Thursday, January 09, 2014

William Shakespeare: Henry VI Part III (c. 1590)

Title Page of the Octavo

Up until now I have only ever thought about this play as one station in a larger progress, the great theatrical chronicle that, so far as we can see, established Shakespeare’s reputation as an important player among players. (His earlier Taming of the Shrew seems not to have made much of a splash.)

But 3 Henry VI must have been performed, as it was first published, as a separate piece intended to captivate and satisfy an audience on the night. It has its own identity, and since it happens that I’m re-reading it in separation from its invariable fellows, this seems an opportunity to look at it in a different way.

It’s a packed chronicle, unflaggingly vigorous and very fast-moving. In certain respects there’s a bludgeoning repetition: In Act I Wakefield (Lancaster win), in Act II Towton (York win), in Act IV Warwick (Lancaster win), in Act V Barnet and Tewkesbury (both York wins). Some producers have therefore sought to emphasize a spirit of weariness, a war that goes on too long, battles that become increasingly automatic and senseless. That testifies to a very humane distaste on the producer’s part, but it misrepresents the unflagging vigour. If the young Shakespeare gives us too many battles, that’s because everyone wanted to see battles on stage, not because everyone hated to see them. It was terrifyingly exciting. It’s when you cease to fear civil war that you become concerned with disapproving it.

To view these affairs in a coarser and more sporting spirit, the Lancastrians’ eventual defeat depends on the fatal weakness of their behaviour when they’re on top in Act IV: they needed to kill Edward, not imprison him. All the other battles end in some atrocity, but on this occasion the Lancastrian side is without its dependable killers; Clifford is already dead, and Margaret is still in France. So Warwick only deposes Edward – and feebly lets his brothers escape. And Edward rather gets away with the political errors of Act III.

Nevertheless, the play ends in only formal triumph for the Yorkists. Edward’s closing lines are dramatically hollow. We have just seen the three brothers  surround and slaughter Henry’s son; then we’ve seen Henry himself being murdered by Richard. This is not a happy foundation for triumph.

Besides, these brothers are by now individualized in ways that create deep fault-lines between them. In Henry’s son’s words:

Lascivious Edward, and thou, perjur’d George,
And thou, mis-shapen Dick...

They began as a loyal team, formidably assisting their father; they end as a crew.

In one respect, however, these glorious suns of York were never quite a team of equals. From the first, Richard is marked out. In the opening moments of the play there is a polite competition in bloodletting –

Edward (York’s eldest son):

Lord Stafford’s father, Duke of Buckingham,
Is either slain or wounded dangerous:
I cleft his beaver with a downright blow;
That this is true, father, behold his blood.

Montague (York’s brother):

And, brother, here’s the Earl of Wiltshire’s blood,
Whom I encounter’d as the battles join’d.

Richard (York’s third son):

Speak thou for me and tell them what I did.

[Throwing down the Duke of Somerset’s head.]


Richard hath best deserved of all my sons.

This last line must even in Shakespeare’s time have formed an ironic contrast with the barbarity of Richard’s coup de theâtre. But it acknowledges his pre-eminence. Richard is his father’s favourite, and more importantly the dramatist’s favourite.

The same three people, Edward, Richard and their uncle, have another polite dispute in the second scene of the play. Which of them is to urge York to break the pact that he has just made with King Henry? At first the brothers speak in concert, but York is unconvinced.

I took an oath that he should quietly reign.


But for a kingdom any oath may be broken:
I’d break a thousand oaths to reign one year.


No; God forbid your grace should be forsworn.

Richard sees, and we see, that Edward has set off on a wrong course. I mentioned “killers” in the play; but the elder York is not one of them. Ambitious self-seeker as he is, he subscribes to certain codes of conduct that must be flattered; Warwick is cast in the same mould; both carry with them some remnants of the ethos that still existed, though already much troubled, in 1 Henry VI. Richard easily steers his father to the desired resolution without the unacceptable suggestion that – God forbid! – he should break his word. We digest the implications of this little episode: the mis-shapen Richard is smarter than Edward, as well as more brutal.

