Henry VI Part 1: Act 1, Scene 3

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Back in England, Gloucester arrives at the Tower of London to inspect the ammunition that is to be supplied to the soldiers who are leaving for France. The warders of the Tower, however, refuse to let Gloucester in, on the orders of the Cardinal of Winchester. Gloucester reflects that the late Henry V disliked Winchester. Winchester appears at the gate with his men. He accuses Gloucester of being a usurper and traitor. Gloucester in turn accuses Winchester of plotting to murder Henry V during his lifetime and selling indulgences to whores. The two men trade insults and order their men to fight. Gloucester’s men win.

 
The Mayor of London enters and rebukes the two men for breaching the peace. Gloucester and Winchester begin to trade insults again, with Winchester accusing Gloucester of wanting to get military equipment out of the Tower to overcome Henry VI and crown himself king. The fighting breaks out again. The Mayor breaks up the fight, but Gloucester and Winchester threaten to kill each other at some future date.
 
Analysis
 
The division that has grown in England takes on a concrete form when the Protector, Gloucester, is refused entry to the Tower by Winchester and the two men set their followers fighting. Such obvious dissent among the nation’s leaders is a kind of civil war and shows the fatal weakness that has prevailed at England’s head since the death of Henry V. The inappropriateness of Winchester and Gloucester’s behavior is underlined by the fact that their skirmish is broken up by the Lord Mayor, a person of lesser social rank.
 
Gloucester’s accusation that Winchester sold indulgences to whores is another swipe by Shakespeare at Catholicism. Indulgences were written remissions of earthly punishment for sins that had been confessed and absolved by a priest. Protestants cited what they saw as the wrongful sale of indulgences as one of the abuses within the Catholic Church that made the Protestant reformation necessary.
 
 

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