Study Guide

Henry VI Part 1 Power

By William Shakespeare

Power

GLOUCESTER
England ne'er had a king until his time.
Virtue he had, deserving to command;
His brandished sword did blind men with his beams;
His arms spread wider than a dragon's wings;
His sparkling eyes, replete with wrathful fire,
More dazzled and drove back his enemies (1.1.8-13)

Talk about military power—to hear Gloucester tell it, Henry V sounds like the scariest dude ever. Obviously, this gained the respect of his nobles, though it also leaves his infant son with an uphill battle when it comes to earning their respect as well.

WINCHESTER
He was a king blest of the King of kings;
Unto the French the dreadful Judgement Day
So dreadful will not be as was his sight.
The battles of the Lord of Hosts he fought;
The Church's prayers made him so prosperous. (1.1.28-32)

The play shows that we can't trust Winchester completely, and this seems a little over the top—Henry was scarier than Judgment Day? Seems unlikely. But this speech does show something about the kind of supernatural power kings were expected to have. The nobles want to feel like God is on the side of their king.

BASTARD
A holy maid hither with me I bring,
Which by a vision sent to her from heaven
Ordainèd is to raise this tedious siege
And drive the English forth the bounds of France.
The spirit of deep prophecy she hath, (1.2.51-55)

The English aren't the only ones who want God on their side. The French think Joan of Arc is blessed by God with the ability to prophesy or predict the future, and they also think God will help her as she chases the English away by military might. In this play, people often expect military power and supernatural power to go together.

CHARLES
Stay, stay thy hands! Thou art an Amazon,
And fightest with the sword of Deborah. (1.2.106-107)

More proof that Joan has military power: She impresses Charles with her fighting ability so much that he compares her to Deborah, a female judge who helped the Israelites win a major battle, and to an Amazon (a female warrior in classical mythology).

GLOUCESTER
Who willed you? Or whose will stands but mine?
There's none Protector of the realm, but I. (1.3.11-12)

This short quote shows a lot about the power dynamics going on in English politics in this play. Gloucester is Protector of the realm, which means he's basically ruling until young King Henry VI is old enough to take the throne. He's not afraid to use his power, as he does here, but he also takes pretty good care of Henry and probably has his best interests at heart. At the same time, he wrangles a lot with Winchester, who resents his power and would probably like to get more power himself. Yep, it's a complicated political situation.

PUCELLE
Wherefore is Charles impatient with his friend?
At all times will you have my power alike? (2.1.57-58)

Joan seems to have some sort of supernatural power, or at least she's claiming to. But sometimes she seems to have more of it and others less. Does this mean her power is made up? Or that it's from demons who can't be trusted? Or that it's from God, but it's not always His will to make her succeed? So many questions, so few answers.

WARWICK
My lord of York, I promise you the King
Prettily, methought, did play the orator. (4.1.175-176)

The King does have some rhetorical power—which is a good thing—but it's hard not to compare him with his father, who gave the famous "band of brothers" speech and conquered France.

TALBOT
...this arm, that hath reclaimed
To your obedience fifty fortresses,
Twelve cities and seven walled towns of strength,
Beside five hundred prisoners of esteem,
Lets fall his sword before your Highness' feet, (3.4.5-9)

Wow—Talbot definitely has military power. More than his boss, maybe? Fortunately for Henry, Talbot is very loyal. He'd have trouble on his hands if Talbot weren't.

PUCELLE
See, they [the demons Joan has called on] forsake me. Now the time is come
That France must vail her lofty-plumèd crest
And let her head fall into England's lap.
My ancient incantations are too weak,
And hell too strong for me to buckle with.
Now, France, thy glory droopeth to the dust. (5.3.25-29)

Looks like Joan may have been getting supernatural power from demons and not God after all. Either way, it seems pretty clear that Joan thinks supernatural power matters to political power—she thinks if the demons would help her, she could do more for France.

SUFFOLK
Margaret shall now be queen, and rule the King,
But I will rule both her, the King, and realm. (5.5.107-108)

The play ends with a nobleman scheming to exercise power behind the scenes—not the greatest of signs. So often in the play, Henry VI hasn't exercised much power, which leaves us worried that Suffolk's plan just may prove successful.

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