© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

Off with his head Introduction

I'm Margaret. I'm gutsy, bold, and fearless. When my husband turns out to be weak, I take over for him. As King. And you know what I think?

Off with his head, and set it on York gates;
So York may overlook the town of York. (1.4.179-180)

Who Said It and Where

If you've ever heard someone say there are no strong women in Shakespeare's plays (and we hope they're not saying that), then look no further than Margaret in Henry VI, Part I, II, and III, and Richard III. That should silence any naysayers.

Margaret is a tour de force. She's not just caught up in the politicking and murdering that happens in these history plays, she's often at the heart of it, committing treacherous acts all by herself thankyouverymuch.

When Henry VI (the King) agrees to marry her back in Henry VI, Part I, Margaret thinks she's made it big. But it turns out he's quite feeble and scrawny when it comes to standing up to, well, anyone. So what's a girl to do? Instead of wallowing in self-pity or accepting her fate, Margaret takes matters into her own hands.

In other words, she takes over. And we don't mean in a casual, tender kind of way. She goes guns-a-blazing into her new role as Henry VI's wife by making all the decisions a king is required to make. She raises an army, stabs people to death, and plots against just about everyone.

Of course this doesn't go over well with her enemies—or her friends for that matter. People call her unnatural and think she's demonic because she's a woman in a man's role. But that only adds fuel to the fire for Margaret, who, incidentally, doesn't care what people think of her.

So by the time we get to this play, Henry VI, Part III, Margaret has racked up a lot of enemies. York is certainly one of them. Margaret's hubby (the actual king) has promised York the crown after he dies, but Margaret is not having any of it. She summons an army to fight York and even kills his son, Rutland.

When she visits him in prison here, Margaret takes a hanky dipped in Rutland's blood and waves it around in Richard's father's face. Um, yeah—not so nice. After some name-calling and papier-mâché crown making, York explodes, calling Margaret abnormal among other things.

Margaret's classic response is simple: she kills him and put his head on the city gates for all to see. If anyone was guessing her power before (and we don't think anyone was), they certainly aren't now.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...