Henry VI, Part 3 - Analysis and Criticism - Critical History - Montague Problem

Montague Problem

Another aspect of the play which has provoked critical disagreement is the character of Montague. He is introduced in Act 1, Scene 1 as a Yorkist supporter who fought at the Battle of St Albans (dramatised at the end of 2 Henry VI), and he accompanies York, Richard, Edward, Warwick and Norfolk from the battlefield to London in pursuit of Henry, Margaret and Clifford. In Act 1, Scene 2, upon realising that Margaret is set to attack, York sends Montague to London to get Warwick; "My brother Montague shall post to London./Let noble Warwick, Cobham, and the rest/Whom we have left protectors of the King,/With powerful policy strengthen themselves" (ll.55–58). Montague duly leaves, and when Warwick returns in Act 2, Scene 1, he is accompanied by a character called Montague, but who he introduces as an apparently new character; "...Therefore Warwick came to seek you out,/And therefore comes my brother Montague." (ll.166–167).

As such, the character of Montague seems to represent two separate historical personages in the play, and whilst this is not unusual in Shakespearean histories, the manner of the dual representation is. For example, in 1 Henry VI and 2 Henry VI, the character of Somerset represents both John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset and his younger brother, Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Similarly, in 3 Henry VI, another character called Somerset represents both Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset and his younger brother Edmund Beaufort, 4th Duke of Somerset. However, both Somerset in 1 Henry VI and 2 Henry VI and Somerset in 3 Henry VI are presented as consistent characters within the play, i.e. Somerset in 1 Henry VI and 2 Henry VI does not represent John Beaufort sometimes and Edmund Beaufort at others; he is consistently the same character in the milieu of the play. The same is true of Somerset in 3 Henry VI; as a character, he is always the same person.

Montague however, seems to represent two different people at different times in the play; i.e. the character himself changes identities during the play. Initially he seems to represent Salisbury, Warwick's father (Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury – a major character in 2 Henry VI) and subsequently, he seems to represent Salisbury's son and Warwick's brother, John Neville (1st Marquis of Montague – a new character). In 3 Henry VI, at 1.1.14, 1.1.117–118 and 1.2.60, Montague refers to York as his 'brother'. Similarly, at 1.2.4, 1.2.36 and 1.2.55, York refers to Montague as his 'brother'. If Montague here represents Salisbury, their reference to one another as 'brother' makes sense, as Salisbury was York's brother-in-law (York was married to Salisbury's sister, Cecily Neville). However, if Montague here represents John Neville, his and York's references to one another as 'brother' are inaccurate. Subsequently, at 2.1.168, Warwick refers to Montague as brother, and he is also called Marquis for the first time, neither descriptions of which could be applied to Salisbury or to any character who describes himself as a brother to York. As such, in 1.1 and 1.2, Montague seems to be York's brother-in-law, and Warwick's father, Richard Neville (i.e. Salisbury), but from that point forward, after his re-introduction in Act 2, he seems to represent Salisbury's son and Warwick's younger brother, John Neville. Salisbury is a major character in 2 Henry VI, as he is in both Hall and Holinshed's chronicles, and in reality, as outlined in the chronicles, he was killed at Pontefract in 1461 having been captured by Margaret at the Battle of Wakefield (depicted in 1.3 and 1.4).

Interestingly, in True Tragedy (which treats the character of Montague as one consistent persona throughout the play), Salisbury's death is reported by Richard;

Thy noble father in the thickest throngs,
Cried full for Warwick, his thrice valiant son,
Until with thousand swords he was beset,
And many wounds made in his aged breast,
As he tottering sat upon his steed,
He waft his hand to me and cried aloud:
'Richard, commend me to my valiant son',
And still he cried 'Warwick revenge my death',
And with those words he tumbled off his horse,
And so the noble Salisbury gave up the ghost.

(ll.1075-1085)

In the corresponding scene in 3 Henry VI however, Richard reports the death of another of Warwick's brothers, Thomas Neville, who never features as a character in any of the Henry VI plays;

Thy brother's blood the thirsty earth hath drunk,
Broached with the steely point of Clifford's lance,
Until with thousand swords he was beset,
And in the very pangs of death he cried,
Like to a dismal clangor heard from afar
'Warwick revenge, brother, revenge my death.'
So underneath the belly of their steeds,
That stained their fetlocks in his smoking blood,
The noble gentleman gave up the ghost.

(2.3.14-23)

It is generally agreed amongst critics that the differences between these two passages represents authorial revision as opposed to faulty reporting, leading one to ask the question of why Shakespeare removed the references to Salisbury, and why he wrote the preceding lines where Warwick re-introduces Montague as his brother. There is no definitive answer to this question, nor is there any answer to the question of why Shakespeare changed the character's name from Salisbury to Montague and then, after Act 1, equated him with another personage entirely.

Obviously, such a character discrepancy can create a problem for productions of the play. As an example of one way in which productions can resolve the problem, in Act 1, Scene 1 of the 1981 BBC Shakespeare adaptation, Montague is not present in either the persona of Salisbury or that of John Neville. As such, his first two lines, "Good brother, as thou lov'st and honour'st arms,/Let's fight it out and not stand cavilling thus" (ll.117–118), are reassigned to Clarence and altered to "Set it on your head good father/If thou lov'st and honour'st arms,/Let's fight it out and not stand cavilling thus." Montague's second line, "And I unto the sea from when I came" (l.210), is entirely absent. As a character, Montague is then introduced in Act 1, Scene 2, played by Michael Byrne (as he is for the rest of the production). His first line in this scene however, "But I have reasons strong and forcible" (l.3) is reassigned to Clarence. Later, when York is giving his men instructions, his order to Montague, "Brother, thou shalt to London presently" (l.36) is changed to "Cousin, thou shalt to London presently", and York's reiteration of the order "My brother Montague shall post to London" (l.54) is changed to "Hast you to London my cousin Montague." Additionally, Montague's "Brother, I go, I'll win them, fear it not" (l.60) is changed to "Cousin, I go, I'll win them, fear it not." This all serves to establish a single figure who is York's cousin and Warwick's brother (i.e. John Neville).

How the adaptation handles the report of the death of Warwick and Montague's brother Thomas Neville in Act 2, Scene 3 is also worth noting. The text from 3 Henry VI reporting the death of Neville is used, but it is altered so as the report becomes about Salisbury;

Thy father's blood the thirsty earth hath drunk,
Broached with the steely point of Clifford's lance,
Until with thousand swords he was beset,
And in the very pangs of death he cried,
Like to a dismal clangor heard from afar
'Warwick revenge, son, revenge my death.'
So underneath the belly of their steeds,
That stained their fetlocks in his smoking blood,
The noble Salisbury gave up the ghost.

(2.3.14-23)

From this point forward, the character remains consistent as Warwick's brother, and there is no further alteration of the text. As such, in this adaptation, the character is presented as one figure throughout – that of John Neville, Warwick's brother, Salisbury's son and York's cousin, and any lines which seemingly contradict that have been changed accordingly.

Read more about this topic:  Henry VI, Part 3, Analysis and Criticism, Critical History

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Henry VI, Part 3 - Analysis and Criticism - Critical History - Montague Problem
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