“Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends”: Shakespeare’s Power To Create Equality


The Past Catches Me

While going through my possessions and trying to decide what to take to grad school, I came across a pile of old ticket stubs and playbills. These priceless pieces of paper contain my memories from a short period of four weeks in 2009 when I was lucky enough to be studying theater in London. When I was there, everything seemed like a blur to me; taking classes, completing assignments all over the city, and going to one show after another. I lived it one moment at a time. If I understood the magnitude of my experiences then like I do now, I would have been overwhelmed.

Discoveries After Reflections

The playbills represent only one snapshot from my life, but what I realize now is that those four weeks – the productions that I saw – will always represent my piece of the London theater community. It is a piece of documented history that will always be my own. And yet it also belongs to so many other people – the other audience members, the actors, the theater spaces, the lines of dialogue, the costume designers, the set builders, and the city of London itself. I am part of their history and they are part of mine.

One of the things that I have truly come to love about theater and more specifically, Shakespeare, is that they are a powerful force for creating equality within a community. As I and many others have probably said before, Shakespeare’s plays endure because they are filled with universal human experiences. He tells stories that are beautiful in a sense that they are about what most everyone understands to be love, hurt, friendship, family, loss, vulnerability, and the joys to be had in simply living. Under the right conditions, an African woman who is a mother, and a white, male American CEO could go to see Romeo and Juliet.  They come from two very different places. However, the woman is moved because she’s a mother and the man is moved because Juliet might remind him of his wife.  For the span of 2-3 hours, the distances or breaches between both their life experiences don’t matter anymore because they are just two human beings enjoying Shakespeare. They might not have interpreted the story in the same way, but now they are equals in one respect: they have shared the experience of being moved by the same play.  Shakespeare emphasizes the fact that as humans we all have things in common and it is those universal emotions that can create equality.  Relational gaps or breaches made between us by differences in privilege, race, gender, and sexuality might be filled when suddenly we are moved at the same time by the same story.

I have found that one of Shakespeare’s plays in particular represents the idea that shared experiences can bind people together despite their differences.  The play is Henry V.  Henry has the challenge of uniting the men of England to a single cause which is winning back English lands from the French.  He must bring his men together and yet he also faces the questions: How can England be one united country when I am a privileged king standing above everyone else?  How can I be a leader amongst my men instead of a leader over them?  Henry V solves the problem as Shakespeare’s plays have done, by showing his followers that they have things in common.  First of all, that they are all human.  Second of all, that their shared experience of feeling passionate for their cause has made them all equal to the king.  Before battle Henry states, “For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother (Shakespeare, Henry V 4.3.61-2).”  Despite the differences and breaches between us we are the same in the sense that we are all human and we all bleed.  Shakespeare creates complete equality amongst every man through the the fact that the history of England rests in all their hands.

I think the King is but a man, as I am. The violet smells to him as it doth to me; the element shows to him as it doth to me; all his senses have but human conditions. His ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man […] Therefore when he sees reason of fears, as we do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish as ours are (Shakespeare, Henry V, 4.1.102-10).

A Perfect Theater Community

Perhaps the best example of how an (ideally) accessible theater community can create equality among people would be my own experiences in London. (Plus, there is a tiny bit of me that wants to brag.)  This is what I did.  I went to performances in the theater district.  I saw Judi Dench in Madame De Sade at the Donmar Warehouse – the same place where Jude Law would perform in Hamlet a day after I left, where Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Hiddleston performed Othello the year before, and where five years into the future Mark Gatiss and Tom Hiddleston would perform in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.  I saw Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in a play called Waiting for Godot and James McAvoy in Three Days of Rain.  I went to the madly popular productions of Wicked and Les Miserables.  I saw Romeo and Juliet performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. I also went to tiny community theaters on the outskirts of London where actors (possibly driven by nothing but their own passions) performed in upper levels of cafes and spaces small enough to seat less than 100 people.  The cafe had bragging rights to the fact that some of the above mentioned celebrities had eaten their food and attended their performances.  I went to shows at the National Theater on the Thames where War Horse (to become a blockbuster film 3 years later that would feature Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston) was performed.  I spent multiple evenings listening to free musical concerts in the lobby of the same theater.

In addition, there are some things that I found out (I admit to being somewhat of a stalker) that relate to my experiences.  I have talked about the documentary Muse of Fire in previous posts.  It is a film  about the universal nature of Shakespeare.  I have come to conclude that the documentary was being made at or around the same time that I spent in London.  The movie features interviews with Jude Law about his experiences in Hamlet – the production that I would miss seeing by a day or two.  In an interview, Alan Rickman talks about how wonderful the same production of Romeo and Juliet that I had seen was for him.  In other interviews not related to Muse of Fire, Tom Hiddleston has talked about seeing War Horse at the National Theater, possibly within the same time and within the same space where I experienced London theater and those fantastic free concerts in the lobby.

The point of telling you all this is to show that the London theater community is varied, concentrated within a geographic area, and incredibly accessible to everyone involved within it.  I am not a wealthy person.  I’m from small-town Indiana – farm country – and yet I was able to go to the same theaters, to the same shows to which Alan Rickman and Tom Hiddleston were going to.  Indeed, the fact that the musical performances were free (though not of the same quality of Les Miserables) meant that anyone off the street could come in and enjoy entertainment in the same space in which the rich and famous have.  At the same time, celebrity actors I was seeing on stage were going to small theater performances that would be the common fare in my tiny hometown.  It seems like a long shot even still, but in terms of the theater community, could I not say that during my four weeks in London, I was an equal to Alan Rickman, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Tom Hiddleston, Pattrick Stewart, and James McAvoy?  We have the shared human experiences of enjoying Romeo & Juliet, of sharing the same stories within the same spaces.  Are we not all humans feeling the same emotions together?  Has theater and Shakespeare been a force that has closed the breaches in gender, nationality, and social classes between us?

And its not just about me now because there were also tons of school children watching Romeo & Juliet at The Globe.  There were old people and young people.  People from different countries who knew different languages.  Now they are also all equals under the understanding that they have all experienced universal human emotions through the same Shakespearean play.

I wonder now if a community like this one exists anywhere else in the world.  Could it exist in the United States?  London seems to be a unique situation and still not completely an ideal one.  In order for a theater community to work perfectly in order to create equality, it would have to be even more accessible to everyone both financially and intellectually.  And it would have to be highly promoted to everyone.  The random person on the street would have to want to see Shakespeare just as much Kenneth Branagh would want to.

In Today’s World

In June 2015, nine African Americans died after being shot by a white male during a Bible study inside of their own church in Charleston, South Carolina.  This tragedy has led the U.S. to a current struggle over the question of whether or not the Confederate Flag should be removed from certain government facilities.  To many people the flag is a representation of racial segregation and slavery.  To many others it is a symbol of historical and cultural identity that should be valued in honor of the men who died during the Civil War.

In Shakespeare’s play Henry V, King Henry V’s goal was to bring his countrymen together as one united force.  The king had to make himself an equal to any man who stood beneath him in order to gain victory for his entire country.  His is a mission of true patriotism.  The king declared that every single one of his men where equals in all ways because they had the universal experience of fighting for their country.

The Hollow Crown: Henry V film, 2012.  Henry V by William Shakespeare (4.3.61-2)

The Hollow Crown: Henry V film, 2012. Henry V by William Shakespeare (4.3.61-2)

During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln’s goal was to bring his countrymen together as a single united nation.

Henry V achieved this goal through valuing universal human experiences.

Today we are still divided by different perspectives of which no one wants to let go.  It is difficult to make progress in resolving a conflict when everyone is pushed apart by their differences and refuses to see commonalities between themselves and others.

Different races, cultures, religions, and perspectives all exist together in the United States.  That is one thing that makes living here so wonderful.  I can write what I want to on a blog and people have the right to disagree with what I say.  Everyone has equal right to be different.  But sometimes it is also beneficial to remember that we are all the same in other ways – we all live in the same country, have families and friends here, know what it is to love and hate each other.  It is these human similarities which the freedom and equality in our country sought to honor.  Our shared experiences should not be forgotten because they are what have allowed us beautiful differences.

I would hope that in the end, we can say that we are all humans.  No matter what we look like, what we believe in, and where we come from, we still all feel the same emotions and have the same organs.  Because if it is true, think about how important it would be to our world.  What could we gain from Shakespeare and theater in a world where countrymen kill each other over skin color and argue about the symbolism of a flag?

My Literary Life Since November 10

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve made a post.  My life has been kind of crazy lately due to the fact the holidays have come around and that I started a new job at the beginning of September.  Those are no excuses for not making time to write a post for my dear readers.  However, even if I have been absent from the blog, that does not mean that I haven’t still been writing and reading.  This is what’s been happening:

1.  Work has inspired me to write a story.  Like all jobs, there are pleasant and unpleasant occurrences.  Working at Target is no different.  I have seen many sweet and adorable things such as a little boy becoming teary-eyed over a pair of golden-glittery stilettos.  Another young boy showed much glee over discovering that the The Hobbit was indeed also a book.  On the other hand there have been instances in which bodily fluids have been found around the store in places where you should never find such fluids.  (Don’t let that keep you from shopping at Target.  The sweet and adorable things in that store greatly outweigh the unpleasant ones.)

