(7) Snow Line
If you're reading Henry VI Part 2, then you've probably already read Henry VI, Part 1,so Shakespeare's Elizabethan language might be getting a little easier to manage by now. Also, the play offers some really interesting and accessible ideas about power, ambition, and weakness. We might not have access to a sparkling crown, but we know what it's like to want something really badly, so it's not too hard to figure out what these are feeling.
Still, the sheer number of characters constantly strolling on and off stage makes the play a little tricky to follow at times.
This play has Shakespeare's largest cast, so it's a chore to follow who's who. Never fear: we're here to help. You probably noticed that a lot of characters in this play have multiple names, or the same name, which can make things pretty confusing. Let's talk about why that is.
Here's the deal: members of the English nobility were named after the land their families controlled. For example, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York is often called "York."
Think of it this way. Let's say your name's "Sam" and you were born in Oakland but you own all the land in San Francisco because you inherited it from your dad. Your official name is "Sam of Oakland, Duke of San Francisco," and your friends call you either "Oakland" or "San Francisco" for short. (No one, however, calls you Frisco, because no one ever calls anything Frisco.)
If you're having trouble keeping up with who's who, check out this character circle. It'll tell you who hangs out with whom, and who just de-friended someone on Facebook.
The British Monarchy
Shakespeare wrote a lot of history plays about kings, all of whom had pretty similar names. He didn't write in order: he wrote the Henry VI trilogy before he wrote Henry V, for example. Want to see how it all went down historically? Here's a handy little timeline for you:
- Richard II (1377-1399)
- Henry IV (1399-1413)
- Henry V (1413-1422)
- Henry VI (1422-1461) first reign
- Edward IV (1461-1470) first reign
- Henry VI (1470-1471) second reign
- Edward IV (1471-1483) second reign
- Edward V (1483)
- Richard III (1483-1485)
Now, Shakespeare didn't write plays about all of those dudes; he just wrote about the Richards and Henrys. That means that in historical order (not the order in which they were written), the timeline looks like this: Richard II → Henry IV, Part 1 → Henry IV, Part 2 → Henry V → Henry VI, Part 1→ Henry VI, Part 2→ Henry VI, Part 3→ Richard III.