Of death and dukes: "King Henry VI Part 2" and the "danse macabre"

Clayton MacKenzie

Abstract


William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, was captured and murdered by English sailors on 2 May 1450. The event is dramatically re-enacted in Shakespeare’s early history play King Henry VI Part 2. Shakespeare’s version differs markedly from known sources. In particular, the dramatist frames the death of Suffolk as a danse macabre experience in which the victim is taunted, diminished and ultimately dragged off to the grave. The Protestant Reformation had liberated a swathe of Roman Catholic iconographies, the danse macabre amongst them, breaking them free from their traditional semantic moorings and allowing them to find novel significances on the Elizabethan stage. King Henry VI Part 2 represents a preliminary engagement with the danse macabre, a search for new possibilities and new meanings. The danse macabre form is used more coherently and cohesively in later Shakespeare plays but King Henry VI Part 2 appears to be an early, deliberate attempt to explore its potential.


Keywords


"Danse macabre"; iconography; history plays; Shakespeare; Reformation, Holbein.

Full Text:

PDF

References


Clark, J. M. 1950. The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Glasgow: University of Glasgow Publications.

Evans, G. B., H. Baker, A. Barton, F. Kermode, H. Levin, H. Smith, and M. Edel., eds. 1997. The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gairdner, J. ed. 2010 (1904). The Paston Letters, A.D. 1422-1509, Volume 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hicks, M. 2010. The Wars of the Roses. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Holbein, H. 1538. Simulachres and Historiees faces de la Mort. Lyon: Melchior and Caspar Trechsel.

MacKenzie, C. G. 2007. “Love, Sex and Death in Romeo and Juliet”. English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature 88 (1): 22-42.

Owens, M. E. 2005. Stages of Dismemberment: The Fragmented Body in Late Medieval and Early Modern Drama. Newark: University of Delaware Press.

Shakespeare W. 2000. King Henry VI Part 1 (Arden Shakespeare: Third Series). Ed. Edward Burns. London: Thomson Learning.

Smith, M. R. 2001. “Henry VI, Part 2: Commodifying and Recommodifying the Past in Late-Medieval and Early-Modern England”. Henry VI: Critical Essays. Ed. Th. A. Pendleton. New York: Routledge. 177-204.

Spicer, A. 2012. “Introduction: Lutheran Churches and Confessional Identity”. Lutheran Churches in Early Modern Europe. Ed. Andrew Spicer. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012.

Virgoe, R. 1965. “The Death of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk”. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 47: 489-502.




DOI: https://doi.org/10.18172/jes.2788

Copyright (c) 2015 Clayton MacKenzie

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

© Universidad de La Rioja, 2013

ISSN 1576-6357

EISSN 1695-4300