Numbers : Midpoint

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at The Second Part of Henry the Sixth.

There are 3161 lines in the play, which puts the midpoint at line 1581, which is at Act Three, Scene Two, line 14.

The murderers, having already killed Gloucester (in the stage direction that opens the scene), have confirmed their crime to the director Suffolk.  Suffolk then orders them to hide the body:

Then draw the curtains; away, be gone!
[Exeunt the Murderers.
drawing the curtains as they leave.
Sound trumpets, then enter King Henry and Queen Margaret,
Cardinal Beaufort of Winchester, the Duke of Somerset, and Attendants

–III.ii.14 and s.d.

I cannot think of any more perfect example of Professor Rodes’ theory (at least thus far in our study).

This is the turning point of the entire play.  Had Suffolk been successful (with his co-conspirators … those who arrive in the post-line stage direction) in hiding the murder, or in making it look like natural causes, the remainder of this play would be vastly different.

With Gloucester’s death, the last man loyal to the king (at least as Shakespeare presents it) is dead.

King Henry will collapse upon hearing of the death, exemplifying his inability to deal with the situation … a foreshadowing of his inability to take decisive action to quell the (upcoming) War of the Roses.

Queen Margaret, who will defend Suffolk when he’s accused of the crime, will lose some of her sway over the king.

Cardinal Winchester, having heard the accusation against Suffolk (and by extension himself), collapses and will die soon.

Somerset, perceived as having lost France, and having only Queen Margaret as an ally, will also lose any major influence over the king.

With the three survivors unable to direct the king, and the king unable himself to make a decision (he’ll “nor fight nor fly” [V.iv.3], even in battle), there is a power vacuum at the top of the English ruling party.

And it is this power vacuum which allows York to rise and the War of the Roses to begin.

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