These subtle emphases on Richard, however, are not very disruptive. In the first two Acts his role is as a prominent team member with notable talents. We need to believe in his loyalty to his own side, his love for his father, his desire for Edward to be king, his enthusiastic participation in the vision of the triple sun, his genuine desire to take revenge on Clifford for the deaths of Rutland and his father.  

In Act III Scene 2, Edward (now king) commands his brothers to go along with him on some trifling piece of business about Henry’s re-capture, and everyone troops off stage. Except that, we blink and discover that - for no accountable reason  – Richard’s still there, alone. It’s a great dramatic moment, and all the subtle emphases mentioned above suddenly coalesce into a feeling of expectation, exultation, liberation... And then follows Richard’s great soliloquy, his assertion of himself and his own agenda, and the marvellous image in which he imagines himself cutting through the complexities of historical process and emerging as a different kind of presence:

For many lives stand between me and home,
And I, like one lost in a thorny wood,
That rents the thorns and is rent with the thorns,
Seeking a way and straying from the way,
Not knowing how to find the open air,
But toiling desperately to find it out,
Torment myself to catch the English crown:
And from that torment will I free myself,
Or hew my way out with a bloody axe.   (3.2.173-81)

Though Richard will still be part of the Yorkist team he has now definitively risen to a new dramatic sphere in which his only combatant (of sorts) is the other soliloquiser, Henry. (True, there are other soliloquies - York, Warwick and Clifford - but these all occur in the thick of battle and express reaction to events; the speakers are worn out or wounded. This is a different thing altogether.)

It is a curious achievement of Shakespeare’s that he manages to make Edward IV’s reign seem such an insignificant episode and to make all of us think only of Richard’s road to power. I must add that I think the thrilling emergence of Richard is best handled in this play – in fact, I think it’s the best of the tetralogy, the point where chronicle drama is held in strongest tension with another kind of drama in which individual character begins to dominate. In Richard III, I can’t help feeling that Richard begins to camp it up too much.  The sense of seriousness in the account of national struggle is dimmed.

Richard’s soliloquy is only one of the great moments in this play. Henry’s great, formal lament with the two pitiable soldiers is another. The most powerful scene of all may be the one in which York is taunted before his death, though the equally atrocious killing of Margaret’s son Prince Edward is not far behind.


Queen Margaret is as ruthless as Richard or Clifford, but not for herself. Everything she does is for her son. In this turmoiled struggle, survival revolves around the terrible arithmetic of children and killings, birth and death.

Shakespeare’s theatre was unable to bring us the living presence of very young children – those “babes” who are named in Macbeth mainly to be killed.  In The Winter’s Tale the new-born Perdita is brought on stage as a mute doll; her doomed brother Mamillius is, we must assume, around ten years old – as young as a speaking part in Shakespeare can feasibly be (perhaps also the son and daughter of Clarence who appear in Richard III 2.2).  There remains, however, a fair period between this and manhood. Shakespeare portrays a number of characters as boys, that is, as males not yet able to play a full part in the business of mankind. There was no shortage of boy-actors, after all. In 3 Henry VI, both Rutland and Prince Edward fall into this category. The killing of these two boys is a matched pair that connects Act I to Act V. (Historically Rutland was in fact older than George or Richard.) As others have pointed out, there is very little fighting (on stage) in 3 Henry VI – I think the only fight is Richard against Clifford. But there is a lot of killing. Atrocity is the play’s dominant image.

            You have no children, butchers!

says Margaret after her own son has been slaughtered. In fact King Edward does have a sprinkle of illegitimate children, as he complacently admits in 3.2. Biology is important, but lineage is more so; it’s the legitimate children that are precious, vulnerable and dangerous, depending on how you look at it.

In view of her earlier treatment of York, Margaret does not win much sympathy; even less if we recall from earlier in the chronicle her adultery with Suffolk and her part in the murder of Humphrey of Gloucester. But she is a profoundly impressive figure; by now a battle-scarred veteran, both a cause of civil war, and its victim. 
In contrast to Margaret, Henry is no parent – well, he is, literally, but he gives away his son’s inheritance - and Henry is therefore always seen as something less than a man. Henry’s impotence give him a certain status. It lifts him out of the quagmire of struggle, yet he carries with him an over-arching responsibility for the whole bloody spectacle, and his death sets a term on it, at least in this play. Having yielded up his active involvement in this life, his vatic powers look beyond it, and principally in the words he speaks over another young boy, Henry Richmond.     

