Shakespeare’s Sources – Henry VI part 2

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Queen Margaret

Following on from last week’s blog which looked at Shakespeare’s sources for Henry VI part 1, I am going to move on to part 2. Again Shakespeare uses two historical sources Holinshed’s Chronicles and Edward Hall’s  The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York. Shakespeare selects details which suit him from both texts for instance from Hall we have the gentle Henry, as opposed to Holinshed’s Henry who was unstable almost crazy. On the other hand from Holished we have the meeting between Buckingham and York prior to the Battle of St Albans (dramatised in 5.1) which is not mentioned in Hall at all.

But I am going to look at something this week which Shakespeare invented for himself ignoring the historical evidence in both Hall and Holinshed. Shakespeare altered the ‘real’ historical timeline in relation to the conflict between Margaret and Eleanor. In reality, they never met, as Eleanor was banished for practising witchcraft four years prior to Margaret’s arrival, yet in the play they are political and personal rivals and their interaction provides Shakespeare with the excuse to write one of particularly excellent insults.

QUEEN MARGARET

They sale of offices and towns in France,
If they were known, as the suspect is great,
Would make thee quickly hop without thy head.

Exit GLOUCESTER. QUEEN MARGARET drops her fan

Give me my fan: what, minion! can ye not?

She gives the DUCHESS a box on the ear

I cry you mercy, madam; was it you?

DUCHESS

Was’t I! yea, I it was, proud Frenchwoman:
Could I come near your beauty with my nails,
I’d set my ten commandments in your face.

One can certainly see why Shakespeare decided to tweak history a little to facilitate this vitriolic little exchange!

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT

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