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Profile Image for Daniel Chaikin.
594 reviews54 followers
May 13, 2021
Separate reviews for Parts One, Two and Three below.
(Part I posted Feb 14, Part II posted Apr 5, Part III posted May 10, 2021)

6. Henry VI Part One
Originally Performed: 1592 ??
format: 231-pages within this Signet Classic Paperback
acquired: October
read: Jan 6 – Feb 8
time reading: 9 hr 54 min, 2.6 min/page
rating: 4
locations: 1400’s London and northern France
about the author: April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616

Signet contributors
Lawrence V Ryan – editor for Part One – 1967, 1989
Sylvan Barnet – Series Editor – 1963, 1989, 2005
Raphael Holinshed – from Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1587)
Edward Hall – from The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (usually called Hall's Chronicle) (1548)
Hermann Ulrici – from Shakespeare’s Dramatic Art (1839; editions, 1847, 1868, 1874), translated from German by L. Dora Schmitz (1876)
E.M.W. Tillyard – from Shakespeare’s History Plays (1944)
J. P. Brockbank – from The Frame of Disorder—Henry VI (1961)
Phyllis Rackin – Anti-Historians: Women’s Roles in Shakespeare’s Histories (1985)
Ralph Fiennes – Playing Henry VI (1993)
Lawrence V Ryan – Henry VI on Stage and Screen (1967, 1989)
Sylvan Barnet – The Stage History Since 1989 (2005)

This is an early Shakespeare history play and there is some uncertainty as to the date and authorship. The title is a little misleading in that regards. It certainly wasn't written as "Part One". The titles of Shakespeare's plays typically come from, or at least are derived from, the titles given in the First Folio edition, from 1623. But these were shortened titles. Advertisements would have elaborate titles that were essentially descriptions of the plot. So, maybe this play originally had Lord Talbot in the name originally, or something about Queen Margaret's fictional affair. Maybe this play was written after Part Two, as a kind of prequel to Part Two. There isn't enough documentation to say, and the First Folio is the oldest known version of the play.

But it fits nicely in the sequence of Shakespeare's history plays, opening with the funeral for Henry V (hero of the 1599 play, Shakespear's last proper history play...except Henry VIII, which he co-wrote), and largely leading to Henry VI Part Two (~1591). In the English history, Henry V marks a kind of high point in the 100-years war. England's attempt to conquer France was at its furthest extent upon his death, in 1422. The position was untenable. Henry VI was a baby when his father died. By the time he took over from his regent, Joan of Arc had come and gone, and England had lost most of its conquered territory in France. And England itself became unstable in defeat, and, in a simplified way, this opened up power plays leading to the War of Roses and Henry VI's tragic end.

Henry VI Part One marks the beginning of Shakespeare's version of the War of Roses. It is a kind of imaginative exposé of a sorts of how England defeated itself. You kind of need to know all this to appreciate the play. Because there are a lot of characters, a lot of somewhat random and unexplained infighting, and the points that Shakespeare is making are not always clear otherwise. There is a lot of set-up for Parts Two and Three. Lord Talbot's death marks the end of honorable English leadership in the fighting, and his dramatic death scene, dying along with his son in battle, was at the time probably the main attraction of the play. But we also meet Henry VI, generally considered a failed king, and his weaknesses are only characterized with some subtly. And we meet the future Queen Margaret, hated by Shakespeare, and given a fictional affair. But that's not enough plot. England's points of weakness and infighting are shown in several ways with several players, and a clean origin of the War of Roses is presented... sort of. Here it started with argument between two English princes, of Lancaster and York. But we never actually learn what the argument was about. And then there is Joan of Arc.

Shakespeare has long been criticized as missing a poetic opportunity with Joan of Arc. The romantic hero is not at all romantic here. The play hates her, even as it respects what she accomplished. Whereas Talbot fights honorably on the field, Joan sneaks in soldiers and supplies, and manipulates key leaders to change sides. The virgin saint is nearly presented a harlot. It's clear she's a warrior, as she beats everyone she fights, including Talbot one on one. But she is used to show that the French are weak and effeminate. It doesn't come out well with any later audiences not deeply in-tuned with the play's blind hatred of the French.

Sorry for putting so much foundation in here. The thing is once I processed all this stuff above, what began as a confusing, disappointing mess turned into a enjoyable fun play. The bard in this early play shows the fast and weightless dialogue that makes this plays so entertaining. And his work on the structure, on building the tensions needed to keep the plot moving, is apparent. His early art is on display. It is especially masterful and playful in the interactions between Lord Suffolk (a white rose Lancaster) and the captured princess-of-nothing-but-a-claim Margaret. The married Lord Suffolk works to seduce the Margaret and then works to get her married to Henry order to continue his affair. Margaret's father is titled the King of Naples, but has no control of Naples. It's a marriage with no English advantage. Margaret will become a villain in Shakespeare's cycle.

Apologies for another long winded review. The short version is that this is an early Shakespeare play that demands some prep from the reader, but that does offer some of what made him special.

11. Henry VI Part Two
Originally Performed: 1590
format: 180 pages within this Signet Classic Paperback
read: Feb 28 – Mar 28
time reading: 7 hr 26 min, 2.5 min/page
rating: 4
locations: 1400’s England

Arthur Freeman – editor – 1967, 1989
Sylvan Barnet – Series Editor – 1963, 1989, 2005
Edward Hall – from The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548)
John Foxe – from Acts and Monuments of Martyrs (1563, 1583)
A Shakespearean version manuscript of Anthony Munday’s play – Sir Thomas Moore, undated
Samuel Johnson – from The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765)
J. P. Brockbank – from The Frame of Disorder—Henry VI (1961)

These history plays. So much goes on, and it seems to happen so quickly, I spend all my effort trying to follow the plot, figure out who is who, and what they did, and what that means, and what is going on here. This one is possibly Shakespeare's first play*. So, it deserves a moment of reflection, maybe just wondering what the initial audiences thought when this showed up. Was it as distinct, fast, light, and yet deep and meaningful as it seems to us? Was this a different kind of thing altogether, or just a gradational change? (I suspect the answer is that this really was a different kind of thing.)

As plot this play looks at the development of the War of Roses. King Henry VI still depends on his childhood regent, the Lord Protector, his uncle, Duke Gloucester. What he doesn't realize is Gloucester is the only loyal, principled person around him, a kind of last hero. The king is surrounded by ruthless maneuvering, and receives intentionally bad advice from all his closest advisers. His wife is in a long affair with Lord Suffolk, who has his own plans for working over the King. The Duke of York has an elaborate plan to actually become the king himself, and sees himself at rightful heir. York drives almost every plot point, undermining Gloucester, creating a popular rebellion, and finally battling the king's army in the First Battle of St. Albans, the traditional beginning of the War of Roses (1455).

Act 4 here is Jack Cade's rebellion, a peasant revolt that took place in 1450. In Shakespeare's work, York is the mover behind Jack Cade, and the bard uses Cade to spin his own sense of the riled up peasants, their incoherent anger and willingness to kill whoever Cade randomly decides needs killing. Severed severed heads of notable officials are paraded through the London streets, and made to kiss.

The point in all this seems to be that social order depends on a strong king. When the king is weak, others try to take advantage, and there is no longer a center to hold things together. There is a dissolution of order, chaos filling in.

*The "Part Two" of the title is from the First Folio, the posthumous collection of Shakespeare's plays. The earliest known title of this play was: The First Part of the Contention Between the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster

18. Henry VI Part Three
Originally Performed: 1591 ??
format: 189 pages within this Signet Classic Paperback
read: Apr 7 – May 9
time reading: 10:30, 3.3 mpp
rating: 4
locations: 1400’s England

Milton Crane – editor – 1968
Sylvan Barnet – Series Editor – 1963, 1989, 2005
Edward Hall – from The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York(1548)
Samuel Johnson – from The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765)
E.M.W. Tillyard – from Shakespeare's History Plays (1944)

Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry IV 1 & 2, Henry V, Henry VI 1, 2 & 3 and Richard III make an 8-drama history of England through the late 1300's and 1400's, covering the 100 Years War and its aftermath, the War of Roses. This, Henry VI Part 3, covers the end of the reign of this lost king, including the Battles of Wakefield, Towton, Barnet and Tewksbury. Part 2 established Henry VI as a non-entity king, the kingdom run by the power struggles of those around him, and left us with the sense that it was mainly controlled by the Duke of York. Here, Margaret, Henry's queen, takes charge, and defeats the Duke of York. Captured, she taunts him with a paper crown and the murder of his 12-yr-old youngest son, and then beheads him - and York is gone in Act 1 (The Battle of Wakefield). York's sons rally, with their strategic genius the Earl of Warwick, and gain a huge victory at Towton. The eldest York, Edward, crowns himself king Edward IV. In a sequence of odd moves Edward spurns Warwick through his choice of marriage, and Margaret lures him to her side. The stage should be set for a kind of showdown, but Shakespeare incorporates more historical detail, and muddies any simple explanation. But eventually they fight - Edward defeats Warwick at Barnet, and Margaret at Tewksbury, and becomes securely king.