Throughout the three parts of Henry VI, Henry has acted with an infuriating lack of political nous. But when, during the battle of Towton, he shows no prejudice towards his own side and blankly says:

            To whom God will, there be the victory (2.5.15)

we understand that he does conceive his majesty as involving a sense of kinship with his whole nation, even when its parties are slaughtering each other. He speaks of “our striving houses” as if he has still not grasped that he is implicated in the fortunes of one of them. We might reasonably feel that Henry has no right to claim that his own sorrows are ten times worse than the soldiers who have mistakenly killed their loved ones, and we might also feel that to say

            Oh that my death would stay these ruthful deeds! (2.5.95)  

represents a light dismissal of a course he should seriously consider if he really wants to be of some help. 

But Henry is an easy target. Despite – or because of – his egocentricity, here and in 3.1 and in his death-scene 5.6, he alone offers a competing perspective to the mire of political involvement. For the other principals, the horrors of civil war seem to be invisible – they are too engaged in it. His imagination, above all in the lines

            So many days my ewes have been with young,
            So many weeks ere the poor fools will ean,  (2.5.36-37)


            His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle   (2.5.48)

reflects not only a foolish personal envy* but a broader feeling for the realities of common life. Henry’s career is a disastrous failure, but Shakespeare’s career would turn that broader feeling into something incalculably potent.  

*(On the other hand Oliver Cromwell, we suppose, knew what he was talking about when,  in reply to accusations of personal ambition re the Lord Protectorate, he said that he hated the burden and wished he’d lived under a wood side and kept a flock of sheep. Cromwell was referring to his own background as a gentleman-farmer, not a landless shepherd. Yet though he meant his remark literally it illustrates the sort of inevitability with which people’s thoughts align themselves with available cultural expression. Cromwell ended up saying exactly the same sort of trite thing as the whole line of European monarchy from Shakespeare’s Henry to Marie Antoinette.)


Note 1 – on the texts.

All reader’s editions are based on the Folio text of 1623 (F), a text of over 3000 lines, all in verse. An octavo version, entitled The true Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, and the death of good King Henry the Sixth, had appeared in 1595 (O). (F’s full title is The third Part of Henry the Sixth, with the death of the Duke of York. Both titles therefore allude to what was surely felt to be the most powerful scene in the play, the torturing of York at the end of Act One.)

Though there are thousands of differences between O and F (O is about 900 lines shorter), the effect of these differences on the total dramatic image is surprisingly minor. O contains every scene and virtually every character who is remotely individualized. And 3 Henry VI has a great many of both.

The most detailed discussion of the relation between the texts is the 2nd Arden edition (Cairncross, 1964). This is not superseded by the 3rd Arden edition (Cox and Rasmussen, 2001), which opts for the now-usual approach of agnosticism, a reluctance to emend the original texts, and a preference for offering them both (as per Lear, Faustus, etc.). [It is patent that the Arden 3rd editions are aimed at a very different audience from the 2nd editions.] Behind this approach is an insecurity about the concept of authenticity, and a reluctance to depart from the relative (but secure) validity of the “playtexts” (a felicitous term of Barbara Hodgdon that I am probably misusing) in pursuit of a collation that might possibly be closer to Shakespeare’s intentions. Most modern readers, I think, have shared the sense of incredulity that arises from reading an edition that contains lots of conjectural emendation; a sense that, though the editor might on occasion luckily (but unverifiably) hit on original Shakespeare, the accumulation of such conjectures must produce many new errors, and in all probability leave us with a worse witness than the one we started with.

