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Henry VI


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A: William Shakespeare Pf:c.1589–92, London Pb: 1623 (Parts 2 and 3 as ‘bad’ 1st quartos, 1594–5) G: Hist. dramas, each in 5 acts; blank verse, some prose in Part 2 S: England and France, 1422–71 C: (1) 31m, 3f, extras; (2) 40m, 4f, extras; (3) 36m, 3f, extrasPart 1. England is weakened by the squabbling of the English nobles, and the conquests of the recently deceased Henry V are lost in France. The young King Henry VI, a Lancastrian, tries in vain to reconcile the hostile parties. Meanwhile, in France, Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc) leads the French to victory, and is defeated only when the English army at last unites. Margaret of Anjou is captured and is taken to become the English queen. Part 2. Henry marries Margaret, but the generous dowry of French lands angers his uncle Gloucester, eventually leading to his arrest and death in prison. Richard, Duke of York incites Jack Cade to lead a people's rebellion against Henry, but the fickle mob turns on their leader, and the revolt fails. Instead, York leads his own forces against Henry, who is defeated at the Battle of St Albans, the first of the Wars of the Roses. Part 3. Since York is in control of Parliament, Henry attempts to bribe him to win his support, but Queen Margaret leads a victorious army against York near Wakefield. York is put to death, but Margaret's triumph is short-lived. York's ally, Warwick, leads a counter-attack near Towton, defeating the Lancastrians. Edward, the son of York, is proclaimed king, and his brothers made dukes of Gloucester and Clarence. Henry is swept back to power for a brief period, but, largely thanks to Richard Gloucester, Edward is restored to the throne after the Battle of Tewkesbury, and Richard murders Henry in the Tower of London. The trilogy ends with Edward on the throne, his new wife at his side, and Richard muttering of his own ambition to be king.Henry VI is amongst the earliest of Shakespeare's works, certainly his first serious drama, and possibly not exclusively his own work. No one before him had attempted to dramatize history on this scale. He documents the tortuous and violent progress of the Wars of the Roses, leading to the less episodic and more focused work of Richard III. It is perhaps the sense of being unable to escape the savage twists of history in Henry VI that makes the arrival of Henry Richmond so welcome at the end of Richard III – a king neither weak like Henry nor evil like Richard. The trilogy (with Richard III) was played over three evenings by the RSC as The Wars of the Roses (1963), an adaptation by John Barton that has also been successfully performed abroad.

A: William Shakespeare Pf:c.1589–92, London Pb: 1623 (Parts 2 and 3 as ‘bad’ 1st quartos, 1594–5) G: Hist. dramas, each in 5 acts; blank verse, some prose in Part 2 S: England and France, 1422–71 C: (1) 31m, 3f, extras; (2) 40m, 4f, extras; (3) 36m, 3f, extras

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Subjects: Literature.


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