Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Depart the Field

Henry VI. For Margaret my queen, and Clifford too,
Have chid me from the battle; swearing both
They prosper best of all when I am thence.
(Henry VI part 3, 2.5.1117-1120)

Lord Clifford.
I would your highness would depart the field:
The queen hath best success when you are absent.
Queen Margaret. Ay, good my lord, and leave us to our fortune.

In Henry VI Part 3, the day of reckoning has well and truly come. We've seen Henry let France slip from his hands; we've seen the loosening of his grip on the realm of England; now we're involved in a full-blown revolt and civil war. Meanwhile, Henry flaps around helplessly. His self-doubt and weakness is so palpable to those around him that he's like a large, sad bird of ill-omen - his wife and his general have an important request for him: please, um, just stay away from the battle, because basically you make things go badly, okay? Thanks!

It's interesting that Shakespeare, though painting Henry as ineffectual and distracted, doesn't specifically highlight something that's a historical fact: that Henry suffered from periods of insanity. However, the choice to portray this leader as sane but disengaged opens the story up for us, as the audience, to find parallel situations in our own experience. Not everyone has had to deal with a mad King, but I'd be willing to guess that nearly everyone has suffered under a weak and morale-crushing leader. What do we do in these situations? Revolt like York? Grab the reins like Margaret and tell the King to get off the field?

How do you solve a problem like King Henry VI?

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