Study Guide

Henry VI Part 3 Revenge

By William Shakespeare

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Revenged may she be on that hateful duke,
Whose haughty spirit, wingèd with desire,
Will cost my crown, and like an empty eagle
Tire on the flesh of me and of my son. (1.1.274-277)

From the very first scene, Henry realizes that revenge—from either Margaret or York—will lead to his downfall. Sure, he blames York, but he also says Margaret's revenge spurs the duke (York) on. Instead of thinking about whether or not he should go to battle, Henry is more concerned with the never-ending cycle of revenge (and what it will cost him).

My ashes, as the Phoenix', may bring forth
A bird that will revenge upon you all;
And in that hope I throw mine eyes to heaven,
Scorning whate'er you can afflict me with. (1.4.35-38)

Talk about a comeback. After he's captured, York vows that he will enact his revenge by coming back and taking over. It's a bold statement, especially considering that Margaret up and beheads him in the very same scene. In some ways, York does get the last laugh, though, when his son takes the crown from Margaret and kills her son right in front of her. Make that a bitter, evil laugh.

I cannot weep, for all my body's moisture
Scarce serves to quench my furnace-burning heart;
Nor can my tongue unload my heart's great burden,
For selfsame wind that I should speak withal
Is kindling coals that fires all my breast
And burns me up with flames that tears would
To weep is to make less the depth of grief:
Tears, then, for babes; blows and revenge for me.
Richard, I bear thy name. I'll venge thy death
Or die renownèd by attempting it. (2.1.79-89)

At the news of his father's death, Richard makes a vow of his own: he promises to avenge his father. We can't help but wonder if this anger and remorse is exactly what Clifford felt when York killed his father. The cycle continues…

Who scapes the lurking serpent's mortal sting?
Not he that sets his foot upon her back.
The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on, (2.2.15-17)

For a brute, this is a very poetic image. Don't be fooled, though: it's not the mushy stuff of Shakespeare's sonnets. Clifford tells Margaret and Henry the even a weak army can win when they are motivated enough. Creepy.

And look upon, as if the tragedy
Were played in jest by counterfeiting actors?
                                                                       He kneels.
Here on my knee I vow to God above
I'll never pause again, never stand still,
Till either death hath closed these eyes of mine
Or fortune given me measure of revenge. (2.3.27-32)

After he finds out that his brother has died, Warwick vows to get revenge, too. Is it just us, or is there a pattern emerging here? We think it's especially interesting that Shakespeare even writes revenge scenarios for the characters not involved in York's and Henry's immediate families. Revenge is something that seems to touch everyone in this play.

Now, Richard, I am here with thee alone.
This is the hand that stabbed thy father York,
And this the hand that slew thy brother Rutland,
And here's the heart that triumphs in their death
And cheers these hands that slew thy sire and brother
To execute the like upon thyself.
And so, have at thee! (2.4.5-11)

Never one to back down, Clifford owns up to what he did. He's not ashamed or apologetic; on the contrary, he's proud of killing Richard's father, because that means he's avenged his own dad's death. In a weird way, he's celebrating his accomplishment. What's even darker is that Richard wants to do the same: he's after Clifford for the same exact reason Clifford was after his dad.

I was the chief that raised him to the crown,
And I'll be chief to bring him down again:
Not that I pity Henry's misery,
But seek revenge on Edward's mockery. (3.3.273-276)

After he gets the news in France that Edward has married Lady Grey, Warwick is ticked. It's as if Edward has personally betrayed him. He doesn't care what Edward's reasons were, he just wants Edward to be ashamed in the same way he was when he heard the news. Um, okay.

And their true sovereign, whom they must obey?
Nay, whom they shall obey, and love thee too,
Unless they seek for hatred at my hands;
Which if they do, yet will I keep thee safe,
And they shall feel the vengeance of my wrath. (4.1.79-83)

Edward doesn't care what people think about his new bride. We'll admit that his decision to marry Elizabeth was hasty, to say the least. But he doesn't care what anyone says, and he promises to get back at anyone who has a problem with her. We like his willingness to defend his wife, but it also seems like overkill. Defensive, much?

A little fire is quickly trodden out,
Which, being suffered, rivers cannot quench. (4.8.7-8)

A man of few words, George puts it beautifully here. Everyone dismisses a small fire, but even a small fire can grow and overtake things. Something tells us George isn't just talking about fire; it's clear he wants his revenge on his brother for treating him like a "little fire."

Had I not reason, think you, to make haste
And seek their ruin that usurped our right?
The midwife wondered and the women cried
'O Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!'
And so I was, which plainly signified
That I should snarl, and bite, and play the dog. (4.6.73-78)

Richard loves to talk about his deformity like it's some cosmic joke, and he's the punch line. He tells us that his deformity is the reason he'll take his vengeance out on everybody. It's important to think about why he brings his physical appearance up at all. Is he truly mad at the way the world looks at him, or is he just coming up with an excuse to get away with murder?

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