Study Guide

Henry VI Part 2 Gender

By William Shakespeare

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Shall Henry's conquest, Bedford's vigilance,
Your deeds of war, and all our counsel die?
O peers of England, shameful is this league,
Fatal this marriage, cancelling your fame,
Blotting your names from books of memory,
Razing the characters of your renown,
Defacing monuments of conquered France,
Undoing all, as all had never been! (1.1.101-108)

Gloucester argues that Margaret was just a means to an end—a mere conquest and nothing more, so she's not worth losing the lands in France. As if that didn't make his point crystal clear, he compares her to the Fates (goddesses who control everyone's destiny), just because she's a woman. Basically, he's pointing out that she's the cause of all Henry's problems because she's a woman. He's got 99 problems and she is one. (Okay, actually, she's like 98 of them.)

Follow I must; I cannot go before
While Gloucester bears this base and humble mind.
Were I a man, a duke, and next of blood,
I would remove these tedious stumbling blocks
And smooth my way upon their headless necks;
And, being a woman, I will not be slack
To play my part in Fortune's pageant.— (1.2.63-69)

As Eleanor thinks about how Gloucester has just told her to stop dreaming of the crown, she decides to hire witches to learn—and possibly influence—the future. That may not seem like a huge step, but it was totally illegal; it was even punishable by death. Even so, Eleanor confesses she would do more if she were a man.

Madam, the king is old enough himself
To give his censure. These are no women's matters.
If he be old enough, what needs your Grace
To be Protector of his Excellence? (1.3.119-122)

There's a war brewing between Margaret and Gloucester about whether Gloucester should be Protector or not. Here, Gloucester rolls out the heavy artillery and claims that Margaret should just stay at home and not get involved with politics; after all, she's a woman. It's clear that Gloucester thinks women have no place in the world of politics; he's now told both Eleanor and Margaret to butt out. Maybe they wouldn't have to resort to such devious measures if they were just allowed into the political world to begin with?

The reverent care I bear unto my lord
Made me collect these dangers in the Duke.
If it be fond, call it a woman's fear,
Which fear, if better reasons can supplant,
I will subscribe and say I wronged the Duke. (3.1.34-38)

Margaret is talking about her intuition here. She says she feels inexplicably scared about Gloucester not coming to court. We could tell you that she's really trying to plant suspicion in Henry's mind, but we also want to point out that she's doing it through gender stereotypes. She's the queen (literally) of pointing something out and then saying, oh, whoops, that's probably just because I'm a woman. We'll give her this: she uses the weapons she has, and she uses them well.

I rather would have lost my life betimes
Than bring a burden of dishonor home
By staying there so long till all were lost.
Show me one scar charactered on thy skin.
Men's flesh preserved so whole do seldom win. (3.1.299-303)

York blames Somerset for doing a poor job as regent. How? By talking about his manliness, of course. Somerset doesn't have scars or war wounds like men are apparently supposed to have, so he's not a real man. Hmm… by that definition, who else doesn't live up to York's standards of what it means to be a man? Why is going to war considered inherently manly? What if—gasp—there are no wars to go to?

Fie, coward woman and soft-hearted wretch!
Hast thou not spirit to curse thine enemies? (3.2.318=319)

When Margaret and Suffolk are saying their heartfelt goodbyes, she says this about women. It's not clear whether Margaret is targeting herself or Suffolk with this comment. What is clear, however, is that it's an insult: Margaret's annoyed that they are crying instead of showing strength.

There shall not a maid be married but she shall
pay to me her maidenhead ere they have it. Men
shall hold of me in capite; and we charge and command
that their wives be as free as heart can wish
or tongue can tell. (4.7.121-125)

As Cade sets up the rules for his new kingdom, he says that all women will belong to men. So if you're a woman, you won't have the right to choose who to hang out with... or go out with. In fact, in Cade's kingdom, even married women will be common property (translation: any guy can sleep with her whenever he wants). It's a man's world for Cade.

Better ten thousand baseborn Cades miscarry
Than you should stoop unto a Frenchman's mercy.
To France, to France, and get what you have lost!
Spare England, for it is your native coast.
Henry hath money; you are strong and manly.
God on our side, doubt not of victory. (4.8.48-53)

Clifford convinces the rebels to join the king's side again by appealing to their "manly" side. Fighting for the king is the manly thing to do, right? Clifford's little speech persuades the commoners to quit their rebellion. It's clear that everyone wants to be thought of as strong and manly in this play, even if that means switching loyalties every other minute.

Come, thou new ruin of old Clifford's house;
As did Aeneas old Anchises bear,
So bear I thee upon my manly shoulders.
But then Aeneas bare a living load,
Nothing so heavy as these woes of mine. (5.2.62-66)

Poor Young Clifford. His dad has just died, so he's super upset. As he's crying over his father's body, he tries to convince himself that this crying is manly because the shame of it will prompt him to seek out vengeance for his father's death. Right. We're not quite sure that's true, but we do find it surprising that even in moments of deep sadness, the men aren't allowed to show a soft side without being called a woman. Ever.

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