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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT IV, SCENE 3
Alarms are heard indicating that a battle is going on. Both the Staffords are killed. Cade and the others enter. Cade is very pleased with Dick the Butcher for his amazing performance in the war. He plans to go to London dragging the bodies of the Stafford brothers at his horse’s heels. Dick advises Cade to break open the prison and let the prisoners go.
This short scene gives an account of the slaying of the Staffords on June 18 th , 1450, according to Holinshed. The victorious Cade is very pleased with the fighting prowess of Dick, the butcher of Ashford. Cade aims to reward Dick by waiving for him the usual Lenten restrictions against slaughtering meat to which butchers were subjected. Cade looks forward to approaching London.
ACT IV, SCENE 4
The scene takes place in the palace in London. The king enters with a petition from the rebels, and the queen with Suffolk’s head. The Duke of Buckingham and Lord Saye are also present. Queen Margaret tells herself not to weep at Suffolk’s death but to find a means of revenge. Buckingham asks the king what his answer is to the rebels’ supplication. The king replies that he will send a bishop to negotiate with them, as he wants to avoid bloodshed. He himself is going to speak with Jack Cade.
The king continues to read and tells Lord Saye that Jack Cade has sworn to have his (Saye’s) head. The king also notices the grief-stricken queen and wonders whether she will mourn his death as much as she mourns Suffolk’s. The queen claims she would die for the king. A messenger enters hastily and tells the king that the rebels have arrived in Southwark and that Jack Cade proclaims himself to be Lord Mortimer, “(d)escended from the Duke of Clarence’ house.” He calls the king a usurper and vows to be crowned in Westminster. He has a huge army of “rude and merciless” peasants, who are encouraged to proceed by the death of the Stafford brothers.
They want all scholars, lawyers, courtiers and gentlemen to be put to death. Buckingham advises the shocked king to retire to Kenilworth until the rebels are put down. The queen says that had the Duke of Suffolk been alive, he would have suppressed the rebels. The king invites Lord Saye to take refuge with him at Kenilworth. However, Lord Saye refuses and decides to hide in the city itself. A second messenger arrives and conveys the news that Jack Cade and his men have almost crossed the London Bridge. The bloodthirsty rebels are bent on plundering the city and the royal court. The king consoles the queen by telling her not to lose hope. In an aside she says that all her hopes died with Suffolk. While departing, the king tells Saye not to trust the Kentish rebels, to Buckingham adds that Saye should trust no one.
This scene presents the king trapped in an awful situation. He is surrounded by rebels from Kent on one side, and his own queen, who is unfaithful to him, on the other side. The irony here is that while the queen should be happy at the death of one of her husband’s enemies, she is actually mourning the loss of Suffolk. As usual, the king turns to God when in a crisis and decides to send a bishop to negotiate with the rebels. Henry is a man of peace.
The messenger announces that the rebels have reached Southwark. It is said that Cade condemns scholars, lawyers, and other gentlemen as “false caterpillars,” or parasites who feed on the commonwealth. “Caterpillar” was frequently used as a term of abuse for those regarded as parasites within a society. The rebels also hate Lord Saye for his part in the surrender of Anjou and Maine. When the king bids farewell to Lord Saye and asks him not to trust the Kentish rebels, Buckingham adds, “Trust nobody, for fear you be betrayed.” This may be a premonition of what is to come.