King Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a very uneven play, unfortunately. The first half attempts, mostly unsuccessfully, to justify and ramp up the enmity between the Lancaster line in Suffolk and the rage of York. It's mostly just scheming and jealousy and the blame game. York wanted to have his blood tied to the King while Suffolk (at least in the play, if not in actual fact, history,) was smitten with Queen Margaret, whom he unwisely pushed off to his king instead of just making her his own, with huge overtones of Lancelot and Gwennie.
And then Suffolk dies in sweet tune to the prophesy that the play begins with, and then the action and the interest picks up, turning a frankly boring escapade into a pretty awesome end.
So, yeah, I call the first half of this play weak. Weak, I say.
The second half, the parts where Jack Cade, care of York and his scheming and his soon forthcoming full attempt upon the Throne of England, brings all the blood and pillage and a truly immense amount of book burning upon the stage, with ignorant masses calling for the downfall of whatever bogeyman they can conjure out of smoke or just the smoke from Jack Cade's arse. Mind you, this is strictly historical, although he wasn't quite as villainous as portrayed here. I think Cade honestly wanted a populist rebellion, but when he let slip his control of the masses and let them pillage and rape and steal after being successful against the king's mismanaged forces, he lost all the honor he might have won in the day.
In the play, instead, we're treated to something quire gruesome with a number of heads on poles.
After that bit wrapped up, though, it was York's turn, bringing his army into Kent after it had been softened by Cade, and after a few reversals, he manages to win and see the king flee off to London and sets himself up as another king of England.
The action and the story and the cliffhanger is quite delicious, assuming you hadn't fallen asleep during the first parts of the play. Alas.
The broad outlines of what happened in history is pretty on target, but some motivations are ramped up or made from whole cloth to make the play more exciting. Can I blame it? Not really.
Warwick doesn't really feel as important in the play as he always felt in my readings of history, either. Or perhaps that's just because he really hasn't come into his own until Part 3. ;)
But as a side note, one thing I found rather delicious was the youthful and smartass future King Richard III being all valorous and quick of foot and mind amongst all his older brothers and his father. Hey look, it's a the young man who'll grow up to be a wretched monster! lol. Well, that's Shakespeare. History is full of supporters and detractors of Richard of York and where does the truth really lie?
I just wish this play had been more even in quality. Sigh.
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