How could I not be inspired by the lives of the people that I see at work everyday?  I’ve combined my ideas for an unrequited romance and my ideas about Target into one and have made the characters of the romance also be fictional employees at Target.  I will post this story on here as soon as it is finished and my mother has been able to read her copy first.

2.  Work and Family.  In the few months that I have been at Target, I have worked on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Eve, and my birthday.  I have also been working almost full-time and not getting home some nights until past 1 am.  This along with the fact that the holidays have been packed with social occasions has left little time for blogging.

3.  Gotten Published.  Recently I’ve submitted a revised draft of a story to a literary magazine in Colombus, OH called Some Weird Sin, which has agreed to publish my writing in their next issue!  You can find a link to the magazine’s page here: http://someweirdsin27.blogspot.com/

4.  Went to see the play War Horse in Chicago.  For my birthday my parent got tickets for us to see the play together.  I have to say that it was an incredible experience.  The horse puppets are so real you forget that they are not real.  I was in awe of them the entire time.

I’m planning to start forcing myself to write everyday again.  With my birthday money I purchased a book of over 600 writing prompts.  I plan to work on at least one of these everyday and possibly share the best results of these prompts on the blog.

I hope you all had a Great Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas!  Also have a Happy New Year in case I forget to say it later!

Gender and the Unrequited Love Story: A Work in Progress

The source of inspiration for my current writing project comes from about a year ago.  One of the characters actually came out of an assignment I wrote for my writing memoir class.  I had an acquaintance (not even a friendship really) with a guy in college who became a minor character in my memoir.  Later I decided that I would give him a pseudonym and develop his general character into something greater.  From what I knew about him he had a very free way of looking at life and to be cliché, he was a feather-in-the-wind type of person.  It also seemed to me that he was just living on the currents of everyone else’s lives. I found this particularly interesting about him as a character.  I decided to go and experiment further with the character and I created a fictional background for him and filled in all the cracks in his life that I hadn’t thought about before.

I gave him a pseudonym of Uriel and he soon became a great character that I enjoyed writing about in many situations.  Anyhow, I decided to write a love story about Uriel since his character has such a hard time holding on to relationships.  But I didn’t want it to be a typical unrequited love story like many others I had heard.  Not that they were bad stories.  I just like to experiment with plot sometimes.

My idea for the story is that it will be told from the point-of-view of the character who was in love looking back at the relationship after years have gone by and the character has moved on to other loves.  Perhaps the two people involved in the relationship are reunited.  I want the narrative to be less about the love part of it and more about how the giving love that was rejected changed the rest of the person’s life – their view on other relationships, how they feel about perhaps wasting a lot of their time on a useless relationship, how they come to forgive themselves for this, and how they learn how to forgive the other person.

However, the problem is that I’m not sure what to do with which gender I want to fill which roles in the story.  Should the rejected lover be male or female?  Should it be a homosexual or heterosexual relationship?  If it is homosexual, should the characters be male or female?  I’m trying to consider all possibilities and how Uriel’s character would fit into it.  I’m also really considering how different genders of rejected lovers are viewed by society.  Are women who pursue an unrequited love viewed differently than men in the same situation?  Yes, I believe they are.  But what will this do to my story?

Men who continually pursue a woman who doesn’t love them are seen as romantic and self-sacrificing – even brave or heroic.  When a woman pursues a man who has rejected her, she is seen as desperate, clingy, and emotionally unstable.  This would have a great effect on how the character would view their life after they have given up on the relationship ever working.  If Uriel were the rejected lover, than it would be more interesting if he viewed himself to be stupid and naive rather than romantic and brave.  Although if the story were about a woman who Uriel rejected, she might be more focused on justifying her actions as not being desperate.  A man’s story might be more about forgiving the woman while the story told from a woman’s perspective might be more about self-forgiveness.  The social consequences are somewhat greater for a woman who pursues a man with no hope than the social consequences would be for a male.  I feel that if Uriel were the rejected lover, it could be really interesting, but in order to create more drama, I would have to manufacture some emotions to a certain extent.  Perhaps I feel this way too because I would be a female writer telling the story from the perspective of a male.

The homosexual relationship is something I feel that I should also consider.  Same-sex unrequited love stories are obviously rarer than heterosexual ones, which is what I find attractive about writing one.  The character of Uriel wasn’t intended to be gay.  But I have to ask myself, what if he were?  What if he for some reason thought he was?  What if his attraction to the same sex is limited to a single person?  This would cause all sorts of confusion and disconnectedness in his character and in the story.  If the story was about a female same-sex relationship, Uriel’s character would have to be marginalized.  Perhaps I could make it a double unrequited love story with Uriel pursuing a female who is pursuing anther female.  Now we are becoming quite Shakespearean.  This idea seems to have it all, but is it too much?

Speaking of Shakespeare, I’ve also thought about writing this story as a play because I want it to be focused more on the characters rather than the plot.  I like plays for the reason that nearly all of the character’s feelings have to be shown to the audience and not told to the audience.  It might make the narrative stronger by keeping me away from using too many weak adverbs and boring sentences.

From what I hear from family and friends, the main character/rejected lover should be female because it would be easier for me to relate to her.  As of now I’m thinking the same thing.

There’s a lot to consider.  Any thoughts from readers?  Feel free to share them with me.  What do you think would make the best story?

Then I’ll be sure to share the end result with you when I’m finished.

Quotes from Shakespeare’s Richard III

The Tragedy of King Richard the Third is one of the more quote rich plays written by Shakespeare.

Richard: “Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York,

And all the clouds that loured upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,

Our bruisèd arms hung up for monuments,

Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,

Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.

Grim-visaged War hath smoothed his wrinkled


And now, instead of mounting barbèd steeds

To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,

He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber

To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,

Nor made to court an amorous looking glass;

I, that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty

To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;

I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,

Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time

Into this breathing world scarce half made up,

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them –

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,

Have no delight to pass away the time,

Unless to see my shadow in the sun

And descant on mine own deformity.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover

To entertain these well-spoken days,

I am determinèd to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,

By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams,

To set my brother Clarence and the King

In deadly hate the one against the other;

And if King Edward be as true and just

As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,

This day should Clarence closely be mewed up

About a prophecy, which says that G

Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.

Dive, thoughts, down to my soul; here Clarence


Brother, good day.  What means this armèd guard

That waits upon Your Grace?” (1.1.1-42)

This is the big opening speech of the play.  It reveals to use that the War of the Roses has lately ended, that Richard is deformed, and that he has evil plans to make enemies of his two brothers.

Second Murderer [on the subject of the conscience]: “I’ll not meddle with it; it makes a

man a coward.  A man cannot steal but it acuseth him;

a man cannot swear but it checks him; a man cannot

lie with his neighbor’s wife but it detects him.  ‘Tis a

blushing, shamefaced spirit that mutinies in a man’s

bosom.  It fills a man full of obstacles.  It made me once

restore a purse of gold that by chance I found.  It

beggars any man that keeps it.  It is turned out of

towns and cities for a dangerous thing, and every man

that means to live well endeavors to trust to himself

and live without it” (1.4.136-46).

Especially at the end of the play, the conscience plays a large part in Richard’s character.

Third Citizen: “Before the days of change, still is it so.

By a divine instinct men’s minds mistrust

Ensuing danger; as, by proof, we see

The water swell before a boist’rous storm” (2.3.42-5).

I chose to include this quote because I found that the discussion of the citizens on getting a new ruler related quite well to the feelings of some people during the U.S. presidential campaigns of 2012.

Duchess: “Dead life, blind sight, poor mortal-living ghost,

Woe’s scene, world’s shame, grave’s due by life usurped,

Brief abstract and record of tedious days,

Rest thy unrest on England’s lawful earth,

Unlawfully made drunk with innocent blood!” (4.4.26-30)

This speech by the Duchess (Richard’s mother) is often seen to be important to the play and features the use of words that are starkly opposite in meaning.

Queen Margaret [to Queen Elizabeth]: “Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days;

Compare dead happiness with living woe;

Think that thy babes were sweeter than they were

And he that slew them fouler than he is.

Bett’ring thy loss makes the bad causer worse,

Revolving this will teach thee how to curse” (4.4.118-23).

This quote relates to the shared losses of the women in the play, the prophecies that they have made, and how those prophecies have come true.

Ratcliffe: “Nay, good my lord, be not afraid of shadows” (5.3.215).

This line is important to Richard because it shows us how his character has changed from the beginning when he delighted in his evil deeds and enjoyed seeing his deformed shadow.

King Richard: “Conscience is but a word that cowards use” (5.3.309).

