Study Guide

Henry VI Part 3 Weakness

By William Shakespeare


Farewell, faint-hearted and degenerate king,
In whose cold blood no spark of honor bides.
Be thou a prey unto the house of York,
And die in bands for this unmanly deed. (1.1.187-190)

As soon as Henry strikes a deal with York, his men run off to tell his wife. Hmm… maybe that's a sign that she's the one who wears the pants in this relationship. It also shows us even Henry's own people think he's weak.

So looks the pent-up lion o'er the wretch
That trembles under his devouring paws;
And so he walks, insulting o'er his prey;
And so he comes to rend his limbs asunder. (1.3.12-15)

Rutland is one of the only characters who seems truly blameless: he's just a child, so he doesn't really understand what's going on around him. And he knows it, too: he points this out to Clifford before he's murdered, asking for pity because he's weak. Unlike the adults who try to hide their weakness, Rutland owns it and tries to spin it to his advantage.

For thou shalt know this strong right hand of mine
Can pluck the diadem from faint Henry's head
And wring the awful scepter from his fist,
Were he as famous and as bold in war
As he is famed for mildness, peace, and prayer. (2.1.154-158)

"Who cares if Henry has the crown? We'll just take it from him." That's essentially what Warwick says to Richard. Henry's got a reputation for being a weak guy, and it only stirs up trouble in his kingdom. If he were a stronger ruler, would any of this trouble have started in the first place? Or did the trouble start as soon as Henry's grandpa took the crown from Richard II?

And Henry, hadst thou swayed as kings should do,
Or as thy father and his father did,
Giving no ground unto the house of York,
They never then had sprung like summer flies; (2.6.13-16)

Clifford stands by Henry the whole time, but even he confesses that he wishes Henry were more like his dad and granddad. Henry comes from a line of great warriors, but he just doesn't have what it takes to beat these people at their own game. If he were stronger, maybe his nobles wouldn't be fighting him so much. He's an easy target.

She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe
To shrink mine arm up like a withered shrub;
To make an envious mountain on my back,
Where sits Deformity to mock my body;
To shape my legs of an unequal size;
To disproportion me in every part (3.2.157-162)

Here, Richard discusses his physical deformity, which he thinks makes him weak in at least one sense: he says he can't get a girl because of his disproportionate body. Before we start feeling bad for the guy, though, we should remember that he's delivering this speech as an excuse for all the nasty stuff he's planning. Does his deformity give him a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to destroying other people's lives?

Henry now lives in Scotland at his ease,
Where, having nothing, nothing can he lose. (3.3.159-160)

It seems strange to think that a king might have nothing, but at this point, it's true of Henry. Warwick says Henry is a coward because he flees from his troubles instead of facing them head on. Warwick takes the opposite approach and attacks his problems (literally) as soon as they arise. In the end, it doesn't seem to matter much; both men are killed by the York family.

As well as Lewis of France or the Earl of Warwick,
Which are so weak of courage and in judgment
That they'll take no offense at our abuse. (4.1.11-13)

George tells Edward people might take offense to his new marriage, and boy is he right. We find it interesting that Edward says he doesn't care. He's king, so it's his way or the highway. He's the opposite of Henry, who spends his time worrying about what his people think of him.

Alas, how should you govern any kingdom
That know not how to use ambassadors,
Nor how to be contented with one wife,
Nor how to use your brothers brotherly,
Nor how to study for the people's welfare,
Nor how to shroud yourself from enemies? (4.3.37-42)

It turns out being a king isn't just winning battles and wearing a crown. Warwick claims Edward is weak in another sense—ruling a kingdom. Sure, he's strong in battle, but he doesn't know his people or what they need.

Away with scrupulous wit! Now arms must rule.
And fearless minds climb soonest unto crowns. (4.7.61-62)

Hastings has had just about enough of all the talking. He wants to get on with it and fight. He tells Edward to go to battle. What we find interesting is Richard's response to this line. He says it's the brave ones who rush up to be king. Is he implying that they regret it when they get there?

If case some one of you would fly from us,
That there's no hoped-for mercy with the brothers
More than with ruthless waves, with sands and rocks.
Why, courage then! What cannot be avoided
'Twere childish weakness to lament or fear. (5.4.34-38)

Rally speech! Margaret calls any troops who run away cowards. It's a good tactic. No one wants to be called "chicken," especially in front of a bunch of warriors. She uses the idea of being weak as a way of encouraging her men to be strong before going into battle.