Among this fuss between Edward and a strikingly sharp Margaret, is the third York son, deformed Richard. He hints at his calculating ability and at his lack of feeling, but mainly comes across a ruthlessly reasonable and sharp. Then comes his soliloquy in act 3, and out of nowhere he tells us "Well, I can smile, and murder whiles a smile." The Machiavellian prince expressed his goal to make is way to king through the bodies ahead, his brothers and their offspring, and he reveals the ruthlessness of the new age. And, he becomes the character who quietly provokes all the critical events, presenting himself as sincere without a blink. And, at the end, with Edward secure, he sneaks off and murders Henry VI, finalizing Edward's succession. What he doesn't expect is a Henry, previously aloof and pathetic, who sees right through him, and already knows what comes next in Richard III.

There is a lot of plot here. And, as much as Shakespeare simplifies and doctors the true history, he doesn't fully separate this play of the morass of plot. It means a whole lot happens, and, it also means the truly dramatic scenes are mostly brief, and separated, popping up here and there within all that plot. But also he does some wonderful things, especially with Richard, but really all his characters come to life, from the self-principled if overly ambitious Duke of York to the lost and suddenly clairvoyant Henry VI. It's a busy play, messy, but also kind of terrific overall.
Profile Image for David Sarkies.
1,813 reviews315 followers
July 10, 2015
The saga of a civil war
1 September 2012

The problem with dating these plays is that they were originally written separately though the plays Henry VI Part 2 and Henry VI Part 3 were most likely written together, whereas the first play seems to have been written later, like a prelude as opposed to the first part of a trilogy. In fact, if the plays were to be viewed as a trilogy it would more likely be the parts two, three, and Richard III. It is also noticeable that the plays based on the earlier kings were also written at a later date, so it seems that Shakespeare may have decided that he wanted to flesh out this particular period beginning with the coup that was staged against Richard II. The reason that I say this is because early in the second play, the Yorkists justify their revolt by outlining how they are descendants of Richard II and that the Lancasters were the descendants of Henry Bollingbroke, who then went on to become Henry IV, thus making the Lancastrian dynasty an illegitimate dynasty and that the Yorkist dynasty, which was connected to the Plantagenets, the legitimate one. It is also interesting that he also wrote a play based around King John (though the Magna Carta does not make mention in this play) which makes me wonder if he intended to create a Chronicle of the Kings of England from King John right up to the defeat of King Richard. However it appears that he did not pursue this goal, as monumental as it would have been.

In this commentary I wanted to look at the trilogy as a whole rather than the separate plays, but after coming to the end of the third play I am convinced that the trilogy is not actually the three Henry plays, but rather a prequel which fleshes out the events in the later plays, most likely to give more substance and background to the reasons why the Lancasters and the Yorks went to war with each other. We note that in the first play there is a scene in the garden where the Yorkists pick a red rose signalling the seed from which the rebellion would sprout, and we also see the events that heralded England losing her French possessions, another thing that is flagged in the third play, as there is a debate as to whether Henry was responsible for the loss, or rather the regent. As previously mentioned, the entire cycle begins with Richard II and finishes at Richard III.

It is clear from these plays that Henry is portrayed as a pious, but a weak, king, whose authority is challenged throughout. In the first play he is a child meaning that the kingdom is ruled by a regent, and the first play ends with his marriage to Margaret, who then persuades him to cut the regent lose, not to reign in his own stead, but so she can then take over running the kingdom. In fact we see in a number of places that it is Margaret who is the power rather than the king himself. They say that behind every great man there is an equally great women, however in this particular instance we do not see a great man, which if this holds true, puts a rather nasty stain upon the character of Margaret. This can be justified though since early in the third play we have the King seeking a peace with the Yorks however Margaret steps in and overrides him, sending the country back into war. In fact, it is the act of her beheading the Duke of York that sets the country on the path of no return. This is not surprising since such actions tend to inflame the allies of the executed to the point where peace is no longer an option and vengeance reigns.

The question that is raised is whether this is a tragedy, and while we consider that the first play may not be, when considered in conjunction with the others, the tragic nature of the characters begins to come to fore. I have already mentioned the actions of Margaret which destroys the peace and seals Henry's fate, however when we look forward to Richard III we also see how even victory in civil war need not bring about peace and prosperity. In a way a precedent has been set when the Yorks rebelled against the Lancasters. Once a king has been executed there is no longer a rule of law, nor is there a rule of the divine right of kings. The king is no longer protected by his position, and thus a king that murders his way into power opens himself up to being murdered himself.

Richard is the case in point, and we see more of his character come out in the final play when he puts himself into the position of tyrant only to be killed himself. Remember, in Shakespeare's time these events were still quite recent, in fact one could consider these events to the audience in Shakespeare's time to be similar to World War I in our time. In a way even the Napoleonic Wars are still recent, though the events of the 20th century are still very much before us as there are still many alive who remember Hitler rampaging across Europe. In the same way that after World War II we all said that we did not want that happening again, one could also see that the people of England did not want to return to civil war. Civilisation had collapsed, there was no rule of law, and people did as they saw fit. I guess the civil war was destined to happen due to England losing all of her possessions in France. We have seen similar things happen in recent history as the loss of face in a war tends to bring about the collapse of a tyranny. Germany lost face in World War I and that resulted in a revolution, and similarly Russia lost face in World War I which brought about a period of instability. However, as technology has developed, the staying power of a tyrant has also strengthened as when Sadam lost face in the first Gulf War, he was able to maintain his grip on power.

It has been suggested that these plays were written and performed around the time that a plot was laid to attempt to remove Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth was actually quite a strong ruler, she needed to be as not only was she facing threats from outside of England due to her position in regards to maintaining the reformation, but no doubt there were elements within England that did not believe that a woman should rule. What I gather is that these plays serve as a warning to rebels in that a rebellion does not necessarily bring about peace and prosperity. The rebellion against the Lancasters did not do that, and in fact it brought about even greater tyranny and oppression in the form of Richard III.

We must remember that when somebody seizes the throne by force the first thing that must be done is to secure his position, which means disposing of all of his enemies. This generally results in a bucket load of murders. We see this happen in other plays of Shakespeare, most notably Macbeth. In a way the act of murdering enemies, both actual and perceived, has the effect of corrupting the tyrant even further, and as we see in Macbeth. Even killing women and children ended up not affecting him. However, enemies are like weeds, they can never truly be removed. We see this today with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite whatever nobility may be considered regarding the wars, the fact that enemies are not always in the open makes finding them quite difficult, and the more enemies that you hunt out and punish the more enemies you create. It is true especially when you go after perceived enemies since even if they, or their friends and families, were not enemies, they will quickly become enemies when you raise your hand against them.
Profile Image for Libby.
Author 5 books42 followers
August 3, 2009
As a person who studied theatre, I have always been slightly embarrassed that there was an entire subset of Shakespearean plays that I had either never read or retained poorly: the English histories. Please accept this selection of reviews as my way of ensuring that none of you will be similarly lacking.

The First Part of Henry the Sixth
The only sensibly named Henry VI play

In England:

All: King Henry V is dead! Long live King Henry VI! *impassioned mourning*

Messenger: Hi ho! We've just lost most of France. Oh, sorry, is this a bad time?

All: Tell them to win it back, then!

Meanwhile in France:

Dauphin: The English are winning back what we just took. What is this? Henry VI part 3?

Bastard of Orleans: Stop sniggering. It's the only name I have in this play. Besides, I brought this girl named Joan of Arc to see you.

Dauphin: Let's see if she's all that. Rene- go sit in my throne and see if she notices.

Joan: Nice try, boys.

Dauphin: Wowee! You MUST be a messenger of God! Tell us, how do we retake the towns the English just took?

Joan: Kill them. A lot.

Dauphin: She's good.

Joan: Also, the huge number of bawdy puns in my scenes lead me to believe that this play wasn't written by someone sympathetic to France or Roman Catholics.

Dauphin: She's REALLY good! To arms!

Meanwhile in England:

Winchester: I'm going to be Cardinal Beaufort one of these days, and I don't like you!

Gloucester: Oh yeah? I'm the Lord Protector NOW, and I don't like you, either! And I get the feeling that we and those two guys fighting over red and white roses are foreshadowing the events of Henry VI, part 2, which, if you'll recall, was written before this play.

Winchester: Poppycock. Sometimes a war of roses is just a war of roses. Wait...

Meanwhile in France:

Talbot: I am a badass.

French & English: We know.

English: We sort of lost Orleans to the Dauphin and Joan of Arc, to whom we've assigned a juvenile nickname that everyone will call her for the rest of the play.

Talbot: While it stinks that you lost Orleans, it makes me all the gladder that I am a badass.

(Talbot chases the Dauphin)

Joan: Cut that out!

