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The scene is important in the sense that it portrays the fall of York,
a major player in the trilogy thus far. This is one of the main action
events in the play that leads to other actions and the climax. The
scene is notable for the ferocity of the Queen who draws out
York's upcoming death by torturing and degrading him and
flaunting the murder of his son Rutland in his face before he dies.
At the beginning of the scene, York is shown defeated in battle
although praising his son's actions in war. This reveals that despite
his death, the War of the Roses will continue with his prodigy who
inherits his lust for power and warfare. From the moment that he is
captured, York refuses to act as if he has been defeated. With each
insult, he defies his captors by scorning them and challenging the
assumption that the end of the family feud is near. York says his
ashes will bring forth a new force like the phoenix bird, which
existed single and rose again from its ashes. York says just like a
phoenix, his son Edward will rise to force again and the young bird
referred to is Edward, who will become Edward IV. Clifford
mocks York's curses on them and attributes it to cowardice.
'So cowards fight when they can fly no further
So doves do peck the falcon's piercing talons;
So desperate thieves all hopeless of their lives,
Breathe out invectives giants the officers.'
Doves and falcons reveal the captor/prisoner dialogue that
dominates this scene. Richard is referred to here as being
powerless and can only attempt to his fiercer adversary. Other
animal images prevail in this scene. When they lay hands on York
and he struggles, Clifford says, 'Ay ay, so strives the woodcock
with the gin' and Northumberland says 'So doth the cony struggle
in the net'
'Woodcock' is another image from the animal world and 'Cony' is a
rabbit also commonly used for a dupe; a gull the victim of the
cony-catcher. There is no humanity in this scene, only animal
images that reveal the base natures of all involved. Yet it is the
Queen who stands out as most injurious in deed and word. She is
unrelenting as she mocks York, his sons, and proudly reveals the
bloody napkin with York's son's blood on it. The Queen is
portrayed as a hardhearted woman who condemns York for
breaking his oath and taking the King's chair and puts a paper
crown on his head. In a mocking manner, she says,
'A crown for York and, lords, bow low to him'
Ay, marry, sir, now looks he like a King.'
This reveals the extent of vengeance in her heart towards York.
She is nearly mad as she taunts him and inveighs against him and
his family. In reply to her diatribe, York responds in kind, nearly
outdoing her by slandering Margaret's parentage, personal
appearance, character, conduct and nationality with appropriate
comparisons and general introduction. York addresses her as:
'She wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France
Whose tongue more poisons than the adder's tooth!
How ill-beseeming is it in thy sex
To triumph, like an Amazonian trull'
What most surfaces in his invective are Margaret's "unnatural"
characteristics as defined by traditional gender roles. The animal
imagery again abounds in his description of her as a tiger, a snake,
and a she-wolf. She is bestial and unnatural for leading an army to
war and acting with the bloodthirst and ambition of a man. Only
Northumberland's pitying reaction to York's speech reveals any
humanity in this scene and the audience may feel sympathy for
York as well. He is killed, pleading for his soul to go to heaven.
Shakespeare's vision here is grim. This is a world lacking in
morality or justice and full of pointless violence.
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