Henry VI Part 1: Act 2, Scene 5

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Act 2, scene 5

 
The action shifts to the Tower of London. Mortimer is brought in by his jailors in a chair. Now an old man, he has been a prisoner since his youth and is dying. He asks a jailor if his nephew, Richard Plantagenet, will come to visit him. The jailor replies that he will. At that moment, Richard Plantagenet enters.
 
Plantagenet tells his uncle that he has quarrelled with Somerset, who attacked him with his father’s (the Earl of Cambridge’s) execution for alleged treason. Plantagenet asks Mortimer to explain what the Earl of Cambridge was supposed to have done. Mortimer replies that it is this same deed that led to his own imprisonment.
 
Mortimer says that he was next in line to the throne after Richard II. But Richard II was deposed by Henry IV, so Henry's line has occupied the throne instead (Henry IV, then Henry V, then Henry VI). Mortimer tried to press his claim to the throne but was imprisoned. During the reign of Henry V, Plantagenet's father, the Earl of Cambridge, raised an army to put Mortimer on the throne. He was captured and executed, and the Mortimers were suppressed. As Mortimer has no children, Richard Plantagenet is his heir. In deliberately cryptic wording, Mortimer implies that he wants Richard to restore their birthright (“The rest I wish thee gather” – line 96). But he begs him to be wary, as the House of Lancaster (Henries IV, V, and VI) is firmly in control of the throne.
 
Mortimer dies. Richard is determined to redress the wrongs that have been done to his family, and goes off to Parliament to make his case.
 
Analysis
 
This scene has two main functions. First, Richard Plantagenet’s improbable claim not to know his immediate family history enables the audience to learn the story of how the royal line of Plantagenets, the rightful heirs to the throne, were deposed by Henry IV and his line. Second, the ruthlessness of the Lancastrian usurper Henry IV is shown graphically in the ruined figure of Mortimer. Clearly, the present chaos of the nation is in part a result of the abuses committed against the rightful rulers. Richard Plantagenet’s avowed intention to redress the wrongs done to his family solidify the conflict that was formally begun in Act 2, scene 4 in the Inner Temple garden.
 
 

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