss his hand and wet it with her tears, which are the “monuments” she has built as a symbol of their love. She longs to imprint his hands with her kisses so that he will be reminded of the lips through which she has sighed for him. Suffolk replies that he will be nothing without the queen. He ardently wishes that his soul could be breathed into her body. At the time of Suffolk’s departure, the queen tells him to take her heart with him.