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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Elisa

King Henry VI part 3

Setting: 1455-1471 AD

London, UK


My(not-so) abridged plot summary: Part 3 begins right where part 2 ended, with the Yorkists defeating the Lancastrians at St. Albans. York places himself upon the throne, causing a fight between his followers and King Henry's. A deal is struck that Henry will remain king until he dies, and then the throne will be passed to the House of York. Queen Margaret, supported by Clifford, declares war on York because her son Edward is being denied his birthright. Margaret attacks York's castle and wins (slay)! During the battle, Clifford kills York's son Rutland. York is captured by Margaret, and cue the greatest scene in the play: Margaret puts York on a molehill, places a paper crown on his head, taunts him with a handkerchief covered in the blood of his son, and then orders: "Off with his head and set it on York gates, So York may overlook the town of York." I mean come on! That's so good. We love a #girlboss getting her revenge. A literal SLAY! The Yorkists regroup at the Battle of Towton and win. During the battle, Henry sits on a molehill and gets all #existential, per usual. Edward (of the Yorkists) is declared King, and the House of York is finally on the throne. But we're nowhere close to done. Upgrades people, Upgrades! George becomes the Duke of Clarence, and Richard, the Duke of Gloucester (recognize him yet?). King Edward and George exit and Richard begins to plot his ambitious accession to the throne (anyone??). Meanwhile, Margaret and Warwick bicker over in France for French support. Ultimately, Warwick wins with his marriage negotiations on behalf of King Edward. BUT, back in England, Edward has fallen for the recently widowed Lady Grey, AKA Elizabeth Woodville(!), and they marry. Hearing of this, Warwick he feels like his efforts have been in vain, and he renounces King Edward and promises his daughter Anne to Prince Edward, thus becoming an ally of the Lancastrians. Warwick invades England with the support of French troops and takes King Edward prisoner. The newly Queen Elizabeth is heavily pregnant and is forced to flee for her safety. King Edward is rescued by Richard, and Henry is restored to the throne... and you thought we were done, but no! There's more battles and betrayals to come! It is important to note that, the young Earl of Richmond is now sent into exile, he's the descendant of John of Gaunt (making him related to Richard II and Edward III), and thus a Lancastrian heir to be kept safe in case of emergency... a spare, if you will. The Yorkists win the Battle of Barnet, where Warwick is killed. Henry is sent to the Tower of London, leaving Margaret and Prince Edward to lead the Lancastrian forces in the Battle of Tewkesbury, where they are ultimately captured. Margaret is then banished, and Prince Edward killed. Richard goes to the Tower and kills Henry. As he is dying, Henry prophesies about Richard's future villainy and the chaos he will bring to England (he's Richard III, sorry not sorry for spoilers). King Edward is reunited with his infant son and celebrations ensue, believing the civil war has finally ended... little do they know what's to come. Nobody's out of the woods yet.

My favorite quotes:

How sweet a thing is it to wear a crown,

Within whose circuit is Elysium

And all that poets feign of bliss and joy.

~Richard, I.ii

My crown is in my heart, not on my head.

~King Henry, III.i

Fearless minds climb soonest unto crowns.

~Gloucester, IV.vii


  • Overall Impression: 8- I definitely like this play the most out of the Henry VI trilogy. It is so action-packed and we get some of Margaret's most iconic moments. We also get to see the rise of one of History's and Shakespeare's most notorious villains, Richard III. Love a good villain origin story. I'm also historically a fan of Elizabeth Woodville, so love seeing her come into action in the Shakespeare Theatrical Universe.

  • Use of Language: 8- Shakespeare does something really interesting in this play, the word "crown" appears in this play more times than in any of his other plays. Not the play you'd expect for that, is it? But what makes it so interesting is his use of the repetition of the word. One would think that the repetition would "establish its value",whereas it actually "erodes" the meaning the more it gets used. The crown also gets passed around more in this play than in any other play, further devaluing the word, and metaphorically the authority of the crown itself. Another interesting thing Shakespeare does is with Richard's speeches. He is the only character who is given any soliloquies, providing the audience insight into his ambitions and the full scope of his character. Henry VI part 3 was (probably) written just before Richard III, so this is certainly a fascinating preview into the work Shakespeare would later do in one of his most popular Histories.

  • Protagonist Arc: 6- Honestly Henry doesn't do much for me. I don't find his character that compelling. Sympathetic? Sure, but I do think that's what Shakespeare was going for. Honestly, his portrayal of Henry in this trilogy is not that far from what we know of the actual Henry. He was not cut out to be King, let alone during a civil war. Interestingly enough, however, I really don't think the Henry VI plays are driven by a central protagonist, like most drama is. I think they're ensemble-driven, which may be controversial and the furthest thing from traditional, but I see a lot of value in that. It also reflects the actual chaos that was Wars of the Roses, and how there were so many key players. In order for this to be considered a "History" it does have to be titled "King _," and categorically Histories are about English History and the crown, so it was necessary for the title to be as such.

  • Female Characters: 10- See act I scene iv for all the information you need on this category. Ugh I just love Margaret so much, and I can't forget about Elizabeth Woodville. Two incredibly powerful women from history sharing the stage.

  • Fits Genre: 10- Yeah it's about the English throne and there's a ton of backstabbing and battles. What more is there? In all seriousness though, this play provides an incredibly unique perspective on the Wars of the Roses. Shakespeare wrote this to be a "dramatic meditation on the horrors of unchecked human appetite" (The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works).

  • Overall Enjoyment: 8- I like this play, but I also like most Histories. I'm a British History nerd, and the chaos of the Wars of the Roses is really interesting to me. The backstabbing is fun, and watching Margaret rage all over this play is iconic.

  • Hype Worthy: 7- Again, I think this is the most interesting of the Henry VI cycle. I think it's underrated, but also slightly confusing (see the Edwards), so I get why it isn't produced very often. Also it does make more sense contextually to be done in rep with the rest of the cycle, and even Richard III so yeah. If you get a chance to see a production of this, you should absolutely go.

  • Emotional Impact: 6- I wouldn't say this play really tugs on anyone's heartstrings. You have to feel bad for Henry, I guess, but I think the real emotional impact is all the backstabbing and plot twists. They certainly elicit a different type of emotional response.

Total: 63/80

Average: 8

4 out of 5 stars

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