Plain English paraphrase of Robert Potter’s Queen Margaret (excerpt)

NOTE: Numbers in the right margin are of two, easily distinguishable types. The first type are line count indicators corresponding to the line count in the original script. This is to help with cross-referencing between this paraphrase and the ur-Potter text. The second set of numbers are placed to help in finding the source of the lines from the original, pre- adapted Henry VI plays. Thus, II.2.1.177 means Henry VI, Pt. II, Act 2, Sc. 1, line 177. I did not attempt to reference every line or indicate every cut from the originals, but only  cited those key lines which begin an excerpt or help establish when the adapted text leaps over lines or loops back to an earlier line. Sometimes I just threw one in for a reference point.



CHORUS       Henry the Fifth was too great a king to live a long life!

All the English kings before him can never compare

To Henry, who defeated the French at Agincourt.

But at the height of his power, the courageous King Henry died,

Leaving his only son, a boy of uncertain health,

Who was barely nine months old, to rule England and the lands it


Henry the Sixth, beset with problems,

Surrounded by quarreling relatives and noblemen, grew up to be

A mild-tempered and religious man with no skill or desire for battle,

While war brewed between France and England                                       10

And the horrors of war were everywhere.


Meanwhile in Anjou, a fair princess named Margaret

Came of age. She was more beautiful than all the other princesses

of France

And more charming and intelligent as well.

And to Anjou came William de la Pole, the Earl of Suffolk,

looking for a way to end that deadly war

and negotiate a lasting peace between England and France.

Scene 1

SUFFOLK           Whoever you are, you are my prisoner.                                   I.5.3.45

Wait, beautiful lady, don’t be afraid! Don’t run away!

My hands will touch you only with the utmost reverence.

As I place them at your supple waist,

And kiss your fingers  as a way to indicate my desire for

Enduring friendship between us[1]

Tell me who you are so I may offer you proper respect.

MARGARET          Whoever you are, you should know that

I am Margaret, the daughter of the King of Naples.

SUFFOLK            I am an Earl, most call me Suffolk.

Don’t be insulted by my attentions, [nature’s miracle][2]          10

You are appointed by fate to be captured by me:

In the same way the swan protects her young

By tucking them safely under her wings.

But if this unworthy treatment offends you even one time,

You may have your freedom as a token of my friendship.

(The soldiers release her; she begins to leave)

Wait—(Aside) I can’t let her go

(As the soldiers bar her way again)

I want to release her, but my heart won’t let me.

Damn it, de la Pole,[3] don’t act as if you’re unequal to

the occasion;

Don’t I have a tongue? Isn’t she my prisoner?

Am I going to let myself be intimidated by a beautiful woman?[4]

MARGARET  If you really are the Earl of Suffolk,

What price are you going to demand to set me free?

It’s obvious I’m your prisoner.

SUFFOLK      (Aside) How do I know she’ll turn me down,

Before I even try to win her love?                                            20

MARGARET  Why don’t you answer me? What’s it going to cost?

SUFFOLK      (Aside) She’s beautiful, which means she’s made for romance

And she’s a woman, so she’ll surrender to it. [5]

MARGARET  Will you take a ransom payment? Yes or no?

SUFFOLK      (Aside) Foolish man, don’t forget you’re married;                             30

How can you even think of taking Margaret as a lover?

MARGARET  (Aside) He’s talking to himself; the man is crazy.

SUFFOLK      (Aside) Of course, I could get an annulment.

MARGARET  Still, I wish he’d talk to me.

SUFFOLK      I’ll win Lady Margaret’s heart. But for whom?

Of course, for my king! Ahh, but he’s dull as a post.

(he won’t appreciate her)

MARGARET   He’s talking about wood. He must be a carpenter.

SUFFOLK      (Aside) But that’s one way my amorous inclinations can be


And peace settled between England and France at the same time.

Still, there’s a problem with this plan;                                                 40

Her father may be King of Naples, Duke of Anjou and Maine,

But he doesn’t have much money,

Which means the English nobles won’t see any advantage in

the king marrying her.

MARGARET  Excuse me, sir, you’re not busy, are you?[6]

SUFFOLK      (Aside) However much the nobles may dislike the idea, it will happen.

Henry’s still young and will give in easily.

(To Margaret) Madam, I have secret to reveal to you.

MARGARET  (Aside) Am I his prisoner or not?! [7]

(He isn’t treating me like a prisoner!)

But he does seem like a gentleman who won’t take advantage of me.

SUFFOLK      Would you think it too terrible a sentence, noble princess,                  50

To serve out your term of imprisonment as a queen?

MARGARET  It would be worse to be a queen without rights

than it would to be a real slave,

Because royalty should be free to act as royalty.

SUFFOLK      And so you will be, if the king of England is free to act as royalty.

MARGARET  What does the King of England’s freedom have to do with me?

SUFFOLK      I’m going to make you Henry’s queen,

Put the golden sceptre of England in your hand

And place its precious crown on your head,

If you will consent to be my—

MARGARET  Your what?                                                                                          60

SUFFOLK      His love.

MARGARET  I’m not of high enough rank to be Henry’s wife.

SUFFOLK      That’s not true. I’m the one who is not noble enough

To be here, seeking your hand on his behalf.

What do you think, my lady? Would you be willing?

MARGARET  If my father agrees, then I am willing.

SUFFOLK      Then summon our officers to assemble under the army’s banners!

We will stand outside your father’s castle, my lady,

And petition for a truce so we can negotiate with him.


Look, Reignier, and see your daughter is a prisoner!                           70

REIGNIER     Whose prisoner?

SUFFOLK      Mine.

REIGNIER     Suffolk, what help is there?

SUFFOLK      There is a possible solution, my lord.

