Article Title

3 Henry VI: Dramatic Convention and the Shakespearean History Play


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The third part of the Henry VI trilogy has long been regarded as the poorest of the lot. Dr. Johnson preferred the second part, and his remark that all the plays "have not sufficient variety of action, for the incidents are too often of the same kind" is usually taken as a response to Part 3. Tillyard noted that 3 Henry VI "is Shakespeare's nearest approach to the Chronicle Play," and he left no doubt what such a comparison was meant to imply: "Shakespeare had a great mass of chronicle matter to deal with and he failed to control it; or rather in paring it to manageable length he fails to make it significant." Shakespeare, according to Tillyard, "is either tired or bored: or perhaps both."1 Though Tillyard's ideas about the history plays have long suffered the fate of the proverbial dead horse, it is remarkable how persistently they haunt his revisionist successors. One of the play's most recent and incisive critics repeats Tillyard's theme with variations, attributing the ''perfunctory" quality or the plotting in 3 Henry VI to Shakespeare's loss of interest in mopping up the events of the civil war, especially now that he was anticipating the "brilliant scheming" of Richard III.2 3 Henry VI, then, is the real test of any critical approach to the early history plays. If we can discover a consistent and satisfying dramatic purpose in this ugly duckling of the first tetralogy, the exercise may enhance our understanding of the other plays, which are usually considered to be more successful in the first place.

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