Study Guide

Henry VI Part 1

By William Shakespeare

Henry VI Part 1 Introduction

Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.


Does Shakespeare make you feel a little nervous? Dude is a pretty big deal, after all. But worry not. Because here's the thing: If you can get down with Star Wars, then you can totally get down with his play Henry VI, Part 1. It has lots of the same things that make George Lucas's cinematic masterpieces crowd pleasers for the ages.

Like Episode 1 of Star Wars, Henry VI, Part 1 has some major political intrigue going down, including betrayal, scheming, plotting, and lightsaber duels. Okay, not so much on the lightsaber duels—but there are a lot of battles and swordfights in this play. Like every other stage direction is they fight, or something like that.

And like Episodes 1-3 of Star Wars, this play is also about the coming of age of a young man with a special destiny. Anakin is the "Chosen One," destined to be strong in the Force, and whether Henry VI likes it or not, he's destined to be King of England. And in both cases, the rest of the characters are holding their breath, waiting to see if the results will be good or bad.

Adding to the similarities with Episodes 1-3 of Star Wars, Henry VI, Part 1 sort of has a cloud hanging over it—and it's pretty freaking dark. In Star Wars, no matter how much you're enjoying that lightsaber duel or podrace, you know that Anakin is going to turn to the Dark Side, or else we wouldn't have Darth Vader in Episodes 4-6. And in Henry VI, Part 1 we know the Wars of the Roses are coming—otherwise we wouldn't have Henry VI, Part 2 and Part 3.

Still not convinced you've totally got this? Consider these totally captivating features of Henry VI, Part 1:

  • A kick-butt female warrior;
  • some major insult fights; 
  • heroic characters that are totally Jedi-knight quality;
  • and did we mention the battle scenes?

So yeah, Willy S was and is a big deal. But that doesn't mean Henry VI, Part 1 isn't right up your alley. And if you like it—just like with Star Wars—you're majorly in luck. This play is grouped with other history plays known as the "first tetralogy," beginning with Henry VI, Part 1, and ending with Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III. So sit back, grab a snack, and get ready to enjoy a wild ride through Medieval times. While nobody goes flying through space, plenty of characters see stars.

What is Henry VI Part 1 About and Why Should I Care?

Ever had to do something you just really didn't feel cut out for? Maybe it was the timed mile run in junior high, or maybe it was asking your boss for a raise. No matter what, though, it's a feeling we've all felt.

The flip side of this feeling, of course, is feeling totally cut out for something that nobody thinks you should do. Maybe you knew you could handle spending the weekend home alone but your mom was all my baby about it, or perhaps you knew you were star quarterback material but you weren't the right gender for the team. The specifics of your experience aside, this is also a feeling everyone's felt.

And these two feelings? They're major players in Henry VI, Part 1. Poor Henry becomes king when his dad dies while he's a baby, and while everyone around him seems to have grand ideas about what this should look like, Henry would pretty much prefer to stay out of the fray. And when Joan of Arc arrives on the scene to kick butt and take names, everyone's scandalized because she's a lady, so she has to basically run the battlefield for France while everyone talks smack about her. Good times abound for both of them, needless to say.

So is this play set a long time ago? You betcha. But some things—like being put to tasks we'd way rather not do, and yearning to do things people think we'd best not—are totally timeless. So crack open Henry VI, Part 1 and get ready to see how people handled these problems way back in the day. Who knows? You might even find some tactics to try in your own life.

Henry VI Part 1 Resources

Websites

So You Think You Can Be a 16th-Century Playwright?
Check out PBS's cool online game, where you can channel your inner dramatic artist.

Your Play Online, Shmoopers. Henry VI, Part 1
Henry VI, Part 1 is here for your reading pleasure.

Flower Power Struggle
Whoa—tough times for England: We're talking ten coups and fifteen invasions in less than a century. Read why the Wars of the Roses happened here.

Dude—the Originals
Folger Shakespeare library lets you see Henry VI, Part 1 in the First Folio. Pretty fancy.

The Globe is Yours
Always great to know you've got the world at your fingertips—the world of Shakespeare, that is. See it right here at the Globe theater official site.

Video

Football Histories
The Reduced Shakespeare Company performs all the histories in just three minutes—while playing football.

Movie or TV Productions

The Hollow Crown
This series looks pretty cool—and since it features Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III, you know it will be awesome.

Articles and Interviews

Will the Real Henry VI Please Stand Up?
Read all about the monarch Shakespeare based his play on.

The Bard About Town
Want the lowdown on what people thought of Shakespeare in Elizabethan England? Then this is the link for you.

Magneto as Richard, Duke of York
Yep, Sir Ian McKellen as Richard in the famous rose argument scene. Too bad he's not arguing with Patrick Stewart's Professor X, but we suppose we can't have everything we want.

Images

Henry VI Sits Pretty
Check out the real king atop his throne in this illuminated manuscript.

Dun Dun Dun…
Witness the choosing of the red and white roses. Not sure why this matters? Be sure to swing by the "Symbols" section before you bounce.

Joan of Arc and the Furies
Not just an excellent band name, but also a pretty excellent image to gaze upon.