King Henry VI Part 2: Metaphor Analysis

Imagery Much of the imagery in the play is drawn from the animal or bird kingdom, and is used to comment on the character and behavior of particular characters. The imagery tends to occur most frequently in the long monologues given by the nobles. They often use similes to reinforce the points they are making. For example, in Act 3, scene 1, Gloucester is described by very different similes according to the speaker’s view of his character. For the King, Gloucester is as innocent “As is the sucking lamb or harmless dove” (3.1.71), but for the Queen, Gloucester is “disposed as the hateful raven” (3.1.76) who is not a lamb but is “inclin’d as is the ravenous wolves” (line78). When Suffolk is captured he speaks defiantly to his captor, drawing on the insect world, likening him to a low-level bee: “Drones suck not eagles’ blood, but rob beehives” (4.1.109); therefore he, a nobleman, cannot die at their hands. The similes are often extended over several lines, as when the King compares the arrest of Gloucester to the taking of a calf to the slaughter-house, and then immediately follows this with yet another extended simile that compares his own loss to that of the dam who has lost the calf: And as the butcher takes away the calf,And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strays,Bearing it to the bloody slaughter-house,Even so, remorseless, have they borne him hence;And as the dam runs lowing up and down,Looking the way her harmless young one went,And can do nought but wail her darling`s loss,Even so myself bewails good Gloucester`s caseWith sad unhelpful tears, and with dimm`d eyesLook after him, and cannot do him good,So mighty are his vowed enemies. (3.1.210-220)jSometimes the images are couched in the form of couplets that sound like proverbs, as when the Queen speaks of Gloucester: “Small curs are not regarded when they grin, / But great men tremble when the lion roars” (3.1. 18-19). Shakespeare also uses imagery in this play that he will use far more extensively in the later history plays, such as Richard II: the King is likened to the sun, and England is likened to a garden. It was a Renaissance commonplace to write of the king as the sun, part of the correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm: the King is ruler on earth just as the sun rules the heavens. In this play, the Queen touches on this idea, only to present Henry in a bad light: “Free lords, cold snow melts with the sun’s hot beams: / Henry my lord is cold in great affairs” (3.1.223-24). York on the other hand, uses the same imagery without irony, as he is looking forward to the day when he will assume the crown: I will stir up in England some black storm Shall blow ten thousand souls to heaven or hell; And this fell tempest shall not cease to rage Until the golden circuit on my head, Like to the glorious sun`s transparent beams, Do calm the fury of this mad-bred flaw. (3.1.349-54) It is the same two characters, York and the Queen, who use the metaphor of England as a garden. When York hears that England’s final territories in France, he bemoans the state of England in terms of a garden gone to ruin: Cold news for me; for I had hope of France As firmly as I hope for fertile England. Thus are my blossoms blasted in the bud, And caterpillars eat my leaves away; (3.1.88-91) York is taking up the imagery used earlier by the Queen, when she speaks of her fear that Gloucester will round up some support and thwart her plans. She urges Henry to act immediately: Now `tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted; Suffer them now, and they`ll o`ergrow the garden And choke the herbs for want of husbandry. (3.1.31-33)