(Joan and Talbot duel, Joan tweaks his nose and runs off)

Talbot: I hate her. Did I mention that I was a badass?

English: Yes.

French: Hooray! We win!

Talbot: Grr! Let's try that again!

(English scale the walls of Orleans and catch the French literally pantsless. The French flee.)

Talbot: Huzzah! WE win! Too bad about old Sailsbury, but at least I retain my badass stature.

Meanwhile in England...

Yorkists: Stupid Lancasters.

Lancasters: Treasonous Yorks!

All: Rumblings of rebellion!

Mortimer: York, your father was a traitor and you have no lands and title, but you should be king! *dies*

York: Isn't it amazing what people will believe when it's what they want to hear?

Winchester & Gloucester: Bicker bicker bicker!

York: Can I have my father's land and title, please?

Henry VI: Golly, here's a chance to be nice! Not only can you have your father's land and title, you can have your late uncle's, as well! I'm going to ignore the fact that both titles make your Yorkist claim to the throne as strong as my Lancaster one. La la!

Back in France...

(The French take Rouen)

Dauphin, Bastard, and Joan: Surprise!

Talbot: Damn and blast!

Bedford: I might not be quite as badass as Talbot, but I'm dying and still insist on going to battle in a sedan chair.

Joan: *snicker*


(The English take Rouen)

Talbot: Ha! Bedford's badassery will not have been in vain!

Joan: Phooey. Oh well, it's not the end of the world.

Dauphin: It might be if Talbot & Co. reach Paris.

Joan: I see your point. Let me sway Burgundy to our cause. You are getting sleeeepy.

Burgundy: Oooooooeer.

Joan: You will fight for France instead of England.

Burgundy: 'kay.

Dauphin: She is SO good!

Back in England...

Talbot: And then I took Rouen single-handedly from the foul witch!

Henry VI: Then what happened?

Talbot: Burgundy joined the French cause, which we could never have anticipated, seeing as he's French. May I please have some more money and soldiers?

Henry VI: Okay, take York and Somerset. I'm going to ignore their deathly hatred of one another! La la!

Back in France...

York: I told Talbot that English soldiers would have his back. Why hasn't that jerk Somerset sent them?

Somerset: I told that idiot York not to let Talbot advance yet!


Talbot: I'm dying here. Backup is required to maintain my badass status. You'd better flee, my badass son John.

John: I will stay and fight!

Talbot: *sniff* I am so proud!

(Joan kills John)

Talbot: I REALLY hate her. *dies*

Meanwhile, in England...

Gloucester: The Pope *spits on ground*, Emperor, and Earl want to stop the war in France. They're offering you a hot noblewoman and a huge dowry.

Henry VI: Tempting.

Back in France...

Joan: This really is an unfortunate scene, but Shakespeare was writing for the C of E. Thus, I summon demons who refuse to help me, thus sealing my fate, yadda yadda yadda. Think that's enough to completely discredit me? Apparently Shakespeare didn't.

Suffolk: So there's this girl. Her name is Margaret. I love her, but she's kind of French. Maybe if I woo her and say I'm doing it for the king, she'll accept me!

Margaret: I don't have enough money to be the queen.

Suffolk: Leave that to me!

Margaret: If the king is half as cute as you, it'll be fun.

York: We caught Joan! Let's further discredit her by giving her delusions of grandeur and disowning her father!

Warwick: And now let's make her look like a loose woman who can't keep track of all the men she's slept with!

Shakespeare: Take that, Catholic Church!

Catholic Church: Oh yeah? *canonizes Joan as a saint*

York: Consider yourself lucky that the Pope *spits on ground* convinced Henry to make peace. Now, swear your allegiance, and we can all go home.

Dauphin: (crosses his fingers behind his back) I swear.

Back in England...

Henry VI: So this Margaret woman is hot?

Suffolk: Smoking hot.

Henry VI: Sounds good to me!

Gloucester: Uh, sire, we've already arranged your marriage, and it nets you a huge dowry. Margaret's father is demanding two dukedoms in exchange for her hand. And she's, you know, French.

Suffolk: So you're saying she's too posh for him?

Gloucester: What? NO!

Henry VI: Good, it's settled! I'm marrying a woman who's in love with another man, I've negotiated a peace that nobody is happy with, the house of York has been restored to such strength that it rivals we Lancasters, and I don't even get the last line of my own play. La la!

Suffolk: I am master of Margaret, and she'll be master of Henry. That's like, the same as being king! Yay me!

TO BE CONTINUED (in Henry VI, part 2 chronologically, or Richard III, if we're going in order of writing)
Profile Image for Ned.
267 reviews14 followers
May 6, 2008
what did I learn?
Don't be a pious wuss in an age of pirates.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,863 reviews18 followers
March 5, 2021
I'm relatively new to Shakespeare as he was 'forced' upon me in high school. Recently, though, I was introduced to a few audio experiences of Shakespeare, and that changed it all. I did read these three plays, and I liked the second one best: I think it beautifully represents the madness of those who want power just to have power, just to boost egos. It doesn't matter who they kill or how they get it. Yes, There Will Be Blood here. I have to wonder how the players stayed on stage and didn't slide off in floods of 'blood'. Thankfully, things have changed...a little.
Profile Image for Michael.
916 reviews144 followers
January 19, 2014
The three plays in this volume serve as an extended “prequel” to my favorite play, Richard III. Together with that play, also represent Shakespeare’s most extended inquiry into the history of his country, and his best effort to represent the narrative of the recent past as the Elizabethans saw it. The period covered extends from the end of the Hundred Years War through the Wars of the Roses and the eventual rise of the Tudors over the House of York (a period of some fifty or more years, covered in four plays). It follows, of course on the narratives of Henry IV and Henry V, but these have always appeared to me as a distinct storyline, though perhaps I am influenced by having read these plays as a single set.

The front matter gives a good deal of insight into the plays and their place within the works of Shakespeare. Interestingly, the three Henry VI’s have been performed far less frequently than most of the other “historical” plays, apparently being of less interest to audiences after the time of Elizabeth. Sometimes, bits of Richard Gloucester’s dialogue from the final part are incorporated into performances of the more-popular Richard III (I caught one of these, “I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,” in the “Winter of our discontent” speech in Sir Ian McKellen’s version). But, in general, audiences know these plays only in seriously edited form, or not at all, and scholars know them primarily from reading.

The first play covers the Hundred Years’ War in its closing years. Joan of Arc is a major character, and is portrayed, as the English saw her, as a witch and a seductress. In light of her canonization and the general modern perspective of her as a either heroic or tragic figure, it is understandable that this portrayal is not popular today. The other interesting character in this one, for me is a Duke of Gloucester (NOT Richard) who is the most heroic of the characters presented. His story is tragic, and the editors note that the dukedom of Gloucester was considered “unlucky” because of both him and Richard for a long time.

The second play begins the story of civil war at home, and suggests that ambitious and ignoble men used the discontent of the masses to their own ends. The major figure of interest here is Jack Cade, who is a Kentish rebel leader, and represents Shakespeare’s perspective on rabble-rousers. Much of what he says is deliberately nonsensical, and he adds some humor to the play, while also representing the dangerous masses and their undisciplined anger with established authority. I suspect that most modern performers or directors would make him a more sympathetic figure than intended, but he could be a fun character in any event. Queen Margaret, a Spanish catholic brought over to wed the king, is an evil influence on his court.

The final play takes us through the upper-class struggles of the Wars of the Roses, and establishes Edward, Richard, Clarence, and Buckingham ultimately in the roles they will fill in Richard III. Although all three plays are named for him, this is the play which really gives insight into Henry VI’s character, as seen by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. At this point, all of Henry’s weaknesses as a king are made clear, notably his penchant for prayer and silent meditation rather than action, which is satired in the scene in which he is placed on a molehill, soliloquizing on an ideal world while a bloody battle rages all around him. Richard Gloucester gets most of the best lines, including what may be my favorite curse in the Shakespearean canon:
What, will the aspiring blood of Lancaster
Sink in the ground? I thought it would have mounted.
See how my sword weeps for the poor king's death!
O, may such purple tears be always shed
From those that wish the downfall of our house!
If any spark of life be yet remaining,
Down, down to hell; and say I sent thee thither!
Profile Image for Nicholas Martens.
102 reviews1 follower
March 2, 2021
Firstly, it’s disappointing that no publisher collects the entire tetralogy in one volume: the three parts of Henry VI alongside Richard III. Penguin Classics has a terrific edition of the entire second Henriad (Richard II through Henry V), that is hands-down my favorite Shakespeare collection that I own. The Penguin volume contains individual essays for each of the play, copious historical footnotes, and feels like a well-thought out approach to all four plays separately, as well as a series.

