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...
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Although Shakespeare wrote for an earlier time, his concerns are so well staged and so poetically presented that they produce powerful echoes for a late twentieth-century audience whose knowledge of the Wars of the Roses is slight at best. Henry VI, Part Two is preoccupied with three issues of contemporary relevance: the definition of legitimate authority; the requirements for good government; and the role of the family.
England under Henry VI is in chaos. In part this chaos is the result of Henry VI's uncertainty about whether his right to the crown is legitimate. The duke of York certainly has a better claim based on blood (he traces his line back to a son of Edward I who was older than the son from whom Henry VI derives his claim), but Henry VI has a better claim based on power (his grandfather, Henry IV, overthrew Richard II).
In democratic countries power is derived from the ballot box, but there have been several occasions in recent times in Europe and elsewhere when charges of voter fraud or tampering with the ballot box have made it uncertain who is the legitimate leader. One need think only of events in the former Yugoslavia as an instance. In 1996, for example, Slobodan Milosevic used the Serbian Supreme Court to validate some election results that were favorable to him but questionable. More subtly, one can speculate on what form of the vote best represents the balance of power in a country. Proportional representation most...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Baker, Herschel. Introduction to Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3, by William Shakespeare. In the Riverside Shakespeare, edited by G. Blakemore Evans, 587-95. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974. Baker points out the degree to which events in the first part of the trilogy play themselves out in the next two. He finds Henry VI, Part Two "much more soundly built" than Henry VI, Part One.
Bevington, David. Introduction to The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth, by William Shakespeare. In The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, 538-40. Updated 4th ed. New York: Longman, 1997. Bevington focuses on the play's "integrity of theme and dramatic form."
Cairncross, Andrew S. Introduction to The Second Part of King Henry VI, by William Shakespeare, edited by Andrew S. Cairncross, xi-liv. The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare. London: Methuen & Co., 1969. Cairncross discusses the ways in which Shakespeare brings organization to a complex, rather disorganized story that he inherited from his chroniclers, Holinshed and Hall.
Calderwood, James L. "Shakespeare's Evolving Imagery: 2 Henry VI." English Studies 48 (1967): 481-93. Calderwood traces an improvement in Shakespeare's imagery in 2 Henry VI from the rhetorical and static to the revelatory and active. He focuses on four image strands in particular.
Carr, William M. "Animal...
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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....
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