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The Plantagenets - Henry VI: A Simple Man by Mike Walker

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Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 8 April 2012
 
In contrast to the bellicose Henry V, Henry VI, as portrayed in Mike Walker's play (Al Weaver) was portrayed as a more peace-loving personality trying and failing to forge peace among the warring Houses of York and Lancaster. Despite his best efforts, it seemed as if no one wanted to listen to him; any monarch who shunned war in favour of conciliation was perceived as somehow neglecting his duty. King Henry did not help himself by his reluctance to produce an heir after his marriage to the French Queen Margaret (Aimee Ffion Edwards). Although they produced a little boy in the end, it was widely suspected - although never proced - that he was a bastard, and that King Henry was probably impotent.
 
Mike Walker's play looked at the nature of kingship, and how it assumed a certain construction of masculinity based on strength and the readiness to fight wherever possible. The peacemaking King Henry was never going to be respected by his subjects, chiefly because he did not confirm to this construction. It was left to Queen Margaret to assume his role, as she sacrificed her femininity and assumed the leadership of the King's forces. She proved herself a capable leader, but we were left to ponder the wisdom of her decision: did the desire to fight battles actually produce anything?
 
This was another theme of Walker's drama. Although everyone professed to love their country, they seemed ever-ready to fight debilitating civil wars in order to prove their point. No one wanted to negotiate: the House of York and Lancaster were solely preoccupied with annihilating one another. In one bloody conflict, fifty thousand men perished in a single day. War also destroyed people: York (Shaun Dooley) began the play as a bluff, no-nonsense Yorkshireman, with a touching concern for the young King's welfare. By the end he had been transformed into a rabid warmonger, with an obsessive desire to see the King removed by force. He deserved everything he got, as he was defeated and beheaded by the Queen's army.
 
Jeremy Mortimer and Sacha Yevtushenko's production caught the feverish atmosphere of the times, where men professed loyalty to their monarch in Parliament and then opposed him later on, in a self-interested attempt to save their collective skins. The play was full of enthusiastic shouts of loyalty - especially before a battle - but this was nothing more than a hypocritical appeal to patriotism, recalling the famous protestation used for assassinating Julius Caesar: it was only done "for the good of Rome." Exactly whose "good" was left conveniently unexplained.