Thursday, November 24, 2016


This rambling play does not lead anywhere except the next episode


Welcome back to the flotsam setting and now in England time is hot, times are hard, history is more or less getting blocked and hijacked into a civil war after the loss of France. The king, now married, is just as spineless as before and his wife is trying to govern in his place. She cannot get anything from him and her manipulating the nobles around him reveals itself more complicated than she may have thought at first. She gets rid of the Lord Protector but that starts a tremendous uproar and everyone tries to get everyone else’s head, and there are many heads to get.

He tries to get rid of Richard of York by sending him to Ireland with some troops but that was a pretty bad move because York comes back from Ireland with his troops to get the crown since by simple precedence in the lineage to the throne he is the first heir, which means Henry VI is a usurper, which is absolutely true: Henry IV (a Lancaster) forced Richard II (a York) to give him the crown under duress of course.

Add to that the popular rebellion of Jack Cade presented as a rebellion of the Commons from Kent and in fact it is a popular upheaval, not only the Commons but a lot more people. It was in 1450 when France was well lost. No hope on that front. The rebellion is crushed when they reached London.  The play gives a lot of life and credit to Jack Cade but it also shows how easy his populace can be manipulated, by him first with the promise of the repealing of money and food and drinks free for everyone. Nothing really has changed and people are so gullible and they believe such blank promises.

York starts his own rebellion and manages to meet the king in the royal camp between Dartford and Blackheath. The king is revealed untrustworthy since he has announced Buckingham is in the Tower and at this very moment there Buckingham arrives accompanied by the queen. From there we have a long battle, to and fro in the derelict décor and they kill one another in the most manly way. York is wounded but nothing serious and his main opponents are dead, particularly Clifford Senior killed by York himself. The end is sad since the King has managed to flee with the queen and whoever he could take along to London where he discovers the damage of Jack Cade’s rebellion. And there the action stops. To be continued. York and his men are going to London to confront the king.

What can we say on such a play? Not much actually. The fight around the crown made England weak and they lost France completely after a short period of success with Henry V but only nine years. Henry VI being himself weak and unable to really establish any authority the strife for the crown gets very severe. Since the Lancaster have had the crown by an irregular way that did not respect the order of precedence to get on the throne, the legitimacy of Henry VI is not acceptable. York has one degree of precedence over Henry VI.

The War of the Roses is probably one of the events in England that created a national feeling to replace the feudal system of vassalage.  A new actor comes into the picture and it is the Commons, that is to say the second house of parliament, the normally elected representatives of free people, mostly landowners, craftsmen and shopkeepers or merchants. This is typical of England and Shakespeare did not miss the point. But this new actor on the political scene is nothing but a rebellion and it is purely defeated by force and then a royal pardon. The leader is killed by some local civilian in London.

But you have the main idea Shakespeare defends everywhere: when something wrong disturbs the regular order of things then it has to be purged to the very last drop. That means the two conflicting houses will have to drain their claims to give way to another actor coming from the side and it will be the Tudors. They will come to power after the defeat or Richard III in 1485 and the new king will be Henry VII.

There is something typically Shakespearean at the end of the play. The menace to the House of Lancaster or the “ghost” menacing it is Richard of York junior, the future Richard III. Shakespeare uses some numerical symbolism to characterize some situations or characters. Richard III is definitely 9 and his defeat is in 1485 which amounts to 1+8=9, 4+5=9, 1+4+8+5=18=9x2. This young Richard says at the end of this play:

“RICHARD:       My noble father,
Three times today I holp him to his horse,
Three times bestrid him, thrice I led him off,
Persuaded him from any further act.” (Act V, Scene iii)

He is speaking of Salisbury, a supporter of York. And at this very moment when Richard had accumulate his NINE times, there comes Salisbury and he thanks Richard and says speaking of God:

SALISBURY:   I thank you Richard:
. . . And it hath pleas’d him three times today
You have defended me from imminent death.” (Act V, Scene iii)

Of course Salisbury goes back to three because God is one in three, at the same time in Shakespeare three has a special value. It is the triple goddess who includes Hecate the goddess of the underworld, it is the three weird sisters of Macbeth and of course the three Harpies or Erinyes,  the goddesses of our life time (they spin, measure, cut the thread of our life) and in general three is dynamic, hence unstable, hence a sign of trouble. It is interesting to see how the first time Richard appears he carries in his language the number 9, his devilish fate.

In this play there is an episode of witchcraft that brings the banishment of Eleanor of Gloucester, the disgrace of her husband Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, his subsequent death (certainly by assassination), the burning of the witch herself and the execution of some secondary characters except the intermediary who had introduced Eleanor of Gloucester to the ritual since he was a double agent and had revealed the event before to one side around the king who wanted to get rid of the Duke of Gloucester who was then the Lord Protector.

But I must say the play lacks some real unity and density.


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