Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Third Part of King Henry The Sixth- John Mutford's 1st Pick for The Shakespeare Challenge

I have a pretty rigid cycle of reading to which I've dedicated myself:

1. A Canadian novel
2. A non-Canadian novel
3. Non-fiction (from anywhere)
4. alternate between a book of the Bible or a Shakespeare play
(all the while working through a book of poetry)

My wife teases that I'm way to anal about it, but I've grown accustomed to the cycle by now, and for the most part, find that it has more flexibility than it first appears.

Anyway, when I first saw this challenge, I thought "no problem." Afterall, every 8th book I read is one of Shakespeare's plays anyway. Then I got bogged down in a couple 400+ page books and I've already missed a month of the challenge.

Finally though I've gotten around to reading the third part of King Henry the Sixth, and this marks my first of four plays for the Shakespeare challenge. I've treated the parts as three separate plays and my first two reviews appear here and here. This is my review of the third part as it appeared on The Book Mine Set:

Classy cover, don't you think?

Shakespeare was one of those rare breeds to make the third installment of a trilogy the best.

Unlike the first two parts, the third seems more streamlined. The plot still revolves around challenges to King Henry's throne, but all the subplots of earlier have pretty much subsided. Instead there seems to be much more interest in exploring themes of male roles in the family, especially in terms of inheritance and power.

Not to make it entirely a masculine story, Queen Margaret almost steals the show once again with her wickedness. After giving the Duke of York the news that his son has been murdered, she offers him a napkin stained with the son's blood to wipe away his tears. Then she has the duke decapitated and sticks his head upon the gates of York so that "York may overlook the town of York."

While that last line might seem like a throwaway, really not all that clever when you consider he was only named the Duke of York after the town, making the wordplay not all that playful, it was clever as a symbol. While Margaret is delighting in her own sinfulness, Shakespeare seemed to be toying with the idea of a sinister, or at least doomed, reflection. Fathers pass down legacies of revenge to their sons, brothers plot against one another, all the while having the same blood. He takes this up more blatantly later on in the play having two briefly appearing characters simply named A Son That Has Kill'd His Father and A Father That Has Kill'd His Son.

While the King Henry The Sixth trilogy ends here, I'm relieved for the first time that there'll be more to the story. King Richard the Third takes up where this one left off (fortunately with Queen Margaret still alive and kicking).

The Soundtrack:
1. Hand Me Down World- The Guess Who
2. Off With Your Head- Sleater-Kinney
3. Evil Woman- Electric Light Orchestra
4. Brother Down- Sam Roberts
5. Kings and Queens- Aerosmith

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