Study Guide

Henry VI Part 2 Justice and Judgment

By William Shakespeare

Justice and Judgment

All rise, because the court is now in session. Seriously, reading Henry VI, Part 2 is like reading one big courtroom drama: characters get tried and judged left and right, and everyone is concerned (or pretends to be concerned) with justice.

There are real courtroom scenes, like the ones involving Eleanor and the witches or Peter and Horner, and there are also figurative courtroom scenes with characters dishing out their own forms of justice. There may even be a little bit of divine retribution going on here behind the scenes, in the sense that every character who has ever sinned or committed a crime gets what's coming to him or her.

Since we're dealing with characters who don't hesitate to stab their friends and families in the backs, literally and figuratively, a whole lot of justice—and injustice—is dished out in this play. Is justice ever really served? Who decides what justice, how, and who gets to judge here?

Questions About Justice and Judgment

  1. Is anyone's death truly just? Is it just when Beaufort dies (without making a religious sign) after he helps kill Gloucester? Is it just when Gloucester is murdered?
  2. Does anyone who deserves to be punished escape justice in this play? Why do some characters seem to be on the receiving end of divine justice, while others do not?
  3. Is there any difference between justice and revenge in Henry VI, Part 2? Are characters just using the idea of justice to further their own agendas?
  4. Why are we given scenes of formal justice in court? How do these scenes comment on the larger plot of the play?

Chew on This

Margaret is the only character who is not judged for her actions. She is not held accountable for her hand in murdering Gloucester.

Justice isn't really served in this play. Eleanor is punished, and Beaufort dies, but on the whole, people do not answer for their wrongdoings.

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