Another quote on conscience.

King Richard: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (5.4.7)


Abstraction (A Short Play About Art, Philosophy, and Incest)

Note: While in college, I took a playwriting course and this was the end result.  I had also been taken a course on contemporary art history.  I found the artists’ lives and philosophies to be much more interesting than the art itself.  The characters in this play are roughly based on some famous artists from the 1900’s.  The character of James is taken from Andy Worhol while Zach’s character borrows from Yves Klein who wanted the presence of the artist to be completely removed from the artwork.  The idea of jumping from a building onto a canvas is not something that I made up either.  Similar artworks have been attempted in the past, although they were conducted in a safer manner.  The ideas for the incestuous parts of the play sprouted from a radio show on NPR about a man who could not come to terms with the fact that he had fallen in love with his long-lost sister. 

Some of the dialogue may seem cheesy, but I’m not an abstract artist, a man, or a theater student.  I hope you enjoy reading this play anyway.


Zach – a rather young, abstract artist

James – Zach’s mentor and fellow artist.  He’s a little bit older than Zach, but still a young man – perhaps in his late 20’s or early 30’s while Zach is still in his early 20’s.

Carole – Zach’s sister


A larger city in the U.S. – possibly Chicago or New York.


[ZACH stands on the edge of the roof of  JAMES’ art studio at night.  His clothes are covered in paint.  He directly addresses the audience.]


I read about an artist in one of James’ books.  A man from Japan.  His last piece of art was to leap from the top of a building onto a canvas.  When I read that, I knew that it was exactly the result I was trying to achieve with my old shoe paintings, and then with the hand prints.  An art piece in which the very process of creating the art destroys the identity of the artist.  Pure escape from the material.

[He looks down over the edge of the building, contemplating.]


No one seriously thinks that I would be brave enough to jump.

[He backs away from the edge and continues to talk to the audience.]


My best friend, James, lives downstairs.  He doesn’t sleep and he’s probably making up some ridiculous new pun to throw in my face tomorrow morning.  That’s almost enough to make me do it.   He’d probably ask me some stupid and philiosophical question right now.  Like “What is life?” [He laughs.]  Well, despite all his insane lessons, he has gotten me this close to the perfect artwork.


I shape my life like I shape my art.  I can paint the same thing over and over until it has no meaning, but I wake up the next day and I’m still here.  [He laughs again.] Well…

[ZACH hangs his foot forward over the edge of the roof and balances there.  The roof and streetlights fade to black.]


[Three months earlier ZACH and JAMES sat painting at JAMES’ studio.]


Hey, could you pass me that brush? [pause]  Zach!

[Zach jumps and the motion causes his paintbrush to move upwards on the canvas making a streak.]


Awwh! What?  Jesus.  Right in the middle.  Bastard.


Relax.  You’re an abstract painter. Don’t you want that whole randomness thing going on?

[ZACH hands JAMES the brush.]


I just…I just can’t do this.  I don’t think I can work in this environment.  You have to understand that it’s not just you working here anymore. But your stuff is here.

[ZACH gets up from his seat and feverishly gestures to different locations around the stage and finally points at his own forehead.]


It’s all over there, and there, and here.  I need some air.  I need a drink and…don’t be surprised if I don’t come back.


Wait, wait.  Look, you don’t want to be one of those old bearded art history professors who just sits in a warm chair by the fire and reads books.  Do you?  Of course not.   That’s why you decided to work in my studio.


You have no idea about my reasons for moving my work here.  You don’t know me.


You don’t know me.  So why did you want to work here?


Your drawings.  I want to learn from you…to be able to do what you do and build on my own ideas.  Remember this?

[ZACH takes out a piece of sketch paper and hands it to JAMES.  The paper shows ZACH’s eyes amidst a number of abstract shapes.] 


Yes, it’s from when I first met you in the park.  Wow, those really do look like you’re eyes.  I like the little furl of the eyelash there.  Well, they do say eyes make the best artist.


 You said ‘I’m not drawing you.  I’m drawing a picture of you.’


Yeah.  René Margritte’s “This is not a pipe.”  A painting of a pipe isn’t a pipe.  It’s just an image that’s been created.  How much of our lives, of our relationships, are real and how often do we just make them seem real?


How do you take the world away from your art? In your pieces, you take objects and create this world in which those object no longer have a meaning.  The drawing isn’t me, it’s a picture.  A piece of paper.  Nothing.   Can an artist remove their identity from their own paintings?  Can the artist somehow…disappear? I want to know how to do it and I thought you could help me.


I’d like to help you, but you’ll have to stick around for a while.


Alright, fine.  But clean up the mess, please.

[Lights in the studio dim to black.]


[JAMES and ZACH are painting together again.]


…So, the cop, he takes out his taser and points it right at me.  I was a stupid kid, you know.  I had the drugs right in the front pocket of my bag and I wasn’t going to put up with that fat guy trying to zap me [He laughs].


What did you do?


[More chuckling]  I tried to jump kick that bastard.  But oh man, boy could that cop move.  He had me in a headlock and in the back seat of his car before you could think, “Miranda rights.”


So, wait…How…how did you get from druggie to art studio?


Well, to tell the truth those two things aren’t so distant from each other as you might think.  I learned how to paint in an art classes at the detention center.

[JAMES puts down his brush and takes cigarettes from his pocket.  He offers one to ZACH.] 


No…no thanks.


[Exhaling] You see…it’s damn hard to get away from who you once were.  I’m never sure if I should keep running or turn around and face it down like that cop, ya know.  See, I like having you here.  You keep me in check so that I’m not running so fast I forget who I am, but yet that old me hasn’t quite overcome the “now” me.


You seem like a runner to me.


Me! Ah, no.  I left my running shoes in my high school gym locker.


Oh, come on.  You know what I mean.  So in the park, when you were on the bridge leaning so far out over the water.  Staring at yourself and… um, I believe cursing your fate – that wasn’t at all running away?


I was staring at my new haircut, okay.


You know I told you my humiliation.  It’s only fair that I hear about yours.  If you want this whole I-want-to-learn-from-you thing to work, you’re gonna have to trust me.  Besides, no one else is listening.

[JAMES sits down and starts painting again.]


Alright, It’s my little sister, Carole.  I met her for the first time since I was ten years old.  To tell the truth, all I remember is growing up with my adoptive parents.  Then my sister just found me after all these years.


Oh. What’s she like?  Do I get to meet her?


Well, I don’t know.  I really don’t want her around my work.  I mean she’s nice… and she’s pretty.


Well!  Invite her over!  My creative state needs more people bouncing around this place.  I know, you think I’m a creep, right?


No! Look, I can’t have her invading this space! I can’t!  And it’s not because you’re a creep…I’m the creep.  It’s just…her eyes.  There’s something there that I can’t explain, but when I saw her, my mouth went dry.  She hugged me and I was just paralyzed with her body up against me.  All I could do was stand there and let her hands cling to my shirt…to my soul.


First meetings are bound to be emotional.  I think you just need some time to get things through your head.

[ZACH gets up and walks around the room.]


That’s what I thought too.  But the feelings…the attraction…keeps coming back.  Little things ignite bombs inside my mind.  Water dripping from my wet hair and …boom…her wet skin is on mine.  Folding laundry…boom…the warm indent of her spine is under my fingertips.  Until finally, every time I look in a mirror, I see her eyes and my breath stops.


Oh, God.  I’m tempted to offer you my running shoes.  Does she know how you feel?  Have you…made a move?


No.  No!  How could I do that?  If I’m not honorable what else am I but detestable?

[JAMES offers another cigarette to ZACH.]



[He takes it but doesn’t try smoking it.  He ignores JAMES’ lighter.]


Just to let you know, it does help to have things out in the open.  Don’t tell her until you’re ready.  But maybe just think about trying it out.  Gosh, do you want a drink?  I think you need one.


Sure.  Let’s go.  I’m done with this painting.


Oh, let’s see it then.  Nice.  A brown canvas.  An entirely brown canvas.


Just looks like dirt to me.


You’ve really lost yourself in there.  There’s no lines or anything to tie you down…or pull you out.

[The studio lights fade to black.]


[ZACH and CAROLE are at the park.  CAROLE carries a skateboard with her.  She is short and wears a t-shirt with jeans.]


So you actually use that thing?

[ZACH points to the skateboard.]


Oh, yeah.  I love it.  My brother…I mean my foster brother taught me how.  He was the only friend I had for a while.  Do you wanna learn how to skate?


[He laughs nervously] Gosh…um.  I really don’t think that would be a good idea.  I…I don’t have a helmet and you’re…


Oh, come on!  You don’t need a helmet.  I’ll hang on to you the whole time.


I don’t think that’s necessary.


I promise.  It’ll be fine.  Come on, Zach…brother.

[CAROLE puts the skateboard on the ground in front of ZACH.  She grabs on to ZACH’s arm with both of her hands and holds the board steady with a foot.  ZACH stares down at her hands.] 


