The third of four plays covering the Wars of the Roses opens with two battles – at Wakefield and Towton – and closes with two more – at Barnet and Tewksbury. As the closing scenes illustrate, defeat in these battles costs Henry his life, stabbed in his Tower of London cell by the archetypal villain who will soon become Richard III.
“Henry VI Part Three” is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, and it breaks two rules that he gradually set himself. First, battles are complicated and unsatisfactory shown on the stage, and it’s better to simply have them reported. For example, in 1.2 of “Macbeth”, written some fifteen years later, King Duncan finds out what happened in the battle by calling on the blood-spattered sergeant to fill him in. Duncan gets a full account of his own victory and Macbeth’s courageous performance in a way that keeps the narrative moving. Soon we are back with the witches and on to Lady Macbeth.
Second, Elizabethan theatre was radical and daring but there were limits, and showing the murder of the monarch was provocative. The stabbing of the defenceless Henry is dramatic and powerful, and it anticipates the outrages to be explored in “Richard III”, the fourth and last part of the tetralogy. But in late-Elizabethan England, with a ruler increasingly sensitive to potential threats to her authority, the murder of the monarch was better left to the individual imagination. This is why, in “Macbeth”, the assassination of Duncan takes place off-stage, between 2.2 and 2.3, away from the prying eyes of the Queen’s subjects at the Globe.
Nonetheless Shakespeare was politically astute enough to realise, even as early in his career as this play, that monarchs like to have their sensitivities respected. For this reason (and for no other), a character named Henry, Earl of Richmond makes an appearance in 4.6 of this play. King Henry lays his hand on the lad’s head, calls him “pretty”, and looks forward to the unlikely event of him acceding to the throne. The “pretty lad” will grow up to be Henry VII, founder of the Tudor Dynasty, grandfather of Elizabeth I. It is reasonable to describe his role as a cameo, since he is given nothing at all to say. But the King ambitiously predicts that “This pretty lad will prove our country’s bliss” – a sentiment to which every bosom in Shakespeare’s audience would no doubt have returned an echo.
Scene by Scene
Act One Scene One
At Parliament, the Yorkists discuss their recent victory, revealing the King fled, abandoning his army.
The King arrives to find York seated on his throne and tells him to come down: “I am thy sovereign”.
The nobles squabble over past conflicts while Henry privately admits his claim to the crown is weak.
The King suggests a compromise: he retains the crown, but it passes to York’s sons on his death.
York agrees, but Henry immediately loses his main allies, to be confronted by Margaret and his son.
She is enraged that her son is to be disinherited, and announces “I here divorce myself” from Henry.
Act One Scene Two
At Sandal Castle York’s sons Edward and Richard persuade their father to abandon his oath to Henry.
Richard claims Henry “did usurp the place”, and besides, “How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown”.
News arrives that the Queen is approaching with 20,000 men, but the Yorkists are sure of victory.
Act One Scene Three
York’s youngest son Edmund (Rutland) is murdered by Clifford as revenge for his own father’s death.
Act One Scene Four
Despite his sons’ heroics in battle, York’s army has been defeated and he is captured by the Queen.
She reveals the handkerchief with his youngest son’s blood on it, and describes how he was killed.
Margaret taunts and mocks York, placing a paper crown on his head, before ordering his execution.
York insults Margaret’s father, then her appearance, then her femininity, before breaking into tears.
He is stabbed by Clifford (in revenge) and Margaret, and his head will “overlook the town of York”.
Act Two Scene One
Edward and Richard of York speculate about the fate of their father York in the battle.
They see three suns merge into one, and sense a metaphor for themselves and their brother.
A messenger arrives to report the death of York and “sweet young Rutland” at Margaret’s hand.
Warwick reports that he has recently crossed swords with the Queen but this battle was also lost.
He adds that Clarence, brother of Edward and Richard, has returned to England from Burgundy.
Agreement emerges to march to London to make good the inheritance agreement with Henry.
Act Two Scene Two
Henry is ambivalent about the recent victory won by Margaret for the crown, fearing revenge.
But Clifford rebukes him, saying his patience is unnatural, and telling him to follow York’s example.
Clifford adds that his son will blame him for failing to pass on the throne won by his ancestors.
But Henry prefers to pass on a legacy of good deeds, and regrets to see York’s head impaled at York.
The Queen reminds Henry to knight his son, and he tells the boy to “draw thy sword in right”.
