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Small curs are not regarded when they grin;But great men tremble when the lion roars;
—Queen Margaret, III.i
A history play by William Shakespeare, Henry VI Part 2 is the second of three plays describing the end of the Hundred Years War and the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses. In this installment, King Henry VI meets his manipulative wife Margaret; the trusted Duke of Gloucester is assassinated; the people stage a rebellion; and Richard, Duke of York, plots to take control of the throne. The other plays in the series are Henry VI Part 1 and Henry VI Part 3.
We begin with the marriage of Henry to Margaret -- however, Suffolk's plan to dominate the King may be scuppered by the Duke of Gloucester: popular, honest and trusted by the king. He conspires with other members of the court to disgrace and then murder Gloucester, but is himself exiled and killed for the crime.
Meanwhile, the Duke of York stakes his claim to the throne (which is at least as good as Henry's), and the Dukes of Salisbury and Warwick pledge their support. York is given the command of a Royal Army to suppress a rebellion in Ireland, but before he embarks, he arranges a rebellion against the crown by a former officer of his, Jack Cade. (This is the context of Dick the Butcher's immortal line, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers!") Cade claims to be descended from the same line as York -- this will test the public's reaction to the claim, and also provide York with an excuse to return to England at the head of an army.
Cade captures London, but proves himself to be a tyrant and Lord Clifford is able to persuade the commoners to abandon him in favour of King Henry. York returns with his army and, finding his thunder stolen by Clifford, declares that he wishes to protect the King from the treachery of Lord Somerset. When Henry rejects this, York openly declares his claim to the throne and, supported by his sons Edward and Richard, fights and wins a battle against the Royal forces. England's nobility choose sides as the King flees alongside Margaret and Young Clifford, whose father was killed in the battle.
- Anti-Hero: Many. Not many real heroes.
- The Butcher: Dick the Butcher, whose title is a pun
- Cassandra Truth: Several people, including the witch Margery Jourdain.
- A Child Shall Lead Them: Henry mentions he was crowned at nine months old. Averted in that it's made clear that the ensuing power vacuum caused incredible civil strife.
- The Clan: Several, but especially the House of York.
- Decapitation Presentation: There are lots of disembodied heads floating around in this play, and although this action is not mentioned explicitly in the stage directions many directors do it anyway, 'cause it looks
- Decoy Leader: Cade, who is standing in for Richard of York
- Everyone Is Related: Expected, given that almost every major character is of noble blood and there's not that much to go around.
- Evil Lawyer Joke: Cade's declaration in Part II that "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
- Feuding Families: York and Lancaster.
- Finishing Each Other's Sentences: One performance of part 2 has the pirates finish Suffolk's last speech.
- God Save Us From the Queen: Margaret is quite happy to go into battle in place of her husband (in Part 3, she personally murders the youngest York boy, Rutland).
- Handicapped Badass: Richard's pretty good in battle, in spite of his crooked back, gimp arm, and short leg.
- It Got Worse: First, the popular and successful Henry V dies of dysentery in his twenties. His heir is a baby. The nobles squabble over the regency, creating civil unrest. England's territory in France is lost. Then there's a rebellion. Then Richard of York tries to usurp the throne and kicks off the Wars of the Roses, one of the bloodiest periods in English history (the Battle of Towton alone killed 28,000 - about 1% of the entire English population at the time) and we haven't even got to Richard III yet.
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Meaningful Name: The rebel Jack Cade is killed, restoring peace, in a garden by a bloke called Alexander Eden.
- Non-Action Guy: Henry VI, a bookish and pious ruler when England really needed a strong warrior.
- Obfuscating Disability: Gloucester proves that a man who claims to have been divinely cured of blindness is a charlatan.
- Sarcastic Devotee: Dick the Butcher, who counters every statement Cade makes with a joke, but is still the greatest fighter in his rebellion
- Sinister Minister: The Bishop of Winchester, later Cardinal of Winchester, is half brother to the Duke of Gloucester and openly wars with him for control of the crown.
- Start of Darkness: Richard Duke of Gloucester, on his way to becoming Richard III.
- Turncoat: Warwick once.