Now, step onto the board and make sure that your feet are far enough apart to make a solid base.

[ZACH steps onto the board.]


Ok, now I’ll give you a little push.

[The board starts to move and speeds up a bit.]


Wooo! Look at you!  What a daredevil!


Whoa…oh, God.

[ZACH wobbles and instinctively grabs onto CAROLE.]


You’re fine, you’re fine.  I gotcha.

[CAROLE moves one of her hands to ZACH’s chest.]


Oh, God.  Ok, I’m done. I’m done.

[ZACH steps off the board. The two of them lose physical contact again, but then CAROLE tries to put her hands on ZACH’s shoulders.  ZACH is too tall so her hands end up closer to his chest.]


You remind me of dad sometimes.  At least what I imagined him to be when he was young.  It’s strange, but you have the same haircut that I remember him having in some photo.   He was a great musician before the accident.  You’re so lucky to get his creative talent.  I’m just a deadbeat.

[ZACH glances down at the hands and then looks anywhere except for CAROLE’s face.]


No… uh…no.  I’m sure you could go away to any school you wanted.  And I’m not so talented.  I’m horrible.  I like…you don’t understand. I am not worth anything.  I’m the dirt on the sidewalk.  You should really…not touch me.

[He plucks CAROLE’s hands from his body.]


Maybe we can just talk sometime.  I’ll see you later.

[ZACH walks off down the sidewalk and CAROLE calls after him.]


I don’t know what you’re talking about, but for a skater, hitting the dirt is part of the thrill!  I love you, brother!


[ZACH paints in JAMES’ studio in the middle of the night, but instead of using a brush he presses old shoes into the paint and then firmly stamps the tread marks onto the canvas.]


Brother, she calls me.  Brother.  If she only knew what a cruel word that is.  My dangerous and disgusting thoughts make the word a slur…a profanity.

[ZACH begins thunking the shoe down on the canvas a little harder.]


Why does she have to be so irresistible?  So endearing?  And then…brother.

[ZACH yells in anger while he beats the shoe on the canvas as hard as he can.  Finally, he gets paint on his palm, and puts down the shoe to look at his hand.  He rubs his hand off on the canvas when JAMES enters.]


What’s going on down here?  I thought we were being robbed.  Then I remembered that I’m an artist and don’t have any valuables.  So I thought maybe they were beating you up.


Thanks for your concern.  Sorry if I woke you.

[JAMES walks over and looks at the battered canvas.]


Don’t sleep.  Hmm.  Interesting technique.  Could be improved upon.


You don’t sleep at all?


Sleep. Unconsciousness.  Nope.  Too close to death if you ask me.  No sound, no light.  If there aren’t things going on around me, how do I know I’m not dead?


Now, your painting.  What are you thinking?


Well, you see I’m not using a brush any more.


I see that…and hear that.


So in a way, it’s just the shoe that’s making the painting, but…


But what?


I still feel like I’m the one painting.  My identity, my being, is still too present.

[ZACH concentrates on his hand that is painted.]


Let me see your hand.  Put it in the paint.

[Paint goes everywhere.  ZACH points to the places on the canvas.]


Now put your hand on the canvas…here.  And two more times here, but now turn your hand to the right 45 degrees.  Good.


And so the artist is no longer the painter.  Congratulations, you are one step closer to nonexistence.  Ya know Zach, I think we need to sit down and just talk for a while.


 What is it?


I think you’re taking this whole sister thing too harshly.


Too harshly!  I’m attracted to my own sister. I’m a walking hotbed of sin!


You’re on your way towards a hot bed, that’s for sure.


This is not some kind of a joke, okay!  You can’t just throw the meaning around lightly like one of your little dumb ass sayings.  It means exactly what it is.


No.  You’re wrong.  What is love, anyway?  What is lust?  What more is incest than a dirty word that fanatics use to breed outcasts?  I think you need to stop giving yourself crap and start asking yourself “What” and “Why.”


I am! What in the hell are you talking about?


What bothers you most, that you lust after your sister or that you love her?  Are the two things the same? Do you believe that love is a choice or is it thrust upon us and… does it even matter?


Love isn’t a choice.


Well, in that case no one can help you.  But more importantly consider the “why.”  Why are you running?  Why are you so obsessed with these paintings?  Because of your feelings for your sister or is there something else from your past you just don’t want to remember?


This is not helpful.  Why do I even listen to you? That’s the question.  Thanks to you I know nothing more about myself.


Well hey, that’s what I thought you wanted.

[Studio lamps fade to black.]


[ZACH and CAROLE are walking together in the park.  ZACH’s hair is messy, his skin is pale and his eyes are red.  There is paint all over his clothing.]


What’s up with you, Zach?  You look like one of the homeless guys I used to talk to.


You know I’m not homeless.


Do you remember anything from our first home?


No. And I’m not sure if I want to.


Really?  Well, I remember something.


Oh, yeah.


I was small.  I don’t know how old.  And our parents were out that night so we had a sitter.  I know that because we watched TV that night.  Mom and dad never let us watch TV after dinner, remember?

There was a storm coming and the warnings were on the TV.  I hated storms because for some reason I thought that the lightening would come in the house and set it on fire.  I was in bed by myself and sooo scared.  I cried and cried, but the sitter didn’t hear me.  Finally, you came in my room and lay down with me.  You wrapped your arms around me and said that you would always protect me.  [She giggles.]  You told me that if there was a fire you would hide me in the bathtub and throw water on the fire until mom and dad got home.


Did I say that?


Yes, and I adored you for it.  It’s kind of ironic that I should remember that story – with the way mom and dad died when our house burned down.  Maybe I was seeing the future.

[She takes ZACH’s hand, but he rips it away.]


But what’s happened to that sweet, little boy who wanted to save me?


What do you mean?


I used to think that you were happy to see me, but now you just look at me like I’m slime or something.  You weren’t returning my calls so I went to your studio.


Don’t! You can go anywhere you want, but don’t go the studio!


Well, I did and I talked to James about you.  He said you were drinking and he showed me your most recent paintings – the one’s that look like bloody handprints.  He’s worried about you and I’m worried about you.  Why do you keep pushing people away when they want to help you?


What makes you think I need you’re help?  You don’t even belong here.  You think you can just show up and jump right into my life telling me what I should do.  Get out.  Get out of my head! Out!

[ZACH tries to run off across the park, but CAROLE grabs him.]


No! Listen to me!


Let me go!

[Without realizing it, ZACH has stared CAROLE in the face and now he can’t move.]


I never had to come find you, but I chose to.  I chose to because my brother was so brave that night.  And all those years in my foster home, when we were apart, I just kept thinking someday if I’m brave enough like my brother I’ll run away and find him.  Then he’ll be sooo proud of me.

I won’t apologize to you because I don’t know what I’ve done to make you angry.  But I wanted you to know that however you feel about me now, you did love me once and it meant a lot to me.

[She let’s ZACH go and he walks off through the park.  Lights fade to black.]


[ZACH is back on the roof of JAMES’ studio balanced with one foot over the edge of the roof.]



[He pulls his foot back in and picks up his monologue to the audience.]


Here I am.  Still…No one around.  Not even my dear, dear, sister.  What would she have to say?  “Don’t do it, Zach! I love you!” I kind of remember that night now- with the storm.  [He laughs.]  I may have really loved her once.  That’s exactly why I have to jump.  All these years I’ve blocked it out, but she never stops reminding me.  On the day of the fire I was playing with…something…some toys on top of the clothes dryer.  I accidently hit the on button and couldn’t turn it off.  I thought it would go off on it’s own.  But how was I supposed to know that it could get hot enough to start a fire.  It really wasn’t my fault, was it?

[He puts his foot out again.]


You know the canvas down there?  I have it rigged on a spring mechanism so that maybe my body won’t go right through it when I hit.  It also means that it might break my fall a little bit.  I might live.  But you will never know what really happens …that’s life…that’s art.

[ZACH leans forward farther and the streetlights fade to black.]

Battles on Stage in Shakespeare’s 3 Henry VI

The Death of Prince Edward

Battles, Death, And Revenge

The Third Part of King Henry the Six is one of Shakespeare’s most battle rich plays.  The narrative covers the time period from 1460-1471.  In those eleven years and only a few hours on stage, Shakespeare includes four large battles and several other fights.  This results in the question: How did Shakespeare make battles on stage seem realistic?  He couldn’t have had enough actors to represent several armies fighting each other and there certainly was not enough space on stage for a battlefield.  Some of the battle has to occur off stage or in the mind of the audience.  This was done with music and alarums which called the soldiers to arms.  As many actors as possible we asked to fight each other.  They made rapid entrances and exits from the stage to make it appear as if there were more soldiers.  The Elizabethan playhouse often times had an upper gallery or balcony to the stage.  This gallery would represent the defensive walls around cities where more fighting could take place.  In addition, battles were represented by one-on-one confrontations between the hero figures of both sides of the conflict.

