Henry VI, Part 2 presents a kind of story that was popular before Shakespeare began writing, tracing the fall of powerful individuals to their untimely deaths. The first to go is the Duke of Gloucester, Lord Protector of England and the most powerful man in the kingdom, who is murdered after his wife goes into exile.
Next to meet a bad end is the Duke of Suffolk, the queen’s lover, who rules England through her. After Suffolk conspires with the cardinal of Winchester to kill Gloucester, he is banished and assassinated. The cardinal dies raving of his own guilt.
Ultimately, the king’s weakness lies behind these events. Preferring spiritual contemplation, he has left others to contend for power. Now his liberty is at risk as Jack Cade, and then the Duke of York, rise against him. The play leaves us in suspense about Henry’s fate by ending with the start of the Wars of the Roses—a conflict setting the white rose of the Duke of York against the red rose of King Henry, of the House of Lancaster.
The authoritative edition of Henry VI, Part 2 from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play -Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play -Scene-by-scene plot summaries -A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases -An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language -An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play -Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books -An annotated guide to further reading
Essay by Nina Levine
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England’s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children—an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death.