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MonkeyNotes-Henry VI, Part 1 by William Shakespeare

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Act II, Scene IV

Summary

Richard Plantagenet and the Earl of Somerset argue about
some matter in the Temple-garden in the presence of several
other noblemen. Plantagenet appeals to those who think him in
the right to pluck a red rose. Warwick, Vernon and a lawyer
side with Plantagenet while Suffolk give his support to
Somerset. A bitter argument breaks out between the two men
and Somerset insults Plantagenetís fatherís name. Suffolk and
Somerset leave swearing enmity. Warwick assures Plantagenet
that in the next Parliamentary meeting his family name will be
cleared by creating him the Duke of York. Plantagenet thanks
the men present for their support and invites them for dinner.

Notes

This is a key scene for the plot development of the play. In it,
the dissensions, within the English nobility, which are later to
grow into the war of the Roses are manifested and assume
concrete shape. This occurs with the birth of the two factions:
York, Warwick and Vernon aligned against Somerset and
Suffolk. This internal dissension is to have long-range effect on
the fate of the English in their fight against the French.

This subplot involving Somerset, York and the quarrel of the
roses shows the shift of natural nobility to trivial ends. The
sense of honor that these factious noble men refer to contrasts
sharply with Talbotís. He is fully identified with the cause for
which he fights whereas York and Somerset are divided by
"nice sharp quillets of low," too slight even to be mentioned
and immediately forgotten by both sides. The crowning irony
in the play is that this essentially trivial sense of honor should
prove a greater threat to Talbotís ideals and indeed his very
existence, than all the base stratagems devised by the French.

The scene gets its unity and impact from the metaphor of the
garden, seen in growth and decay, that runs all through it. The
garden, with its good husbandry, its cankered blossoms and the
plants that ripen, wither and die becomes a symbol of the
commonwealth of man. Where the gardener is thrifty, his
blossoms are not blasted, nor are his ordered estate overrun by
pests and weeds, but where he is neglectful, destruction and
decay "choke the herbs for want of husbandry."

In this scene, this theme is stated for the first time. As yet it is
not developed very far, but this is a scene of infinite suggestion
"Grow, Crop, wither, flourish, ripen," all words of the garden
are here used with multiple significance as the roses are
plucked and the quarrel becomes more furious. York would
prove the justice of his cause "were growing time once ripened
to my will," and he identifies his fortune with the growth or
withering of a flower. "And by my soul, this pale and angry
rose.... Height of my degree."

Other words are used in a double sense. "Color" occurs often in
the scene in its ordinary uncomplicated meaning, but it occurs
too in its subsidiary sense of "reason, pretext or semblance."
And the "red" of the roses at once links itself with the blushing
cheek and with the blood that will stain the earth and so choke
its natural fertility. Thus returning to the original image of the
garden.

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MonkeyNotes-Henry VI, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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