I was hoping to find a similar treatment for the earlier histories, and was glad enough to find the three parts of Henry VI all together. But aside from an all-too-brief general Introduction, there are no essays for each of the three parts to set up up their place in the overarching narrative, little discussion of how Shakespeare diverged from his sources or how his sources took liberties with history, and is sorely missing historical contextualization in the footnotes. To start, King Henry is nine months old in Part 1 Act 1 Scene 1 - how much time has passed by the time he delivers his first lines in Act 3 Scene 1? If the events of the play differ from what happened in life, what are the differences, and is the fault Shakespeare’s or his sources? These are all elements that Penguin Classics excelled at, the absence of which diminished my experience here. I would have been better served separately buying the three parts of Henry VI from a different publisher.

Also, RSC made the rather poor editorial decision to “[retain] an element of deliberate inconsistency in entry directions, in order to give the flavor of Folio.” The confusion this creates can’t be overstated. As a relatively minor example, Act 1 Scene 4 of 3 Henry VI reads “Enter Richard, Duke of York” referring to one person, York, rather than to both the Duke and his son, also named Richard. The stronger editorial hand of most other editions makes for a vastly improved experience over this feckless Folio flavor.

As for the plays themselves, while 1 Henry VI is quite bad, Parts 2 & 3 are significantly better than their reputations suggest (my impression is that they’re better read than performed). As matter of drama, the descent of Plantagenet England from the triumphant battlefield at Agincourt in Henry V to the total breakdown of society during the War of the Roses in 3 Henry VI is compelling as hell. In broad strokes, the tetralogy is probably Shakespeare’s most Dumasian output (setting aside Dumas’ little-known Hamlet adaptation), and a sequence I’ll want to revisit again and again, hopefully with a more worthwhile edition.
Profile Image for Eleanor.
577 reviews112 followers
May 31, 2023
I really enjoyed these plays, and I think their quality increases as they go along. Part I was the roughest for me, I think it is far flatter in its representation of characters, and the language just does not seem as striking and dynamic for me. Part II and III however introduce characters which are interesting and flawed, and because of the length of time you spend with them, I feel you truly gain some connection to them. Perhaps I am biased, because I really love learning about this period of history, but I just found the events of the play so engaging. Margaret of Anjou is such an interesting figure to me, and I think some of her scenes were so powerful. Part III in particular had some really beautiful and hard hitting scenes, particularly in the first half. I also just really liked the RSC edition that I read this from; it has a really good amount of notes at the bottom of the page, but not so much that it feels underwhelming, and I really like the information they provide alongside the play. It isn't so much that I would never read it, and what they do provide is interesting, especially focused on the plays in performance. Overall, I am so glad I finally finished this, even if I did put it down for almost a year.
Profile Image for Subashini.
Author 5 books160 followers
May 7, 2021
1 Henry VI - 2 stars

2 Henry VI - 4 stars

3 Henry VI - 4 stars

Technically the rating for this Signet edition containing all three parts should be 3 stars but that doesn't seem fair; 4 stars it is. The first part was the weakest, in my opinion.
Profile Image for Ashly Lynne.
426 reviews46 followers
April 30, 2015
This is a review of all three parts of King Henry VI. That being said, let me start with a brief statement about Mr. Shakespeare and myself. I am a huge Shakespeare fan and am currently working my way through all his works. I have read a decent chunk of his plays already, but recently bought a complete collection. I have started at the beginning and will hopefully be through its entirety before the end of this year, including rereading the one’s I have already read. I love what I’ve read of Shakespeare’s works and even took a class devoted to him when I was at University. Needless to say, I have little trouble deciphering his brilliant language, as well as appreciating his crude humor.* But, beyond his type of base humor, there is so much more to his plays. And that is why I am going to write reviews of all his plays I read this year, even though his plays are far better enjoyed watched than read.

So, to begin with, here's a short synopsis of this play. This three-part story focuses on King Henry and his downfall as king. Well, that about sums it up. So onto my short review.

It is speculated that this is Shakespeare’s first play, and that would explain why I found it a bit hard to get through. The language isn’t everything that his later well-practiced hand writes, but it’s not awful. I still found the story engaging, but not brilliant. I found it hard to stay completely immersed in the story line, and this play definitely took me longer to get through than I typically average. I did find some of his humor that I usually love, but it wasn’t as prominent as in his later works. I found myself trudging along through this story just to be able to say that I had finished it, because that’s the type of reader I am: stubborn.

However, I cannot completely condemn this play and say that it wasn’t worth my while. My favorite thing about this particular play was Queen Margaret. She is an exceedingly strong character and one that I did fully appreciate. That’s one thing I really love about Shakespeare; he is never afraid to write strong female characters and weak male characters, which happens to be what he did with King Henry in this particular story. Despite this, I think what made it so hard to read this play was the fact that it was so long. Being in three parts, this one play was 97 pages (in my copy) versus one of his typical plays at 30ish pages and, even with its few redeeming qualities, it was just too long and too stretched thin to be fully enjoyed.

Overall, this play wasn’t horrible, but it’s a tough read to get through. I probably would have given it 2/5 stars if I didn't love the man so much. I wouldn’t recommend this play to any Shakespeare reader who isn’t a die-hard fan. It might even taint their view of the brilliant man. But, if you, like me, are a fan till the end, this play is an important piece in Shakespeare’s history, being his (potentially) first play, and is worth at least one read.

Thanks for reading and make sure you stop by and check out my Facebook and Tumblr. pages. Keep up on my latest reviews and follow for other bookish posts! – and http://dreamingthroughliterature.tumb...

*So, if you are ever in need of some help with anything Shakespearean, feel free to ask! I will gladly help.
320 reviews5 followers
February 27, 2020
Overall, I enjoyed the Henry VI sequence, though the second part seemed the weakest. A few stray observations and quotes below.

Part One:

The truth appears so naked on my side
That any purblind eye may find it out.

And on my side it is so well appareled,
So clear, so shining, and so evident,
That it will glimmer through a blind man’s eye.
1 Henry VI 2.4.20-24

Part Two
Plots and counter-plots. Cryptic prophecies coming true in unexpected ways. The pointless loss and frittering away of everything Henry V fought for. It's all on the surface and very busy. Probably the least satisfying element is the uprising of the commons – Jack Cade's willful ignorance and pretensions are mildly amusing, but it gets old fast.

Some favorite bits:

SUFFOLK (to QUEEN, concerning an over-ambitious duchess):
Madam, myself have limed a bush for her,
And placed a choir of such enticing birds
That she will light to listen to the lays
And never mount to trouble you again.
2 Henry VI 1.3.88-91

RICHARD (to YORK, concerning an elderly but determined fighter):
And like rich hangings in a homely house,
So was his will in his old feeble body.
2 Henry VI 5.3.12-13

Part Three

Here, I particularly noticed some nice bantering word-play, for example when one character uses figurative language to describe his own state, and another character twists it for his own ends or as snide commentary. I think it's often the York brothers (esp. Edward and his brother Richard). Richard is being set up nicely as a villain.

I loved this line: "Forslow no longer! Make we hence amain!" (2.3.56)

We see here in the French court, I think, a fun counterpoint to Henry V's scathing response to the Dauphin's mock of tennis balls. After a messenger brings news that York has undercut his own ambassador by throwing out a sensible political marriage with the French king's daughter in favor of a love/lust match of his own devising, the French king says:

Then, England’s messenger, return in post
And tell false Edward, thy supposèd king,
That Lewis of France is sending over maskers
To revel it with him and his new bride.
3 Henry VI 3.3.222-225
Profile Image for Z. F..
298 reviews93 followers
August 3, 2017
My crown is in my heart, not on my head:
Not deck'd with diamonds, and Indian stones:
Nor to be seen: my crown is call'd content,
A crown it is, that seldom kings enjoy.

-Part 3, Act 3, Scene 1

The three plays of the Henry VI cycle are among Shakespeare's first, and he probably wasn't the only author. Recent scholarships suggests they may have been co-written with Christopher Marlowe (at the time a much bigger celebrity than Shakespeare himself), though other--and in my opinion, more probable--theories have been put forward as well.

This trilogy is listed first in my chronological(ish) collection of the Bard's works, so when I set out a few years ago to read everything he'd written, it was with Henry VI that I began. It's admittedly not a great starting point, and if I wasn't already convinced of Shakespeare's abilities these plays would have done little to persuade me. The stilted dialogue, cardboard characters (Joan of Arc is, memorably, depicted as a raving Devil-worshiper; the Elizabethans spared no love for Catholics or the French), and rather shoddy synthesis of potentially-very-interesting history all suggest an inexperienced--and probably financially-driven--playwright still coming into his own as an artist.

