Why, what is pomp, rule, reign, but earth and dust?
And, live we how we can, yet die we must.
A history play by William Shakespeare
, Henry VI Part 3
is the last of three plays describing the end of the Hundred Years War
and the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses
. In the final chapter of the trilogy, the houses of Lancaster and York wage bloody war against each other until one is victorious. The play also sets up conflicts and characters for Richard III
The play opens with a face-off between York and Henry and their respective supporters. Henry gives in to the Yorkist threats and agrees a deal: York will inherit the throne on the natural death of Henry. Disgusted with the King's cowardice, Margaret and his other supporters continue the war on their own, defeating the Yorkists in battle. York's youngest son, Rutland, is murdered by Young Clifford and York captured, taunted with the death of his son, and then executed.
The Earl of Warwick, now the senior military figure in the Yorkist cause, continues the fight on behalf of York's son Edward. His younger brother Richard is now also joined by the middle son, George, at the head of reinforcements from France. Between them, they defeat Margaret and the Lancastrians and Edward is proclaimed King Edward IV, with Richard and George being made dukes of Gloucester and Clarence respectively.
Edward takes a fancy to Elizabeth Woodville and marries her quickly — outraging Warwick, who was in the middle of negotiating a political marriage with a French princess. Warwick switches sides, joining the Lancastrian cause, and George of Clarence petulantly goes with him. The tide swings the other way once more — Edward is captured, Henry restored. But Edward is rescued and kills Warwick in battle, before Clarence repents and rejoins his brothers. In the final battle, Edward kills Henry's son and captures Margaret, while Richard sneaks off to murder Henry VI and remove any further complications.
As the trilogy ends, things are looking rosy for the House of York — the Lancastrian cause seems dead and gone, and there is a new heir to the throne — young Edward. As Richard of Gloucester, the King's brother, summarises it at the start of the next play — "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York". That's right, folks — he's going to become Richard III
very soon and we all know how that turned out...
This play provides examples of:
- Abdicate the Throne: Forced.
- Anti-Hero: Many. Not many real heroes.
- Because Destiny Says So: Richard of Gloucester morphs into The Starscream and The Brute of the Yorkist faction in part because he literally seems born for it, misshapen and disfigured but still a twisted and cunning strategist and soldier. Henry VI testifies to numerous bad omens on Richard's birth and knows he's going to die the second Richard gets them alone.
- The Clan: Several, but especially the House of York.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The Yorkists wear white roses, the Lancastrians red. Quite often this is extended to general costume colour-coding as well.
- Decapitation Presentation: There are lots of disembodied heads floating around in this play, and although this action is not mentioned explicitly in the stage directions many directors do it anyway, 'cause it looks
- Everyone Is Related: Expected, given that almost every major character is of noble blood and there's not that much to go around.
- Feuding Families: York and Lancaster.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: Margaret stabs the captive York after taunting him with Clifford's murder of the youngest York boy, Rutland. He's only a kid!
- Handicapped Badass: Richard's pretty good in battle, in spite of his crooked back, gimp arm, and short leg.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Henry VI, sitting on his little hill in the middle of a battlefield, delivers speech about how he would have liked to be born a simple man.
O God! methinks it were a happy life,
To be no better than a homely swain;
To sit upon a hill, as I do now,
To carve out dials quaintly, point by point,
Thereby to see the minutes how they run,
How many make the hour full complete;
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Mama Bear: Margaret, over her son's death.
- Manipulative Bastard: Richard has yet to start pulling his tricks on his oldest brother Edward but has already made the middle brother George his loyal ally and future victim.
- Motive Rant: Richard of Gloucester gets a few that foreshadow his opening monologue in Richard III.
- Non-Action Guy: Henry VI, a bookish and pious ruler when England really needed a strong warrior.
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Richard, when pursuing Young Clifford.
- Pet the Dog: Richard, despite all his crimes later on and continuing in his own play, is genuinely outraged by the deaths of his father and brother and is determined to kill their murderer.
- Regent for Life: Henry VI agrees to make Richard of York his heir if he, Henry, is allowed to finish his reign.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Young Clifford, Margaret, the York brothers - in fact, nearly everybody.
- Start of Darkness: Richard Duke of Gloucester, on his way to becoming Richard III.
- Turn Coat: Across the trilogy, Warwick once, Burgundy once, Clarence twice.
- Also lampshaded by Joan of Arc in Part One, when the Duke of Burgundy wavered between the French and English sides.
"Done like a Frenchman: turn, and turn again!"
- Welcome Back, Traitor: Clarence — though it doesn't take much to persuade his brother Richard to murder him in the next play...