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The play offers an account of aristocratic sedition and a portrayal of the relationship between the king and his Protector, Duke Humphrey. It concerns itself with the nature of history, the role of conscience and the relation between the law and justice. Margaret’s coronation in 1445 marks the beginning of Henry VI, Part 2. This play concentrates largely on the conspiracy of Buckingham, Suffolk, and Cardinal Beaufort (the Bishop of Winchester) to take power from Gloucester, Protector of the kingdom and father to the king. The struggle began when Henry’s cousin, Richard, the third Duke of York, made a claim for the throne. In many ways, the central theme of the play is the question of legitimacy, or the right to rule.
The claim was based on the grounds that York was the maternal great- great-grandson of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III, whereas Henry was great-grandson of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the fourth son. York chose as his badge a white rose, while the Lancastrians led by Somerset wore red roses. Henry VI’s claim is further weakened by the fact that his grand father, Henry IV, had usurped the throne and murdered the childless Richard II in 1400. Rebellion broke out in Ireland, and York, who was dispatched with an army to put it down, took the opportunity to make this army serve his own ambition. He won the first battle of St. Albans, which is the end of the play, Henry VI, Part 2.
Without the monarch’s imperial control, all the conflicting political and economic forces of the country will question the authority of the ruler. One of the central events of the play is the death of Gloucester, which symbolizes the end of justice. The play also examines the relationship between the personality of Henry VI and the role he has to play. He is portrayed as a symbolic, mystical man living by divine ideals but having to face realties. Under him, the law has no importance and is far from just. The Horner/Peter duel is a mirror sequence that reflects the theme of justice in the political world. Another such scene is the miracle scene, in which Simpcox’s fraud is exposed by the Gloucester.
The political center of the play is the bond between Henry and Gloucester. The king’s supporters include Somerset, the Cliffords, Buckingham and the Staffords. This Lancastrian alliance is threatened by the claim of York and by the conspiracy of Queen Margaret and Suffolk. Henry’s inability to maintain dominion over France shatters the loyalty of Warwick and Salisbury, who then side with York. The enmity between Eleanor and the queen also threatens the court. All these events substantiate the fact that one of the main Themes of the play is the nature of authority and power. The Cade revolt exposes the evils of rebellion, and the uprising of the commoners becomes a microcosm of the quarrel between the aristocrats. This forms a minor theme of the play. The rebels under Cade demand liberty, not anarchy.
The play is particularly concerned with the nature and workings of the law in such a society. The self-interest of aristocratic individuals is converted into policy, and the law into expediency. In the trial scene, force reigns and the concept of justice is undermined. Motives are concealed behind pretexts, and concern for the commonwealth hides the desire for private wealth. Power remains in the hands of the aristocrats.