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Argument. 1. The Duke of York reaches London in advance of the King, and is seated by Warwick upon the throne. There the weak-kneed monarch shortly afterwards finds him; nor can he move him from his seat till York is promised the kingly succession after Henry's death. Neither of the rival houses long abides by the treaty. The haughty Quoen Margaret becomes enraged at the prospect of her son's deposition, and herself musters an army against York, who is defeated and slain.
II. York's sons, Edward and Richard, though much depressed by these tidings, take heart again upon being joined by the powerful Warwick. The royal forces are engaged once more near Towton. The battle is fiercely fought, but at length the King's-or, more properly, the Queen's—forces are routed. Edward proceeds to London to mount the throne as Edward IV.
III. Having witnessed Edward's coronation, Warwick crosses over to France to obtain for the new sovereign the hand of the Princess Bona. At the French court he encounters Queen Margaret and her son, who had come to implore the French King's aid in their cause. This is almost granted when the arrival of Warwick changes the aspect of affairs, and Edward's overtures are successful. Just at this moment, however, letters from England bear intelligence that Edward has married Lady Elizabeth Grey. Naturally both the King of France and Warwick are incensed at the broken faith. Warwick then and there becomes reconciled with Queen Margaret, who is also promised French forces to renew the struggle.
IV. Warwick hurries back to England, surprises Edward by forced marches, takes the crown from his head, and gives it back to Henry, who has been languishing in the Tower. But Edward in turn escapes from Warwick's surveillance, and takes refuge in Burgundy, where he recruits fresh troops. Upon returning to England he proceeds to his dukedom of York, and soon gathers strength enough to march on London. The impotent Henry is again seized and consigned to the Tower.
V. Edward meets Warwick in an engagement near Barnet, and the great earl, whose deeds have given him the title of “King-maker," is slain. A still more decisive battle is fought and won against Queen Margaret and the remnants of the Lancastrian forces, supported by the French, on the plains of Tewksbury. Queen Margaret is taken prisoner, and her son is stabbed to the heart by the three brothers of York. Henry's weak, troubled reign is ended by a dagger-thrust at the hands of Edward's brother, Richard of Gloucester; while Edward assumes the crown so bloodily striven for, amid every prospect of peace for himself and security for his infant son. Destiny has not yet revealed the sinister intentions of the ambitious Gloucester.
McSPADDEN : Shakespearian Synopses.
The Poet, with his instinctive judgement, has given the King a much higher character than the chroniclers assign to him. Their relations leave little doubt upon our minds that his imbecility was very nearly allied to utter incapacity; and that the thin partition between weakness and idiocy was sometimes wholly removed. But Shakspere has never painted Henry under this aspect: he has shown us a king with virtues unsuited to the age in which he lived; with talents unfitted for the station in which he moved; contemplative amidst friends and foes hurried along by a distempered energy; peaceful under circumstances that could have no issue but in appeals to arms; just in thought, but powerless to assert even his own sense of right amidst the contests of injustice which hemmed him in. The entire conception of the character of Henry, in connection with the circumstances to which it was subjected, is to be found in the Parliament-scene of the Third Part of Henry VI. This scene is copied from the Contention, with scarcely the addition or alteration of a word. We may boldly affirm that none but Shakspere could have depicted with such marvellous truth the weakness, based upon a hatred of strife—the vacillation, not of imbecile cunning, but of clear-sighted candour—the assertion of power through the influence of habit, but of a power trembling even at its own authority—the glimmerings of courage utterly extinguished by the threats of “armed men,” and proposing compromise even worse than war.
We request our readers to peruse this scene in the Second Part of the Contention, and endeavour to recollect if any poet besides Shakspere ever presented such a reality in the exhibition of a mind whose principles have no coherency and no self-reliance; one moment threatening and exhorting his followers to revenge, the next imploring them to be patient; now urging his rival to peace, and now threatening war; turning from the assertion of his title to acknowledge its weakness; and terminating his display of “ words, frowns, and threats" with
III. The Characters of Richard II, and Henry VI.
The characters and situations of both these persons are so nearly alike that they would have been completely confounded by a commonplace poet. Yet they are kept quite distinct in Shakespear. Both were kings, and both unfortunate. Both lost their crowns owing to their mismanagement and imbecility; the one from a thoughtless, wilful abuse of power, the other from an indifference to it. The manner in which they bear their misfortunes corresponds exactly to the causes which led to them. The one is always lamenting the loss of his power which he has not the spirit to regain; the other seems only to regret that he had ever been King, and is glad to be rid of the power, with the trouble; the effeminacy of the one is that of a voluptuary, proud, revengeful, impatient of contradiction, and inconsolable in his misfortunes; the effeminacy of the other is that of an indolent, good-natured mind, naturally averse to the turmoils of ambition and the cares of greatness, and who wishes to pass his time in monkish indolence and contemplation. Richard bewails the loss of the kingly power only as it was the means of gratifying his pride and luxury; Henry regards it only as a means of doing right, and is less desirous of the advantages to be derived from possessing it than afraid of exercising it wrong. In knighting a young soldier, he gives him ghostly advice :
“Edward Plantagenet, arise.a knight,
Hazlitt: Characters of Shakespear's Plays.
Queen Margaret. In the third part of Henry VI., Margaret, engaged in the terrible struggle for her husband's throne, appears