Agree—and on your honor, agree truthfully,

That your daughter may be given in marriage to my king.

REIGNIER     Do you really think such a marriage is possible?[8]

SUFFOLK      Your beautiful daughter knows

that I am not a flatterer, deceiver or pretender.

REIGNIER     Welcome, then, noble Earl, into my domain.

You have the authority in Anjou to do as your duty requires.

(I grant you authority to continue your parley in my domain).

SUFFOLK      You have my thanks, Reignier, for having a child who is such             80

A perfect candidate to marry a king.

What is your reply to my proposition?

REIGNIER     First you will have to ask Margaret.

In France, noble women have a say in their own fate,

As, for example, Elinore of Aquitaine did.

They rule as well as men do—some think even better.

Dear Margaret, what do you say to this proposal of marriage?

MARGARET  I will do what is best for you, father.

REIGNIER     On the condition that my own possessions,

The counties of Maine and Anjou, be restored

peacefully to me,                                                                      90

Free from English rule and occupation,

My daughter may marry Henry, if he wishes it.

SUFFOLK      That is the price of her freedom; I release her.

(He gestures to the SOLDIERS, who exit)

And I will negotiate the freedom of these two counties

So that your Grace can enjoy your full, sovereign rights.

REIGNIER     Then again, in the name of King Henry,

I give you her hand as a symbol of the promise that she will

marry him.

SUFFOLK      Reignier of France, I thank you on behalf of my king,               I.5.3.163

Since I conduct this negotiation on his behalf.

(Aside) Though I think I would be very happy to                                100

negotiate this arrangement for myself.

(to Reignier) I’ll return to England with the news of our agreement,

And make arrangements for the formal marriage ceremony.

Goodbye, Reignier: treat her with the honor due the future wife of

England’s king.

(Or, less politically: “give this precious gem the treatment her value warrants”)

MARGARET  Goodbye, my lord. My highest hopes and regards go with you.

SUFFOLK      Goodbye, sweet maid; but wait, Margaret:

Do you have a greeting for my king?

MARGARET  You may give him whatever greeting is appropriate coming

from                                                                                        110

A virgin pledged to be his bride.

SUFFOLK      That’s very well said and very modest of you—

But, I must ask one more thing…

Don’t you have a token of your love to send to the King?

MARGARET  Yes, my lord; I send the King my virginal heart

That has not yet known love.

SUFFOLK      And I’ll take this for him as well.

(He kisses her)

MARGARET  That was for you. I would not be so presumptuous as to

Send such a foolish token to a king.

SUFFOLK      (Aside) Oh, if only you were going to be mine! But wait,                    120


Don’t go wandering in that maze;

Because that’s where traitors and their offspring go in

punishment for their treason[9].

Just urge Henry to marry her by praising her to the skies.

Think about those traits she possesses which exalt her above

other women

And eclipse even my ability to conjure superlatives for them; [10]

Repeat some version of those phrases to yourself over and over

again on the voyage home,

So that, when you finally kneel before the King,

You may dispel any doubts he might have with the amazing truth of her.

[1] Original line: “For I will touch thee but with reverend hands/And lay them gently on thy tender side.” I’ve chosen a somewhat suggestive modern reading, but “tender,” in other usage, carries additional connotations beyond gentleness or delicacy —that of an offering, that of scrupulous obedience AND to guard or watch over. (Schmidt).

[2] Bracketed words are the original line. The idea is (obviously) that her beauty is a miracle wrought by nature—synonymous with the works of God. I couldn’t think of a simpler way to phrase this that didn’t sound ridiculous. “Nature” carries additional connotations of natural affection, a high degree of personal integrity or character and entitlement by birth. (Schmidt)

[3] William de la Pole was the Earl of Suffolk’s given name.

[4] The first of many opportunities I have taken to paraphrase dialogue from the third to the first person. They sound less like comic book superheroes this way. J

[5] Original line: “She’s beautiful, and therefore to be woo’d;/ She is a woman, and therefore to be won.” It’s a cliché or saying—a common sense aphorism of Shakespeare’s day. (Arden)

[6] Original line: “Hear ye, captain, are you not at leisure?” Leisure connotes use of time. (Schmidt) An alternate reading might be, “Do you have any free time for me?”

[7] Original line: “What though I be enthrall’d?”—“What” is an exclamation of impatience, “enthrall’d” refers to her status as a prisoner, not to her being bewitched by his charms. (Onions)

[8] Original line: “Speaks Suffolk as he thinks?” Is the “he” in this sentence referring to Suffolk (as implied by the paraphrase of the line above) or does it refer to King Henry? In this last case, the paraphrase might read: “Do you speak for King Henry?”

[9] Original line: “Thou mayest not wander in that labyrinth/ There Minotaurs and ugly treasons lurk.” In Greek myth, the Minotaur was the offspring of an adulterous relationship between Pasiphae, wife of king Minos of Crete, and a white bull (sent as a gift to Minos by Poseidon). The relationship between Pasiphae and the bull was either consensual or not, depending on the version of the myth you read, but the Minotaur was a huge man with a bull’s head and Minos built a labyrinth or maze to contain it. Seven youths and seven maidens were sent every year from Athens and put into the labyrinth as food for the creature. SO—the line suggests a connection between the Minotaur, trapped in a labyrinth, and a traitor, wandering in a maze of his own making. This would suggest Shakespeare was taking the worst interpretation of Pasiphae’s relationship with the Poseidon’s white bull. (Arden)

[10] Original line: “Bethink thee on her virtues that surmount,/ And natural graces that extinguish art.”

Art has several possible meanings here. I’ve chosen a sense that means “rhetorical flourish” as in “More matter with less art.” Hamlet II,ii.(Schmidt)