Bloody war rages back and forth across England as the Yorkists and Lancastrians clash. Sides are changed and promises broken and Henry’s wish for a quiet life ends badly.
Source : All three plays have been from the New Cambridge Shakespeare series.
Starting where part 2 ended, Henry agrees to pass the crown to York if he is allowed to live out his natural life as King, much to the anger of Queen Margaret and her son Prince Edward, who will lose his right to succession. But both sides renege on the deal, and Margaret raises an army. York’s youngest son is killed in cold blood by Clifford, and York is captured and cruelly mocked by Margaret with the fate of his son before he too is killed.
The three surviving sons of York; Edward, Richard and George, along with the Earl of Warwick, continue the battle, and King Henry is really just a cipher, playing no role other than an inconvenient figure firmly pushed to the background by both parties, and an embarrassment to his own family. At one point he sits and bemoans his fate, yet again is overshadowed by the suffering of the common people forced into war as a son accidentally kills his own father, and a father kills his own son in the confusion and chaos.
The brothers are triumphant, and the eldest, Edward takes the throne. Warwick sets off to France to arrange a marriage between Edward and King Louis’ sister Bona, but meanwhile lascivious Edward marries the widowed Lady Elizabeth Grey, and insults Louis and Warwick, driving them both to side with Margaret and the young displaced Prince. More battles and deaths, until finally the Yorkists reassert their position and again Edward of York takes the crown. But in the background his brother Richard, twisted in mind and body, will stop at nothing to become king. He has already had a hand in killing the young Prince Edward and has murdered Henry, and is plotting to clear a path to the throne through his own relatives next.
Several excellent quotes:
Henry musing on how much better a simple shepherd’s life would be
“Ah what a life were this! How sweet how lovely!
Gives not the hawthorn bush a sweeter shade to shepherds looking on their silly sheep
Than doth a rich embroidered canopy to kings that fear their subjects’ treachery?
O yes it doth ; a thousandfold it doth.”
Act 2, scene 5, lines 41-46
Dying Warwick agrees it wasn’t worth it in the end
“Why, what is pomp, rule, reign but earth and dust? And live we how we can, yet die we must.”
Act 5, scene 2, lines 27-28
And Richard plots the deaths of those that still stand between him and the crown, his own brothers and nephew
“And one by one I will dispatch the rest, Counting myself but bad till I be best.”
Act 5, scene 6, lines 91-92
Personal rating: 7/10
Before moving onto the next plays, I plan to watch the recent television production The Hollow Crown which covers these plays and features a stellar cast including Benedict Cumberbatch as soon to be King Richard III.