Sunday, February 13, 2011

Henry VI - three plays?

A random thought on the Henry VI plays - why three? The plays are VERY LONG, and if you look at them, the dramatic arc of the story as a whole works pretty well, but the individual plays (especially part 1) seem more episodic. When I read part 1, I felt like the play should have ended soon after the death of Talbot - but instead we have a whole new act following!

It's also worth noting that a lot of people cut and adapt these plays for performance. I watched part of a taped production where the story of all three plays was split into two parts titled "The House of York" and "The House of Lancaster," and the BBC Shakespeare history series  An Age of Kings edited Henry VI part 1 into one hour-long episode (!). So my humble suggestion is to continue this tradition of slicing the plays up for performance - but to break them into four parts. This way, each part would be shorter without cutting large portions of the script, and each part would have a stronger, more distinct story focus.

I'd break it up thusly: Henry VI part 1  would end directly after Act 5.1, where Henry and Gloucester decide to have a peace with France (which would be moved after 5.2-4 and 5.6 up to line 94 - these are the scenes that depict the capture and condemnation of Joan). One could also include the second part of 5.6, where York and Winchester make peace with the French - the important thing is to get Margaret and Suffolk out of this play and into part 2, where (in my opinion) they fit much better.

Part 2 (which I would call, going off of the title in the 1st Folio, Henry VI - The Death of the Good Duke Humphrey) would begin with Act 5 scene 5 from Part 1, where Suffolk meets Margaret, and would end with the deaths of Suffolk and Winchester. (I would probably switch the order of their death scenes, putting Act 4.1 before 3.3, in order to end with Winchester's death). My reason for this sectioning of the play lies in the fact that Suffolk does almost nothing in Henry VI Part 1 until the very end, when he emerges as a major villain, which part he holds through 2/3rds of Part 2. This way, Suffolk is a major character in only one play, and his clash with Humphrey is the main focus of the story.

Part 3 (Which, based off of the Octavo title, I would call Henry VI - The Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York) would cover the Cade rebellion up to the death of York, ending after Act 2 scene 1 - Edward resolving to fight and win the crown his father should have worn. I would split this one here because York is such an important, intense character, and there is a certain finality to his death. Edward is such a different personality.

Part 4 (Titled, obviously, Edward IV) would go from 2.2 of Henry VI Part 3 and cover the rise and wars of Edward IV, up until the end of the play. And then, of course, we are into Richard III....

Question. How possible is it to enjoy any of the Henry VI plays alone without the others?

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