Revenge is a huge part of this play and the cause for much of the gruesome violence in the narrative.  The relationships between fathers, sons, and brothers is especially important.  The deaths of fathers and brothers lead to sons and other brothers seeking vengeance.  First, the young man, the Earl Rutland, is murdered by Lord Clifford.  The Duke of York is laughed at and forced to wear a paper crown before facing his death.  Clifford then dies with an arrow through his neck.  Prince Edward and King Henry are ruthlessly stabbed multiple times.  Prince Edward is stabbed by several individuals one right after the other while Henry’s body is stabbed even after he is already dead.

3 Henry VI is mostly about how the male relationships in the play lead to violence and revenge.  The ultimate result of this is more grief for everyone including those who are more innocent.


Act 1 – The play begins with the Yorkist faction in parliament.  Richard Duke of York, Edward; York’s eldest son, Richard; York’s 2nd youngest son, the Earl of Warwick, Marquess Montague, and the Duke of Norfolk are all present.  They talk about how King Henry left his army behind and fled to London.  We learn that the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Clifford, Lord Stafford, the Duke of Somerset, and perhaps the Duke of Buckingham are all dead in the battle.  York is forward enough to sit on Henry’s throne.  The Lancastrian faction enters.  King Henry, Northumberland’s son, Clifford’s son, the Earl of Westmoreland, and the Duke of Exeter find York seated on the throne.  Northumberland’s son, Clifford’s son, and Westmoreland all swear to get revenge against York for killing their fathers.  Exeter moves to the Yorkist faction.  Henry makes an agreement with York.  For the rest of Henry’s life, York will leave Henry alone.  In exchange Henry will allow York’s sons to inherit the throne after Henry’s death.  Northumberland (the son), Clifford (the son), and Westmoreland curse Henry for disinheriting the prince.  Queen Margaret and Prince Edward enter.  Both of them are also angry at Henry.  The Queen divorces herself from Henry’s table and bed.  She hopes to raise her own army to fight against York.

Richard convinces York, his father, to break the deal he made with Henry.  York did not swear his oath in front of magistrates so it is technically not binding.  The Queen’s army moves to attack York’s castle.

Clifford, “the butcher,” kills York’s youngest son, the Earl of Rutland.

The Queen’s army defeats York.  Both of York’s uncles are killed in the battle.  Clifford, Northumberland, and the Queen capture York.  The Queen tells York that Rutland is dead.  York is deeply grieved.  Clifford kills York.  This means that York’s son, Edward, is the new Duke of York and also Henry’s main rival for the throne.

Act 2 – Richard and Edward find out that their father is dead.  Richard swears to get revenge against Clifford.  Warwick enters.  He tried to attack the Queen, but failed.  Warwick has taken his forces along with the army of the Duke of Norfolk to join up with Edward’s soldiers.  Edward will take the combined forces to London where Henry’s previous oath is trying to be annulled.  We learn that the Queen is getting ready to attack the Yorkists again.

In the town of York, Henry tells God that York’s death was not his fault.  Clifford says that Henry is a weak and bad father.  Henry defends himself by stating that he would rather leave his son a moral character than a crown.  Prince Edward is knighted and reinstated as Henry’s heir.  The Yorkists arrive.  It is obvious at this point that Queen Margaret is the true commanding entity in the defense of England’s throne.  A battle at York begins.

Warwick’s brother, who is not an acting character in the play, is killed and Warwick is moved to avenge him.

Richard and Clifford fight each other.  Warwick comes to the aid of Richard.  Clifford runs away and Richard is angry at Warwick for not allowing him to fight his own battles.

Queen Margaret does not let Henry participate in the battle.  Instead he is sitting around wishing he could be a shepherd.  Henry spots a son who has unknowingly killed his father in the war.  Then a man arrives who has unknowingly killed his son in the war.  Father, son, and king all grieve together.  The Queen’s army runs away to the border of Scotland.

Clifford dies with Richard’s arrow shot through his neck.  Edward, Richard, and Warwick head to London in order to claim the throne.  So far we know that Richard the Duke of York had several sons.  Edward is the oldest.  The next oldest is George.  Then there is Richard and the murdered Rutland.  At this point in the play, Edward makes George the Duke of Clarence and Richard becomes the Duke of Gloucester.

Act 3 – Two gamekeepers near Scotland find King Henry wandering around.  From Henry we learn that Queen Margaret and Prince Edward have gone to France in order to beg help from King Lewis of France.  Warwick is also on his way to King Lewis to ask that Lewis’ daughter, Bona, marry Edward the new King of England.  The gamekeepers find out who Henry is and take him prisoner.

Meanwhile, Edward blackmails Lady Grey into agreeing to marry him.  If she does choose to wed him, Edward will return the land to her children which was owned by her now dead husband.  Lady Grey has no choice but to accept or her children will have nothing.  Richard starts to make a plan to take the crown for himself.

In France, Warwick arranges Edward’s marriage to Bona.  A messenger arrives and tells King Lewis that Edward is already married to Elizabeth Grey.  King Lewis and Warwick than choose to support Queen Margaret and Henry.  Warwick’s daughter is to be married to Prince Edward.  France sends an army to England.

Act 4 – Richard and George greatly disapprove of Edward’s choice in marrying Lady Grey.  Edward has married off Lady Grey’s children to lesser lords instead of offering them to his brothers.  This moves the line of inheritance away from the York family.  Edward prepares an army to meet the one Warwick is bringing back from France.  George and the Duke of Somerset decide to join Warwick and the Lancastrian faction.

Edward’s troops are carelessly guarded in Warwickshire.  Warwick and his men attack them by surprise.  George is to marry Warwick’s other daughter.

Warwick and his soldiers capture Edward and take the crown away from Edward.  Next they will go to London to free Henry from where he was being held in the Tower of London.

Edward’s wife, Queen Elizabeth Grey, is pregnant.  She decides to hide from the fighting in a church sanctuary.

Richard, Lord Hastings, and Sir William Stanley save Edward from where he is being kept prisoner by the Archbishop of York.

Henry is released from the Tower.  He appoints Warwick and George the Duke of Clarence as Protectors of England while Henry lives out the rest of his life in seclusion and peace.  Warwick and Clarence learn of Edward’s escape.  Henry prophesies that Henry Earl of Richmond will one day be king (Henry VII).  The Duke of Somerset and the Earl of Oxford take Richmond to Brittany so that Richmond will be protected.

Edward has gone to Burgundy in France and raised an army.  He is now staying at York.

Edward re-captures Henry and goes after Warwick.

Act 5 – Warwick’s army is at Coventry.  The Earl of Oxford, Marquess Montague, and the Duke of Somerset arrive with soldiers to reinforce Warwick’s forces.  Edward arrives.  Clarence chooses to rejoin his brother.  Edward and Warwick agree to have a battle at Barnet.

Warwick and Montague die.

Edward goes to meet Queen Margaret’s army at Tewkesbury.

Prince Edward and Edward Duke of York give speeches to encourage their troops.  Queen Margaret, Prince Edward, the Earl of Oxford, and the Duke of Somerset are all taken prisoner by Edward.

Oxford is sent as a prisoner to France.  Somerset is beheaded.  Edward, Richard, and Clarence all stab Prince Edward to death in front of Queen Margaret.  Margaret begs them to killer her also, but they refuse; saying that she must live with her grief.  Richard leaves to go to the Tower of London where Henry is being held captive.

Richard stabs Henry to death in the Tower.  He continues to stab Henry’s body after Henry is dead.  Richard then tells us that he is planning on killing his brother Clarence next.

Edward is now King of England and calls for celebrations.  Queen Margaret is sent back to live with her father in France.


Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_VI,_Part_3

Text: Shakespeare, William.  “The Third Part of King Henry The Sixth.”  The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  Ed. David Bevington.  6th ed.  New York: Pearson/Longman, 2009.  Print.

Quotes from Shakespeare’s 3 Henry VI

Richard Duke of Gloucester [to Edward Duke of York]: “Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun,

Not separated with the racking clouds,

But severed in a pale clear-shining sky.

See, see!  They join, embrace, and seem to kiss,

As if they vowed some league inviolable.

Now are they but one lamp, one light, one sun.

In this the heaven figures some event (2.1.26-32).”

Before a battle Edward saw three suns in the sky.  He saw this as a good omen and so he represented himself in battle with an image of the sun .  In this above speech by Edward’s brother, Richard, the word sun could also be a play on words.  “Sun” could also mean “son.”  If this is true, the speech is also about the three sons of the Duke of York in this play or there are three sons who are joining together to seek revenge against the York family for killing their fathers.

Warwick [to Edward Duke of York]: “Then let the earth be drunken with our blood!

I’ll kill my horse, because I will not fly.

Why stand we like softhearted women here,

Wailing out losses, whiles the foe doth rage,

And look upon, as if the tragedy

Were played in jest by counterfeiting actors?

