Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Towton. Small Yorkshire town near which a great battle is fought. For Shakespeare’s audience, the Battle of Towton represented the Wars of the Roses at their worst. On stage political discord appears as familial discord when fathers and sons, fighting on opposite sides, kill each other. Elizabethans believed that civil war dismembered the body politic, and on the battlefield physical bodies are dismembered as when Lord Clifford’s head is cut off and put on the gates of York to replace the duke of York’s head. The battlefield also juxtaposes King Henry’s political weakness with his moral stature. Henry, dismissed by his own supporters and forgotten in this battle for his crown, sits on a molehill, a symbol of his departed authority. However, while the king sits stripped of his royal dignity, he serves as a chorus, testifying to the human costs of the battle around him.

*Tower of London

*Tower of London. Famous castle and prison alongside the River Thames in London. Richard of Gloucester murders King Henry in the Tower, foreshadowing Richard’s more famous Tower murders in Shakespeare’s earlier play Richard III (1592-1593). In the tower, Henry VI, once the king of England and France, lives and dies as a helpless prisoner, an almost fitting end for a man who could not rule his powerful nobles. Paradoxically, however, it is inside this prison that the ineffectual Henry grows into a prophet, foreseeing in young Henry of Richmond a great future king and in Richard a tyrant.

*Royal palace

*Royal palace. Edward IV’s court in London. In a play dominated by battle scenes the royal palace serves as a theatrical respite. Edward, while at court and apparently secure on his throne, pursues the widow Elizabeth Grey as he had once pursued the crown. Romantic intrigues replace military strategy, and battles yield to bawdy jokes and double entendres. But any security here is temporary; the discord produced by civil war continues. Edward’s wooing of and subsequent marriage to Elizabeth will only renew the Wars of the Roses. More ominously, it is at the court that Richard of Gloucester gives his famous soliloquy, announcing his ambition to become king.