But Edward replies he’ll fight to the death to defend the crown, to be applauded by Clifford.
News of Warwick’s advance with 30,000 men makes Margaret invite Henry to “depart the field”.
Edward, now Duke of York, arrives and the argument resumes as to who is the heir to the throne.
Recriminations and threats revisit the deaths of York and Rutland as Henry begs leave to speak.
But Clifford tells the King that the dispute cannot be resolved by discussion: “therefore be still”.
Edward criticises Margaret’s appearance, morals and background, and blames her for the conflict.
Clarence adds a final threat before the Yorkists depart for battle that will “cost ten thousand lives”.
Act Two Scene Three
Warwick learns of his brother’s death and joins the three York brothers in a fight to the death.
Act Two Scene Four
Richard confronts Clifford, though when Warwick appears, Clifford flees, with Richard in pursuit.
Act Two Scene Five
Henry, observing the battle ebb and flow, wishes he were a shepherd leading a simple existence.
A young soldier enters, dragging the body of his enemy and discovers his victim was his father.
An older man drags in the body of his vanquished enemy, only to find “it is mine only son”.
Henry wishes his death might prevent such grief, and believes himself “more woful” than them.
Margaret and Prince Edward arrive to reveal the battle lost and flight is the only option left.
Act Two Scene Six
Clifford, mortally wounded, blames Henry’s “lenity” for the war, and prepares to meet his end.
Clifford dies before the Yorkists can locate him, but his head will be severed and impaled at York.
Warwick advises a diplomatic marriage for the new King, to strengthen him at home and in France.
Richard is reluctant to become Gloucester – the title “too ominous” – but is told not to be “foolish”.
Act Three Scene One
The King having removed himself from the conflict, reveals his wife is pleading with France for aid.
He is interrupted by two game- keepers, who arrest him as an enemy of the new King Edward.
Act Three Scene Two
Lady Grey requests of the new King in London the return of her lands lost after her husband’s death.
King Edward offers to add to her three children a fourth – explaining to her “I aim to lie with thee”.
Lady Grey believes she is “too good to be your concubine” but not worthy “to be your queen”.
News arrives that Henry has been apprehended, and Edward directs that he be held at the Tower.
The future Richard III reflects how many of his relatives have a better title to the throne than him.
He wonders whether to indulge in amorous pursuits but feels that option has always been closed.
He resolves to “dream upon the crown” despite the “many lives that stand between me and home”.
He reveals that he will deceive where he has to and do whatever is necessary to achieve his aims.
Act Three Scene Three
Margaret tells the King of France that Henry is exiled in Scotland and Edward has seized the throne.
She begs his support but the appearance of Warwick brings a marriage proposal for the King’s sister.
Arguments break out about legitimacy – Oxford arguing for Henry, Warwick for Edward.
Ignorant of events at home, Warwick pledges to King Louis his master’s “eternal” love for Bona.
Letters reveal Edward is to marry Lady Grey, leaving Warwick to abandon him and return to Henry.
The French King pledges aid to Henry, and Warwick offers his daughter’s hand to Prince Edward.
Act Four Scene One
Clarence and Richard are unconvinced by Edward’s marriage plans, but the King says he will decide.
Other nobles agree France has been forfeited as an ally, but Edward insists on his right to choose.
The Queen craves the nobles’ consent to the marriage but the King demands their acquiescence.
News comes from France of anger at the marriage, and an alliance between Margaret and Warwick.
Margaret’s son Prince Edward is to marry Warwick’s daughter: Clarence intends to marry her sister.
Clarence defects to Warwick, but Richard remains, “not for the love of Edward, but the crown”.
Act Four Scene Two
Warwick resists suspicions about Clarence’s motives for defecting, and welcomes him to his camp.
To confirm the alliance he promises “my daughter shall be thine”, then weighs up the enemy forces.
The King’s guards, he notices, are “carelessly encamp’d” – though there are no plans to kill Edward.
Act Four Scene Three
The King’s guards report he prefers to be with his troops at night because “’Tis the more honour”.
But Warwick breaks into his camp and accuses him of numerous minor crimes and shortcomings.
Warwick deprives him of the crown, intending to reinstate Henry with Edward as “but the shadow”.
Edward accepts “What fates impose”, and plans are made for Henry to be released and enthroned.
Act Four Scene Four
The Queen reveals to her brother Rivers that Edward has been deposed and imprisoned at York.
