Act Five of The Third Part of Henry the Sixth begins near Coventry, where Warwick is with the Mayor of Coventry, awaiting news of the Lancastrian armies which are supposed to meet there. Messengers arrive telling Warwick that the separate troops are nearby, so when a flourish is sounded, he believes it’s George Duke of Clarence’s army. He is none too pleased to find that it is King Edward, Richard Duke of Gloucester and their army. Edward demands that Warwick call him king, which Warwick refuses. What follows is some righteous smack-talk going both ways, which ends with Edward threatening to cut off Warwick’s head himself… and more:
This hand, fast wound about thy coal-black hair,
Shall, whiles thy head is warm and new cut off,
Write in the dust this sentence with thy blood:
"Wind-changing Warwick now can change no more."
Warwick doesn’t respond to the bait; he only welcomes Oxford’s army to the field, and then Montague’s, then Somerset’s, and finally George’s. Edward is casual about all save the last, to which he can only say, “Et tu Brute — wilt thou stab Caesar so?” (V.i.81). He immediately calls for a parley with his brother, and Richard and George “whisper together” (V.i.82 stage direction).
at this moment, one almost suspects that Richard will turn on Edward, too, as Edward’s crown is Richard’s ultimate goal… but no…..
[unbelievable, but true… though with some dramatic license, as we’ll see when we discuss historical inaccuracies later this month…]
Warwick imperiously calls George from the parley, “Come, Clarence, come — thou wilt if Warwick call” (V.i.83), as if calling a lapdog back from sniffing another dog. What happens next can only be described as unbelievable: Clarence turns on Warwick and rejoins his brothers. He throws the red rose from his hat onto the ground, and proclaims, “I will not ruinate my father’s house (to) set up Lancaster” (V.i.86-88).
George is welcomed back by both Edward and Richard (who ironically calls George’s action “brotherlike” [V.i.108] … guess it all depends on what brother you’re modeling behavior on); and the York boys prepare to begin the Battle of Barnet.
Act Five, Scene Two begins on the fields of Barnet, where King Edward drags onto the stage the body of the wounded Warwick. Edward abandons Warwick’s body so that he can chase down Montague; he leaves Warwick to die. Warwick drifts in and out of coherence (at one point, he calls out for his brother Montague, who by this point, according to Oxford and Somerset, has already died in the battle offstage). Oxford and Somerset are there to witness his death, and to lament that only now has Margaret “brought a puissant power” (V.ii.31) to England.
Scene Three finds the York brothers looking over the field, and seeing victory. King Edward’s opening speech of the scene is of note:
Thus far our fortune keeps an upward course,
And we are graced with wreaths of victory.
But in the midst of this bright-shining day,
I spy a black, suspicious, threatening cloud,
That will encounter with our glorious sun,
Ere he attain his easeful western bed.
oooohhhh, that’s called foreshadowing, ladies and germs… but if any of you know, lob a comment onto the end of this entry! (heck, might even send out a free BSP tee-shirt for the first correct answer)
And why is this of note, gentle reader? Well, for that you’re going to have to wait until later this month or even next.
The brothers know of Margaret’s landing with “thirty thousand” (V.iii.14) in her army; they now head to meet her at Tewkesbury.
In Scene Four, the locale shifts to Tewkesbury, where Margaret rallies Oxford, Somerset, her son, and the army. She compares their endeavor to maintain a Lancastrian line to a ship at sea: “Warwick was our anchor… Montague our topmast” (V.iv.13-14). Here, she calls attention to two of their fallen comrades, and she ponders who amongst them will step up to the challenge in the battle ahead: “Why, is not Oxford here another anchor? // And Somerset another goodly mast?” (V.iv.16-17). She even goes on to add to her metaphor the people of France (as tackling), her son “Ned” (Edward, as a pilot). It’s a great and masterful speech, inspiring stuff, and it works as her followers are now ready for battle.
And in Scene Five, that battle, the Battle of Tewkesbury, has ended in a decisive Yorkist victory, and the scene begins with the York brothers bringing in their captives, Oxford, Somerset, Margaret, and Prince Edward. Oxford is sent to prison, Somerset to his death. Prince Edward attempts to stand up to King Edward, ordering the monarch to kneel to the young boy. Each brother tries to shut the boy up, but to no avail, as he says:
I know my duty--you are all undutiful.
Lascivious Edward, and thou perjured George,
And thou misshapen Dick--I tell ye all,
I am your better, traitors as ye are;
And thou usurp’st my father’s right and mine.
gotta love that “misshapen Dick” line… nearly laughed out loud when I read that one for the first time (it’s a shame “dick” wouldn’t take on its more profane slang connotation until the 1800s… would love to think Shakespeare had THAT joke for the Groundlings running through his head!)
And that last bit is too much for the York brothers who ALL stab the young man to death. At this, Richard also offers to kill Margaret, but is called off by Edward, seemingly out of guilt (he says, “Hold, Richard, hold — for we have done too much” [V.v.42]). Richard immediately takes leave of his brothers, telling George in an aside that he is going to London on “a serious matter” (V.v.46). Margaret mourns her dead son, and spitefully prophesizes that “if (King Edward) ever chance to have a child, // Look in his youth to have him so cut off” (V.v.64-65). And again, this being Shakespeare, the prophecy is real and comes to fruition (but that’s next month). Margaret begs to be killed herself, but neither George nor Edward will do the deed. Instead, they head to London, with Edward hoping that Queen Elizabeth has “hath a son” for him (V.v.89).
In the sixth and penultimate scene of the play, we see the “serious matter” to which Richard must attend. Richard enters King Henry’s room in the Tower of London. Henry is sure that Richard is there to be his “executioner” (V.vi.33). Henry admits to killing young Prince Edward, which sends Henry on a rant describing the evil of Richard, and prophesying (these Lancasters, always with the fortune-telling) that “many a thousand” (V.vi.37) will suffer because of Richard. Henry then goes on to insultingly describe all of Richard’s deformities. And it is this straw that breaks the crookback, and Richard stabs Henry to death. Over Henry’s dead body, Richard soliloquizes on the truth of Henry’s descriptions, and how he “by one and one will dispatch the rest” (V.vi.92) of those in line for the crown, now that Henry and young Edward are out of the way.
The Palace is the setting for Act Five, Scene Seven, the final scene of the play, in which we meet the infant child of King Edward, “Ned” (Edward). Both George and Richard swear allegiance to the child and kiss him (though Richard reminds us in an aside that Judas, too, “kissed his master” [V.vii.33]). And while Edward hopes that this “begins our lasting joy” (V.vii.46), we in the audience–who’ve heard Richard’s intentions and ambitions–know better. This is not the beginning of joy… no, not at all