Here on my knee I vow to God above

I’ll never pause again, never stand still,

Till either death hath closed these eyes of mine

Or fortune given me measure of revenge (2.3.23-32).”

Here we see a common irony of Shakespeare’s to talk about his plays as plays in the performance.

Son: “Ill blows the wind that profits nobody.

This man, whom hand to hand I slew in fight,

May be possessèd of some store of crowns;

And I, that haply take them from him now,

May yet ere night yield both my life and them

To some man else, as this dead man doth me (2.5.55-60).”

This is an interesting way to think about war and mortality during times of war.  “Crowns” are a type of money – a coin.  “Haply” here means “by chance.”

King Henry [to Second Keeper]: “My crown is in my heart, not on my head;

Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones,

Nor to be seen.  My crown is called content;

A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy (3.1.62-4).”

I included this passage because I think it is a good description of King Henry’s character.  “Indian stones” are gems, in this case, most likely from India.

Richard Duke of Gloucester: “Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,

And cry “Content” to that which grieves my heart,

And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,

And frame my face to all occasions (3.2.182-85).”

This is also a good passage that describes the character of Richard, the son of Richard Duke of York.  Richard Duke of Gloucester is an actor who knows how to manipulate other characters into giving him what he wants.  There is more of this in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Warwick [to Richard Duke of Gloucester]: “I had rather chop this hand off at a blow,

And with the other fling it at thy face…(5.1.50-1)”

This is just a funny image.

Warwick: “Ah, who is nigh?  Come to me, friend or foe,

And tell me who is victor, York or Warwick?

Why I ask that?  My mangled body shows,

My blood, my want of strength, my sick heart shows,

That I must yield my body to the earth

And, by my fall, the conquest to my foe.

Thus yields the cedar to the ax’s edge,

Whose arms gave shelter to the princely eagle,

Under whose shade the ramping lion slept,

Whose top branch overpeered Jove’s spreading tree

And kept low shrubs from winter’s powerful wind.

These eyes, that now are dimmed with death’s black veil,

Have been as piercing as the midday sun

To search the secret treasons of the world.

The wrinkles of my brows, now filled with blood,

Were likened oft to kingly sepulchers;

For who lived king, but I could dig his grave?

And who durst smile when Warwick bent his brow?

Lo, now my glory smeared in dust and blood!

My parks, my walks, my manors that I had

Even now forsake me, and of all my lands

Is nothing left me but my body’s length.

Why, what is pomp, rule, reign, but earth and dust?

And, live we how we can, yet die we must (5.2.5-28).”

I love the end of this speech by Warwick.  It again is an interesting way of thinking on our own mortality.

King Henry [to Richard Duke of Gloucester]: “And thus I prophesy, that many a thousand,

Which now mistrust no parcel of my fear,

And many an old man’s sigh and many a widow’s,

And many an orphan’s water-standing eye –

Men for their sons’, wives for their husbands’,

Orphans for their parents’ timeless death –

Shall rue the hour that ever thou wast born.

The owl shrieked at thy birth – an evil sign;

The night crow cried, aboding luckless time;

Dogs howled, and hideous tempest shook down trees,

The raven rooked her on the chimney’s top;

And chatt’ring pies in dismal discords sung.

Thy mother felt more than a mother’s pain,

And yet brought forth less than a mother’s hope,

To wit, an indigested and deformèd lump,

Not like the fruit of such a goodly tree.

Teeth hadst thou in thy head when thou wast born,

To signify thou cam’st to bite the world (5.6.37-54).”

These last two speeches are here because they are both extremely foreboding of what is to come in the next play, Richard III.  I also love the above speech by Henry because it contains some great alliteration.  Alliteration in poetry is when multiple words – usually next to each other – repeat the same sounds in the first syllable.  For example: “The night crow cried,” “Dogs howled, and hideous tempest shook,” “The raven rooked,” and “dismal discords sung.”

Richard Duke of Gloucester: “Indeed ’tis true that Henry told me of;

For I have often heard my mother say

I came into the world with my legs forward.

Had I not reason, think ye, to make haste

And seek their ruin that usurped our right?

The midwife wondered and the women cried,

“Oh, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!”

And so I was, which plainly signified

That I should snarl and bite and play the dog.

Then, since the heavens have shaped my body so,

Let hell make crook’d my mind to answer it (5.6.69-79).”

There’s just something so creepy about a baby born with teeth.


Text: Shakespeare, William.  “The Third Part of King Henry The Sixth.”  The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  Ed. David Bevington.  6th ed.  New York: Pearson/Longman, 2009.  Print.

Commoners and Prophecies in Shakespeare’s 2 Henry VI

The Commoners

The common people are some of the most important characters in Shakespeare’s 2 Henry VI.  They manage to convince Henry to banish the Duke of Suffolk and then it is the common people who kill Suffolk for convincing Henry to make a poor marriage.  The commoner John Cade later leads a rebellion against Henry and scares the king and queen away from London.

The character of John Cade works as a parody to the behaviors and thoughts of the higher class lords in the play.  Readers may laugh at Cade’s idea of a utopian society where men drink only the best beer and everyone is dressed exactly the same.  However, this is not less amusing than the lords’ constant attempts to undo one another and gain more power for themselves.  The fickleness of the commoners also matches the the fickleness in which the lords take sides first with one person and then the other.  Through the commoners, Shakespeare has found a way for the entire play to seem ridiculous and entertaining.


Another important part of the play are the prophecies.  As in Greek drama, the predictions made in 2 Henry VI are ambiguous up until the moment in which they are fulfilled.  Prophecies in the play come in several forms.  First the Duchess has what is called a morning dream.  In folklore, dreams in the morning are thought to predict true events.  The conjurers also call forth a spirit which gives several prophecies – first that Suffolk will die by water and secondly that Somerset will die near a castle.  Both of these predictions come true, but not in the way the characters expect (see summary for more details).  These prophecies work as divine judgement showing that those who deserve a foul ending shall receive that foul ending.


Henry VI – In 1 Henry VI, Henry was still a young child who had only a small role in the play.  In 2 Henry VI, Henry is now a married man.  He still greatly relies on his Lord Protector, Gloucester, to make decisions for him.  We see that he is weak and easily influenced by the common people of England.  He is a very pious man who believes that events are God’s will and that God will make things turn out for the best.  Readers could see Henry as being pure of heart, but this reliance on God can also be seen as another weakness.

Duchess vs. Queen – Both of the female characters in the play are struggling to gain more power.  They are both described by male characters as being too proud and ambitious.  I agree that this might be true for the Queen, but not so true of the Duchess.  For some reason the Duchess is much more likeable than the Queen and the Duchess gains more of my sympathies.  The Duchess does seem kind of ridiculous trying to use witchcraft in order to become more powerful, but I have to admire her desire for wanting to continue to improve her life.  The Queen on the other hand is ambitious and also cruel to Henry.  She criticizes Henry for being closer to Gloucester than he is to her.  Yet all the while the Queen is in love with Suffolk.  Her ambitions are more selfish than the Duchess’s.

Alexander Iden – The character of Alexander Iden works in this play to be a contrast to all the other ambitious lords.  Iden is very content living just as he is and likes to have peace more than power.

Lieutenant vs. Master – When Suffolk is beheaded by the mariners there are two characters who are referred to as “captains.”  The Lieutenant is an officer and the Master is the man who actually pilots the ship.


Act 1 – The play opens with the Duke of Suffolk presenting Queen Margaret to Henry.  Suffolk has stood in as a representation of Henry at a marriage ceremony with Margaret in France.  Then Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector, discovers that with Henry’s marriage to Margaret, Henry has lost land in France and was given no dowry.  Gloucester blames Suffolk for this and accuses Cardinal Beaufort of wanting to be Lord Protector in order to control the king.  The Cardinal explains that Gloucester is upset about Henry’s marriage because Gloucester (Henry’s uncle) wants to be heir to the throne.  The Duke of Buckingham suggests that he, Suffolk, the Cardinal, and the Duke of Somerset should join together to get rid of Gloucester.  Somerset warns Buckingham to be wary of the Cardinal.  Then Buckingham says that he or Somerset could double-cross the Cardinal and try to become the Lord Protector instead of the Cardinal.  Next the Earl of Salisbury who is a supporter of the Yorkist faction, suggests that the other Yorkists should lie in wait until Buckingham and Somerset bring down the Cardinal and Suffolk.  Richard, Duke of York, agrees and will wait until the other characters bring about each other’s doom before trying to claim the throne for himself.

Eleanor, the Duchess of Gloucester wants to rule England herself and is using witchcraft to help her achieve this goal.  A priest called Hume is also helping her.  Hume just wants money and was also hired by the Cardinal and Suffolk to get rid of Gloucester by disgracing the reputation of his wife.