Meanwhile, being pregnant with his child, she intends to seek sanctuary free “from force and fraud”.
Act Four Scene Five
Richard waits in a Yorkshire park for Edward’s hunting party – to “set him free from his captivity”.
Edward is intercepted and agrees to the plan. So wishing his captors well, he sets out for Flanders
Act Four Scene Six
Henry is to be freed from the Tower of London and means to pass governmental duties to Warwick.
Henry wishes to “lead a private life” while Warwick along with Clarence governs the country.
Edward is to “be pronounced a traitor”, and Margaret and Prince Edward to return from France.
The King is introduced to the future Henry VII, a “pretty lad” who will “in time” become King.
News arrives that the former King Edward has escaped and has made his way to Burgundy.
To protect the young Henry, he is to be sent to Brittany, “till storms be past of civil enmity”.
Act Four Scene Seven
Edward arrives at York with his brother Richard and troops from France to take over the city.
Montague arrives with more reinforcements and encourages Edward to declare himself “our king”.
Edward is persuaded to allow himself to be proclaimed King, before focusing on war with Warwick.
Act Four Scene Eight
Warwick directs his allies to muster whatever troops they can across the country to defend the King.
Henry questions why, when he has governed justly, his enemy Edward is more popular than himself.
Edward IV appears, arrests Henry and has him taken to the Tower while Richard focuses on Warwick.
Act Five Scene One
Warwick, waiting at Coventry for allies to join his forces, is confronted by Edward IV and Richard.
They demand he beg forgiveness for allying with Henry, but he “had rather chop this hand off”.
Oxford and Somerset arrive, along with Clarence, who announces he has again changed sides.
He tells Warwick that to make amends to his brother, “I here proclaim myself thy mortal foe”.
Warwick tells Edward that he will meet him on the battlefield at Barnet presently “if thou darest”.
Act Five Scene Two
Warwick, fatally wounded at Barnet, sees himself as a tree that once gave shelter but is now felled.
He reflects that he once made and unmade kings, but now his “glory” is “smear’d in dust and blood”.
News that Margaret has brought “puissant power” from France cannot prevent Warwick’s death.
Act Five Scene Three
Edward and his brothers anticipate Margaret’s arrival with soldiers “valued thirty thousand strong”.
Battle will be joined at Tewksbury, with Edward’s Yorkist forces “augmented / … as we go along”.
At Five Scene Four
At Tewksbury Margaret compares recent setbacks like the loss of Warwick to a ship on rough seas.
Besides she believes that Oxford and Somerset are well able to replace the generals lost hitherto.
Edward and his brothers are like the hazards to be met at sea – storms, quicksand, a “fatal rock”.
Her son Prince Edward says he welcomes the desertion of “a fearful man” lest he “infect another”.
News arrives that Edward of York is preparing for battle but Somerset is confident they are ready.
Both sides claim that God is with them and Edward of York and then Margaret prepare to fight.
Act Five Scene Five
The battle lost, Oxford and Somerset are led away to be executed, and Prince Edward brought in.
He tells York to “Resign thy chair, and where I stand kneel thou”, and calls Richard a “crookback”.
The three brothers each stab the young prince in turn, a murder immediately regretted by York.
Margaret wishes to die with her son; meanwhile, Richard heads “to London on a serious matter”.
Margaret is heart-broken at the loss of her son and curses his killers with an equivalent fate to hers.
Clarence refuses to kill her, but Richard’s absence is noted, left to “make a bloody supper” of Henry.
Act Five Scene Six
Richard arrives at the Tower to kill Henry – who it emerges has already heard of his son’s murder.
Richard admits the charge of killing Prince Edward – “kill’d”, he confesses, “for his presumption”.
Henry records that at his birth the natural world recoiled from this “indigested and deformed lump”.
Killing Henry was Richard’s calling, he claims, and Henry dies, calling on God to pardon his murderer.
Alone with Henry’s corpse, Richard administers a final stabbing before reflecting on his prospects.
He will kill Clarence, he decides, justifying the act as a means of protecting his brother Edward.
But in the end his goal is the throne, and he will continue “Counting myself but bad till I be best”.
Act Five Scene Seven
King Edward reflects on the numbers of leading men to have been killed in the recent wars.
He calls for his son Ned to be brought to him to be kissed – for him, he claims, the wars were fought.
Richard dissents from this prospect, but consents to kiss the boy while comparing himself to Judas.
