Sources of the Play

The Third Part of Henry VI, like the Second Part, is based upon an earlier play, which the reviser expands largely and in an independent spirit, but without the introduction of new plot material, and apparently without further study of the historical sources (chiefly Halle or Holinshed). The sole direct source, then, of 3 Henry VI appears to have been this basic play, The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, of which printed editions survive from the years 1595, 1600, and 1619. There is reason for inferring that the manuscript version which Shakespeare employed when he produced 3 Henry VI gave a somewhat fuller, and perhaps otherwise more faithful, version of the original play than that found in any of the three printed editions.

The revision by which The True Tragedy was transformed into 3 Henry VI was very thorough, but decidedly less thorough than that which The First Part of the Contention underwent in passing into 2 Henry VI. Whereas the latter play contains about 2150 lines of new or recast matter, 3 Henry VI contains only about 1550; and the reviser's work in 3 Henry VI consists much more in brief casual additions or in alterations which affect the metre rather than the meaning, rather than in such long rhetorical insertions as particularly characterize 2 Henry VI. It would appear that when Shakespeare came to rewrite the later of the two plays, he had somewhat abated the revisionary ardor that led to the elaborate poetic improvisations (often of dubious dramatic worth) with which he so generously interspersed the text of 2 Henry VI.

The best example of the lingering in 3 Henry VI of the zest for rhetorical embellishment is found in the first thirty-eight lines of V. iv (Margaret's speech), which correspond to the following eleven lines in The True Tragedy:

'Welcome to England, my louing friends of Frāce.
And welcome Summerset, and Oxford too.
Once more haue we spread our sailes abroad,
And though our tackling be almost consumde,
And Warwike as our maine mast ouerthrowne,
Yet warlike Lords raise you that sturdie post,
That beares the sailes to bring vs vnto rest,
And Ned and I as willing Pilots should
For once with carefull mindes guide on the sterne,
To beare vs through that dangerous gulfe
That heretofore hath swallowed vp our friends.'

Usually the reviser has shown more moderation. Gloucester's famous soliloquy at the close of III. ii (lines 124–197) has indeed been more than doubled, but it does not dilute or misinterpret the sentiment of the following True Tragedy lines out of which it has grown:

'Manet Gloster and speakes.

Glo. I. Edward will vse women honourablie,
Would he were wasted marrow, bones and all,
That from his loines no issue might succeed
To hinder me from the golden time I looke for,
For I am not yet lookt on in the world.
First is there Edward, Clarence, and Henry
And his sonne, and all they (sic) lookt for issue
Of their loines ere I can plant my selfe,
A cold premeditation for my purpose,
What other pleasure is there in the world beside?
I will go clad my bodie in gaie ornaments,
And lull my selfe within a ladies lap,
And witch sweet Ladies with my words and lookes.
Oh monstrous man, to harbour such a thought!
Why loue did scorne me in my mothers wombe.
And for I should not deale in hir affaires,
Shee did corrupt fraile nature in the flesh,
And plaste an enuious mountaine on my backe,
Where sits deformity to mocke my bodie,
To drie mine arme vp like a withered shrimpe.
To make my legges of an vnequall size,
And am I then a man to be belou'd?
Easier for me to compasse twentie crownes.
Tut I can smile, and murder when I smile,
I crie content, to that that greeues me most.
I can adde colours to the Camelion,
And for a need change shapes with Protheus,
And set the aspiring Catalin to schoole.
Can I doe this, and cannot get the crowne?
Tush were it ten times higher, Ile put it downe.'

The finest individual scene in either version of the play, that of the Duke of York's death (I. iv), has been treated by the reviser with marked respect. Here 165 lines in the True Tragedy version are altered into 180 lines of 3 Henry VI with only a conservative minimum of amplification or incidental correction.