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Free Study Guide-Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes
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SCENE SUMMARY WITH NOTES

ACT IV, SCENE 2

Summary

At Blackheath, Kent, the scene begins with a conversation between two rebels who talk about how the country has changed and how the nobility has little respect for the “working class.” Then Jack Cade, Dick the Butcher, Smith the Weaver and other supporters of Cade enter. Cade presents himself as Sir John Mortimer and outlines the ways that he will improve England when he becomes king. After an episode during which a court clerk is condemned to death, a messenger enters and warns Cade that Sir Humphrey Stafford and his brother are coming with the king’s forces. Cade retorts that he is confident that he can fight them. Sir Humphrey and his brother enter with drums and soldiers. Stafford scornfully calls Cade and his men “the filth and scum of Kent” and tells them to lay down their weapons and go home. He assures them that King Henry will be merciful if they go back. If they continue their revolt, however, it will end with their deaths.

Cade replies that Stafford is speaking not to “silken-coated” officers, but to good people, over whom he (Cade-as-Mortimer) is going to reign because he is the rightful heir to the crown. Stafford asks how the son of a plasterer who is himself a shearman could be the rightful heir. Cade tells his story: Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March, married the Duke of Clarence’s daughter, and they had two children. The older one was stolen away by a beggar woman and became a bricklayer when he grew up. Cade identifies himself as the son of this bricklayer. All his followers support Cade’s statement. The arguing continues between Cade and Stafford until Stafford essentially declares war on the traitors (those who side with Cade). Those who try to escape before the battle ends will be hanged at their doors in the sight of their wives and children. Cade urges his men not lose hope but to continue fighting.


Notes

The scene gives an account of Cade’s rebellion in 1450 in Kent. The rebels first came to Blackheath and then retired to Sevenoaks, where the Staffords were slain. In Holinshed can be found the bills of complaint sent to the king’s council by the rebels.

The scene begins with a conversation between two rebels who are of the artisan/craftsman class. One of them refers to Jack Cade, the general, as a clothier (a clothier is one who performed the operations on cloth subsequent to the weaving). The metaphor presents Jack Cade as the one who will “dress the commonwealth,” or improve conditions within the nation. Here, there is also a reference to the London riots by clothworkers in June of 1592, the time when the play was probably being performed. The conversation goes on to present an atmosphere of disorder in England and much friction between the classes.

Shortly after Cade enters with his supporters, Dick the Butcher calls Cade’s royal origins into question. The butcher knows that Cade’s parents were common people, a bricklayer and a midwife. In a series of asides, Dick the Butcher reveals that Cade is only a common, lowborn ruffian. Cade, however, vows that there will be a reformation of the state as radical as that which was performed on the church in early Tudor times. He makes other promises about creating an England that will favor the hard working poor. Here Shakespeare makes a reference to the inflation of the Elizabethan period. Cade’s long speech reveals his ambition of becoming the king and his tactic of winning over the common people with false promises.

Next, the Clerk of Chatham (a village near Canterbury) is presented and accused of committing the crime of being able to read and write. The allegations against him link his literacy with other “dangers,” such as knowledge of the law and sorcery. The clerk also admits that since he was well brought up, he can write his name. In the end, Cade orders that the clerk be hanged with his pen and inkhorn about his neck. This shows the plights that await educated people of a certain class.

Cade refers to Stafford and his brother as “silken-coated slaves.” Only members of the gentry were allowed to wear silk, according to Elizabethan law. Cade implies that Stafford and his brother have relinquished their liberty by not wearing the dress of common men. He asks Stafford to tell the king that he (Cade) is the Protector now.

This scene gives some idea of the revolt going on within the nation and the response of the common people. The general, Cade, is portrayed as an ambitious and impudent man. Although coming from a lower-class family, he boasts of royal ancestry, which is contradicted by Dick the Butcher. He fills the people with false hopes and promises of abundant beer when he becomes the king. His impudence is exposed when he tells Stafford to tell the king that he (Cade) is the rightful heir, but will be satisfied with being the Protector. In the end, he appears to be very brave and inspires his soldiers to march forward.

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