Study Guide

Henry VI Part 3 Family

By William Shakespeare

Family

CLIFFORD
My gracious lord, here in the Parliament
Let us assail the family of York. (1.1.65-66)

Clifford is never one to take a back seat to the action. He wants to kill York and his supporters in the very first scene—in the middle of parliament, no less. We'd like to point out that he calls these people "the family of York." He could have said "supporters," and he could have name-called (since he is not above that), but instead he points out the family relationship here. This is a family: fathers, sons, and brothers, fighting together, against another family of husband, wife, and child.

QUEEN MARGARET
Ah, wretched man, would I had died a maid
And never seen thee, never borne thee son,
Seeing thou hast proved so unnatural a father.
Hath he deserved to lose his birthright thus?
Hadst thou but loved him half so well as I,
Or felt that pain which I did for him once,
Or nourished him as I did with my blood,
Thou wouldst have left thy dearest heart-blood
   there,
Rather than have made that savage duke thine heir
And disinherited thine only son. (1.1.223-233)

Calling someone a bad father is no joke, and Margaret isn't kidding. She's so ticked at Henry for making a deal with York, who in her opinion might as well be the devil. Henry cut their son out of his inheritance, while she literally gave her blood to their child while she was pregnant. She's full of opinions, but no one can deny her bond to her kid.

YORK
See, ruthless queen, a hapless father's tears.
This cloth thou dipped'st in blood of my sweet boy,
And I with tears do wash the blood away. (1.4.161-163)

Um, this scene makes us feel a little queasy. Showing a father the blood of his murdered child is downright cruel, and that's exactly York's point. He's saying that everyone will cry over the story because what Margaret's done is so horrible; even his enemies will feel for him. He's got a point. York does a good job of pointing out that there is a connection between parent and child that you don't mess with. Margaret herself will learn this when she's forced to watch the murder of her son, which is the act that finally breaks her.

EDWARD
I think it cites us, brother, to the field,
That we, the sons of brave Plantagenet,
Each one already blazing by our meeds,
Should notwithstanding join our lights together
And overshine the earth, as this the world. (2.1.34-38)

Seeing three suns in the sky during a battle in a Shakespeare play is definitely a sign, but of what? Interestingly, Edward interprets this in his family's favor: the three suns represent the three brothers. He's convinced the three brothers are united and can't be separated—just like the suns. As it turns out, by the end of the play, both of his remaining brothers have decided to cross him. For more on this symbol, check out our "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" section.

CLIFFORD
And long hereafter say unto his child
"What my great-grandfather and grandsire got,
My careless father fondly gave away"? (2.2.36-38)

Here, Clifford is shaming Henry into action by saying that Henry's son and grandchildren will always look down on him for taking their throne away from them. He asks Henry if he wants his son to think of him in a cowardly way, as someone who lost the crown. It's a dirty tactic, but it goes to show how much fathers care about their sons in this play.

KING HENRY
...didst thou never hear
That things ill got had ever bad success?
And happy always was it for that son
Whose father for his hoarding went to hell? (2.2.45-48)

Henry doesn't care as much about the crown as he cares about his own conscience. He tells Clifford he doesn't even want to have the crown if it means giving up on what he thinks is right. We've already heard Henry question his right to the throne at this point—a big no-no in Shakespeare's day— and now he's telling Clifford it might not be worth it if he ends up in hell for holding on to something that's not his. Is that a good reason to give up the crown, or is Henry just looking for an excuse?

KING HENRY
The red rose and the white are on his face,
The fatal colors of our striving houses;
The one his purple blood right well resembles,
The other his pale cheeks methinks presenteth.
Wither one rose and let the other flourish;
If you contend, a thousand lives must wither. (2.5.97-102)

Seeing the dead father and son on the field, Henry is struck by how much his own decisions are hurting others. He sees the roses—the symbol of these wars—in the soldiers' faces because he feels responsible for their deaths. Henry is possibly the only character in the play who can see that his own family squabbles are destroying both his own family and others' families. Most of the other characters are too concerned about number one to take much notice of things like that.

QUEEN MARGARET
How sweet a plant have you untimely cropped!
You have no children, butchers. If you had,
The thought of them would have stirred up remorse.
But if you ever chance to have a child,
Look in his youth to have him so cut off (5.5.62-66)

After watching the murder of her son, Margaret flips out. Who wouldn't? That's her point to the York brothers: she hopes they have a child taken so they know how bad the pain is. Margaret has taken her fair share of sons (ahem, Rutland), but we can't help but feel sorry for her here. She might be ruthless and brutal, but here, she's just like any other mom.

RICHARD
Welcome, good Clarence; this is brother-like. (5.1.106)

When George switches back to Edward's side, Richard praises him. You probably noticed that he says that George's behavior is "brotherly." The irony is that Richard is commending his brother for acting like family (by supporting his brothers) while also plotting his brothers' downfall.

RICHARD
I have no brother, I am like no brother;
And this word 'love,' which greybeards call divine,
Be resident in men like one another
And not in me. I am myself alone. (5.6.81-84)

At the end of the play, Richard fills us in on the deets of his plan. It's interesting that he begins this speech by deliberately distancing himself from his brothers. It's as if the crimes he is about to commit are too horrible if the family ties are intact, so Richard has to start distancing himself long before he actually commits the crimes. Shakespeare carefully weaves this speech together so that we start thinking about family at the exact moment when Richard is working to do undo his own.