Henry VI, Part Three

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The third play in Shakespeare's first historical tetralogy was first printed in a corrupt text in 1595 ( see ‘CONTENTION’ PLAYS). As with 2 Henry VI, the title may derive from the editors of the First Folio. It is alluded to in Robert Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, written by September 1592, and is usually dated shortly before this. It is based on Holinshed's Chronicles and Halle's Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York, and is so closely related to Part Two that the plays were probably intended to be given consecutively.

John Crowne adapted the first three acts of Part Two as Henry the Sixth, the First Part, and parts of both plays in The Misery of Civil War, both in 1680 (acted 1681). Ambrose Philips's Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, given at Drury Lane in 1723, uses only about thirty lines of Part Two. Theophilus Cibber's Historical Tragedy of the Civil Wars in the Reign of King Henry VI, given once only at Drury Lane in the same year, draws on both Parts, as well as on Crowne and on Henry VJ. H. Merivale also drew on both Parts in his Richard, Duke of York in which Edmund Kean appeared at Drury Lane in 1817–18.

Shakespeare's Part Two was given at the Surrey Theatre, London, in 1864. F. R. Benson gave it at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1899, 1901, and 1909, and included all three Parts in a history cycle of seven plays in 1906. Robert Atkins reduced the three plays to two at the Old Vic in 1923. Douglas Seale directed all three at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1951–3, and they were repeated with great success at the Old Vic in 1957. Much of the play was included in Peter Hall's The Wars of the Roses (1963), and in Adrian Noble's The Plantagenets (1988). Terry Hands directed all three parts in an important revival at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1977, and Michael Bogdanov directed all the history plays in the two tetralogies for the English Shakespeare Company (1986, filmed 1989). The plays were included in the BBC television series An Age of Kings. There was a rare independent revival in 1994 when Katie Mitchell directed a touring production for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.

Reference entries

William Shakespeare (1564—1616) playwright and poet