Thus, when Cairncross in the first scene intuits that Montague’s brief part was originally intended for a different character from the chronicles, Falconbridge, he changes the speech prefix. Suppose his intuition is right. But even so, what is he actually trying to achieve here? It’s quite right that a play such as this must have begun with some sort of manuscript by some sort of author (Shakespeare, I’ve no doubt). Is the idea to get back to that? But is it where we really want to get to?  Perhaps changes that arose subsequently, during rehearsal or performance, were Shakespeare’s considered changes, originated by him or at any rate meeting with his thorough approval. A significant part of the composing process may have occurred during the early history of the play.  And do we really know that “Falconbridge” was the name in that first manuscript? Perhaps it was something tried out and altered in draft, long before the play first met the company’s eyes? In trying to “get back” to the “original”, we may actually be overshooting it and disappearing into the chaotic fog of ideas and influences that underlie any work of the imagination.    

So the 3rd Arden usefully reproduces the whole of O, but is un-usefully very shy of accounting for it.

The Cairncross edition represents (and expands on) the tradition that really began with Peter Alexander in 1929. Its conclusions are roughly as follows:

F gives a fair representation of the play as first written, around 1590. It derives from copy that may be close to an authorial ms. ( - although some use was made of later quarto editions of O. Compositors always preferred printed copy to manuscript, even if this required a lot of emendation on the page. But of course this practice led to mistakes, and some O readings therefore sneaked into F, displacing authorial readings.)

The original (laying aside doubts about what exactly that ought to mean – see above) was close to F, and closer still to the ms copy from which most of F was set. O, in contrast, is derivative. It witnesses to purposive cutting with the aim of producing a shorter play. The text is also corrupt in ways that suggest memorial reconstruction – in other words, at some stage in the reporting chain, someone did not have full access to original text.

Signs of memorial error and reconstruction include:

1. Lots of semi-metrical text in place of a metrical original. E.g. Sir John Montgomery’s speech:

What talk you of debating? In few words,
If you’ll not here proclaim yourself our king,
I’ll leave you to your fortune and be gone
To keep them back that come to succour you.
Why shall we fight, if you pretend no title? (F, 4.7.53-57)

What stand you on debating, to be brief,
Except you presently proclaim yourself our king,
I’ll hence again, and keep them back that come to
Succour you, why should we fight when
You pretend no title? (O) 

2. Mishearings, whether actually aural or apparently so:

O, ten times more than tigers of Hyrcania. (F 1.4.155)

O ten times more than tigers of Arcadia. (O)

(Also “clamor” for “cannons”, “famous” for “foeman’s”, etc.)

3. Incomplete memory leading to text that makes less sense:

And that I love the tree from whence thou sprangst,
Witness the loving kiss I give the fruit. (F 5.7.31-32)

And that I love the fruit from whence thou sprangst,
Witness the loving kiss I give the child (O)

The Scales and Hungerford marriages (4.1.46ff.) are terribly confused in O.

4.  Fresh recourse to the chronicles to locate details that were not exactly recalled. E.g. some of the figures given for the size of armies are more accurate in O than in F – because Shakespeare was creatively modifying throughout, but the producers of O took their figures direct from Hall.

5.  Recycling text, e.g Warwick’s three lines in O’s rendering of 5.2 which are almost a copy of his earlier lines in 2.3.

6. Phrases borrowed from other plays, e.g. from 1 Henry VI.

Details can be argued over (F’s “Is this our foeman’s face” (2.5.82) makes much less sense than O’s “this is no famous face”.) But the cumulative case is convincing, though what isn’t so clear to me is whether the purposive cutting preceded the reconstruction (as Cairncross seems to assume) or accompanied it, or came later. 

Exactly why there is so much garbled reporting (or apparently garbled reporting) in Elizabethan play-editions is still disturbingly unclear; I get the feeling that I don’t fully grasp important aspects of the sociology of Shakespeare’s theatre. (A fairly cursory survey confirms the notion that the speeches of Clifford, Warwick, and what remains of Margaret, are noticeably closer to the presumed original than the rest.) But overall this is certainly a very well remembered play compared to e.g. The Taming of A Shrew. Even to remember all the scenes and all the characters, never mind their words, would have been a prodigious feat (I wonder if the reporters may have had access to a "theatre plot" - a list of scenes, characters, entries and exits). Whoever did the cutting, at any rate, must surely have had script to work from. 