There are some passages of real poetry, and Shakespeare's choice to portray the title character as a weak and ineffectual ruler taken advantage of by more prudent and ruthless underlings foreshadows some of his later and better-executed work. The events depicted here occur directly before those of Richard III (the "son of York" Richard mentions in his opening monologue is Edward IV, Henry's successor and a prominent player in this trilogy), so it can work as a sort of prequel series as well. All the same, there is little here that Shakespeare doesn't do more skillfully in later plays, and Shakespearean newcomers should probably start elsewhere.
Profile Image for Matthew Selby.
47 reviews15 followers
July 21, 2023
Though not fully a Shakespeare play(s), Henry VI presents the misfortunate reign of its title character as one of treachery, war and chaos. Henry VI himself is pushed around by people around him, Lancastrian and Yorkish alike, and wishes he never was king. Shakespeare presents the War of the Roses as a bloodbath that benefitted ambitious princes who cared little for virtue and justice, and harmed princes who were. The end alludes to a conflict within the House of York with the new Duke of Gloucester, who expresses his wishes to take the throne from his brother through murder and intrigue.
Profile Image for Andrew.
630 reviews11 followers
July 4, 2021
Three history plays, written out of sequence (II, then III, then I), variously attributed to Shakespeare, with differing stylistic modes, span the life of King Henry VI, child successor to the early demise of Henry V, which pick up the War of the Roses unifying theme developed from Richard II to Richard III, and continue the wars with France. A lot happens and some big characters have their day - Joan of Arc, Catholic martyr of the French (10% of dialogue of Part I), the Duke of Gloucester, the later Richard III's father (7% of Part I, 10% of II), the brawling Richard, Duke of Gloucester (14% of III), Queen Margaret (10% of II and III), Jack Cade, champion of a people's rebellion (8% of II), and not least the pious, troubled King Henry VI himself (7% of I, 10% of II, 12% of III, but not the primary roles of any [5th, 2nd and 4th respectively]).

Bate, in the RSC compilation, briefly outlines the provenance of authorship of the plays, supported by 21st century stylometric analysis. Part II of 1591 demonstrates possible co-authorship; Part III of the same year demonstrates probable co-authorship, and Part I, of 1592, is likely to have had as many as four hands working on it. Shakespeare probably wrote nearly all of Part II, some of Part III, and only some scenes of Part I. Part II has 'gloriously Shakespearean energy and variety'; Part III has some 'immensely powerful rhetorical encounters but many longueurs' (tedious passages); and Part I demonstrates only Shakespearean quality in the rose-plucking scene of 2.4 and the 'moving dialogue' between Talbot and his son in the battle of 4.6 (RSC Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p.4). These probable attributions are generally held because the quality of the Shakespearean passages is matched by the stylistic analysis.

The First Folio of 1623 first brings the three plays into one printing and designates their correct parts, whereas the earlier short quarto versions of Parts II and III were originally entitled 'The First Part of the Contention of the two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster' and 'The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York'. All three were probably developed from authorial papers as opposed to scribal copies of the printer's or theatrical papers. An Octavo version of Part III existed. The Folio version of Part I has no quarto original extant. Part I is 100% verse, Part II 85%, and Part III 100%. Sources for Part I were Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke (1548) and Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), the Temple garden scene and Talbot with his son are Shakespearean inventions. These sources were also used for Parts II and III, supplemented (probably) with John Foxe's Actes and Monuments (1583) for Part II, a Protestant matryrology.

It is unknown whether the plays were performed back-to-back as a trilogy at the time, while we fit them into the first tetralogy (written), along with Richard III of 1592-4, in later historical chronology, matched with the second tetralogy (written) of earlier historical chronology (Richard II [1595-6], 1 Henry IV [1596-7], 2 Henry IV [1597-8] and Henry V [1599]). Many directors have subsequently linked up all these Wars of the Roses plays, both on stage and screen, such as the BBC Hollow Crown series (2012-2016), while some directors have squished the three plays into two, as in Peter Hall's Wars of the Roses production of the 1970s. But since we read them both as separate plays and part of a trilogy, the arrogance in compressing them into two, strikes as somehow impure - even while their impurity is established. I then treat each play separately, as part of a trilogy and as part of a tetralogy.


I agree with Coleridge that the opening verse of 1 Henry VI doesn't read like the Shakespeare we know from even the earlier plays - and consider that Richard III was written about this time (1592-1594). It smacks of amateurishness, of lachrymose and childish rhymes, with messengers speaking as nobles and nobles speaking in nursery rhymes. The verse, as clunky as the action, is almost entirely line-paused or stopped, where the later mature Shakespeare is full of variation on the pentameter, of frequent enjambment, of syllogistic development, and richly metaphorical. What metaphor there is here is so diffuse it is meaningless. Consider: 'Glory is like a circle in the water, / Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself / Till by broad spreading, it disperse to naught' (1.2.133-5). The water metaphor of concentric ripples from a central disturbance, now still, is clear, but how does that relate to glory, dissipating itself? You don't need to be an expert to notice that this is not the rhythm of Shakespeare to the ear. It is also evident in the more natural rhythm of the dialogue in the Temple garden scene (2.4), where the different sides pluck the Yorkist white rose or the Lancastrian red, that this is Shakespeare's rhythm. And its very existence, an invented scene, is powerfully visual and symbolic - it sits right at the heart of the contention, but more profoundly, of the mind's eye.

Exeter acts as a kind of chorus in this play, pulling us back from the detailed bickering between the Roses factions and constantly portending strife and doom. As for as the overarching wars between England and France, the turn, as usual, comes in 3.3, when Joan of Arc convinces Burgundy, hitherto fighting on the English side, to abandon them and bolster France's army. The vilification of Joan of Arc is certainly the most disconcerting aspect of the play, bound up with accusations of witchcraft, devilry and whoredom - and this before even James I. The whole idea is offensive - but, then again, anyone proclaiming to kill for their religion is equally. The play ends with the positioning of Gloucester, York, Suffolk and (now) Cardinal Winchester, each with their own interests in manipulating power and the King. We foresee at least a couple of comeuppances in the sequels.

As for the language? It is pretty mediocre, nice enough for the elaboration of the rivalries and war plots, but it has no power nor residing impact - apart from the negative one of the bumbling verse of the opening act, to its discredit. This is a history of episodic nature, bound by the increasing contention between the factions of the Roses as a common thread, filling in a place between the historic series. And even while bolstered by the charismatic presence of Joan of Arc, but for all her charisma her speeches are not uncommon nor particularly inspirational. It is that emblematic scene in the Temple garden (2.4) which lives on, a simple but powerful visual symbolism, and a colourful one. If there is any magic in the first part of Henry VI, it is that imagery. And, perhaps, the promise of Margaret....


Part II of Henry VI sees the consequences of Suffolk's former negotiation with France of ceding two provinces for Margaret as new queen to Henry VI as a bone of contention among the nobles, particularly Gloucester, uncle to the young king. The discussion of dreams between Gloucester and his wife Eleanor in 1.2 looks forward to Macbeth (1605-1606), with the supernatural prompting. Meanwhile, Beaufort, now Cardinal, and great-uncle to the king, who in the previous play determined to sow the seeds of unrest in the land, is now acting as seeming mediator to Gloucester's discontent, while plotting his downfall, but the other nobles observe immediately his duplicity, noting he bears himself 'More like a soldier than a man o'th'Church' (1.1.187). That scene ends with a long soliloquy from York, of the white rose, still on the same theme, of holding his tongue until the time is right to seize the crown. Queen Margaret, aware of all the divisions and discontents, is shepherded by Suffolk, who has in hand a conspiracy against Gloucester, fostered by the Cardinal. It is a grand chess match: which piece shall first fall?

Yet, even while the field is clearly laid out regarding the roses, there are some minor confusions. Nearly all are against Gloucester, even his own wife! She, with her advising spirit Asnath, becomes the exotic of the play, and while Gloucester does not denounce her, he cannot support her either. Thus begins his compromise, and soon he is out of the picture. This is a shame, for he seems one of the very few who are not dissembling and Machiavellian. Then there's Somerset, the horrid Cardinal's nephew, who suggests to his ally Buckingham that they watch the 'haughty cardinal' whose 'insolence is more intolerable / Than all the princes in the land beside' (1.1.175-7). He is; he's absolutely foul, and Shakespeare colours him so as a Catholic careerist in the pay of the Pope - almost a mole. So it's complicated, but key figures not merely get their comeuppance, they lose all.

What intrigues is the development, not of the factions and their constant scrapping, but of Margaret's role. As it develops, she takes on a central role in stirring the factions against Gloucester (3.1), while we discover late just how much Suffolk meant to her. This, if anything, is the root of tragedy in the piece, and her bewailing his loss at the same time reveals the truth to Henry about his consort. Margaret has great tracts in the heart of the piece, and while Suffolk is a schemer, who in the play isn't (except Gloucester and Buckingham, both Humphreys)? But if pride was Gloucester's downfall, it is certainly Suffolk's end.

The curious, grotesquely comic interregnum of Jack Cade's rebellion in Act IV, likely a treat for the groundlings, was just weird - and went on too long. Just, as I imagine, many, many felt did the French and Russian revolutions. Goodness, what a travesty the rabble are! The play ends with the first real battle between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists as York, having just quelled yet another Irish remonstrance, is returned to see how his paid insurgent, Cade is doing back home, and, discovering him routed and the rebellion over, disbands his army, only to be immediately insulted again by the reds, and coming out in force, and temporary victory, at St. Albans, the king and consort fled. One of note who has had a damn good brawl was a certain Richard, a scrapper after his old father's heart. The stage is set for Part III.

