Act Two: It’s a Long Way from the Top to the Bottom for the Lord Protector

Act Two of The Second Part of Henry the Sixth begins, following the arrest of Eleanor and the occultists, with her husband Humphrey Duke of Gloucester hawking with the royal party at Saint Albans.  After some symbolic statements about falcons flying high (an analog to man’s ambition), Winchester and Gloucester begin their usual sniping, this time with Queen Margaret joining in on the attacks on Gloucester, much to the dismay of King Henry: “I prithee peace, Good queen, and when not on these furious peers” (II.i.32-33).  Surprisingly, she stops.

The verbal tussle is interrupted by the Mayor and townspeople of Saint Albans, carrying a lame man called Simpcox, all crying out that a miracle has happened.  It seems that Simpcox had been blind until today.  Through careful examination, though, Gloucester is able to determine that this is all a scam, that Simpcox was never blind.  It’s a comic sequence, and at the end of it, even Queen Margaret is laughing.  Gloucester, for once, is not under attack; even Winchester states, “Duke Humphrey has done a miracle today” (II.i.162).

the weird meter of the line (two stresses, a stressed syllable, followed by four iambs) makes me think Winchester may actually be laughing himself while saying this… could that be because he know what’s coming?

This good time lasts exactly four lines: then the Duke of Buckingham arrives with news of Eleanor’s arrest.  The news leaves Gloucester devastated:

Sorrow and grief have vanquish’d all my powers;
And, vanquish’d as I am, I yield to thee,
Or to the meanest groom.

— II.i.195-197

He is so defeated that in the second line, he mentions himself (“I”) twice, but neither is stressed:

 ~    /   ~     /  ~ /   ~   /    ~   /
And, vanquish’d as I am, I yield to thee

As a man of justice, he can only “give (Eleanor) as a prey to law” (II.i.210), and see how things turn out.

and is this a clue as to the order of composition?  Is this the first time Shakespeare writes the Yorkist rationale?  Is this why the “second” explanation–the Rose Briar in The First Part–is relatively poorly written, with less detail and clarity?  Was Shakespeare depending on the audience being already familiar with the rationale . . . because of this speech?

From here, the play returns to London to witness York attempting to gain support from Salisbury and Warwick.  This scene’s explanation of the York’s rationale and claim to the throne is much better and more straightforward than the Rose Briar scene in The First Part.  Like the Rose Briar scene, it’s mostly for the audience’s sake, not the characters (Salisbury and his son Warwick would undoubtedly know the situation).

By the end of this short scene, York has secured their support (no surprise).  Of more importance is the statement made by Warwick near the end of the scene: “My heart assures me that the Earl of Warwick // Shall one day make the Duke of York a king” (II.ii.78-79).  Why is this important?  History will later nickname Warwick “Kingmaker” (as he is key in the deposition [and thus, creation] of two kings).

The first writer to use the term was John Mair (1521), but he wrote in Latin.  Samuel Daniel was supposedly the first writer to use the term in English, but is this line what influenced Daniel?

In Act Two, Scene Three, we see the sentencing of Eleanor and her occult cohorts.  She receives banishment (due her being “nobly born” [II.iii.9]), and Hume, Southwell, Bolingbroke, and the witch Jordan, are sentenced to death.  (Historically speaking, Jordan–as a witch–was burned at the stake; Bolingbroke was hanged, cut down after strangulation [but before death], then drawn and quartered; Southwell died in prison, and Hume was later pardoned.)  Once the prisoners are taken away, Queen Margaret demands the resignation of Gloucester as Lord Protector.  Gloucester resigns, places his staff (the symbol of his office… remember his dream?) at the foot of King Henry, and leaves.

The two combatants from the earlier petition enter for their duel. Both Horner, accused of stating the Yorkist claim to the throne is right, and Peter, the accuser, are brought in–drunk–by their neighbors.  There are more laughs at the expense of the commoners, then Peter kills Horner in combat; before Horner dies, he “confess(es) treason” (II.iii.98).

Scene Four (the last of the act) depicts Gloucester’s goodbye to Eleanor as she is about to set sail for the Isle of Man under the guard of Sir John Stanley.  Before the Duchess reaches Gloucester, she is forced to walk though the streets of London, wearing only a sheet, with her written verses (the answers from the spirit Asnath) pinned to her back, taking the abuse of the public.  When the two meet, however, we see a different side to Eleanor: she warns her husband to watch for traps by Suffolk, Queen Margaret, York, and Winchester.  It is actually rather sweet. Gloucester responds, “Ah, Nell, forbear; thou aimest all awry. // I must offend before I be attainted” (II.iv.59-60).  He believes, naively, that only if he does something wrong can he be accused of anything.

at this point, anyone in the audience with a knowledge of history will know immediately what that means… but we’ll get to it tomorrow

Less than fifteen lines later, a herald comes to summon Gloucester to parliament at Bury.

And immediately, Gloucester begins to suspect something is amiss, that possibly Eleanor might be on to something: “And my consent ne’er asked herein before? // This is close dealing.  Well, I will be there” (II.iv.73-74).  Here, we see both his suspicion at secret (“close”) dealings and resignation at what is coming.

It doesn’t look well for Gloucester.  Remember the original title of The Second Part?  The short version is The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster, but the first part of the much longer subtitle is “With the Death of the Good Duke Humphrey” … the end is coming.

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