Action packed scenes of king-making and king-thwarting. The crown goes back and forth between Henry and Edward, each of them king twice in this part. People jump quickly across the line between sworn enemies and friends for life.
Act 1 Scene 1 is in Parliament, where Henry vows to cede his throne to the Duke of York once he dies peacefully (instead of Prince Henry, his son). Queen Margaret is incensed by Henry’s betrayal, raises an army against York. Lord Clifford seeks out York’s youngest son, a mere boy, and kills him (Rutland), relishing in the blood on his sword that is later transferred to a handkerchief Margaret offers York at his death-point. (At one point, Margaret exclaims, “Alas, poor York!” which seems to my ear to echo the famous “Alas poor Yorick” in Hamlet)
York rages against Margaret before he dies:
‘Tis beauty that doth oft make women proud,
But, God He knows, thy share thereof is small.
‘Tis virtue that doth make them most admired;
The contrary doth make the wondered at.
‘Tis government that makes them seem divine;
The want thereof makes thee abominable.
O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide!
How couldst thou drain the lifeblood of the child
To bid the father wipe his eyes withal,
And yet be seen to bear a woman’s face?
Act 2, the Yorks hear of their father’s death, kill Clifford, Warwick the king-maker hatches plans of claiming the crown for Edward in London then solidifying the relationship with France by betrothing the French princess to Edward. Richard becomes Duke of Gloucester (which he protests “Gloucester’s dukedom is too ominous” because of all the violent deaths of the Dukes of Gloucester), George becomes Duke of Clarence, Edward becomes King.
Act 3: Henry wanders Scotland in exile, is snatched up by hunters and delivered to the Tower of London. Lady Grey pleads to King Edward for her late husband’s estate to be returned to her, Edward suggests that she sleep with him for this favor, she refuses, he asks her to marry him, which thwarts Warwick’s French mission. Richard soliloquizes about all the murder he’ll have to carry out to obtain the throne. In France, they learn of Edward’s marriage, which turns Warwick against him and allied to Margaret.
Act 4: People desert Edward when they learn that Warwick is leading an army against him, go to join Warwick. Queen Elizabeth (nÃ©e Lady Grey) goes into hiding with Edward’s baby. Edward is captured, Henry becomes King again. Edward escapes, gathers an army.
Act 5: Edward & Richard attack Warwick in Coventry. Warwick dies, along with Montague. Richard kills Henry in the Tower of London, Edward re-kinged, united with his baby son.
Henry VI to Richard, right before he is killed:
Teeth hadst thou in thy head when thou wast born,
To signify thou camest to bite the world.
And, if the rest be true which I have heard,
Thou camest ———-
Nobody does violence like Old Shakes.