Henry VI, Part 1: Act III, Scene 1

Now we get to see how things go in Parliament for Richard Plantagenet, but first a fight between Gloucester and Winchester because we haven’t seen them for awhile.

Key words, phrases, and people

Pestiferous: venomous, malignant

Imperious: dictatorial, tyrannical

Overborne: overwhelmed

Prelate: dignitary of the Church

Inkhorn mate: a bookish man

Dissemble: assume a false appearance

Physic: a remedy for disease

Reguerdon: reward


Since we last saw them at the Tower, Gloucester and Winchester continue to bicker, but his time it’s in front of parliament, so it’s official. Winchester scoffs at Gloucester for coming prepared with pamphlets. Gloucester points out that it makes total sense to prepare to speak in front of a group as important as parliament, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t argue his point without them.

Gloucester accuses Winchester of plotting to kill him, take the tower and London bridge, before usurping the throne. Winchester defends himself with blatant lies (which an audience would definitely notice). He says he’s poor and does not seek advancement. These are so untruthful it is almost laughable. Winchester then says Gloucester is just jealous because he’s not the king’s best buddy anymore.

They continue to exchange insults for a bit. Warwick and Somerset jump in because they are professional side-takers. Warwick defends Gloucester, and Somerset takes Winchester’s side because it is his uncle after all. Richard pouts in an aside because he isn’t powerful enough to openly take a side.

Finally, Henry VI speaks his first line of the play and begs his two uncles to come together in peace and love. While to today’s audience this may seem a noble course of action, Shakespeare’s audience would prefer they fight it out, so this statement would not reflect well on the historically weak king.

Just then, the Lord Mayor of London bursts in and explains that Gloucester and Winchester’s men are STILL fighting. He banned weapons, so they started pelting each other with rocks. The fight enters parliament because who doesn’t like a good rock fight. The King and others plead with Gloucester and Winchester to stop the fighting. In the end, a tense peace is reached between the two. Gloucester swears in an aside that he means to keep his word, but Winchester admits that he does not intend to keep the peace.

After all of the excitement, they address the issue of Richard’s title and inheritance. The King restores Richard to his full blood and by the end of the scene he’s the Duke of York. There was no conflict historically with Richard becoming the Duke of York. The crown only held his family’s land while he was a minor.
The scene concludes with the Duke of Exeter’s first soliloquy, who is used as a sort of Greek chorus for the rest of the play. Exeter explains that the festering tensions will ensure that a prophesy will come true. A prophesy which states that Henry V would win all and Henry VI would lose all. This is, of course, completely true.

Discussion Questions and Activities

  1. Write about this scene as though you are another member of parliament, someone not directly involved in the fighting. Describe what happened in your own words. Who’s side do you take?
  2. How did family dynamics play into all of the side-taking?
  3. Describe the fighting that happened between Gloucester and Winchester’s men on the streets of London. How did it escalate to rocks?
  4. Imagine you are the Duke of Exeter. How do these events play into the narrative of history?

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