Episode 9 – Requiem of the Rose King

It’s probably worth remembering that two of the characters listed in the dramatis personae for Henry VI Part Three are “A Son That Has Killed His Father” and “A Father That Has Killed His Father.” While any war is ugly, civil war can be doubly so, and the shifting allegiances that rupture the families involved in this one is certainly no exception. When Richard sets George up for his own Banquo’s ghost moment, he’s trying to avoid the three Plantagenet brothers from becoming three more of history’s kin-slayers, but when you come right down to it, this civil war is also a massive family squabble, as Both Lancaster and York are Plantagenets. Even if we ignore the impact this has on the romance plots, that makes what Warwick is doing even worse.

Of course, let us not forget Margaret, who is ascending (or perhaps descending) to Tamora-levels of unpleasantness in this episode. Sure, Tamora (from Titus Andronicus) never forced her son to consummate his marriage while she sat stonily staring at the nuptial couple from a chair four feet away from their bed, but the self-serving cruelty is definitely present in her actions. If Margaret ever had any warm feelings for her son, she’s put those aside in pursuit of the crown, with the implication being that she’s far more invested in being either married to or mother of the man who plants his butt on the throne. And if Prince Edward can’t consummate his marriage with Anne Neville, that’s one less weapon she has in her arsenal, because the alliance with Anne’s father Warwick is important in that his ambitions of being kingmaker are far greater than Henry’s or Prince Edward’s of being king.

If you’re keeping track, we’re in acts four and five of Henry VI Part Three at this point, with King Edward preparing to reclaim his throne. That’s perhaps a bit less important to the action than the fact that Richard and Henry are both conflicted in their emotions. When Catesby comes to reclaim Richard in the forest, his discovery of the Duke of Gloucester with the erstwhile King of England takes him aback – and Richard’s definitely not fooling him when he claims Henry as an innocent shepherd. Catesby respects Richard enough not to do anything, but his palpable shock is making him see the situation in a different, and possibly bad, light. Richard and Henry’s closeness is equally evident, and what Catesby makes of it is up in the air – as is what, if anything, he’ll do about it, especially since he’s called back to Hastings’ side soon thereafter.

Richard and Henry’s relationship is one of the most tragic elements of a story that’s already weighed down with more than its fair share of the tragedy. The very clear images this week of Henry with a snowdrop is a good way to illustrate that symbolically on several levels. The snowdrop, one of the first flowers to bloom in spring, symbolizes several things, among them sympathy, consolation, purity, innocence, and hope. All of those come into play here, with the ever-shifting sympathies of the characters changing the emotional landscape of the story, any number of people being stuck with consolation prizes rather than what (or who) they truly want, and Henry’s eternal innocence and purity held against a Richard who is quickly losing both of those things – as are other characters. Innocence cannot live long in a time of war, and certainly that takes us back to Margaret watching Anne and Prince Edward have sex with a steely gaze, especially if we use the old-fashioned view and terminology that casts virginity as both purity and innocence.

But the saddest use of the snowdrop here is when Henry has plucked it and is holding it on his bed. Picked, a flower will wither and die, its meaning of “hope” along with it. Henry has removed hope from its roots. You couldn’t ask for better symbolism than that of where this story is heading.

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Requiem of the Rose King is currently streaming on Funimation.

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