There is some re-ordering in Act IV. The scenes 4.4 and 4.5 change places in O, and 4.7 precedes the remnant of 4.6, which is effectively amalgamated with 4.8. I think all of this springs from the same motive: to drastically reduce 4.6 (dispensing with the role of the Lieutenant in the process) and to merge what little remains – chiefly, the prophecy about Richmond – with the next scene in which Warwick and his party appear (4.8). This could not be achieved without  making  further changes since it left 4.7 right next to 4.5, and that didn’t work out; Edward is on stage in both but there is a time-gap between the two scenes. So 4.4 was postponed in order to act as a buffer between them, though not without awkwardness; the Queen and Rivers are now seen reacting to a situation (the capture of Edward) that the audience has already left behind. Moreover, this now brings the exit of Edward in 4.3 uncomfortably close to his re-entry in 4.5 (for again, there must seem to be a significant time-gap). It must be for this reason that O drops Edward’s farewell lines in 4.3 (to get him off stage more quickly) and, most unusually, adds some extra lines – some padding by Clarence and two lines by Warwick (“Come let us haste away, and having past these cares / I’ll post to York and see how Edward fares”) which quite skilfully import the suggestion that Edward – whom we have seen leaving the stage only moments before – is already ensconced in his Yorkshire prison. 

Some of the other cutting seems to have had the intention of reducing the number of separate speaking parts. The Watchmen are entirely omitted from 4.3 (leaving a trace of their presence in the text, in Oxford’s “Who goes there?”). Similarly in 3.1, a drastically reduced scene, though two Keepers are mentioned in the SD there is no conversation between them and all the speeches assigned to Keeper could be spoken by one man, the other remaining mute. Somerset loses his two lines in 4.1 and his one line in 4.3 (sheer efficiency, this. To keep a minor actor hanging around to deliver one or two lines is just asking for a lapse of concentration.) *See note 4.  The Lieutenant is omitted from what remains of 4.6, as mentioned above.

But the majority of the cuts seem designed not to reduce the number of roles but to speed up the action (and shorten the performance-time). The parts most affected are those with long speeches, such as Margaret and Henry, who lose more than 150 lines each.

A variant in O that I like is Richard’s

To dry mine arm up like a withered shrimp 

(Compare F 3.2.156: To shrink mine arm up like a withered shrub)

But it’s probably another memory of 1 Henry VI, where the Countess describes Talbot as “this weak and writhled shrimp” (2.3.22). – Cairncross supposes that the same (terrier-like?) actor played both Talbot and Richard, which is certainly very likely since Talbot’s role ends in Part I and Richard’s does not begin until Part 2. The other senior men’s roles (Henry, York, Warwick) are carried through all three parts.


Note 2 – on the tetralogy.

If Cairncross’s detailed arguments are accepted, then Shakespeare, near the beginning of his career as a writer, conceived and triumphantly delivered a massive opus in the form of four plays, the whole sequence written in 1590-91. Nothing like this had ever been written before. The only known chronicle play before this date is the Famous Victories of Henry V, which existed in some form by 1588 (the surviving text is later and mutilated) - but see also my comments, elsewhere, on Edward III. The main inspiration, theatrically, can only have been the two parts of Tamburlaine. The idea for a vast historical enterprise would have arisen naturally enough from such works as Hall, Holinshed, and the Mirror for Magistrates; Shakespeare had an audience who were intensely interested in the history of the previous century. For the sheer ambition of Shakespeare’s work, inspiration could have come from The Faerie Queene – Spenser had just published the first three books of what was clearly going to be the biggest English poem anyone had seen. Another factor, which it’s hard to weigh, was the continuing prominence of noble families in Shakespeare’s own time. Some (e.g. the Lords Cobham ex Oldcastle) were still significant parts of the national landscape and they were interested enough in the portraits of their own ancestors to have an impact on Shakespeare’s work, i.e. through censorship and consequent re-writing. Clearly, the material of the tetralogy was not felt to be “remote”.

