Act Three, the Remainder: Death, Banishment, More Death, and a Little TLC

Act Three, Scene Two of The Second Part of Henry the Sixth begins with a bit of stage direction:

The curtains are drawn apart, revealing Duke Humphrey of Gloucester in his bed with two men lying on his breast, smothering him in his bed.

— III.ii.begin s.d.

And thus we get the “With the Death of the Good Duke Humphrey” part of the original title’s subtitle.  If Winchester “provide(s) his executioner” (III.i.276), it becomes immediately clear that it’s Suffolk who “commanded” (III.ii.2) the murder.  The murderers close off the murder scene and exit; King Henry and the nobles enter, and Henry commands Suffolk to bring Gloucester.  Suffolk almost immediately reenters with the news: “Dead in his bed, my lord — Gloucester is dead” (III.ii.29).

is it just me or does the first half of that line seem to be explicitly comic, written to be played for laughs?  With its internal rhyme (dead/bed), it feels too jaunty… does Suffolk realize the impropriety of the delivery (in that dash-initiated pause), and suddenly deliver the news in a much more solemn way?

Henry then “falls to the ground” (III.ii.32 ff s.d.).  Does he faint?  Is this a seizure?  A nervous breakdown?  There’s no explanation given, only that the news is so shocking Henry can’t handle the truth.  When he revives, and finds Suffolk trying to comfort him, he immediately attacks Suffolk: he calls him a “raven,” a “basilisk,” one with “poison,” whose “touch affrights … as a serpent’s sting” and “eyeballs murderous tyranny // Sits in” (III.ii.40, 52, 45, 47 and 48-49, respectively).

Queen Margaret attempts to defend Suffolk to describes his “most Christian-like lament(ation)” (III.ii.58), then goes on to describe her own grief over the death of Gloucester.  And when her first attempt can only change Henry’s reaction from anger to sadness (instead of comfort for her), she goes on the offensive again, implying that the King loved Gloucester more than he did Margaret (she tells the king to “erect (Gloucester’s) statue and worship it, // And make my image but an alehouse sign” [III.ii.80-81]).  She then goes on to play for sympathy from the Henry’s “flinty heart” (III.ii.99), even going so far as to melodramatically wish for death.

Before she can see if Henry has been swayed, there is a clamor, followed by Warwick and Salisbury’s entrance, complete with a mob of commoners.  Warwick announces that word out on the street is that Gloucester is dead… and “By Suffolk and the Cardinal Beaufort’s means” (III.ii.124).  Since Gloucester was beloved of the common man, the mob wants answers: confirmation of death, and the manner of death. Only because Warwick has “calmed their spleenful mutiny” (III.ii.128), do they allow time to get those answers.

Henry confirms the death and sends Warwick himself to inspect the body; when Warwick begins to leave, he tells Salisbury to stay with “the rude multitude” (III.ii.135), who immediately take Salisbury offstage… is Salisbury collateral to allow for Warwick’s escape, er, exit?  Warwick then reveals the body and, in the manner of a television Crime Scene Investigator, shows how the Duke was murdered (murdered, I tell you!).

Warwick then goes about using circumstantial evidence to accuse Suffolk (and by extension the Cardinal) of the crime.  When Suffolk threatens Warwick with a duel, Winchester must be helped offstage by Somerset.  Queen Margaret attempts to speak in Suffolk’s defense, only to have Warwick state:

Madam, be still; with reverence may I say;
For every word you speak in his behalf
Is slander to your royal dignity.

— III.ii.207-209

Suffolk, with no support now, is reduced to insulting Warwick’s mother.  Needless to say, this escalates the quarrel.  Within minutes, the mob sends Salisbury back onto the stage.  Salisbury announces that if the King will not send Suffolk to his death, then the mob will “by violence tear him from (the) palace // And torture him with grievous ling’ring death” (III.ii.250-251).  He also announces that to protect the king from the noble “serpent(s)” (III.ii.263) around him, they “will guard (Henry), whe’er (Henry) will or no” (III.ii.269).  The commoners call for “an answer from the king” (III.ii.274), but it is Suffolk who speaks.  Arrogantly, fearlessly, he assails the mob as “rude unpolished hinds… a sort of tinkers” (III.ii.276 and 282).

and yes, this is the published first use of this phrase

When Henry finally responds, he first thanks the mob for their “tender loving care” (III.ii.286).

The king then banishes Suffolk.  His first act of strength in the play and a half in which we’ve seen him.  Thus we get the “Banishment … of the Duke of Suffolk” part of the original title’s subtitle.

Margaret attempts to plead for “gentle Suffolk” (III.ii.295), only to be rebuked by her husband:

Ungentle queen, to call him gentle Suffolk.
No more, I say! If thou dost plead for him,
Thou wilt but add increase unto my wrath.

— III.ii.296-298

and if Eleanor’s speech from Act One, Scene Two, is a dry run for Lady Macbeth, then part of this scene may be practice for Romeo and Juliet’s goodbye scene

Henry is a new man since his collapse earlier in the scene.  And he leads Warwick and his attendants offstage, leaving the Queen and Suffolk alone onstage.  It’s a long goodbye, interrupted only by the news that Cardinal Winchester is “at the point of death” (III.ii.375), and that he calls for the king.  And the goodbye ends with a kiss, making explicit the tenor of the relationship that we’ve suspected from their meeting in The First Part.

Act Three, Scene Three depicts the visit Henry pays to Cardinal Winchester’s deathbed.  The Cardinal is delirious and seems to see the ghost of Gloucester.  Most of the speech is filled with babble, but one line is crystal clear:

O, torture me no more -- I will confess

— III.iii.11

and in this case, I’m not going to go for an anti-waterboarding interpretation… this confession is real

Winchester then dies, and Henry can only leave God to “forgive him” (III.iii.29).  And thus we get the “Tragical End of the Proud Cardinal of Winchester” part of the original title’s subtitle.

And Act Three comes to a close.

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