Study Guide

Henry VI Part 2 What's Up With the Title?

By William Shakespeare

What's Up With the Title?

If you saw the title Henry VI, Part 2 and thought, "Hey, this looks like the second part of a series of plays about Henry VI," then we've got some serious news for you: you're totally right.

There's more to the story, though.

The titles of Shakespeare's plays weren't always this simple. If we were to pick up one of the first published editions of this play, we'd get a lot more information. Why is that? Well, Elizabethan publishers were always taking it upon themselves to add a little something extra to spice up title pages. The 1594 Quarto, for example, reads like this:

The First part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, with the death of the good Duke Humphrey: And the banishment and death of the Duke of Suffolke, and the Tragicall end of the proud Cardinall of VVinchester, vvith the notable Rebellion of Jacke Cade: And the Duke of Yorkes first claime vnto the Crowne.
(We have it on good authority that this will be the title of Fiona Apple's next album, by the way.)

Anyway, all that extra information could be useful, don't you think? From that title, we get a whole synopsis of the play. Humphrey (Gloucester) dies; Suffolk is banished; Winchester (Beaufort) comes to an end, or dies; Jack Cade rebels; and York tries to get the crown.

But some people think we also get the 411 on how Shakespeare wrote these plays from this long title. If it's true that Shakespeare penned (or should we say quilled?) this play before he wrote Henry VI, Part 1, then it would make sense that the first time this play was printed, it was known as "the first part." Translation: he hadn't written the prequel yet.

No one is sure yet whether Part 1 or Part 2 was written first, but this could be a big clue. Who knew you could learn so much about a play just by reading a title?

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