A dramatic sequence on such a scale must arouse curiosity about how such an ambitious project could ever come to fruition. Some company must have had immense faith in the idea. If 1 Henry VI was originally in much the same form as we know it from the Folio, then it was dramatically inconclusive and pointed straight on to its successor (just like the second and third parts do). Was it feasible to rehearse a company to perform the plays in rapid succession, like Wagner’s Ring at Bayreuth? Or should one think rather that each play was intended to be performed in isolation, but its inconclusiveness and promise of serial entertainment was perceived as a commercial advantage, arousing an expectation for a sequel that was several months down the line?  That might make sense in London, but could hardly have done so in a touring context.

According to Nashe, 1 Henry VI attracted huge audiences. And perhaps it really was a collaboration. That might go some way to explaining the sequels.  It's hard to see the young Shakespeare being able to sell the idea of a tetralogy, but it's possible to imagine a kind of unspoken wider commitment to a project of chronicling English history, and the more so if various established London authors were involved - Nashe, Kyd, Greene or whoever. Shakespeare as the most junior author might from the start have done most of the work, and then - when that work turned out to be brilliant - increasingly found himself holding the baby. That would be a little reminiscent of how the young Dickens, supposed to be the junior subordinate, took control of the Pickwick Papers. 

Like Wagner, Shakespeare was extravagant with his demands. The cast of each of these plays is large. Big roles would seem to require top-quality actors, yet look at how Shakespeare treats, e.g. Suffolk in 1 Henry VI. Suffolk first appears in the Temple Garden scene (2.4) where he has a handful of powerful lines. He then re-appears, but only as a mute, in three scenes (3.1, 3.4, 4.1). Then, in 5.3, his part suddenly becomes critical. He shares the long dialogue with Margaret, and he dominates the final scene of the play (5.5). The actor who played Suffolk, therefore, must have been one of the top men in the company (especially if he was also intended to play Suffolk in 2 Henry VI), yet Shakespeare keeps him hanging around with virtually nothing to do until nearly the end of the play. The only substantial part in 1 Henry VI that the actor could conceivably have doubled is the younger Talbot. If (as seems to be thought) he also played Clifford, his part in 3 Henry VI is over by the end of Act II.

A similar profligacy affects the use of the actor who would play Richard of Gloucester. He could have  played Talbot in 1 Henry VI (see above), but there is no obvious role for him in the bulk of 2 Henry VI, and he may have just made a brief, colourful splash as e.g. Jack Cade (I think this is how it worked out in the ESC production). In short, if Shakespeare wrote his tetralogy with a company in mind, he must have relied on a sufficiently large number of competent actors to be able to rest his big hitters for large portions of some plays.

Shakespeare evidently had great faith in the boy-actors, too. They had to act not only boys but all female ages from ten to eighty (e.g. Clarence’s daughter and the Duchess of York in Richard III). They also had to bring off the challenging ensemble scenes of Richard III, in which three or four mature women compete in lamentation over their children and husbands. These were not “boyish” roles of the Rosalind type, such as any fresh-faced sixteen-year-old could make sexy just by being themselves. And some female roles in the tetralogy, above all Margaret, would seem to call on the boy-actor to make a very forceful impact. Perhaps this was realistically achievable only if the style of acting was highly formal and did not venture on naturalism. 

[That tends to be confirmed by two things: first, that other plays of this era - just prior to the closure of the playhouses - are also notable for very large casts (compared to the plays that came later). Also, the sheer number of plays that were performed. e.g. according to Henslowe, the Lord Admiral's Men in 1594-95 performed 38 plays, of which 21 were new. That's a staggering number of lines to learn, but it doesn't suggest much detailed meditation of character-details and of how to play key moments in a scene - more like the hasty preparation of a play-reading: e.g. your part requires you to be kingly and solemn, or clownish and comic.] 

The main practical analogy for handling this kind of multi-part theatrical enterprise was the still-living memory of the mystery cycles. But the actors in these spectacles were not professional, and a high level of virtuosity was not required. If something like this was also true of the Henry VI plays, then Richard III (following hard on Faustus) set a new course, in which plays would showcase the talents of outstanding individual actors.     