Margaret is to be returned to France, and time will now be devoted to “the pleasure of the court”.
The opening scene has two aims: to revisit the present feud’s historical background, and to anticipate the fast-approaching Wars of the Roses. The key historical feature is that Henry’s grandfather Henry IV seized the throne (rather than inheriting it), and his heroic son Henry V died young, before his line’s authority could be established.
Seen purely in terms of inheritance, York probably has a better claim, because his great-grandfather was Edward III’s third son while Henry’s was fifth. But none of this would matter if Henry were a stronger King. The unspoken problem throughout 1.1 is that Henry is not temperamentally fit for the throne, and the dispute is not about rights so much as about power and authority.
When in 1.2 the future Richard III claims “How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown”, one imagines Shakespeare writing down the line with an ironic grin on his lips. So much of his work will serve as a plain enough answer to that idea. Whether it is Henry IV (“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”) or Lady Macbeth (“Nought’s had, all’s spent / When our desire is got without content”), Shakespeare’s various explorations of power will reach similar conclusions. An early example (in terms of Shakespeare’s writing) will be Richard III.
Many of Shakespeare’s mature works are preoccupied with the relationships made and marred between fathers and daughters: “The Merchant of Venice”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Othello”, “Hamlet”, “King Lear” and many other mature plays explore this. Further details under https://www.bardology.org/themes/fathers-and-daughters-in-shakespeare/. But the focus here (as in many of the History Plays) falls emphatically on fathers and sons. This theme is first explored in 1.1 with the effective disinheritance by Henry of his son, proceeding to 1.2 and the ease with which two of York’s sons persuade him to abandon his oath. Now in 1.3, comes the first stage of the reckoning: a young son killed for the sins of the fathers. More will follow.
Margaret’s willingness to stab to death the Duke of York in 1.4 is in some ways a shocking event – it may be worth drawing a comparison here with Lady Macbeth. Readers will remember that Lady Macbeth would have murdered King Duncan “Had he not resembled [her] father as he slept”. Margaret has no such compunction.
York’s murder at Margaret’s hands in 1.4 is an ironic reminder that the play’s original title appears to have been “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York”. This at least is the title given to the version of the play that appears to have been published in 1595, around four years after the play was written and performed. It is worth remembering that plays were not written to be published so much as to be performed, and that publishing in the form of a book was likely to lower the footfall at the theatre, the take at the gate. However, it is right to say that the relationship between “The True Tragedy” and “Henry VI Part Three” is a matter of continuing controversy.
The return of Clarence from France, announced by Warwick in 2.1, is a footnote in this play. But in the play that follows, “Richard III”, Clarence has a memorable if unhappy role, as one of Richard’s earliest victims, murdered in his prison cell. Conventional family loyalties are among the casualties of the Wars of the Roses, as forthcoming events in this play will show.
On the subject of families, it can only be co-incidental that Shakespeare, like Edward of York, was the oldest of four brothers. Both had younger brothers called Richard, and in both cases, the youngest of the four was called Edmund. Moreover, both Shakespeare and Edward were significantly younger than the women they married: Shakespeare by eight years, Edward by five.
Clifford’s rebuke to Henry in 2.2 to follow the example set by the animal kingdom and defend his own flesh and blood is an interesting variant on a theme that emerges in “Henry VI Part Two”. There, animals are used as metaphors for viciousness and cruelty: foxes, ravens (“the hateful raven”), wolves (“the ravenous wolf”), snakes, kites, even caterpillars – all are referenced in 3.1 as examples of nature red in tooth and claw. Here the opposite meaning is implied: it is natural, says Clifford to the King, to defend what you have, and this includes your own children.
In 2.5 Henry takes up a position that is both physically and metaphorically detached from events. Psychologically, his motives are clear: he had no wish to be King and wishes he was a shepherd instead – a theme which first emerges in “Henry VI Part Two”. Here he watches from a symbolic distance as the waves of the battle break this way and that before the detail of the conflict is brought home to him in the shape of families at war. It is perhaps worth remembering how united England must have been at the time Shakespeare was writing, with the war with Spain at its unifying height. Two generations later, the English Civil War would indeed divide fathers and sons.
By the end of Act Two, Henry’s reign is effectively over. Clifford’s verdict – that the King was too weak, and “what makes robbers bold but too much lenity?” – is on balance Shakespeare’s verdict too. Yet it is striking that at this stage of the play, Henry is the character whose private motives are revealed most openly – most sympathetically – to the audience. Later, an altogether unsympathetic soliloquist will emerge in the character of Richard of York, to whom the audience will have a very different response.