Linguistically, this feels much more assuredly Shakespearean than was much of Part I, but yet lacks any great verse or moving speeches, despite Margaret's significant rhetoric on grief. Again, it is almost certainly better seen performed, such parts usually raised by a significant factor. I must, however, wait until Part III is read before I revisit The Hollow Crown, which is the go-to series for these two tetralogies for me, where I suspect even the lesser Henry VI plays (3 into 2) - and they are lesser than any of the others - would be a feast of interpretation.

A moderately entertaining play, well-written, but with little magic or exotic fire, and that little comes through the two interesting female parts of Eleanor and Margaret. Henry VI is not a Henry V, but if I had been around at that time, I would have preferred him, being a lily-livered liberal. However, I would have run a mile from the new kid on the block, brawling his way to the front of the stage already, even while we are not really ready for him yet; he must wait two plays.


Henry VI Part III continues from immediately after the first battle of St. Albans, the end of the prequel, where the Lancastrians have lost key nobles and the King flown. The Yorkist party arrives at Parliament first, and York takes the throne. Henry's arrival and reproach sees squabbling ensue, but in order to end the civil war, agrees with York that if he live out his remainder as King, York and his line may resume the crown after. York agrees, though his brawling sons argue against it, and takes the oath. However, on departure of the King, York plots to bring Henry's end sooner. Margaret's reproach to Henry bears no fruit, so she instead summons a large army out of the north, under Northumberland and Westmorland, and they march on York's castle, the white rose outnumbered.

The language of the play is more consistently mature and assured, lending it a greater integrity, the dialogue between the episodic battles weaving a richer story, the plots and conspiracies rivalled by the development of character. As a result, the last of the trilogy feels a much more worthy bridge to the very mature-feeling - while still 'early' - Richard III [1592-1594], the last of the Roses' first tetralogy (written). While it is probably co-authored, if the main authorship is Shakespeare, then Shakespeare in his very first plays demonstrates his concern as much with character development as with plot, which came to maturity only shortly afterwards with Romeo and Juliet [1595-1596], a play as strong in character as it is in balance of structure. But Richard III is his springboard to a new maturity, the character of Richard fixed in the mind like a wind-gnarled tree on a bleak promontory. Yet in between sits the grotesquely gory Titus Andronicus [1591-1592], the naïve Two Gentlemen Of Verona [1591-1592], and the unimpressive farce The Comedy Of Errors [1594], although the character-led Taming Of The Shrew [1589-1592] among these may be even earlier. Certainly, it is difficult to believe in the scholarly evidence of the sequence of these plays (based on their last possible authorship dates).

However, what we've got is a placement of the three parts of Henry IV all around 1991-2, and since the linguistic comparisons indicate the scope of Shakespearean authorship, we must judge by that. It is therefore possible that Part III, while co-authored, was later revised by Shakespeare more fully than Part II, because the linguistic development is clearly more assured, and far from the obviously botched multiply-authored Part I (written a year later). Already we see the early aggression of Richard Gloucester, and certainly Richard's last soliloquy [5.6] is very close to his early intimations in his self-titled play, that you can well imagine that Shakespeare not only already had in mind his own piece to end the Roses octet, but was probably champing at the bit to get down to writing that next. The possibilities shout out of this text for the successive work. My feeling is that Titus Andronicus and Two Gentlemen Of Verona were earlier works than these histories, and that Shakespeare had already moved on to Richard III as the collaborative Part I was being bundled together, and that The Comedy Of Errors followed the last history of this tetralogy, rather than preceded it. Certainly you would be inclined to a bit of farce after the black bleakness of Richard, darker than Titus, his bloodiest play yet, despite all its disgusting gore. By now, Shakespeare must have been in a fever of creative imagination - and it shows in Part III, a much richer play than its prequels.

It shows, further, in the gentle scenes interstitial to the battles which make up the front half of the play, namely, the son-who-killed-his-father and the father-who-killed-his-son scene (2.5) of passionate anguish, where the meditating King Henry sits in melancholy witness; and in the scene of the two gamekeepers at the border of Scotland (3.1), where the former king Henry wanders between them and their game, rueing the fortunes of his Margaret. If the style of the language speaks not for Shakespeare's pen (and it does, with its enjambment and avoidance of pretty constructs - while yet not venturing into the obscure, such as in Macbeth [1605-1606], for example), these passages do. They seam the history together with the human, as Shakespeare ensures that character contends with plot, and pathos is the effect of its simplicity (compared to the bathos of the pomp of Part I's simplistic imagery). This too is very much the mark of Shakespeare. There is as yet no complex linguistic gymnastics, but there is depth in its layers of understatement (though not a fault you could ever level at Richard). Shakespeare knows how to pace, to surge and to retire, to balance and to vary colour.

Meantime, the crown changes hands more often than a bad penny, and Henry, fed up with it all, retires to his meditations, while Edward, now up, now down, is as casual about his fate. There are almost more battles than characters to this play, but Shakespeare makes of it a well-structured and fitting piece, with its strong characterisation and beautifully paced 'pastoral' scenes between the battles, to bridge the historical gap between its prequels and its successor. If further proof were needed of his mind already on Richard III, witness Gloucester's soliloquy at 3.2, his calculating mind already on the crown before Edward (IV) has even got a wife (Lady Elizabeth Grey). The foul brawler has 'neither pity, love nor fear' (5.6.68), and betrays his colour - black - beneath the chameleon pretence. Not yet the maw of Ragnarök, but that's not far off. Such a delicious villain. Yes, Part III is a superb bridge to that great play, come Richard's day.
Profile Image for Jordan Ayers.
18 reviews
July 8, 2020
I've long had a goal to read all that Shakespeare wrote (just to say I did it, I guess). This is where I started (not counting plays I read as a teenager for school), because even though people say that you should read this in order play-canon chronology (i.e, Henry IV and V first), the complete works I have puts it first in the book of written time chronology, followed immediately by Richard III which I'll read next (and follows this play storywise also).

I wanted to wait until I read all three parts to write the review, because why review one part of a whole? So, here we go:

I won't summarize the three parts because I'm sure another review has done that (or you can go read one of those Notes sites if you like), but will instead review it based on how much I liked it, as a casual reader, with only a little Shakespeare experience.

It takes a little time for a casual reader to adjust to Shakespeare's writing, but once you do, you quickly realize why his reputation is as it is. It all flows quite nicely when he wants it to, and is jam-packed with beautiful and/or amusing metaphors. Once you're over that hurdle, the writing ceases to be a problem, and you'll find yourself reading along at a decent pace, no longer stopping after every line to try and piece things together (though it still happens occasionally).

The first part of this play is extremely entertaining. It sets the stage for everything to come, but doesn't do so in a boring way. Most scenes are quite interesting (some are pretty funny also) and introduce you to most of the major players of at least Part 2, and some of Part 3 also. The way you can truly get a sense of who each character is just from their dialogues and monologues is some truly great writing, and there are a lot of interesting characters here, some of which you'll want to know more about than you get to know (perhaps you can know them better in Henry V, I don't know yet).

The second part of the play is where things really get moving-- all the feuds and characters rubbing against each other in various ways in part 1 start to boil over. One after another you're hit with important events as characters die, or come outright with their plans. This part of the story has all the driving force of a great middle of a trilogy, and will have you eager to see the conclusions of it all.

Enter part 3, which does pretty much exactly that and strongly enough you won't be disappointed. I will say, I was slightly disappointed at the death of some of my favorite characters, but the play is (loosely, or so I hear) based on history, so there's not much that can be done about that. This finale to the play is all-out war for a great deal of it, and just about nobody is safe. Towards the end as things wrap up, we get some interesting development on Richard, the son of the Duke of York, and the titular character of the upcoming Richard III. The way the play ends, if you've read this far, will certainly drive you on like myself to go straight to Richard III afterwards to see what happens.

