Henry VI, Part I is the first play in William Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, a group of four plays consisting of Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III, and Richard III. The entire tetralogy covers the period leading up to the establishment of the Tudor line of kings on the throne of England in 1485.
Set in the period of factionalism and warfare leading up to the unification of England under the strong Tudor monarchs, Henry VI, Part I has the development of English nationalism as one of its themes. Primarily, the play shows the disintegration of a strongly centralized and self-aware nation imagined to exist under the reign of Henry V as a way of demonstrating the detrimental effects of factionalism, weak leadership, and rebellion.
The opening scene idealizes Henry V, and, as Winchester and Gloster begin to argue about who should guide the new, young, and inexperienced Henry VI, the issues that would eventually result in the Wars of the Roses are raised. Primary among these is the question of right rule. Because Henry VI is in his minority, the authority to govern England does not rest in the king. Rather, it rests in those who are able to control the king. Both religious and secular authorities vie for this control from the beginning of the play; eventually, the disputants fall into two parties: the Lancastrian and the Yorkist. Many of the differences between the two camps seem petty, but they...
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