Henry VI, Part II, William Shakespeare

Ah, this is more like it.  Not – you know – exactly like it, but more.  Much more political intrigue than fighting battles, and that always makes for a jollier play.  It’s all about the political machinations going on around Henry VI’s rule – everybody wants to rebel against everybody else. Gloucester wants to carry on being Lord Protector but the queen and her lover don’t want that because they want to be the power behind the throne.  The Duke of York and his pals want Henry deposed, because they feel that their claim to the throne is superior – which, in case you’re interested, it really is. Everyone is doing evil things, and it ends up with York sending King Henry running back to London. I know nothing good is coming for King Henry.

Once again, this play isn’t as together as future plays will be, and that could have to do with its being a history play.  Maybe Shakespeare just didn’t feel comfortable leaving out John Cade’s rebellion, given when it happened, so he had to stick it in and use it as comic relief even though it didn’t really fit with a lot of the other stuff that was going on.  I should read some of his later history plays and see how he does with those.  It was interesting to see shades of later plays here – cryptic prophecies and Gloucester’s power-hungry wife are clearly going to grow into Macbeth, the changeability of a rebellious crowd is much like Coriolanus, which I recall not liking as much as I liked Henry VI, Part II (though to be fair I read Coriolanus when I was depressed, so it may be better than I thought it was).

Holy Mother of God, King Henry is such a Victorian maiden auntie in this! He’s all, Oh, nobody could ever possibly do anything wrong, and when something bad happens, you know what he does, do you know? He passes out! Excuse me, swoons. The man swoons. I’m not even kidding. He swoons because he’s Miss Drusilla Clack. Oh, and then when he revives, he’s all weepy and hysterical and he’s all like Nobody talk to me, okay, I’m having my sad time right now! And when people try to talk to him he’s like LEAVE ME ALONE LEAVE ME ALONE LEAVE ME ALONE. What a wuss. No wonder the Plantagenets took over.

But parts of this play were so, so funny. Like, like when Warwick is accusing Suffolk of killing Humphrey, and Suffolk’s really angry about it, and he says (I’m paraphrasing here) Your mother was a big slut!, and Warwick gets angry back and says (again, I paraphrase), That would make me angry if I didn’t know that the real truth was that your mother was the big slut, you bastard son of a great big slut. Hahahaha, they got into the your-mama jokes. Classic.

Oo, and the bit where John Cade (he’s a Commie rebel from Kent) was doing his demagogue thing, and there were all these comments from the peanut gallery while he’s giving his speech, and then he knights himself – it’s obviously comic relief and everything, but all the bits with John Cade in are very funny. Did you know this is the play from which we have “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”? I did not know this.  Here is part of the John Cade bits:

It can be proved to thy face that thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun and a verb, and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear … Away with him, away with him!  He speaks Latin.

Teehee.  But there were also some lines I really liked – “Let him shun castles” is oddly haunting for something so short, and I found this quite creepy:

Patience, good lady; wizards know their times;
Deep night, dark night, the silence of the night,
The time of night when Troy was set on fire;
The time when screech-owls cry and barn-dogs howl,
And spirits walk, and ghosts break up their graves,
That time best fits the work we have in hand.

There were others but I’ve just spent ages copying them all down in my commonplace book, and now I am too tired to write them all over again here.  You will just have to trust me when I tell you that Shakespeare?  He is hitting his stride.