Study Guide

Henry VI, Part 3

by William Shakespeare

Henry VI, Part 3 Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

In Henry VI, Part III, which belongs to William Shakespeare’s tetralogy of history plays dealing with the political upheaval that followed Henry Bolingbroke’s overthrow and murder of Richard II, England continues to suffer the evils of civil strife and social disorder arising from the war between the houses of York and Lancaster. Shakespeare’s general purposes in this series of plays are to reassert the power of Providence, to glorify England, and to suggest the nature of its salvation; only with the restitution of the rightful heir to the throne at the end of Richard III (pr. c. 1592-1593, pb. 1597) will England be able to bind its wounds and enjoy peace once again.

Henry VI, Part III is a powerful study of disorder and chaos; the play interweaves a cohesive body of imagery and symbolism with the action of its plot to create a strong unity of impression centering on the theme of anarchy and disunity. Chaos prevails on all levels of society, from the state, to the family, to the individual. At the highest level of authority and social organization—the throne—anarchy replaces traditional rule. The king, who must be the center of political strength and embody the sanctity of social duty, oath, and custom, is instead the essence of weakness; Henry not only yields the right of succession to York but also abdicates eventually in favor of Warwick and Clarence. Whenever he attempts to intervene in events, his weak voice is...

(The entire section is 573 words.)