So, what is there to say? Great writing and an interesting story with literally dozens of characters with their own ambitions and opinions on events in it makes for a very interesting read. People tell me that Henry VI is some of Shakespeare's worst work-- if that's true, he must have earned his reputation after all, because the 100 pages or so (in my copy) of the three parts of Henry VI contend in writing and interest with any TV show or movie I've seen in recent memory. Not to mention, it outstrips many of them in complexity (due to the sheer amount of characters), and manages to stay focused and interesting despite that.
Profile Image for cristinastancu2016.
39 reviews6 followers
February 27, 2017
Una dintre piesele timpurii ale lui William Shakespeare, "Henric al VI-lea" este o trilogie istorică tensionată, cu iz de telenovelă. Acum dușman, mâine aliat, apoi iar dușman... Warwick pare cel mai instabil dintre personaje, nu lipsit totuși de un vag sentiment al onoarei. Atenție la Edwarzi...unul e prințul Edward, fiul lui Henric al VI-lea, membru al familiei Lancaster, altul e Edward York, fiul ducelui de York, rege până la finalul trilogiei. Cei doi Edwarzi sunt așadar dușmani de moarte...just saying! Nu mi se pare o reușită tehnică, dar dialogurile sunt antrenante și e un bun exercițiu intelectual, plus că la final poți să zici mulțumit...hei, am citit Shakespeare, nene!
Profile Image for Ray.
110 reviews17 followers
June 27, 2010
"Henry VI: Part I" (read 20100405) ****. After the death of Henry V, the ability of the English to hold onto their territories in France becomes threatened by the resurgent French, in part because of the charismatic leadership of the French heroine Joan of Arc. The English hero Talbot manages to hold onto the disputed territories for most of the play, but he is killed in battle when friction between Yorkist and Lancastrian nobles prevents reinforcements from arriving. Further trouble is ensured when young Henry VI marries the scheming Margaret of Anjou and relinquishes some of his holdings in France for an ill-omened peace treaty.

"Henry VI, Part 2" (read 20100502) ****. Henry VI, a weak, reluctant king is surrounded by schemers and secret enemies who seek to control or dethrone him. His ineffectual handling of factious nobles leads to a populist rebellion and open revolt by a Yorkist contender for his throne. The play is full of ambitious court intrigues, treacherous schemes, hidden allegiances, and an astonishing number of beheadings (which symbolize Henry's inadequacy as a ruler and the dangerous power vacuum he leaves at the top). Henry's generous, devout, and humble nature would have made him a good priest. But as king, his lack of leadership brings his country to the brink of civil war.

"Henry VI, Part 3" (read 20100624) ***. The ineffectual Henry is assailed by armed rebellion, but he would rather "talk through" the two sides' differences and negotiate away his own power. His queen and other "supporters," however, have too much invested in Henry's kingship to let him throw it away, so even without him, they continue the cruel and bloody War of the Roses. Although the war does finally end, Richard of Gloucester is waiting in the wings, ready to plot against anyone who stands between him and the throne, so the crown still does not rest easy. [Not a great play, but a good one. There are too many battles, too many murders and beheadings, and no characters that the audience can sympathize with. Sadly, the title character comes across almost as cartoonish.:]

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for mohab samir.
378 reviews314 followers
November 14, 2016
رغم أن رواية هنرى السادس لم ترقى بشهرتها لمستوى أعمال شكسبير ذائعة الصيت كعطيل وماكبث وتاجر البندقية وغيرهم إلا أنى وجدتها من أعظم أعماله .
فصياغة شكسبير وبلاغته لا تزال هى هى كما يعتادها قراءه وإن كانت الأحداث هنا زاخرة بالتعبيرات والمجازات والإستعارات البلاغية الرنانة .
والشخصيات عند شكسبير هى عبارة عن الإنسان فى أقصى درجات ملحمته فكل شخصيات الرواية تتعايش مع واقعها وتصيغ من واقعها ملحمتهم الخاصة التى يستشعرونها بكل تفاصيلها وينغمسون فيها بكل جوارحهم ويجعلوها أول همومهم وهم عندما يعبرون عن أنفسهم تجدهم يخرجون ما فى أعماقها كأفضل علماء النفس فى عصرنا الحالى وبكلمات تبلغ فى قوتها وأثرها ما يرفعها لمقام أبلغ الأمثال والحكم المتوارثة المعروفة منذ قديم الأزل .
ورغم ثقتى فى أن لشكسبير بالغ الأثر على أدب دوستويفيسكى إلا أننا نجد بوناً واسعا بين كلاهما فى تصوير أبطالهم ففى حين يجعلك الأخير تتعاطف مع معظم أبطال العمل وتتمنى لهم الخلاص جمياً فإن الأول يجعلك تنظر إليهم من الجهة الأخرى وهى الجهة التى يستعصى فيها ان نبرر سلوك الأشخاص ونحتار فى تأييد أى منهم ونشك فى أحقية أى منهم بالخلاص.
فى هنرى السادس صور شكسبير ببراعة حياة البلاط الإنجليزى فى القرن الخامس عشر بكل ما فيه من رشاقة ومظاهر وبكل ما ينطوى من دسائس النبلاء وأطماعهم فى الحكم والحروب المتكررة بين دول أوروبا فى محاولة سيطرة كل منهم على الأخرى وحروب النبلاء بعضهم لبعض لتوسيع أملاكهم وزيادة ثرواتهم ودور النساء فى هذا البلاط ومحاولاتهم للتسلط على حكم الرجال وشهوتهم للمال .
وكعادتى أميل الى التحيز الى الاعمال الروائية ذات الطابع التاريخى فالجانب التاريخى سليم الى حد ما واستطيع ان احكم ان الرواية جاءت محايدة فى وصفها للصراع على السلطة فى انجلترا بين أسرتى لنكستر ويورك خصوصا ان اى منهما لم يعد فى الحكم فى عصر شكسبير فى حين كان وصفه لأواخر عهد حرب المائة عام بين فرنسا وانجلترا لا يخلو من التحيز لبنى وطنه وهزأه بالفرنسيين كما بدا واضحا إحتقارة لبطلة فرنسا القومية القديسة العذراء جان دارك .
إن شكسبير لا يزال منذ أكثر من أربعة قرون مضرب الأمثال فى الأدب الحديث عند الحديث عن أى أديب آخر . ولا نزال حتى اليوم نعجز عن إيجاد من يمكن أن يصلح ليكون مضرب المثل عند الحديث عن شكسبير .
Profile Image for nora.
74 reviews3 followers
July 31, 2020
if i could give these 3 1/2 stars, i would. messy, contradictory, sometimes boring, sometimes bad--but i like an underdog, and these truly are the underdogs of the tetralogies. i'd mostly recommend these to people who already know they love Henry V and Richard III and are dying to know how one gets from point A to point B, chronologically-speaking. other than that, i'd say you should give them a try for margaret of anjou alone, who manages to simultaneously be an unsympathetic harridan and a sympathetic queen, wife, and mother who loses all. her story is the most compelling part of the first tetralogy to me, and i don't think it's a stretch to say that she's the blueprint for later beloved characters like lady macbeth.
Profile Image for Nathan Albright.
4,488 reviews110 followers
March 11, 2019
It is no surprise that these plays are among the least played and least regarded of all of Shakespeare's plays, or that they were written towards the beginning of his career, and that at least one of the plays (Part I, apparently an early example of a prequel) is viewed as largely the work of someone else with a few of the better scenes written by Shakespeare himself.  Even with the hindsight of more than 400 years these plays are not the most enjoyable ones, and they make for pretty unhappy reading even if they have flashes of brilliance in their plotting and at least a few very powerful moments, like the poignant death of Richard, Duke of York with a paper crown on, or the lawyerly disputation of the legitimacy of the claims of Lancaster and York based on which son of Edward III they are descended from--made all the more pointed when the House of York inherits the claims from the House of Mortimer.  But aside from these scenes and the bravery of Talbot and the rather dark view that Shakespeare has of Joan of Arc, a lot of this play makes for grim and depressing viewing, just like reading about the Wars of the Roses can often make for grim and depressing reading as well.

This particular book is a very large one, not least by containing three plays in one volume.  Aside from that, though, this book is the same in its general form and structure as the other plays in the Royal Shakespeare Company series.  This almost 450 page book starts with an introduction to three parts of Henry VI with a look at the Hundred Years' war after Agincourt, the questions of sequence and authorship about the plays, structure and style, the popular voice, and the tragic agon of the plays as a whole.  After that we have some notes about the fact before we have key facts, the dialogue (mostly based on the first folio edition) and some textual notes for all three parts of Henry VI.  After this comes synopses of all three parts, Henry VI in performance, with some comments from directors and designers of the plays, and then the usual notes about Shakespeare's career in the theater, a chronology of his works, the kings and queens of England during the historical plays to Shakespeare's own time, a chronology of the history behind the histories, and some suggestions for further reading and viewing, references, acknowledgements and picture credits.

