Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dangerous Days

York. ...I am not your king
Till I be crowned, and that my sword be stained
With heart-blood of the house of Lancaster -
And that's not suddenly to be performed,
But with advice and silent secrecy.
Do you, as I do, in these dangerous days...
(Henry VI, part 2, 2.3.64-68)

Gloucester. Ah, gracious lord, these days are dangerous.
Virtue is choked with foul ambition,
And charity chased hence by rancour's hand.

I was struck, reading Henry VI part 2 (this week's play!), how both York and Gloucester - English noblemen who are most emphatically NOT FRIENDS - describe their era in the same words: Dangerous days.

The word "Dangerous" could have a few different meanings at this point in history, according to the Oxford English Dictionary - it had its modern meaning of "Fraught with danger or risk," which seems to be the primary meaning in today's passages, but the word could also mean, among other things, "haughty, arrogant; severe," as well as possibly suggesting a sense of being stand-offish and aloof. I think that all these meanings resonate with the situation in Henry VI - a group of proud, suspicious nobles, unable to trust each other for the very good reason that they are all wishing they could cut each other's throats. Dangerous days indeed.

York is plotting murder and revolt; Gloucester is surrounded with enemies; Henry VI seems without a clue and unable to act even if he had one. The question arises - are the days dangerous because of the nobles fighting over legitimate questions about the right of the usurping Lancastrian Kings - Henry IV, V, and VI - to the throne, OR does the weakness in leadership create these dangerous days by allowing an environment where the natural greed and violence of the powerful and ambitious can flourish?

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