Note 3

Stuart Hampton-Reeves’  Alarums and Defeats: Henry VI on Tour  speculates interestingly on how far Henry VI and other plays of the time were designed in the context of touring companies. He notes, for example, the interest that 3 Henry VI  must have held for audiences in York and in Coventry, both of whom saw performances (very likely, he suggests, of this play) during the ill-fated tour of Pembroke’s Men in 1592-93.

It’s certainly a neglected context for Shakespeare’s early career – the brilliant Warwickshire Induction of The Taming of the Shrew (complete with touring players) is another place where this background is relevant.

Nevertheless, I’m not wholly convinced. London must have been where the Henry VI plays achieved the fame that is attested by Greene’s well-known attack; and London audiences may have appreciated the Parliament and Tower scenes in 3 Henry VI just as much as the provincial audiences appreciated the dramatic portrayal of their own cities. And while passages such as York’s otiose remarks on the Kentishmen – “Witty, courteous, liberal, full of spirit” – might well have drawn applause on one leg of the provincial tour, they might equally have raised a few shouts from a London audience, too; especially south of the river. Provincials (like Shakespeare himself) were being drawn to the capital in ever-growing numbers.  

Besides, one must add that in respect of the very large number of characters, the Henry VI plays are peculiarly unsuitable for touring.  With optimal doubling, the sixty-seven roles in 3 Henry VI  would require twenty-one adult actors (around twelve of them with lines to speak) and at least four boys; around 16 speaking parts in all. What is known of touring companies suggests they were generally if not always smaller than that, but perhaps the Pembroke tour might have been envisaged on a larger scale for the very reason that they planned on performing Henry VI as a centrepiece. Perhaps that’s why it lost money.

What was indubitably true was the success of the ESC’s provincial tour of the History cycle in the 1980s, which is the occasion for Hampton-Reeves’ essay. By a curious chance I not only saw all seven plays (Henry VI was conflated into two), but I had also seen Terry Hands’ RSC production at Stratford in the 1970s. Anyone would think I was a regular theatregoer.             

Note 4. – “Somerset”.

In the 3rd Arden edition the editors decide to distinguish the Somerset of 4.1 from the Somerset of 4.2-5.5. Historically, it is true, there were two different dukes (Henry, the Third Duke, and his younger brother Edmund, the Fourth Duke), both sons of the one whose head makes such a spectacular prop in 1.1.  The Third Duke was briefly of Edward’s party (4.1) and the Fourth was killed at Tewkesbury (5.5). But in the play, Shakespeare clearly conflates the two. The one who is seen abandoning Edward and stalking offstage with Clarence in 4.1 is obviously – in the play – the same individual who, in the very next scene, arrives alongside Clarence to take up arms for Warwick. A very sharp observer might indeed wonder about Richard’s and Edward’s references to three Dukes of Somerset, when only two have been seen on stage. But splitting Shakespeare’s conflated character back into two would make no theatrical sense, and is a blatant instance of conjecture overshooting the original, by the very editors who have been most fearful of that danger.  

Note 5. – Sanctuary.

There is a human right that was allowed to the most degraded members of medieval society - criminals, refugees and homeless vagabonds - yet which is denied to us. I am of course talking about sanctuary.

Well, I am probably idealizing. Sanctuary perhaps did not cut much ice unless you were well-born. Superior force might not choose to recognize it. It is said that at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, some of the despairing Lancastrians fled the Bloody Field to take sanctuary in the abbey: so they were slaughtered there instead. If Shakespeare knew of this story, he didn't use it; he had enough atrocity for his purposes in the killing of the young Prince Edward.

Sanctuary had been recognized in pre-Christian times. In Euripides' Ion, Creusa takes sanctuary at Apollo's altar after her plot to kill Ion has been discovered. The baffled Ion grumbles:

What a state of affairs! How terrible it is when the laws the gods have made for men are made neither well now wisely! The criminal should be driven from the altar, not granted its protection. It is an offence that something holy should be touched by criminal hands; only the just have this right. It is the victim of wrongdoing who should receive the privilege of sanctuary; the good man and the bad when they seek refuge should not be given equal treatment by the gods.

