Witchcraft In Their Lips

A Brief Summary of Shakespeare’s History Plays
for the Production of Witchcraft In Their Lips (Youth)

| by Nelson McKeown – Reprinted with her permission |


Although below is a chronological summary, the stories are intermixed throughout the play. For example, the story of Richard II and Henry VI, Part 1 can appear in the same scene (i.e. Power Montage). While we encourage you to read this brief summary, when you’re watching the play, don’t try to follow the story sequentially. Instead, allow yourself to be live in each moment and each moment only. Allow the women to share their stories as separate, but related accounts.


There is a king named Richard II and he’s not a super great king. A lord named Henry Bolingbroke decides that he wants to be king instead, takes over the kingdom, and becomes HENRY IV.

    AUMERELE, a young lord still loyal to the old king, is not very happy about this and commits treason against HENRY IV by trying to get Richard II back on the throne, but his dad, the DUKE OF YORK (R2) catches him in the act and is very mad about it. He wants to turn him into the king and make his son suffer for his crimes, but his wife, the DUCHESS OF YORK (R2), begs her husband not to turn their son in.
    The Duke and Duchess go to King Henry IV and the Duke tells him that their son has committed treason. The Duke thinks that the King should use justice and punish their son, but the Duchess begs the king to spare their son and King Henry eventually agrees.


All you need to know is that Henry IV has a son, and when he dies, his son becomes King HENRY V.


Henry V decides to conquer France, because that would bring lots of land, wealth, and glory to England.

    He and his soldiers march into France, and the day before a big battle, Henry gives a very inspiring speech to his soldiers. Even though they’re very outnumbered, the English manage to conquer France.
    Henry V wants to solidify his hold on France by marrying the French princess, KATHARINE. Henry and the French King agree to this, and Henry woos her, even though it has already been decided that the marriage is happening whether Katharine wants it or not.


Henry V Katharine have a son, HENRY VI. When Henry V dies, Henry VI becomes King, but he’s very weak and shy and passive and isn’t a very good king, and the French begin to fight back against English rule.

    The French aren’t doing so hot fighting against the English, until a young peasant girl named JOAN OF ARC marches into the camp of CHARLES, the Dauphin, or prince, or France. She tells them that she has been chosen by God to free France from English rule and lead her country to freedom, and she takes over leadership of the French army.
    Joan uses her words, her wits, and military strategy to help the French start to win again. She fights with TALBOT, an English warrior leading the English forces. She convinces a powerful English lord to come back and fight on the French side, telling him that since he was born in France, he should not fight against his homeland, and that the English were acting like jerks to him anyway
    However, soon the English start to win against France, and things are looking pretty bleak for Joan. In desperation and fear, she tries to summon demons, but not even demons can help her now, and the English capture her.
    YORK and WARWICK, two English lords, prepare to burn Joan at the stake. They say very mean things to her as she defends herself, she curses the English, and they take her away to be burned.


Though the English beat Joan and her army, Henry VI is such a weak king that the English eventually lose all of the land that they won in France. He even begins to lose his claim to the crown.

    A noble called the DUKE OF YORK (H6) (different than the Duke of York in Richard II) decides that he wants to be king and begins to fight against Henry VI and his family. However, Henry VI has married a French noblewoman, MARGARET, who is anything but weak. Henry VI doesn’t do a very good job of defending himself against the Duke of York, and Margaret criticizes him for failing to protect their family and for failing to make sure that their son, Edward, will be the next in line for the throne. Margaret raises an army herself to fight against the Duke of York and protect her family.
    Margaret’s army captures the Duke of York and she decides to make him pay for trying to take the crown away from her family. She taunts him, he says some mean things about her and about women, and then she and her followers kill him.
    However, the Duke of York has three sons who continue to fight against Margaret and Henry VI. Their names are EDWARD, CLARENCE, and RICHARD. They start to win against Margaret, and she gives a speech to her soldiers trying to rally them to the cause even though they are losing. However, the three brothers win, and the oldest, Edward, becomes King Edward IV. The youngest brother, Richard, who is quite nasty and evil, kills Henry VI, and they banish Margaret to France. Richard also kills their son Edward (who is married to Warwick’s daughter Anne—Anne comes back later.)
    King Edward IV meets with a commoner woman, ELIZABETH, who is asking for some land to support her sons. Edward, however, takes an interest in Elizabeth, but she’s not having any of it. Edward says that the only way that she can get her lands back is if she becomes his queen, so, having no other choice, Elizabeth agrees.


The Duke of York from the Henry VI plays had three sons, Edward, Clarence, and Richard. Richard is a pretty nasty fellow and even though he’s the youngest, he decides that he’s going to be king no matter what. Edward IV is king, but he gets sick and dies, leaving Elizabeth a widow caring for the two young sons that they had together. Richard kills his other brother, Clarence, and throws the two young boys into prison at the Tower of London, since Edward IV’s son ought to be king next after his father.

    Richard realizes that Anne, the daughter of Warwick, has connections and family members that would make him more powerful if he married her. There’s just one problem: Richard killed her husband Edward (the son of Margaret and Henry VI) and he also killed Henry VI, who was her father-in-law. However, using all of his nasty wit and wiles, Richard manages to get her to marry him.
    Elizabeth goes to visit her young sons, who have been put in the Tower by Richard III. She is accompanied by the DUCHESS OR YORK (R3) (different from the earlier Duchess of York), who was the wife of the DUKE OF YORK (H6) and the mother of Edward IV, Clarence, and Richard III. Anne is with them as well. However, Richard III has ordered that the women can’t visit the young princes. STANLEY gives them the news that Richard III has been crowned king, and the women are all very upset, since they know that he’s an evil murderer and is very bad news.
    Richard does a whole bunch of other nasty stuff, like killing the two young princes and a bunch of other people. RICHMOND decides to save England from his tyrannical rule and brings an army in to defeat him. The night before the big battle, Richard has to deal with his conscience telling him all of the awful sins that he has committed and people he has killed. [NOTE: in the actual play, his conscience is represented by ghosts, but in our play, we represent it with the women cursing him and reminding him of all the bad things he’s done and dragging him away to be defeated by Richmond.]
    Richmond wins the day, and finally stops the wars and bloodshed that have been happening for generations. He marries Princess Elizabeth, who is the daughter of Queen Elizabeth. In this way, he unites the families that have been fighting over the crown, and they bring peace to England at last.