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MonkeyNotes-Henry VI, Part 1 by William Shakespeare

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Act II, Scene V

Summary

Edmund Mortimer, Richard Plantagenetís maternal uncle, is
near the end of his life. He sends for his nephew and Richard
comes to see him in the prison. Richard asks him the
circumstances surrounding his fatherís death, Mortimer
informs him about the wrongful usurpation by Henry IV. And
how in the attempt to right this wrong, Richardís father lost his
life and Mortimer is sentenced to a lifetime in prison. Mortimer
pronounces Richard his heir to the throne and advises him to be
careful and implacable in his purpose. Mortimer dies leaving
behind Richard who takes this advice to heart and soon leaves
for the parliament, where he hopes to be restored to his old
family name and fortune.

Notes

This scene foreshadows Yorkís claim to the crown: his father
had married Anne Mortimer, and the Mortimers were, through
the marriage of Edmund Mortimer, the third Earl of March to
Philippa, daughter of the Duke of Clarence, descended from
the third son of Edward III. Henry VI descended only from the
fourth son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. So, accordingly
the throne rightfully belongs to the heir of the Mortimers, and
Richard is the one whom Edmund Mortimer declares as his
heir before dying.

Edmund Mortimer is shown as a blind and broken figure, who
dies in prison after wishing prosperity to Richard. He serves an
important dramatic function. It is from him that the Yorkist
cause derives its decisive initial impulse, when he describes in
detail how he and his descendants have been forcibly
disinherited by Bolingbroke and then exhorts his Kinsman to
recover the title wrongfully held by the usurperís grandson.
The upheaval of the soon to come civil war draws its original
impulse from Mortimer in this scene, where frustrated ambition
is passed down to a youthful successor, eager to renew an
almost extinguished claim to the crown.

As the tragic relic of an insurrection ruthlessly crushed by
Bolingbroke nearly thirty years earlier, Mortimer symbolizes
the tragic emptiness of the ambition, which has wasted the
vitality and promise of his own youth. In this play, whose later
action is dominated by a series of attempts to snatch the crown,
he is the first representative of the best for power, which impels
them all. However, Mortimerís attempt is long past, and the
figure that communicates the same deadly impulse to Richard
embodies the futility of all such aspirations. Emaciated,
sightless and physically impotent after a lifetime of
imprisonment, he is blind to his own example and substance
that his pursuit of the crown has entailed; nor can Richard
appreciate the moral lesson, which confronts him. Mortimer
explains how Richardís father was executed. Uncle, father, son
are all victims of the same insane impulse, which obliterates all
sense of personal danger and moral obligation by its promise of
majesty and power.

At the end of the scene, death puts an end to Mortimerís
exhausted and delusive hopes of achieving the crown. To
Richard this final extinction of hope indicates only a want of
lofty aspiration in Mortimer. "Here dies the dusky torch of
Mortimer," he comments over his uncleís body, "choked with
ambition of the meaner sort." He further declares his intent to
avenge the wrong done to him and to heed his uncleís advice
thus foreshadowing his implacability of purpose in achieving
his ambition at all costs.

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MonkeyNotes-Henry VI, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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