As this month-long discussion of The Third Part of Henry the Sixth winds down, let’s take a look at the play in terms of protagonist… as in the plays that precede it, this is a tough question:
Who is the protagonist?
Henry? I don’t think so. Like in the other two plays that bear his name, Henry plays the role of an anti-protagonist (as opposed to either antagonist or anti-hero). His importance is actually in his LACK of importance, his lack of decision, his lack of action. That hardly qualifies him as a main character.
Is it Margaret? She’s active throughout the course of the play. She has an overall objective: power… if not for her or Henry, then most definitely for hew son, Prince Edward. She makes decisions and takes action, but neither of these take place in the critical (narratively speaking, at least) final two acts. So we can probably rule her out.
What about Richard? Major character. Absolutely. Active? Check. But his goal not only doesn’t become clear, but doesn’t seem to even exist before Act Three, Scene Two. After that ambition soliloquy, he is active toward that goal (the throne)… and I’m sure he’s to be the protagonist next month. But this month? Not so much.
Could it be Edward? I don’t see it. Edward is as bad or as void a leader as Henry. Edward is more concerned with pleasure than he is with statecraft. He has no overarching goals. In fact, except for his wooing of Elizabeth Woodville in Act Three, Scene Two, I’m hard-pressed to find any scene-by-scene objectives, let alone one for the entire play. Best to let this sleeping dog lie.
Could it be Warwick? I think we may be closest here. He is a man of action, though his changing affiliations call into question any concept of an overall objective… is it to make York King? To make Henry King? To do what’s best for his nation? (this is possible, though never stated… and the stated motives for his actions are much less patriotic [he wants revenge on Edward for perceived disrespect]) So Warwick’s close… but only CLOSE, and no cigar.
So where does that leave us, then?
Let’s remember that the original title of the play was not The Third Part of Henry the Sixth, but rather The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York.
So this is the tragedy of Richard Duke of York … but York dies before the end of the first act. And unlike Julius Caesar, who is off-ed before the midpoint of the play that bears his name, York doesn’t come back as a ghost in Act Four. He isn’t even a presence that hangs over the whole story. In fact, once his killer Clifford dies in Act Two, York’s influence over the plot and characters diminishes quickly and dramatically.
Is it his “tragedy” because he isn’t allowed (either by events beyond his control, or his own decisions) to honor the deal he makes with Henry in the first scene of the play? Had that agreement stood, so much death might have been avoided. Is that the tragedy?
of course, that was NEVER going to happen… not with Margaret (and Clifford), Richard, Edward, or Warwick around