Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Magic circle. Center of an occult ritual performed in the duke of Gloucester’s house in London. Two priests and a witch draw the circle in which demons appear so that the duchess of Gloucester can advance her husband’s career through magical prophecies. As stage entertainment, this séance can thrill an audience with its necromancy, artificial thunder and lightning, demons rising from a trap door, and prophetic riddles. However, Shakespeare also invests the scene with irony and menace. This diabolical action occurs in the house of the honest and patriotic duke of Gloucester without his knowledge, suggesting that the corruption spreading through England touches even decent people. Moreover, the séance is part of a plot by the duke’s enemies, who will use the duchess’s magical practices against her husband.
*St. Albans. English town north of London. St. Albans is a setting at both the beginning and the end of this play and highlights the play’s main actions: the duke of Gloucester’s fall and the coming of civil war. First, while King Henry vacations in the town, the political conspiracy against the upright Gloucester bears fruit when he is publicly disgraced by his wife’s crime of witchcraft. Second, the Wars of the Roses begin in St. Albans with the first Battle of St. Albans. This fight occurs within the town rather than on an outlying battlefield, emphasizing the breakdown of law and order. The town’s sufferings foreshadow those of England itself.
*Jack Cade’s camp
*Jack Cade’s camp. Headquarters of a popular revolt against King Henry, which ended in London. Shakespeare transforms the historical Cade’s Revolt into a violent, anarchic affair, suggesting the fragility of England under Henry VI. Cade promises his followers a carnival England of social equality, commonly held property, and free-flowing wine and beer. However, his camp is a bloody tyranny in which men are killed for being literate or for failing to call Cade by his assumed title. The violence in Cade’s camp parodies and foreshadows the duke of York’s impending coup.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Berry, Edward I. “2 Henry VI: Justice and Law.” In Patterns of Decay: Shakespeare’s Early Histories. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975. Analyzes the play in the context of the whole of the trilogy. Addresses in the footnotes some of the negative criticism of earlier critics and recommends other critical analyses.
Blanpied, John W. Time and the Artist in Shakespeare’s English Histories. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983. A chapter on Henry VI, Part II finds the play superior to Henry VI, Part I. Analyzes structure and characters.
Saccio, Peter. Shakespeare’s English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Contains a section on Henry VI discussing the history as recounted in Shakespeare’s sources, as understood by twentieth century scholarship, and as it is dramatized in the plays. Includes genealogical charts and maps.
Tillyard, E. M. W. Shakespeare’s History Plays. London: Chatto & Windus, 1944. Praises the structure of Henry VI, Part II, defending it against negative criticism.
Turner, Robert K., and George Walton Williams. “The Second and Third Parts of King Henry the Sixth.” In William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, edited by Alfred Harbage. Rev. ed. New York: Viking Press, 1969. Useful introductory essay analyzes sources and style of the two plays, comparing them with Shakespeare’s later history plays.