The passing of time in Shakespeare’s plays is a flexible matter. Often it seems that a great deal happens in a remarkably short period of time – “Romeo and Juliet”, for example, or “Othello”. Elsewhere, events are thrown forward into the future without much warning, and 3.1 is a case in point: evidently months have passed since Act Two came to a close, and much has happened. Shakespeare’s strategy here is to leave it to Henry to bring the audience up to date: Margaret in France seeking aid, Warwick at the French court “To wife for Edward”. Readers may recall that a similar chronological leap forward between Act Two and Act Three occurs in “Macbeth”.
The new King’s brother Richard – the future Richard III – gets the chance to address the audience directly in 3.2, and so initiates a practice Shakespeare refines over the next twenty years: provoking and shocking the audience by giving them a privileged insight into the mind of a character entirely devoid of any kind of moral compass. Richard’s agenda is straightforward: seizing the crown will serve his ego; he has no loyalty to members of his own family; he has vicious self-hatred motivated largely by body image; he has no compunction about deceiving others wherever necessary. All these themes will be taken up in the sequel to this play, which bears his name. But Shakespeare’s desire to shock his audience, evidenced in characters as different as Iago and Lady Macbeth, will last throughout his writing career.
Henry loses the throne because of weakness. Edward’s reign begins with his ill-advised (or exceptionally idealistic) marriage to Lady Grey. It is one thing to suggest that the reader was unprepared for this alliance; it is quite another to add that important figures in the English ruling class (like the King’s brothers) were also taken by surprise. Edward’s intransigence in the teeth of their reservations suggests that he has learnt too many lessons from Henry’s failure, and that (just as nation states are said to be always fighting the last war, not the next) the new King is here compensating for the shortcomings of his predecessor.
The appearance of young Richmond in 4.6 gives Shakespeare a chance to invest King Henry with remarkable powers of prophecy, since in the shape of the “pretty lad” he discerns a future King of England. In the process – because (as was mentioned in the introduction) this comely youngster will one day be Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty – Shakespeare takes the chance to curry favour with the ruling Tudor establishment, Elizabeth I being Henry Tudor’s grand-daughter. Nonetheless, it is worth remembering that the King had a son of his own in Prince Edward, and the chances of Richmond succeeding to the crown were then pretty remote.
Act Five is notable for the technique Shakespeare employs to keep his audience abreast of developments on both sides: first one army headquarters is visited, then the other, as each side takes account of losses, deaths, reinforcements, acts of treason and the general ebb and flow of the conflict. The same technique is used in the closing scenes of “Julius Caesar” (written around eight years later, in 1599) and “Macbeth” (written in 1606).
Two vivid metaphors are presented to the audience in Act Five. First, In 5.2, Warwick compares himself as he lies dying to a cedar tree that has given shelter in the past to the “princely eagle” and the “ramping lion” but which now “yields … to the axe’s edge”. Then in 5.4 Margaret compares her depleted forces to a ship adrift on the ocean, the “mast blown overboard”, the “cable broke” and the “holding-anchor lost”. Moreover Edward of York and his brothers are likened to nautical hazards like rocks and quicksand. These two images, the tree and the boat, are a reminder of Dr Johnson’s characterisation of the Metaphysical poets, Shakespeare’s near contemporaries, that in their work “the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together”.
The relationship between Margaret and her son Prince Edward is a feature of the play, and the boy’s murder is among the most affecting moments here. Relationships between mothers and sons are relatively rare in Shakespeare’s plays – one thinks of Hamlet and Gertrude, and the somewhat more notional Caliban and Sycorax in “The Tempest”. But such relationships are thin on the ground. Nonetheless it’s a sobering thought that Shakespeare’s wife Anne discovered, like Margaret, what it means to lose a son when her boy Hamnet died in 1596, probably of the plague, around five years after this play was composed.
Alone with Richard in the Tower, and about to die by the same hand that murdered his son, Henry records his belief that the Heavens shook with unnatural omens when the “crookback” killer was born: “The owl shriek’d”, for example, “Dogs howl’d” and “chattering pies in dismal discord sung”. The idea that the natural world records its disfavour when events in the human world are less than wholesome is also to be found in “Julius Caesar” (before his assassination) and in “Macbeth” (following the murder of Duncan).
