Study Guide

Henry VI Part 1 Language and Communication

By William Shakespeare

Language and Communication

GLOUCESTER
What should I say? His deeds exceed all speech.
He ne'er lift up his hand but conquerèd. (1.1.15-16)

Gloucester says that speech can't explain everything Henry V did, and he's right. But speech is more important than Gloucester's letting on—after all, he's bothered giving a speech despite noting speech's limitations, so it must be good for something.

CHARLES
At pleasure here we lie, near Orleance.
Otherwhiles, the famished English, like pale ghosts,
Faintly besiege us one hour in a month. (1.2.6-8)

Charles is not only conquering towns, he's also pretty good with the language of war. Who wouldn't want to follow someone who's got Mars on his side? Too bad he goes on to lose a battle right after this beautiful speech.

CHARLES
Whoe'er helps thee, 'tis thou that must help me.
Impatiently I burn with thy desire.
My heart and hands thou hast at once subdued.
Excellent Pucelle, if thy name be so,
Let me thy servant and not sovereign be.
'Tis the French Dauphin sueth to thee thus. (1.2.109-114)

Well, Charles may not be as much of a fighter as he'd hoped, but he sure sounds good when he's asking someone out. His flowery language is an important part of his character. Of course, he shortly seems fickle when Joan doesn't succeed (2.1.50-53), so maybe his language of love is a bit hollow, like his war rhetoric.

PLANTAGENET
Since you are tongue-tied and so loath to speak,
In dumb significants proclaim your thoughts:
Let him that is a true-born gentleman
And stands upon the honor of his birth,
If he suppose that I have pleaded truth,
From off this briar pluck a white rose with me. (2.4.25-30)

Richard is a talented communicator, and he finds a way of convincing the people present to show their support for him that is richly symbolic even though it doesn't require words. And incidentally, he manages to get words of support out of them, too.

RICHARD
Hath not thy rose a canker, Somerset?
SOMERSET
Hath not thy rose a thorn, Plantagenet? (2.4.69-70)

Pretty snappy, right? Richard's good with words when he wants to be. And Somerset's not bad here, either. They sound a bit like Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, bickering away. Too bad they don't have a friendship like Holmes and Watson to match…

THE KING
Uncles of Gloucester and of Winchester,
The special watchmen of our English weal,
I would prevail, if prayers might prevail,
To join your hearts in love and amity.
O what a scandal is it to our crown
That two such noble peers as ye should jar! (3.1.69-74)

Henry V was a great speechmaker, and his young son looks promising, too. He addresses both the quarreling nobles as "uncle," reminding them of their ties to him, and he slips in a smooth compliment on how they're special protectors of England's good. Then he asks them very graciously if he can convince them to get along. Nice to know he may be inheriting some of Henry V's talents. If only that extended to dominating the battlefield, the English nobles would be a lot happier.

PUCELLE
Dismay not, princes, at this accident,
Nor grieve that Roan is so recoverèd.
Care is no cure, but rather corrosive
For things that are not to be remedied.
Let frantic Talbot triumph for a while,
And like a peacock sweep along his tail;
We'll pull his plumes and take away his train,
If Dauphin and the rest will be but ruled. (3.3.1-8)

Henry VI has competition in the rhetoric department. Joan gives a nice speech, complete with alliteration ("Care is no cure, but rather corrosive"), simile ("like a peacock"), and a promise of success. You go, girl.

BURGUNDY
I am vanquished. These haughty words of hers
Have battered me like roaring cannon-shot,
And made me almost yield upon my knees.— (3.3.78-80)

The tongue is mightier than the sword—or at least Joan's is. She's able to sway a fighting man like Burgundy to join her side; attacking him with weapons would hardly have done that. Her speech is a classic tearjerker, and it works on Burgundy.

WARWICK
My lord of York, I promise you the King
Prettily, methought, did play the orator.
YORK
And so he did, but yet I like it not
In that he wears the badge of Somerset. (4.1.175-178)

Oh boy… Warwick and York both agree the king's pretty good with words, but he just made a major symbolic blooper. You can't wear the badge of one side in a quarrel without making the other side upset, no matter how much you say you're not taking sides. Guess rhetoric isn't everything: You need good judgment, too.

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