Henry VI Part III

I really enjoyed attending the Shakespeare Allowed reading yesterday afternoon in the library. The group of readers was welcoming and friendly, but since it was my first time I sat back, listening and reading silently, rather than joining in the reading aloud. They read in a round robin style, just going around a circle with each person reading one line, then the next person reading the next, so that no parts were assigned. This contributed to the egalitarian feeling of the group, but made a somewhat scattered listening experience, as I couldn’t connect a particular voice with a character. I’ve been spoiled by audiobooks.

Blazing through the first two parts of Henry VI in the last 24 hours before yesterday’s reading, I was surprised in a few things. First of all, I was shocked to see Joan of Arc portrayed summoning demons, then trying to save herself from burning by saying she’s pregnant and naming several possible fathers. I guess the history plays are nationalistic, and anti-French sentiment was still strong in Shakespeare’s day. Part II is a bloodbath. It seems like an entire generation gets wiped out, and most of the murders are not in fair fights, but in ambushes. Jack Cade’s rebellion had a strange anti-intellectual tone. Like most second parts of a trilogy, it seemed the weakest of the three.

In reading Part III, the group laughed at Edward’s frank courting of Lady Rivers and the insults given to Queen Margaret. We enjoyed the villainy of York in the beginning, but felt some surprise at his cruel demise. The ending, when Margaret of Anjou curses King Edward for killing her son, is eerie when you know that Edward does eventually lose his own sons. They were the famous lost princes in the tower. In Phillipa Gregory and other books I’ve read concerning the period, the murder of those York princes in the tower seems like the original sin that every royal narrative since has tried to explain or justify.

Next month, on April 7, the group will read Richard III. I doubt I’ll be able to come, as it’s the day before Easter.

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