Queen Margaret is unhappy with Henry allowing himself to be ruled by Lord Protector Gloucester.  We learn that the Queen has an intense rivalry with Eleanor.  Henry makes Somerset the Regent of France.  Then Peter Thrump an apprentice to the armorer Thomas Horner accuses Horner of treason.  Horner had said that Richard was the true King of England.  Thrump and Horner are to duel each other.

Eleanor has Bolingbroke; a conjurer, Margery Jordan; a witch, and another priest called Southwell bring forth a spirit.  The spirit makes prophecies about Henry and a duke.  Suffolk will die by water and Somerset will die near a castle.  Then York and Buckingham appear and arrest the Duchess and her conjurers for performing dark magic.

Act 2 – Henry and a party are hawking at St.Albans.  Suffolk, the Cardinal, and the Queen start abusing Gloucester for being too ambitious.  Henry tries to make peace between them.  Gloucester and the Cardinal talk about dueling each other without letting Henry hear them.  Then Simpcox, a blind commoner, approaches them.  Simpcox claims that his blindness has been healed by the shrine at St.Albans.  Henry is astonished by the miracle until Gloucester proves that Simpcox is a fraud.  Simpcox and his wife are to be whipped.  Buckingham arrives and announces the arrest of the Duchess.  Gloucester banishes Eleanor from his bed and company.

York explains to Salisbury and the Earl of Warwick why he is rightfully king.  Salisbury and Warwick swear loyalty to York.  York plans to stay out of things while Suffolk, the Cardinal, Buckingham, Somerset, and Gloucester destroy each other.

Margery Jordan is sentenced to burn.  Hume, Bolingbroke, and Southwell are to be hung.  The Duchess is banished to the Isle of Man.  Henry demands that Gloucester give up his office of Lord Protector.  Finally, Peter Thrump kills Thomas Horner.

Gloucester speaks to Eleanor before she must leave.  The Duchess asks Gloucester not to be upset because his doom is coming soon.  Gloucester disagrees and says that he will be fine as long as he is loyal to Henry.  He has committed no crime like the Duchess has.  He doesn’t say good-bye to her.  The Duchess is taken to the Isle of Man by Sir John Stanley.

Act 3 – Henry holds a parliament meeting.  The Queen, Suffolk, the Cardinal, York, and Buckingham warn Henry about Gloucester’s supposed ambition.  Henry won’t listen to them.  Somerset informs Henry that all of England’s lands and titles in France have been lost.  Then Gloucester is arrested on false accusations made by the other lords.  Gloucester is held prisoner by the Cardinal.  Henry is so grieved that he leaves the meeting.  The Queen, the Cardinal, Suffolk, and York plan to have Gloucester murdered.  At this time it is also made known that there is a rebel uprising in Ireland.  York is sent with an army of men to control this uprising.  While York is gone, York will have a commoner called John Cade start an uprising in England.  Cade will use the name John Mortimer.  John Mortimer was entitled to the crown.  York hopes that this will scare Henry.

Gloucester is murdered before his trial.  Henry faints and the Queen complains that Henry loves Gloucester more than her (even though she does not love Henry in the first place).  Warwick arrives and blames the Cardinal and Suffolk for the murder of Gloucester.  Warwick and Suffolk briefly fight each other.  The commoners demand that Suffolk be banished or killed.  If Henry does not do one of these things, the commoners will kill Suffolk themselves.  Henry decides to banish Suffolk.  Next the Queen and Suffolk speak privately of their love for each other.  The Cardinal becomes deathly ill and might be seeing Gloucester’s ghost.  The Cardinal dies.

Act 4 – Suffolk is taken prison by a group of mariners.  He is beheaded by a man named Walter (pronounced “water” and so the prophecy is fulfilled).  Suffolk’s head is taken to Henry.

John Cade and his rebels are introduced.  Sir Humphrey Stafford and his son William are trying to stop the rebels.  Dick the butcher, one of the rebels, kills both of the Staffords.  Cade takes control of London Bridge.  Henry believes Cade to be a threat to him so Henry and the Queen leave London.  The battle moves to Smithfield.  Lord Scales, Lord Saye, and Matthew Gough are now leading an army against the rebels.  Lord Saye is beheaded.  Buckingham and a Lord Clifford arrive and convince Cade’s men to abandon Cade.

York returns to England with an Irish army.  He claims that Somerset is a traitor.  Henry puts Somerset in the Tower of London.

Cade is starving and in hiding.  He is found in the garden of a gentleman called Alexander Iden.  Iden kills Cade.

Act 5 – Henry makes Iden a knight.  Somerset is released from the Tower.  York and his sons (Richard and Edward) finally state that they are trying to take the throne from Henry.  Lord Clifford and his son choose to support Henry.

Battle begins.  York kills Lord Clifford and Clifford’s son swears to get revenge.  Richard, York’s son, kills Somerset under the sign for the Castle Inn (the rest of the prophecy is fulfilled).  Henry and the Queen escape and head back to London.  York and his forces decide to follow Henry back to London as well.


Image from: http://fuckyeahhistoryofbritain.tumblr.com/

Text: Shakespeare, William.  “The Second Part of King Henry The Sixth.”  The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  Ed. David Bevington.  6th ed.  New York: Pearson/Longman, 2009.  Print.

Quotes from Shakespeare’s 2 Henry VI

Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester [to Duke of Gloucester]: “Why droops my lord, like overripened corn,

Hanging the head at Ceres’ plenteous load?

Why doth the great Duke Humphrey knit his brows,

As frowning at the favors of the world?

Why are thine eyes fixed to the sullen earth,

Gazing on that which seems to dim thy sight?

What see’st thou there?  King Henry’s diadem,

Enchased with all the honors of the world?

If so, gaze on, and grovel on thy face,

Until thy head be circled with the same.

Put forth thy hand; reach at the glorious gold.

What, is’t too short?  I’ll lengthen it with mine;

And having both together heaved it up,

We’ll both together lift our heads to heaven

And nevermore abase our sight so low

As to vouchsafe one glance unto the ground (1.2.1-16).”

Eleanor is very ambitious to gain the throne for herself.  She doesn’t just want to be married to a king, she wants to be the king.  She criticizes her husband, the Duke of Gloucester, for not taking steps to improve his social ranking.

Ceres is the goddess of the harvest.  Enchased means adorned and “heaved it up” is referring to the crown.

Duchess of Gloucester: “Were I a man, a duke, and next of blood,

I would remove these tedious stumbling blocks

And smooth my way upon their headless necks;

And, being a woman, I will not be slack

To play my part in Fortune’s pageant (1.2.63-7).”

Duchess of Gloucester [to the Queen]: “Could I come near your beauty with my nails,

I’d set my ten commandments in your face (1.3.141-2).”

The Duchess and the Queen have a fierce rivalry.  The ten commandments were inscribed using fingernails.

Duke of Gloucester: “Thus sometimes hath the brightest day a cloud,

And after summer evermore succeeds

Barren winter, with his wrathful nipping cold;

So cares and joys abound, as seasons fleet (2.4.1-4).”

Duke of Suffolk: “Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep,

And in this simple show he [Duke of Gloucester] harbors treason.

The fox barks not when he would steal the lamb (3.1.53-5).”

King Henry [to God]: “O Thou that judgest all things, stay my thoughts,

My thoughts that labor to persuade my soul

Some violent hands were laid on Humphrey’s life!

If my suspect be false, forgive me, God,

For judgement only doth belong to Thee.

Fain would I go to chafe his paly lips

With twenty thousand kisses, and to drain

Upon his face an ocean of salt tears,

To tell my love unto the his dumb deaf trunk

And with my fingers feel his hand unfeeling.

But all in vain are these mean obsequies (3.2.136-46).”

I chose to include this passage because King Henry has such a strong passion for the Duke of Gloucester.  I found it touching.  I also really like the line, “And with my fingers feel his hand unfeeling.”

“Mean obsequies” means deficient funeral rites.

Duke of Suffolk [to the Queen]: “If I depart from thee, I cannot live,

And in thy sight to die, what were it else

But like a pleasant slumber in thy lap?

Here could I breathe my soul into the air,

As mild and gentle as the cradle babe

Dying with mother’s dug between its lips –

Where, from thy sight, I should be raging mad

And cry out for thee to close up mine eyes,

To have thee with thy lips to stop my mouth.

So shouldst thou either turn my flying soul,

Or I should breathe it so into thy body,

And then it lived in sweet Elysium.

To die by thee were but to die in jest;

From thee to die were torture more than death.

Oh, let me stay, befall what may befall (3.2.388-402)!”

This speech by the Duke of Suffolk is one of the most sensual and romantic speeches by Shakespeare that I can recall reading.  Suffolk has been banished from England, but wants to remain in the country in order to be close to his love, the Queen.

After death, a person’s soul was thought to leave the body through their mouth.  Elysium is where the souls of people go if they are favored by the gods.  So Suffolk is saying that he wishes for his soul to go into the body of the Queen when she kisses his dying lips.  His soul being part of her body would then be like living in a type of heaven.  In a way this is romantically describing sexual intercourse.  There is also a poetic term, la petite mort, which is French for “the little death.” In poetry and literature, la petite mort means that the act of dying is being compared to orgasm.  We see la petite mort in the third to last line of Suffolk’s speech.