Ion's reasoning, as throughout the play, is fresh but naïve. The problem is that to vengeful pursuers the supplicant is always going to be a criminal, never a victim of wrongdoing. I suppose it would work if the gods actively intervened (perhaps they could give the true criminals an electric shock), but then their altars would no longer be sanctuaries as we understand them. In this play, sanctuary does everyone a service, because Creusa and Ion are about to find out that they are mother and son. 

A pursuer determined to override the claims of sanctuary can always find an argument. Buckingham, in Richard III, comes up with the mirror image of Ion's.

You break not sanctuary in seizing him;
The benefit thereof is always granted
To those whose dealings have deserv'd the place,
And those who have the wit to claim the place.
This prince have neither claimed it nor deserv'd it:
And therefore in mine opinion cannot have it...

Yes, you heard it right. The young Duke of York, not having done anything criminal, does not deserve sanctuary. Therefore, Buckingham tells the Cardinal, you will commit no wrong by collecting him from his over-protective mother and bringing him to us, by force if necessary (he does not add, so we can later murder him).

Shakespeare found this argument in the chronicles. In a perverse way it reflects the Christianization of sanctuary: the Christian God came into the world to save sinners and not good men, therefore sanctuary applies specifically to criminals, exactly the class of person that Ion thinks ought to be excluded. 

When I was at school, we still resorted, when finally cornered by some tough person that we had annoyed, to saying Pax! Pax! Pax! which was supposed to invoke the power of sanctuary or of being "home" in a game of It. In my own agitation I not only cried Pax but also crossed my fingers on both hands, with a confused hope that this action (primarily intended to nullify vows) could magically release me from other unwelcome consequences, too.      

[In England the right of sanctuary was definitively withdrawn by King James I in 1623. In some other countries, notably Norway and Canada, it still has force.]

Note 6. Henry VI Part I later than Parts II and III ?

This is a long-standing view (it goes back to the 18th century) and, despite Cairncross and others, it refuses to go away; it may even claim to be still the majority view among scholars, but I really don't know why.

The evidence for this distinctively counter-intuitive position is slight.

There is no quarto for 1H6. This negative fact could suggest, to impressionable folk, a different provenance from the other two plays. The fact that the quartos of the other two plays are blatantly pirated might be a reason to temper one's enthusiasm for this argument.

The bad quartos for the second and third parts are respectively titled "The First Part of the Contention..." and "Richard Duke of York...". These titles make no reference, therefore, to a preceding play. But argument from the titles is circular: since these Pembroke-derived/Thomas Millington quartos didn't include 1H6 then of course they were not going to allude to it. Just as the title pages of the Lord Chamberlain/Valentine Sims quartos of R3 make no reference to any predecessors to that play.

In Henslowe's list of plays performed by Lord Strange's company, "harey the vj" was played, possibly as a new play on 3 March 1592.  In Pierce Pennilesse (Aug 1592) Nashe mentions having seen a Talbot play.

If the play mentioned by Henslowe was 1H6  and if it was indeed a brand new play in March 1592, then that would make it later than 2H6 and 3H6, which you'd want to assign to 1590-91.

Shakespeare's connections with Strange's company are distinctly limited. (Titus Andronicus Q1 title page says it was played by Lord Derbies servants (i.e. Strange's) as well as Pembroke's and Sussex's.) Some have therefore argued that this play cannot be one of Shakespeare's, but must be a lost play by someone else.

I think that's too close to call; the play in question could well be 1H6;  but I'm totally unconvinced of it being a first performance. Henslowe's frequent abbreviation "ne", which had been thought to mean "new" (even though some of the performances so designated were clearly not of new plays), has now been persuasively explained as meaning a performance at Newington Butts (Winifred Frazer).

Against this fragile construction of could-be's stands the very patent fact that 2H6 is dependent on what I may safely call its predecessor for introducing us to Henry, Margaret, Sussex and the whole historical situation. (Not to even mention the unequivocal titling of the First Folio.)

[In all this I don't cast aspersions on the view that 1H6 is a collaboration between Shakespeare and others.]

(2004, 2010, 2014)



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