Many of Shakespeare’s plays end on a note of finality – if at times of exhaustion. Here the close is ominous and replete with dramatic irony, as Richard is called on to kiss and embrace the King’s oldest son Prince Edward (the future Edward V), a child we know he will kill in order to seize the throne. So King Edward’s complacency in his final speech – it is time for “stately triumphs” and for “mirthful comic shows” – is a kind of cliff hanger, a means of whetting the late Elizabethan appetite for further instalments.
Characters / Who’s Who
Saintly but wholly unsuited to be King, he hands over his son’s birth-right to his enemies in the first scene, claiming that he prefers (as he puts it in 2.2) to pass on a legacy of good deeds. His fantasies of being a shepherd boy are bluntly rejected by the scenes he witnesses in 2.5, in which the reality of his misrule is brutally exposed. When Richard arrives at the Tower to add the murder of the father to the murder of the son, Henry is for once roused from his torpor to denounce his assailant, but he dies calling on God to pardon Richard, a reminder of his unsuitability for the role fate assigned him.
Edward IV is presented as vacillating and untrustworthy throughout the play. In Act 1 Scene 2 he announces that “I would break a thousand oaths to reign one year”, and this characteristic is reinforced in his arrangements to marry. In 3.2 he proposes marriage to Elizabeth Woodville / Lady Grey in a scene which does him little credit, while Warwick, acting on his behalf, proposes marriage to Bona, sister of the King of France, in the following scene. Even so, as the play ultimately revolves around the contrast between Henry VI and Richard III, Edward IV becomes increasingly marginal. As events come to a conclusion, he describes Richard as “sudden, if a thing comes in his head”, but the same charge can be made about himself.
Richard of York
Richard gradually emerges as the play’s central villain, culminating in his brutal regicide in the last act. His soliloquies present him as voraciously ambitious by default: given his appearance and personality, he believes, he has no other path to follow. So he remains loyal to his brother the King (like Iago with Othello) in order only to destroy him when the time is right. He delights in shocking the audience in his soliloquies with his amoral take on his own life and that of the kingdom, and brings the play to an uneasy conclusion when called upon by his brother the King to kiss the nephew he will later murder for his crown.
Perhaps the most evil female villain in Shakespeare: certainly the first he created, and well worth her place alongside the likes of Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Goneril and Regan. Her murder of York in 1.4 is anticipated by the shocking way she answers her own question “where is your darling Rutland?” The handkerchief stained with the boy’s blood and the paper crown sarcastically put on York’s head before she stabs him reflect her anger – not at her husband’s fate – but at her own and her son’s. His murder late in the play breaks her spirit and she craves to join him – a release denied her by the brothers whose father she had so mercilessly killed at Wakefield.
- Give the name of York’s youngest son, murdered by Clifford in 1.2.
- What does Margaret place on York’s head before she stabs him?
- What is Henry’s fantasy as he observes the battle in 2.5?
- What does Lady Grey request of Edward IV in 3.1?
- What is the name of the King of France’s sister?
- Which two characters are to marry Warwick’s daughters?
- Who is responsible for liberating Edward in 4.5?
- Who is to govern the country while Henry takes a back seat?
- What is the future title of the “pretty lad” Henry meets in 4.6?
- What does Warwick compare himself to as he lies dying?
- Edmund Rutland
- A paper crown.
- That he could be a shepherd
- The return of her husband’s lands
- Prince Edward and Clarence
- Warwick and Clarence
- Henry VII
- A tree
York’s death in 1.4 concludes his torturous attempts to revive his family line, which began in Part One when he met the dying Mortimer, and flourished in Part Two. As the moment of his death approaches in Part Three, he calls Queen Margaret a “tiger’s heart wrapt in a woman’s hide”, an insult she would no doubt have regarded as a compliment.
This expressive phrase seems to have struck a chord with at least one member of the audience, since what looks like the first printed reference to Shakespeare as an author appears in 1592 in “A Groats-Worth of Witte” by Robert Greene. In this wide-ranging polemic, he accuses “Shake-scene” of being “an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, … his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde”. The accusation is that he is a jumped-up actor who steals other people’s ideas.
Greene died in 1592. The critic Stephen Greenblatt has suggested that he may subsequently have served as the model for one of Shakespeare’s best-loved characters Sir John Falstaff. Not a bad legacy.