Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
King Henry VI
King Henry VI, the king of England. Although he is the title character, he is by no means the central character of the play. A deeply religious man, he is an ineffective ruler, easily swayed by stronger personalities, including those of his wife and his advisers. He is unable to deal realistically with political conflict and seems unaware that many members of his court are plotting against him. When France retakes territory the English have held, Henry responds only that it must be God’s will. He calls for peace and harmony. Neither does he protest much when Gloucester is brought down. He is aware of his own weaknesses as a ruler and wishes he were not called by God to command. When Richard Plantagenet claims the throne, Henry retreats.
Humphrey, duke of Gloucester
Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, a noble and patriotic son of England. He is deeply upset that Henry has given to the French the territories of Anjou and Maine, in exchange for Margaret, the new queen. He remains loyal to the king and to England, using his popularity and wisdom in the service of holding together the divided country. He is next in line for the throne but has no desire to rule. A trusted adviser and friend to Henry, he is a threat to Margaret and to the Duke of Suffolk’s quest for more power. Humphrey’s wife faces trumped-up charges of witchcraft and is banished; soon afterward, Humphrey himself is falsely accused of treason...
(The entire section is 565 words.)
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Cade (Jack Cade, also known as John Cade)
Cade's extraordinary attempt to overthrow the king occupies almost all of the action in Act IV, and he even makes an appearance (at least his head does!) in V.i.63. He is first referred to by York in a soliloquy (III.i.348-81). York has "seduc'd" (that is, incited) John Cade to cause civil unrest while York is away in Ireland. Cade will pretend to be John Mortimer, a claimant to the throne through Lionel, duke of Clarence (the third son of Edward III). York praises Cade for his physical strength, his courage, and his ability to withstand torture.
Before Cade makes his first appearance, then, he is depicted as tough; York, however, makes it clear that he is also "headstrong" and a "rascal" (III.i.356, 381). Throughout Cade's many appearances in Act IV, Shakespeare develops these two sides of Cade and adds a third: his radical social message. Cade's first entrance (IV.ii.31) is preceded by a discussion between two of his followers that emphasizes Cade's revolutionary ideas (IV.ii.4-6). His concern for creating a system based on strict equality and a fair price for food is, however, expressed in the context of a humorous dialogue about his origins. He insists he is of royal blood (a Mortimer); his followers comment on the humbleness of his background and his conviction for sheep stealing. Worse, his belief in equality is undermined by his insistence on becoming a king. Everyone will be equal except Jack Cade. He even begins his quest for kingship in a...
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Gloucester (Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester)
Lord Protector to the king, he is loved by the common people (III.ii.248). Although he is heir to the throne and has an ambitious wife, he appears to have no desire to be king. Because of his power and position, he is the focus of the schemes of the other nobles. They see him as the main obstacle in the way of fulfilling their own ambitions.
In Li Gloucester criticizes the peace with France and the king's marriage to a penniless Margaret. He tries in I.ii to dissuade his wife from treacherously seeking to overthrow the king. In I.iii. 118-37 he defends himself against the queen's, Suffolk's, Somerset's and Winchester's efforts to strip him of his Lord Protectorship. When Simpcox pretends to have had his sight miraculously restored in II.i, Gloucester exposes him as a fraud even though the king embraces his deception. In Il.iii, Gloucester is grief stricken at his wife's treachery towards the king, but makes no effort to intervene on her behalf. The king strips him of his Lord Protectorship, which he accepts willingly. In II.iv he movingly bids farewell to his wife as she goes off to banishment. In III.i Gloucester appears in Parliament and is arrested by Suffolk for treason. This comes after a sustained effort by the queen, Buckingham, Suffolk, Winchester, and York to convince the king that he is guilty of a host of crimes. He is taken away even though the king still believes him to be loyal. Gloucester is murdered in III.ii on the orders of Suffolk and...
(The entire section is 353 words.)
Henry (King Henry VI of England)
Henry is depicted as weak, indecisive, and unable to keep his fractious nobles at peace with each other. He is highly religious and rather bookish, and seems ill-suited to a role in which decisions have to be made. Reluctance perhaps best characterizes his role.
He begins the play by welcoming his new bride, Margaret, and by confirming the peace with France. Both acts attest to Henry's foolishness: firstly, his love for Margaret appears to be based only on her beauty; secondly, the peace with France leads to a significant loss of English lands in France. In his next appearance, Henry is unable to decide whether York or Somerset should be his regent in France because he really doesn't care ("all's one to me" [I.iii.102]). So, he simply stands by while his wife and assembled nobles argue among themselves. In the end, he has Gloucester decide the matter (I.iii.203- 10). Then, in II.i when Winchester and Gloucester wrangle with each other over power the king says that he hopes he can settle their argument, but he does nothing at all to achieve this aim. When Simpcox enters pretending that his blindness has been cured by Saint Albon, the king gullibly believes him (I.iii.82). It is Gloucester again who comes to the king's aid by exposing Simpcox as a fraud. In Il.iii the king makes a good judgment by banishing the duchess of Gloucester, who is indeed plotting against him, but a poor one when he strips Gloucester of his Lord Protectorship. It is fairly clear...
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These non-speaking characters appear at II.i.65. They enter carrying the crippled Simpcox, who has supposedly regained his sight through a miracle.
These non-speaking characters appear in a couple of scenes (III.ii and IV.viii) to ad the importance of the nobility.
He appears at II.i. 144 to whip Simpcox so as to discover whether he is truly lame.
Beauford (Cardinal Beauford, Bishop of Winchester)
Usually referred to as Winchester in the play, he is mercilessly ambitious and a "proud prelate," as Gloucester terms him (Li. 142). His sole concern is power; this he tries to achieve with the aid of Suffolk. He is the first to urge that Gloucester's Lord Protectorship be taken away from him (I.i.147- 64), and he schemes with Suffolk to achieve that end. In I.iii.128-29, he seconds Suffolk's call for Gloucester's resignation, alleging his over-taxation of the laity and the clergy. In II.i. 14-52, he continues his battle with Gloucester even to the point of agreeing to a duel. Such a fight, however, never takes place, for when the duchess of Gloucester is banished for witchcraft and treason (II.iii.1-4, 9- 13) after falling foul of a trap laid by Winchester and Suffolk (I.ii.93-101), the king strips Gloucester of his Lord Protectorship (II.iii.22-27).
For Winchester and several other nobles, however, to see...
(The entire section is 4365 words.)