Shakespeare without supervision, part 2

At the beginning of May, I wrote that I was planning to read all three parts of Henry VI, plus Richard III, in preparation for my June trip to Yorkshire. My thought was that I should probably read some of Shakespeare’s histories before visiting Middleham Castle.

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Reading four plays in one month might have been a bit optimistic. But, I finished Henry VI, Part One and read the beginning of Richard III on my trip, so all is not lost!

Here’s what I have learned so far:

1. Footnotes are your best friend when reading something like Shakespeare. At home, I read a Signet Classics edition that had lots of footnotes and commentaries. On my trip, I read the free ebook on my iPad, which didn’t have those things. Google and Wikipedia were my friends when I didn’t understand the historical events.

2. Henry VI, Part One is about the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. I think.

Plantagenet: If he suppose that I have pleaded truth, From off this brier pluck a white rose with me.

Somerset: Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer, But dare maintain the party of the truth, Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me………. Ah, thou shalt find us ready for thee still, And know us by these colors for thy foes, For these my friends in spite of thee shall wear.

Plantagenet: And, by my soul, this pale and angry rose, As cognizance of my blood-drinking hate, Will I forever and my faction wear, Until it wither with me to my grave, Or flourish to the height of my degree.

3. Joan of Arc is a French heroine. She fought against the English. Shakespeare does not like her.

4. A significant part of the play is just kings talking about battles. I assume that’s why I don’t really remember many events in this 100-page play. The messengers talk about battles, aspiring kings debate who gets to be king…. and that’s about all that I remember.

5. You know when you’re watching a movie, and the villain goes off on a soliloquy or a monologue, and the prisoners sit and wait because they’re too polite to escape when their captor is talking? Absolutely no preservation skills. That’s how I feel about a scene near the end when the Earl of Suffolk has a captured Margaret of Anjou.

Margaret: Say, Earl of Suffolk, if thy name be so, What ransom must I pay before I pass? For I perceive I am thy prisoner.

Suffolk: [Aside] How canst thou tell she will deny thy suit, Before thou make a trial of her love?

Margaret: Why speak’st thou not? What ransom must I pay?

Suffolk: [Aside] She’s beautiful and therefore to be wooed; She is a woman, therefore to be won.

Margaret: Wilt thou accept of ransom, yea or no?

Suffolk: [Aside] Fond man, remember that thou hast a wife; Then how can Margaret be thy paramour?

Margaret: I were best to leave him, for he will not hear.

Suffolk: {Aside] There all is marred; there lies a cooling card.

Margaret: He talks at random; sure, the man is mad.

Suffolk: [Still aside, but more loudly] And yet a dispensation may be had.

Margaret: And yet I would that you would answer me.

Suffolk: [Aside] I’ll win this Lady Margaret. For whom? Why, for my king!

Seriously, Margaret, you could have escaped 15 minutes ago, and he still would have been trying to figure out who he could marry you off to.

6. The play ends with King Henry, who’s apparently an idiot, sending Suffolk back to France to “agree to any covenants” so he can marry the daughter of the guy he literally just fought in a war.

I’ve started Part Two, which begins with the logical result of “agree to anything they say because I want to marry this beautiful woman.” There’s quite a bit of a gap between the events in Henry VI, Part Two and Richard III, but Margaret seems to be the one character present in both/all. In a way, Shakespeare’s plays teach history, albeit a dramatized one that has puns and ghosts. They’re confusing, but entertaining.

Cheers to my first experience with a semi-historically accurate Shakespearean play! Once I finish the other three plays on my list, I’ll let you know how I feel.

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