The Fall of King Henry - Director's Notes

"Call This Third Chapter: The Return Of The Hunchback."

Spoiler Alert:  York and King Henry Both Die
(and Rosebud is the name of Citizen Kane’s sled)

Shakespeare’s three plays that cover the reign of King Henry the Sixth have not gotten the love they deserve over the years.  Maybe the reason is because some scholars believe 1H6 was co-authored by Thomas Nashe (and/or others).  Perhaps it’s because some scholars believe 2H6 and 3H6 were written first and then Shakespeare wrote 1H6 as a prequel.  Or maybe some elitist folks are just snobbish about the “baseness” in the large number of fights, skirmishes, and broad battle scenes that seem to be inspired by the box office blockbuster Tamburlaine the Great by Christopher Marlowe.  Maybe it’s because the titles of these plays usually have a Roman numeral and a “Part” in them.  Whatever the criticisms may be, our mission with this production is to entertain your socks off with the climactic closing chapter of Shakespeare’s King Henry the Sixth trilogy (which is also the prequel to Shakespeare’s own box office bonanza play about King Richard the Third).  Call this third chapter:  The Return of the Hunchback.

In these Notes from the Director, I often like to say something about scholars’ speculations of when the plays were first written and staged as well as talk about how I put together the text for the play you’re about to see.   I usually feel compelled to mention the 1623 First Folio (a Jacobean coffee table book which is the first collected works of 35 Shakespeare plays – we believe Shakes wrote or co-wrote 38 surviving plays), printed 7 years after Shakespeare’s death.  Sometimes I need to mention printings of plays that pre-date the First Folio in quarto form:  essentially an Elizabethan paperback.  In the case of 3H6, the first known printing is from 1595, in octavo form:  an even smaller Elizabethan paperback made from folding the standard printed page eight times (instead of just four in a quarto).  The title of that 1595 octavo is The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York, and the Death of Good King Henry the Sixt, with the whole contention between the two Houses Lancaster and Yorke, as it was sundrie times acted by the Right Honourable the Earle of Pembrooke his servants.  The title of this play in the 1623 First Folio is The Third Part of Henry the Sixth, with the death of the Duke of York. 

The surviving evidence (and lack thereof) makes a good case that the play you’re seeing today was never called Henry VI, Part 3 in Shakespeare’s lifetime.  What did Shakespeare call this play?  How did his company advertise it?  In keeping with the tradition of finding the right titles to help sell these remarkable stories (that might scare off modern Americans if we stuck with the Roman numerals and Parts listed in the Folio’s table of contents), we at the ASC have titled productions about Henry the Sixth in the Wars of the Roses Ride:
Joan of Arc (Henry VI, Part 1) – 2015 Summer/Fall Season
The Rise of Queen Margaret (Henry VI, Part 2) – 2016 Summer/Fall Season
The Fall of King Henry (Henry VI, Part 3) – 2017 Summer/Fall Season

One of the many joys that comes with producing these Henry the Sixth plays for you in successive years with a true rotating repertory troupe is the opportunity to give great actors some great roles into which they can sink their teeth over multiple years in multiple plays.  Chris Johnston returns as the beleaguered King Henry (maybe you saw him as Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice this past Ren Season, or as Crumpet the Elf in The Santaland Diaries in December, or as Feste in Twelfth Night or the Fool in King Lear last year at this time).  Allison Glenzer returns as Henry’s fierce Queen Margaret (perhaps you saw her as Scrooge in our 2015 A Christmas Carol, or as Mary in The Twelve Dates of Christmas, or last Summer/Fall Season as the Storyteller in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Olivia in Twelfth Night).  René Thornton, Jr. returns as “that valiant crook-backed prodigy Dicky” (perchance you spied him as the title character in Coriolanus or King Lear or as Malvolio).  If you’ve never seen any of these three brilliant actors before, you are in for a treat that will make you want to see them again.  OR, if you’ve seen these Shakespeare rock stars many times in multiple dozens of plays over the last decade-plus here at the Blackfriars, you’re primed in a manner similar to watching one of your favorite sports figures play first-string in the ultimate all-star game.

While some fans have seen Robert Downing, Jr. play Iron Man in every Marvel movie, each film and each story stands on its own.  If you’re new to the ASC and have not seen the earlier chapters of the Henry the Sixth saga, don’t sweat it, you’ll be fine.  This play is Iron Man plays a Game of Thrones in a House of Cards as everyone considers himself or herself the Avengers hero in this righteous battle for power and glory.  Enjoy the ride.

Jim Warren
ASC Artistic Director and Co-Founder

Pro tips:  when Edward becomes King, he gives his brother George the title Duke of Clarence and his other brother Richard the title Duke of Gloucester.  Which means George starts getting called Clarence and Richard starts getting called Gloucester.