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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES
ACT V, SCENE 1
The setting is an open field between St. Albans and London. York enters with his Irish army and announces that he is coming to claim the throne. He asks the people to ring bells and burn bonfires to entertain him, the lawful King of England. York will win the scepter (a staff or rod carried by a ruler as a sign of royal power) with the sword. Buckingham enters and says that he has come as a messenger from King Henry to learn the reason behind this uprising. The king wants to know why York, one of his best subjects, should raise such a mighty force against him.
York compares himself to Ajax Telamonius, who went mad during the Trojan War and attacked a flock of sheep that he mistook for the Greeks. He says he is far better born than King Henry and “more kingly in (his) thoughts.” York says he will bide his time until there is a shift in the balance of power between himself and the king. York continues that he has brought this army now to remove Somerset, a traitor to the king and nation. Buckingham says that the Duke of Somerset is in the Tower as a prisoner. York then dismisses his soldiers and thanks them. He tells them to meet him the next day in Saint George’s field, where they shall be paid well.
York pledges his sons and all his possessions to the virtuous King Henry if Somerset is killed. The king enters and asks York why he has done all this. York replies that he has mustered a huge army to remove the traitor, Somerset, and also to fight against Cade. Just then Iden enters carrying with him the head of Cade. He tells the king that he has killed Cade in combat and introduces himself as Alexander Iden, a poor esquire of Kent. The king promotes him to knight and rewards him with a thousand crowns. Iden promises that he will never be untrue to his king. The king notices Somerset coming with the queen and asks Buckingham to hide Somerset from York. The queen says that even if a thousand Yorks arrive, Somerset will boldly stand in front of him. York notices Somerset, whom he insults, before accusing the king of lying to him.
He says that the king is not fit to be the ruler of so many people. His head is not suited for the crown, and his hand is suited only to carry a pilgrim’s staff, and not the princely scepter. York proclaims that his hand is suited to hold the scepter, and his head is suited to carry the crown. He asks the king to step down. Somerset arrests him for treason. York orders his sons to be summoned, as they will pay for his release from prison. The queen and York exchange harsh words.
York’s sons enter from one side as Clifford enters from the other. Clifford comes and kneels before the king. York says that he is the king and that Clifford should kneel down before him. Clifford says that York must be mad to say such things and is a traitor who should be executed. York’s sons, Richard and Edward, are questioned. They both side with their father. York asks the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury to be summoned. They enter with drums and soldiers and do not kneel down before the king, who is surprised.
The king asks if the old and wise Salisbury has also been misled by his son. Very much shocked to see the unexpected turn of events, the king laments that there is no faith, loyalty or truth in the world. Salisbury replies that he considers the Duke of York to be the rightful ruler of England. His allegiance to the king is broken because he thinks it is a great sin to keep such a sinful oath. A verbal duel occurs between Warwick and Clifford. Young Clifford gets ready for action and entreats his father to fight.
In this scene York emerges as the powerful leader of an army of Irish soldiers; he claims his right to the throne of England. He also aims to remove Somerset.
When Buckingham arrives on the king’s behalf to inquire into York’s sudden uprising, York responds with anger. He compares himself to Ajax Telamonius, son of Telamon, who destroyed a flock of sheep, believing them to be his enemies. He was driven to this madness after Ulysses--instead of himself--was awarded Achilles’ arms. He then committed suicide. Just like Ajax, he is finding the means to vent his anger. He says the king is not at all capable in his role. He has brought this powerful army to remove the traitorous Somerset from the king. When Buckingham tells him that Somerset is a prisoner in the Tower, York readily dismisses the army and goes to King Henry.
Queen Margaret’s alliance with Somerset is revealed when she says that Somerset will never hide his head, even if a thousand Yorks come. When York sees Somerset, he delivers a furious speech to the king, who had falsely convinced him that Somerset was imprisoned, when actually he was not. The enraged York disgraces the king by saying that he is not the rightful ruler of the throne of England. York says that he himself has the qualities of Achilles’ spear. This is a reference classical mythology, according to which, Telephus, wounded with the spear of Achilles, was cured by the rust of that spear.
The king is in a desperate position when he sees that Warwick and Salisbury are against him. Desperately, he laments the lack of faith, loyalty and true love on this earth. He berates Salisbury for this hasty action, when in his old age he should act more judiciously. Warwick also joins his father and declares that York is right.