ABSTRACT

This chapter traces the supports for a well-governed nation that Shakespeare folds into his Henry VI plays. Although the civil wars give way finally to the rise of the villainous Richard III, Shakespeare depicts glimmers or flashes throughout his Henry VI plays of other political and social possibilities, opportunities not realized, but that together indicate the elements of a well-governed nation. A well-governed nation should not have to depend on a foreign enemy to give it an identity or to demand loyalty from its people. The first section of the chapter (on 1 Henry VI)

focuses on the conflict in France, including the greatest military leaders of each side, Joan for the French, and Lord Talbot for the English. Neither Joan's divine inspiration nor Talbot's traditional nobility forges a unity for their respective nations. In the second section I trace Shakespeare's turn to England in 2 Henry VI and the developing conflicts that lead to a brutal civil war between rival claimants to the crown. In the third section, I argue that 3 Henry VI underscores the weakness of the factors that promise a well-governed nation that we glimpse in the preceding plays and foreshadows the rule of Richard III, perhaps the most brutal tyrant in Shakespeare's corpus.