The first half of Act Three of The Third Part of Henry the Sixth begins with two gamekeepers readying for a hunt. Henry happens into their midst and speaks his mind regarding his new position. Some of it is exposition (“From Scotland am I stolen” [III.i.13], “My queen and son are gone to France for aid” [III.i.28]), some more philosophical (“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, // For wise men say it is the wisest course” [III.i.24-25]). The gamekeepers recognize him for who he is, and after listening to him ramble, finally step forward and attempt to take him into custody.
He tries to talk his way out of the situation, first attempting philosophical discourse (“My crown is in my heart, not on my head” [III.i.62]), and when that doesn’t work, appealing to the men’s former loyalty to their former sovereign (“you were sworn true subject unto me” [III.i.78]). Neither works, and Henry realizes that their oath to their new king is as valid as any oath (one can see how he might see his [unwitting] breaking of his oath to York led to all the death he saw in Act Two, Scene Five), as he states:
But do not break your oaths; for of that sin
My mild entreaty shall not make you guilty.
Go where you will, the king shall be commanded;
And be you kings: command, and I’ll obey.
He is a completely defeated man, and he goes with the gamekeepers to London.
Act Three, Scene Two takes us to the palace in London, where we see, for the first time, the rule of King Edward. He and his brothers hear the petition of Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of Lord Grey, who pleads to have her husband’s lands restored to her; her husband was killed fighting with the Lancastrian forces in the second Battle of Saint Albans. What should be a simple matter of civil governance, we see turned into something a little less noble and a little more slimy in the hands of the Plantagenet brothers, who seem to rule more like fraternity brothers.
While Richard says aloud to King and petitioner, “Your highness shall do well to grant her suit — // It were dishonor to deny it her” (III.ii.8-9), he says in an aside to George, “I see the lady hath a thing to grant // Before the king will grant her humble suit” (III.ii.12-13). What can be defined as a “favor,” a “thing” can also be seen as “pudenda” as well (Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare’s Bawdy. New York: Routledge, 2008; page 259). This begins an entire series of double entendre between the Dukes of Gloucester and Clarence. And what starts as bawdy commentary turns into the blatant sexual harassment when Edward’s request for “service” turns to “boon” then to “to love a king” and finally to the playboy king’s “aim to lie with” Lady Grey (III.ii.44, 46, 53, and 69, respectively). We’ll delve into this scene in greater detail later in the month, during our monthly sophomoric journey into bawdy; but, suffice to say, Edward is a world-class horndog, again supporting Margaret’s earlier description of him as “wanton” (I.iv.75). Elizabeth holds her ground, however, and it seems this grows the king’s respect (and, well, believe it or not, love) for her. By the end of the conversation, as his brothers still gossip in randy asides, Edward has asked Elizabeth to be his “queen” (III.ii.107). All but Richard Duke of Gloucester exit when word has come that Henry has been captured.
Never mind that Warwick just left for France to negotiate Edward’s marriage to the French princess Lady Bonne. Do you think that might come back to haunt Edward? Do ya?
Left alone, we hear Richard’s plan (it’s like a flashback to The First Part when we heard his father’s ambition), and his goal is hereditary as well: the throne. He realizes that many people stand between him and the “golden time (he) look(s) for” (III.ii.127), beginning with the “lustful Edward” (III.ii.129), but including also George and even Henry and his son Edward. And for a moment, he wonders what he can strive for if the crown is out of the question. “Heaven in a lady’s lap” (III.ii.148)? Not likely, given his “deformity” (III.ii.158).
No, it will have to be villainy:
Why, I can smile, and murder while I smile,
And cry, ‘Content!’ to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.
I’ll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall;
I’ll slay more gazers than the basilisk;
I’ll play the orator as well as Nestor,
Deceive more slyly than Ulysses could,
And, like a Sinon, take another Troy.
I can add colors to the chameleon,
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murderous Machiavel to school.
Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?
Tut! were it further off, I’ll pluck it down.
Villainy will make the crown an easy goal. And Richard is the man to do it…