Henry VI, Part 2

Henry VI, Part 2

"The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth", or "Henry VI, Part 2", is a history play by William Shakespeare believed written in approximately 1590-91. It is the second part of the trilogy on Henry VI, and often grouped together with "Richard III" as a tetralogy on The Wars of the Roses—the success of which established Shakespeare's reputation as a playwright.


Shakespeare's primary source for "Henry VI, Part 2", as for most of his chronicle histories, was Raphael Holinshed's "Chronicles"; the publication of the second edition in 1587 provides a terminus ad quem for the play. Edward Hall's "The Union of the Two Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York" appears also to have been consulted, and scholars have also supposed Shakespeare familiar with Samuel Daniel's poem on the civil wars.

Date and text

"Henry VI, Part 2" was probably written ca. 1590–91. The Diary of Philip Henslowe records a performance of a play called "Henry VI" on March 3, 1592. It is known from other sources that the other two parts of Shakespeare's Henrician trilogy were on stage in 1592. Thomas Nashe's "Pierce Penniless" (registered August 1592) refers to a popular play about Lord Talbot, which is thought to be "Henry VI, Part 1" (there is no alternative candidate). Robert Greene's pamphlet "A Groatsworth of Wit" (registered Sept. 1592) parodies a line from "Henry VI, Part 3". Since both Parts 1 and 3 were being acted in 1592, it is sensibly assumed that Part 2 was also—though there is no direct evidence of this.

A version of "2 Henry VI" was published in 1594. It was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on March 12, 1594 by the bookseller Thomas Millington, and printed by him later that year. This text it generally known by a shortened version of its long title, usually "The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster", or some variant of the same. [Full title: "The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster, With the Death of the Good Duke Humphrey: and the Banishment and Death of the Duke of Suffolk, and the Tragical End of the Proud Cardinal of Winchester, With the Notable Rebellion of Jack Cade: and the Duke of York's First Claim Unto the Crown."]

This version of the play was reprinted twice, in 1600 (Q2) and 1619 (Q3). The 1619 text was part of William Jaggard's False Folio.

In the nineteenth century, "The First Part of the Contention" was thought to be a play by another writer or writers that Shakespeare had used as a source for his own. Modern critical opinion favors the view that "The Contention" is a "bad quarto" of a Shakespearean original, likely a reported text or memorial reconstruction, perhaps by the actor who had played Suffolk and Cade. [F. E. Halliday, "A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964," Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; p. 217.] (Yet the case is complicated; see: bad quarto.)


After from the original 1592 performances, "2 Henry VI" was rarely acted. During the Restoration, John Crowne adapted the last two acts of Part 2 and all of Part 3 (roughly half the total trilogy) into "The Misery of Civil War" (1680). Another adaptation was produced by Theophilus Cibber in 1723. Several revivals of the entire Henrician trilogy have been staged in the twentieth century, beginning in 1906. [Halliday, p. 216–18.]


*King Henry VI
*Duke of Gloucester, his uncle (Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester)
*Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, great-uncle to the King (Henry Cardinal Beaufort)
*Duke of York (Richard, Duke of York)
*Edward, his son (future Edward IV)
*Richard, also son to the Duke of York (future Richard III)
*Duke of Somerset (Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset)
*Duke of Suffolk (William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk)
*Duke of Buckingham (Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham)
*Lord Clifford (Thomas Clifford, 8th Baron de Clifford)
*Young Clifford, his son (John Clifford, 9th Baron de Clifford)
*Earl of Salisbury (Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury)
*Earl of Warwick (Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick)
*Lord Scales (Thomas de Scales, 7th Baron Scales)
*Lord Say (James Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele)
*Sir Humphrey Stafford
*William Stafford, his brother
*Sir John Stanley
*Matthew Goffe
*Alexander Iden, a Kentish Gentleman
*Lieutenant, Shipmates, Master's Mate, and Walter Whitmore
*Two Gentlemen, prisoners with Suffolk
*John Hume and John Southwell, priests
*Roger Bolingbrook, a conjurer
*Thomas Horner, an armorer
*Peter Thump, his apprentice
*Clerk of Chartam
*Mayor of Saint Albans
*Simcox, an impostor
*Jack Cade, a rebel
*George Bevis, John Holland, Dick the butcher, Smith the Weaver, Michael, etc., followers of Jack Cade
*two murderers

*Margaret, Queen to King Henry (Margaret of Anjou)
*Duchess of Gloucester (Eleanor Cobham)
*Margery Jordan, a witch
*Wife to Simcox


*Lords, Ladies, attendants, heralds, soldiers, etc.


This play begins with the marriage of King Henry VI of England to the young Margaret of Anjou. Margaret is the protégée (and possibly lover) of William de la Pole, 4th Earl of Suffolk, who aims to influence the king through her. The major obstacle to this pair is the regent of the crown, Duke Humphrey (Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester), who is immensely popular with the common people. Queen Margaret vies with his wife, Eleanor, for precedence at court. Eleanor is lured by an agent of Suffolk into dabbling in necromancy, and then apprehended, to the embarrassment of Gloucester. Nevertheless, the demon she has summoned delivers some accurate prophecies concerning the fates of several characters in the play. Gloucester, who is busy exposing the imposture of an old beggar and his wife, is then accused of treason and imprisoned, and afterwards assassinated by agents of Suffolk and the Queen. Meanwhile, as this struggle plays itself out, Richard, Duke of York, reveals his claim to the throne to the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, who pledge to support him.

The Earl of Suffolk is banished for his role in Gloucester's death and killed by Walter the pirate ("by Wa'ter shall he die" proclaimed the demon), leaving Margaret without her mainstay. Margaret is soon portrayed holding Suffolk's gory head in her lap and weeping. Meanwhile, Richard of York has got himself appointed commander of an army to suppress a revolt in Ireland. York enlists a former officer Jack Cade to lead a rebellion that threatens the whole kingdom, in order that he may bring his army from Ireland into England and seize the throne.

York returns to England with his army, but not before Cade's rebellion is put down. Robbed of this pretext for his army's presence, York claims his intent is to protect the King from Somerset. Opposed by Margaret and Lord Clifford, York exerts his claim to the throne, supported by his sons, Edward (the future King Edward IV of England) and Richard (the future King Richard III of England). (Shakespeare is building up to making Richard III one of his greatest villains, with little concern for historical veracity -- Richard, at this date, would have been a small child, and thus easily beaten in combat).

The English nobility now take sides, and the Battle of St. Albans is fought. The Duke of Somerset is killed by the future Richard III. Young Lord Clifford, whose father has been killed by the Duke of York, vows revenge on the Yorkists, and allies himself with King Henry's other supporters. The play ends there, to be continued with "Henry VI, Part 3".


External links

* [http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Henry_VI,_part_2/index.html Henry VI, part 2] - searchable, indexed e-text
* [http://william-shakespeare.classic-literature.co.uk/the-second-part-of-henry-the-sixt/ The second Part of Henry the Sixt] - HTML version of this title.
* [http://www.gutenberg.net/etext/1501 Henry the Sixth Part 2] - plain vanilla text from Project Gutenberg

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