In reading a series of plays like this one, it is important to note the poignant elements it contains.  A great deal of the trouble that this play shows is the way that foreign wars often serve as a valve for internal discontent, and that the health of a realm or institution depends greatly on leadership.  And sadly, Henry VI was by no means a great ruler.  Although the Wars of the Roses are the focus of a great deal of the examination of the turmoil of English rulership, it is worth noting that there have long been periods of deep struggle over the legitimacy of England's royalty, going well back to before the Norman conquest, continuing all through the rule of William the conqueror and his feuding sons, the anarchy, the crises of the Plantagenets, the turmoil of the Tudors and Stuarts and the various rebellions during the House of Hanover, and so on and so forth.  The crown of England has in many ways always been a hollow crown, one that created a certain amount of expectations but one that never carried with it the sort of power that other crowns carried, even if that absence of power has ended up helping the English crown to last longer than many of its less successful rivals.  Somewhere in the course of all of this historical theater there are a lot of great lessons that can be learned.
Profile Image for Susan.
192 reviews11 followers
March 13, 2023
Shakespeare’s best characters are women. This isn’t the most groundbreaking statement, but reading his early work, this becomes quite apparent. The Henry VI cycle is definitely uneven. It’s a bit dry in parts, and the writing doesn’t always sound like Shakespeare, which just confirms that these plays definitely were co-written. Certain passages in Part I, for example, just don’t sound like him. There are these hard couplets in IV, v that lack the subtlety and flow of his usual verse. They just sound clunky. But clunky verse aside, I did enjoy these plays. I liked the random lines that I knew but didn’t know were from these plays (“shoot forth thunder,” “add more fuel to your fire,” “kill all the lawyers”). But what I liked the most were the women–Joan, Queen Margaret, the Duchess (the other Margaret? Got a little confused there). The history plays, all of them, are so much about what happens when weak men attempt to rule. Women step up and do a better job. I’m not sure if Shakespeare thinks that women make better rulers, but he definitely shows how weak girly men breed instability.

I have decided that Lady Macbeth is the culmination of a female archetype he was obsessed with in so much of his early work. You see shades of her in Tamora from "Titus Andronicus," in Joan, and most definitely in Queen Margaret. It’s the woman who eschews her feminine softness and caregiving, who summons spirits, aligning herself with dark forces in order to take over where men have failed, that Shakespeare writes so well. Margaret is definitely a badass. Seriously. That scene where she weeps over Suffolk’s head? Damn. And part of me kind of feels sorry for King Henry. He’s an intellectual. He doesn't want to rule. He just wants to read his books and pray his prayers. His most telling line is in IV, viii, when he says in a typical Shakespearean inversion: “Was never a subject longed to be a king as I do long and wish to be a subject.”

It was also cool to meet Richard III before he was Richard III and understand more of the backstory. (“I am myself alone.”) I’m looking forward to rereading that one now that I have all of this context and backstory.

All in all, I give these plays a C-. I enjoyed them, but they are rather uneven. I especially enjoyed finally getting around to watching the second season of the Hollow Crown, which truly does a most excellent job of combining these plays into two episodes. Well worth a watch.
Profile Image for Tumblyhome (Caroline).
121 reviews5 followers
March 17, 2023
Henry V1 parts one, two and three.

Not that I want to be negative but I really didn’t like the Henry V1 plays. This is purely a personal reaction and I know some people like these.
I am not sure why my history education was so lacking that I had to spend a considerable amount of time researching the period (the Wars of the Roses) before picking up the plays.. once I had though, I was quite up for reading these.

But oh my goodness 😵‍💫. There were some fantastic stories lost in the plays but they were completely swamped by the young Shakespeare wanting to cover a massive subject in too much detail. My overriding thought was ‘Less is More’. I wish these had explored smaller elements of the stories in more detail.
I know better plays are coming but I nearly tore my hair out with these. On a positive (?) note.. it gave a good depiction of the truly horrible human emotion of revenge/vengeance and how it is unending and corrupting.
I watched the Hollow Crown episodes of this too.. they fiddled around with it, blending 2 characters into one and taking liberties with the text but it was a good watch.. a bit brutal and not full of joy.

I really enjoyed some parts, so it wasn’t all bad. My favourite being the Duke of Warwick’s speech below from part three act 5 scene 2

If you have read this.. did I miss the point?

Warwick: Ah, who is nigh? Come to me, friend or foe,
And tell me who is victor, York or Warwick?
Why ask I that? My mangled body shows,
My blood, my want of strength, my sick heart shows,
That I must yield my body to the earth
And, by my fall, the conquest to my foe.
Thus yields the cedar to the axe's edge,
Whose arms gave shelter to the princely eagle,
Under whose shade the ramping lion slept,
Whose top-branch overpeer'd Jove's spreading tree
And kept low shrubs from winter's powerful wind.
These eyes, that now are dimm'd with death's black
Have been as piercing as the mid-day sun,
To search the secret treasons of the world:
The wrinkles in my brows, now filled with blood,
Were liken'd oft to kingly sepulchres;
For who lived king, but I could dig his grave?
And who durst mine when Warwick bent his brow?
Lo, now my glory smear'd in dust and blood!
My parks, my walks, my manors that I had
Even now forsake me, and of all my lands
Is nothing left me but my body's length.
Why, what is pomp, rule, reign, but earth and dust?
And, live we how we can, yet die we must.
Profile Image for Keith Taylor.
Author 17 books65 followers
April 17, 2022
(This is a rereading of Part 2)

(Another one of those times when the rating system just doesn't work. If I were to compare this to other works by Shakespeare, the great mature works, this would probably get 2 stars. If I were just to put it where it falls on keeping interest or excitement, it would probably get 3 stars. But it gets 5 stars because ... )

It tells me a lot about Shakespeare, the development of his craft and his understanding about power, state power and how the individual responds to it. This early Shakespeare was a pretty conservative writer, I think, or was willing to tailor his opinions to the powers that ran his life. He would have done so both for patronage and to protect himself and his theater.

In this play the weak Henry loses his power to those more willing to act decisively, even brutally. But what interests me most is the portrait of Jack Cade and the narration of his rebellion in Act IV. I think it's very clear that little if any of Shakespeare's sympathies are for the working class and peasant rebels. When he doesn't treat them as fools and buffoons, he treats them as a bloodthirsty, unthinking mob. It seems clear to me that he wanted his audience to cheer when Cade's head is brought on stage at the end of the act. Later Shakespeare seems much more nuanced in his political responses, but I wonder if I'm just imagining that, reading him the way I want to read him.

Much of the blank verse here is pedestrian. A lot of it is devoted to the intrigue and houses of the nobility and royalty. But the Bard's comfort with finding his metaphors and similes in the common experience, in the forest, farm yard and the street, is already on display. Here, for instance, are a few lines spoken by Bolingbroke, as he is conspiring to murder Gloucester:

Patience, good lady; wizards know their times.
Deep night, dark night, the silent of the night,
The time of night when Troy was set on fire,
The time when screech-owls cry, and ban-dogs howl
And spirits walk, and ghosts break up their graves--
That time best fits the work we have in hand.

Now that is just lovely, and holds the future of so many scenes to come!

Profile Image for Michele.
24 reviews
March 15, 2023
By reading this book with a copy of the Royal Line of Succession on my lap and a pencil in my hand I was able to learn who the major characters in the play were and how they related to each other. This helped me understand where they were coming from. To me they all seemed like power hungry men who didn’t really know how to do anything but fight and kill. They were all infected with a sense of “honor” that apparently justified their acts of war, murder and revenge which became a little tedious and formulaic as the advantage swayed dizzingly from one faction to the other and back again. I don’t have enough of an appreciation of poetry yet to comment on these plays as works of art. I was just happy that I was able to read them and get the sense without having to look up every other phrase. Looking forward to reading the prequels and the sequels , both for the history and the poetry. As I read the canon in chronological order my ability to appreciate the poetry will hopefully grow as will shakespeare’s power as an artist naturally develops.
Profile Image for David Jacobson.
267 reviews13 followers
August 6, 2017
I find that I don't typically enjoy reading Shakespeare; they are plays, meant to be performed, not read. But, since I had a ticket to see the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of Henry VI Part III, I thought I ought to go back and read the first two parts. I ultimately read all three.

Henry VI is arguably Shakespeare's earliest work, and it is not his best. I was surprised to learn that the three plays were written out of order, since I thought they got better as they went along: from battle after boring battle between the unimpeachable Talbot and decidedly less-than-saintly Joan of Arc in Part I to the more-interesting political intrigue and backstabbing of Part III.

While the plays are titled Henry VI, that king is often relegated to the background. The most interesting characters are Richard Plantagenet and Queen Margaret, who emerge in Part I but do not come to prominence until later: another reason why the later plays are the more engrossing.
Profile Image for LordSlaw.
457 reviews2 followers
January 29, 2022
The three Henry VI plays are thought to be among Shakespeare's earliest and already his superb abilities as a writer and playwright are shining through. Basically, the Wars of the Roses in three action-packed, history-laden, spectacle-filled plays. This Signet Classics paperback is chock full of historical source material, critical essays, and explanatory footnotes. Erudite and entertaining.
Profile Image for Jamie.
875 reviews9 followers
June 21, 2020
Chaos reigns! France is lost and the British Crown is in turmoil! Heroes and villains and double-crosses abound! The story is fantastic and engaging, some of the monologues less so, but all in all this was a really fun read still the best dramatization of The War of the Roses that I've come across.
Profile Image for Mark Dickson.
Author 1 book5 followers
May 29, 2021
More like a 3.5.

Part 1 is a little bit of a shitshow, and the constant back-and-forth in Part 3 got a little bit tiresome, but oh boy this was a rollercoaster to read. I read the entirety of both Part 2 and Part 3 in a single afternoon while sat in the sun in the garden, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
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