This is a scene analysis I wrote for a course called Studies in Shakespeare

Lines 1-93 of Act 5, scene 6 in Henry VI, Part One describe a pivotal moment in the play in several ways, as they serve as examples of many occurrences in the narrative of: firstly, the adolescent king, whose judgement is as callow as his age would suggest, being bullied into making a rash decision by his, in essence, cabinet, experienced men who should be giving the boy sage advice rather than forcing him to come to a verdict on their petty quarrels; secondly, the primary male characters of the play attributing the success of the few females of consequence to sexuality, and in other examples, sorcery, rather than any intellectual powers they may possess; third and lastly, Shakespeare’s trademark of imbuing his dialogue with foreshadowing, in essence allowing his characters to prophesy later events in this saga. What makes this play so compelling is that there are two more parts to it, so the author uses Act 5 not only to bring this part of King Henry VI’s reign to an end but to give the reader a taste of what’s to come.

            King Henry’s initial response to Suffolk’s rhapsodising of Margaret’s humble charms speaks volumes. Henry speaks in Romeo-like simile, evoking the latter’s reckless inexperience, comparing himself to a boat being pushed by the momentum of Suffolk’s breathless praise to land or shipwreck at the harbour of Margaret’s love (1H6. 5.6.5-9). As unsettling as it is to hear a king speak in such a cheaply sentimental manner, it is even more indicative of his character that he feels he needs to be pushed by many “tides,” and the worst kind of king is an indecisive one.

            Suffolk, in continuing to exaggerate Margaret’s qualities, strikes a tawdry sexual note in lines 12-19, referring to these features as “Able to ravish any dull conceit […],” and declaring her “[…] not so divine, […] But with as humble loneliness of mind / She is content to be at your command […],” implying that she’s sexually dominant but would condescendingly let Henry take the lead on occasion. These statements would offend the religious sensibilities of the king and therefore Suffolk appeases him in the next lines: “Command, I mean, of virtuous chaste intents- / To love and honour Henry as her lord” (20-21). Offensive or not, Henry’s positive response to this proposal is inevitable, for he is as weak-spirited as Suffolk is desirous, and Shakespeare makes the disastrous consequences of the future pairing between the king and Margaret clear in his characters’ prescient speeches.

              While Gloucester and Exeter, who, in being rivals of Suffolk and having already fixed a marriage for Henry with the daughter of the Earl of Armagnac, unsurprisingly warn the king of the dangers of such a hasty decision, it is Suffolk’s comments which unexpectedly prove the most ominous. Gloucester’s stern rebuke of Henry’s breach of the previous marriage contract acts as a subtle portent of the French’s future break of the peace treaty signed between the warring nations in Act 5, scene 5. The Earl of Armagnac is also closer to Charles Dauphin than Margaret’s father, René Duke of Anjou, and thus the former would exhibit greater clout in holding the French to their peaceful promise. Exeter sounds a warning of a lesser, but still important magnitude, in reminding his great-nephew of Armagnac’s wealth and therefore his likelihood of providing a higher dowry. I suggest that in Parts Two and Three the factional strife between Henry’s confidants may result in a dearth of finances in the kingdom and thus an army unprepared for the French’s treasonous attacks, therefore the king’s ignorance of the larger fortune the marriage with the Armagnac clan would bring will bear costly results. Finally, and ironically, Suffolk, in restating the few, if any, advantages of the Margaret pairing, illuminates the marital troubles that will come to this union: “For what is wedlock forcèd but a hell, / An age of discord and continual strife?” (62-63) That final statement perfectly encapsulates what England will experience in Parts Two and Three of the reign of King Henry VI, as well as Shakespeare’s use of dialogue as a Greek chorus-like warning of how his plays will unfold.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Henry VI, Part One. Ed. Michael Taylor. New York: Oxford UP, 2003.

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