Study Guide

Henry VI Part 2 Lies and Deceit

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Lies and Deceit

Pirates may make cheap pennyworths of their
And purchase friends and give to courtesans,
Still reveling like lords till all be gone;
While as the silly owner of the goods
Weeps over them and wrings his hapless hands,
And shakes his head and trembling stands aloof,
While all is shared and all is borne away,
Ready to starve and dare not touch his own.
So York must sit and fret and bite his tongue
While his own lands are bargained for and sold. (1.1.231-241)

York tells us he's just pretending to be on board with the king until he can get the crown for himself. He knows he's lying, but it doesn't seem to bother him, because he believes in what he's doing. The fact that he thinks of himself as a pirate just makes us wonder whether even pirates can justify their actions to themselves. Is York's ambition different from Margaret's and Suffolk's?

As for your spiteful false objections,
Prove them, and I lie open to the law;
But God in mercy so deal with my soul
As I in duty love my king and country! (1.3.159-162)

Gloucester is a pretty straightforward type of guy: he comes right out and tells his challengers they are lying about him. He says he's always got Henry's best interest at heart, but if these people can prove that he's been doing anything wrong, then he'll be a liar. He plays around with the idea of lying and deception as a way of calling the other nobles' bluff.

Then, Sander, sit there, the lying'st knave
in Christendom. If thou hadst been born blind,
thou mightst as well have known all our names as
thus to name the several colors we do wear. Sight
may distinguish of colors; but suddenly to nominate
them all, it is impossible. (2.1.139-144)

It looks like lying to get something from the king isn't limited to nobles. In fact, Simpcox goes out of his way to get to Henry's side by proclaiming he can see for the first time in his life. There's just one flaw in his plan: Gloucester's attention to detail. While everyone else is yelling "miracle," Gloucester gets the truth out of the guy with a little color test. Everyone agrees that Simpcox is pathetic, and he's compared to the other liars in the play… specifically, the nobles. Is Simpcox's lying different from their lying?

Is he a lamb? his skin is surely lent him,
For he's inclined as is the ravenous wolves.
Who cannot steal a shape that means deceit?
Take heed, my lord; the welfare of us all
Hangs on the cutting short that fraudful man. (3.1.78-82)

Here, Margaret is saying that Gloucester is worse than a boldfaced liar. He appears honest, but he's actually deceitful, so he's got two levels of trickery going on. The irony is: that's exactly what Margaret is doing. She's rebuking Gloucester for being a liar when she knows he's honest. On top of that, she's lying about all her scheming. Shakespeare is letting us audience members have the last laugh here, because we know that Margaret's words actually apply to her, not to Gloucester. Tsk, tsk.

But mine is made the prologue to their play;
For thousands more, that yet suspect no peril,
Will not conclude their plotted tragedy.
Beaufort's red sparkling eyes blab his heart's malice,
And Suffolk's cloudy brow his stormy hate;
Sharp Buckingham unburdens with his tongue
The envious load that lies upon his heart;
And dogged York, that reaches at the moon,
Whose overweening arm I have plucked back,
By false accuse doth level at my life. (3.1.152-161)

Telling Henry he's innocent, Gloucester compares the nobles to actors performing a play. So let's get this straight: all actors are liars, in a way, because they pretend to be someone they aren't. They're just performing. Yep, that sounds pretty much like what the nobles are doing in this play.

And do not stand on quillets how to slay him—
Be it by gins, by snares, by subtlety,
Sleeping or waking. 'Tis no matter how,
So he be dead; for that is good deceit
Which mates him first that first intends deceit. (3.1.263-267)

Everyone wants to convince Henry that someone else is deceitful. For Suffolk, it's Gloucester. Suffolk tells Henry that Gloucester is laying a trap for Henry, and Henry had better watch out. Notice how Suffolk uses the word "deceit" twice, and lots of words for "trap" (gins, snares, subtlety) here? Maybe that's because he doesn't really have anything to say against Gloucester, so he just repeats these negative words a bunch of times to make his point.

Hide not thy poison with such sugared words;
Lay not thy hands on me. Forbear, I say!
Their touch affrights me as a serpent's sting.
Thou baleful messenger, out of my sight! (3.2.47-50)

One of the only times Henry cares about something is when Gloucester dies, and he yells at Suffolk for being a poser. Sure, he's got control over a whole country, but he openly admits he doesn't care what happens with all the political decisions. It's only when these political affairs cause the death of his innocent mentor that he gets passionate about something.

Be woe for me, more wretched than he is.
What, dost thou turn away and hide thy face?
I am no loathsome leper. Look on me.
What, art thou, like the adder, waxen deaf?
Be poisonous too, and kill thy forlorn queen. (3.2.75-79)

Like any good queen and wife, Margaret's more concerned about herself than anything else at the news of Gloucester's death. She says she's worried about people accusing her of killing Gloucester (of course, we know she did). Her speech about what people will make of her shows just how far she's willing to go to keep her lies secret… and it's pretty far.

The Commons, like an angry hive of bees
That want their leader, scatter up and down
And care not who they sting in his revenge. (3.2.129-131)

Here, Warwick explains what the commoners are on about. It's not just about class drama; it's also that the people think Henry and his nobles are lying about Gloucester's death. Lying might be the norm with the nobles, but it's a dangerous thing for rulers to be doing, because it shows how corrupt and lawless the government actually is. Henry and his nobles risk losing all legitimacy if they let this kind of thing happen.

Jack Cade, the Duke of York hath taught you this.
 He lies, [aside]for I invented it myself. (4.2.151-152)

Of course, Cade did get his fake lineage from York, but he'd never cop to it, because that would ruin his whole shtick. What we're interested in is the level of lies happening here. Let's see if we can keep it all straight: York is lying to Henry about what side he's on; Cade is lying to the people and nobles about who he is; Cade accuses the nobles of lying; and York is lying to Cade about his plan. Well, now that we've cleared that up...

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