John Cade [to his men]: “Be brave, then, for your captain is brave, and

vows reformation.  There shall be in England seven

halfpenny loaves sold for a penny, the three-hooped

pot shall have ten hoops, and I will make it felony to

drink small beer.  All the realm shall be in common,

And in Cheapside shall my palfry go to to grass.  And

when I am king, as king I will be –

All: God save Your Majesty!

Cade: I thank you, good people – there shall be no

money.  All shall eat and drink on my score; and I will

apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like

brothers and worship me their lord.

Dick, the butcher: The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers (4.2.62-74).”

I included this passage because of the famous last line, “Let’s kill all the lawyers.”


Shakespeare, William.  “The Second Part of King Henry The Sixth.”  The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  Ed. David Bevington.  6th ed.  New York: Pearson/Longman, 2009.  Print.

Shakespeare’s The First Part of King Henry the Sixth

War of the Roses

The Henry VI series of plays tells the story of The War of Roses so it’s good to have an idea of what this conflict was about before reading these plays.  The War of the Roses was a civil war in England named after the symbols with which the warring factions were represented.  King Henry VI came from the line of Lancastrian kings.  This family line got it’s name from the fact that they for many years possessed the dukedom of Lancaster.  The men who supported Henry VI became known as the Lancastrian faction and used the red rose as a symbol of their support of the king.

Then there was another faction called the Yorkist faction.  The Yorkists were led by Richard Plantagenet or the Duke of York.  Richard had a claim to the English throne through Henry IV’s uncle, Lionel the Duke of Clarence.  Richard and his followers planned to overtake Henry VI and put Richard on the throne.  These Yorkists  used a white rose to represent their faction.

Many of the people in Elizabethan England believed the War of the Roses to be a punishment from God for bad behavior of the English people and their kings. King Henry IV came to the throne by executing his own cousin.  And so the major sinning to gain power had begun.  Shakespeare does not make this idea clear in his Henry VI plays.  The only time it can be seen to come forth is in Richard III, the final play relating to the aftermath of The War of Roses.  This idea that The War of the Roses was a punishment of God, was used mainly as propaganda by the Tudor kings who held the throne after King Richard III.  The Tudor king, Hernry VII’s, coming to the throne was then seen not as another cause for his rivals to rebel, but as God’s divine will.

Notes on Characters

– Henry VI: One thing that makes 1 Henry VI different from the other history plays is that Henry VI is a child throughout the play and is not crowned king until act 4.  Henry VI being a child adds to England’s predicament with the continuing battles with France and the forming of the Yorkist faction against the king.

– Falstaff: The knight called Falstaff in this play is not the same character that Shakespeare used in the Henry IV plays.  However, he could be a starting point for Shakespeare’s further developing the character later on in the Henry IV plays.

Order Of Plays

One important thing to note about Shakespeare’s histories is that the plays were not written in historically chronological order.    Shakespeare wrote the Henry VI series before he wrote the Henry IV series of plays.   Therefore, the order in which they were written is backward from the chronological order in which the events in the plays occurred in history. In fact, 1 Henry VI is thought to be the play that first concretely defined the genre of history play in England.  This fact might help you remember which plays were actually written first.

I have chosen to read the plays in order of historical events.  Choosing this order for reading the plays has made it easier for me to understand and follow the plots in the plays and has taught me a lot about English history.  However, if you’re interested in learning more about the development and changes in the use of language by Shakespeare, I suggest reading the history plays in the order that Shakespeare wrote them (Henry VI and then Henry IV).

Another good thing to remember about the order of the plays is that Richard II acts as a prequel to the Henry IV series and that Richard III is a kind of epilogue to the Henry VI series.


Act 1 – The play begins with the funeral of King Henry V.  On stage are the Duke of Bedford; Henry VI’s uncle and regent of France, the Duke of Gloucester; also Henry VI’s uncle and Lord Protector.  As Lord Protector Gloucester is in charge of ruling England until the young Henry VI is old enough to rule.  Also present on stage at this time are the Duke of Exeter; Henry VI’s great-uncle, and the Bishop of Winchester; another great-uncle to Henry VI.  The four men mourn the loss of King Henry V and ask that the King’s ghost protect England.  We learn that the French have reclaimed the cities Henry V previously won in France.  There is a new king in France, Charles VII, and this means that England has lost all titles in regards to France.  We learn that Lord Talbot, England’s bravest soldier in France, has recently suffered a defeat in France because of the cowardice of one of his knights, Falstaff.  Talbot has been taken prisoner.  Gloucester wishes to crown Henry VI king of England.  Winchester decides that he will try to control the young king in ways that will benefit the Church.  Next, Charles, the Dauphin of France tests Joan of Arc or Joan Le Pucelle to see if she is truly led by the divine.  Charles disguises Reignier, the Duke of Anjou, as the Dauphin.  Joan enters the chamber and immediately sees through Charles’ trick.  Charles decides to trust Joan to lead the French to victory against the English.  A rivalry rises between Gloucester and Winchester and they have an argument.  There is a battle at Orleans, France.  The English Earl of Salisbury is killed along with Sir Thomas Gargrave.  Joan and Talbot fight in the battle.  The French come out victorious and Charles decides to have a celebration.

Act 2 – While the French are unwary after their parties, Talbot attacks Orleans once more.  This time he manages to take back the city for England.  A sexual relationship between Joan and Charles is hinted at.  A funeral is held for the Earl of Salisbury.  Talbot is called to visit the Countess of Auvergne who plans on capturing Talbot.  Talbot, however, shows her his power and she decides to let him go free.  At this point the factions of the house of York and the house of Lancaster are created.  The Yorkists are headed by Richard Plantagenet who wants Henry off the throne.  Richard’s supporters include the Earl of Warwick and and a man named Vernon.  The Lancastrians or supporters of Henry VI include the Duke of Somerset and the Earl of Suffolk.  Richard goes to visit his uncle Mortimer at the Tower of London.  Mortimer tells Richard how their bloodline has been undone, which makes Richard more sure of his desire to get rid of Henry.

Act 3 – There is another argument between Gloucester and Winchester.  Henry VI makes Richard the Duke of York before preparing to go to France to be crowned king.  The French gain possession of the city of Rouen.  The Duke of Bedford dies and then England has no regent in France.  Talbot is going to see Henry VI.  Henry VI makes Lord Talbot the Earl of Shrewsbury.

Act 4 – Henry VI is crowned King of England.  The Governor of Paris swears loyalty to England.  Knighthood is taken from Falstaff because he is a coward.  The Duke of Burgundy, a Frenchmen had been fighting for England.  At this point he is convinced by Joan to rejoin the French.  Burgundy does so.  Henry sends Talbot to chastise Burgundy.  Richard is made the new Regent of France.  Somerset is to work with him.  Talbot goes to attack the city of Bordeaux and Charles.  Somerset is supposed to bring extra forces to join Richard’s army.  The combined forces will then go to Bordeaux to help Talbot.  However, Somerset is late in meeting up with Richard.  Richard blames Somerset for Talbot’s defeat while Somerset blames Richard.  Talbot’s son, John arrives to fight at Bordeaux.  Talbot asks John to leave, but John refuses.  John asks his father to leave the battle, but Talbot also refuses.  Father and son end up fighting and dying together.  Charles goes to Paris after the victory at Bordeaux.

Act 5 – Henry is given an offer of marriage to the daughter of the French Earl of Armagnac.  This would be a very good match that will bring power and peace to England.  Winchester, now a cardinal, is still keen on gaining power over Gloucester.  Paris then revolts against England.  The English attack the French city of Angiers.  Joan uses black magic to call upon evil fiends to help her in battle.  The fiends refuse to be of service.  Richard captures Joan.  The Earl of Suffolk falls in love with Margaret, the daughter of Reignier.  Suffolk is already married so he decides to woo Margaret for Henry.  Richard orders Joan to be burned at the stake.  She claims that she is pregnant in order to save her life – pregnant women were not to be executed.  Richard then mocks her for claiming to be a virgin.  Joan then can’t say who the father is.  Richard takes this to mean that she has had so many sexual relationships it is impossible for her to know who the true father is.  He sends her to burn.  England and France come to peaceful terms.  Suffolk tells Henry about the beauty of Margaret.  Henry becomes set on marrying Margaret even though he had already agreed to marry the daughter of Armagnac.  Margaret will not be a beneficial match, but Henry still wants to make her his queen.  The play ends with Suffolk stating his desires for having power over the new queen and the king.


Image from: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/30167/30167-h/30167-h.htm#Page_47

Text: Shakespeare, William.  “The First Part of King Henry The Sixth.”  The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  Ed. David Bevington.  6th ed.  New York: Pearson/Longman, 2009.  Print.