Study Guide

Henry VI Part 2 Loyalty

By William Shakespeare

Loyalty

YORK
A day will come when York shall claim his own;
And therefore I will take the Nevils' parts
And make a show of love to proud Duke Humphrey,
And, when I spy advantage, claim the crown. (1.1.250-253)

York lets us in on his plan from the very beginning: he'll pretend to be on Gloucester's side, but he'll actually make a play for the crown himself. Regardless of whether he's justified in taking the crown, he doesn't display much loyalty to anyone. He's ready to switch sides and even double-cross someone just to get what he wants.

GLOUCESTER
Nay, Eleanor, then must I chide outright.
Presumptuous dame, ill-nurtured Eleanor,
Art thou not second woman in the realm
And the protector's wife, beloved of him? (1.2.41-44)

When Eleanor admits she wants to be queen, Gloucester chides his wife. He values loyalty and realizes his wife has none. His upstanding code of ethics is contrasted with the codes of others who switch loyalty all the time, as if they're playing a game (and cheating at it).

MARGARET
She bears a duke's revenues on her back,
And in her heart she scorns our poverty.
Shall I not live to be avenged on her? (1.3.83-85)

Margaret is on to Eleanor. She knows that Eleanor is trying to get more power and that she's not loyal to the crown. Now, Margaret's suspicious of everybody, but she's actually right this time—Eleanor does want more. But it hardly matters whether she's right or not; when Margaret's in take-down mode, it's all over. She just uses Eleanor's "disloyalty" here as an excuse for getting a tighter grasp on power.

SUFFOLK
Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep,
And in his simple show he harbors treason.
The fox barks not when he would steal the lamb.
No, no, my sovereign, Gloucester is a man
Unsounded yet and full of deep deceit. (3.1.53-57)

Trying to convince Henry that Gloucester is a traitor (even though he's not), Suffolk says that smooth water runs deep. Huh? He means that shallow water is fast, but you can see what's in it. Deep water is the one to fear: it's slow and seems harmless, but it has more depth, and monsters hide underneath. Irony alert: Suffolk is right about watching out for treasonous nobles… just not about Gloucester. It's Suffolk himself who is the trouble.

KING  HENRY
Ah, uncle Humphrey, in thy face I see
The map of honor, truth, and loyalty;
And yet, good Humphrey, is the hour to come
That e'er I proved thee false or feared thy faith. (3.1.203-206)

After Gloucester is arrested, Henry can't believe it and says his old pal is the picture of loyalty: it's written right on Gloucester's face. Back in Shakespeare's day, a person's face was considered representative of the type of soul a person had, so if loyalty is written on Gloucester's face, then it must true that he's totally loyal.

SALISBURY
They say, by him the good Duke Humphrey died;
They say, in him they fear your Highness' death;
And mere instinct of love and loyalty,
Free from a stubborn opposite intent,
As being thought to contradict your liking,
Makes them thus forward in his banishment. (3.2.257-262)

Salisbury says that the commoners have doubts about Gloucester's death: they think he was murdered. It's interesting that the commoners care so much about Gloucester's death; it's his murder that ignites their rumblings against the nobles. It seems as if they have a pretty good idea how corrupt and treacherous their government is, but this particular murder seems to really cross some kind of line for them, perhaps because it's so high profile, and also because it so clearly goes behind the king's back.

BUCKINGHAM
Trust nobody, for fear you be betrayed. (4.4.59)

After Gloucester is arrested, Henry can't believe it and says his old pal is the picture of loyalty: it's written right on Gloucester's face. Back in Shakespeare's day, a person's face was considered representative of the type of soul a person had, so if loyalty is written on Gloucester's face, then it must true that he's totally loyal.

CADE
Was ever feather so lightly blown to and
fro as this multitude? The name of Henry the Fifth
hales them to an hundred mischiefs and makes
them leave me desolate. I see them lay their heads
together to surprise me. My sword make way for
me, for here is no staying! (4.8.56-61)

When Cade sees the crowd—his army—sway from side to side, he's bummed. He thought he had a good thing going, but he's left disappointed by the fickleness of the crowd. It's hard not to agree with Cade here, even if you hate his cause. His crowd isn't the only problem: the entire society is full of disloyal, easily swayed peeps all looking out for number one. It's pretty much expected at this point.

HENRY:
Thou mad misleader of thy brainsick son!
What, wilt thou on thy deathbed play the ruffian
And seek for sorrow with thy spectacles?
O, where is faith? O, where is loyalty? (5.1.167-170)

Shocked that York, Warwick, and Salisbury would turn against him, Henry dishes out some cold words. He can't see that although he wants people to be loyal to him, he doesn't really give them many reasons to be loyal to him.

SALISBURY
It is great sin to swear unto a sin,
But greater sin to keep a sinful oath.
Who can be bound by any solemn vow
To do a murd'rous deed, to rob a man,
To force a spotless virgin's chastity,
To reave the orphan of his patrimony,
To wring the widow from her customed right,
And have no other reason for this wrong
But that he was bound by a solemn oath? (5.1.186-194)

Salisbury is upfront with his loyalty: be doesn't play games or pretend to be something he's not. We appreciate how he explains his reasoning for backing York up here. Sure, he's taken an oath, but he says it's no good to keep a bad oath just because it's an oath. If only everyone were that blunt about which side they were on this play.

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