Study Guide

Henry VI Part 1 Religion

By William Shakespeare

Religion

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)

Winchester's a clergyman in the Catholic Church, so he has even more of a reason than most of them to claim that God was on Henry V's side. But he's also probably exaggerating. The quote, however, shows how much people in the era wanted God to favor their rulers.

BASTARD
A holy maid hither with me I bring,
Which by a vision sent to her from heaven,
Ordained 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)

This guy, an important French leader, thinks Joan has what it takes to be a Jedi. He says she can prophesy the future, and assumes that her power is given to her by God. Throughout most of the play, there's a question hanging: Is Joan actually given power by God, as the French claim? Or is she getting it from the devil, as the English say? Or, as Shmoop would like to add, is she just a pretty clever lady who knows how to work people?

PUCELLE
Lo, whilst I waited on my tender lambs,
And to sun's parching heat displayed my cheeks,
God's mother deignèd to appear to me,
And in a vision full of majesty
Willed me to leave my base vocation
And free my country from calamity.
Her aid she promised and assured success.
In complete glory she revealed herself; (1.2.77-84)

This is a perfect example of something Protestants and Catholics would interpret differently. Catholics would take an appearance of the Virgin Mary to be totally legit, like Yoda saying Luke has what it takes to make a Jedi knight. Protestants, though, who were less interested in talking to the saints and more interested in talking to God directly, would be very suspicious. They'd likely think it was a demon pretending to be Mary in order to trick people. And since the play's main audience was Protestant, they'd be wondering about Joan just about now.

CHARLES
No longer on Saint Denis will we cry,
But Joan la Pucelle shall be France's saint.
Come in, and let us banquet royally
After this golden day of victory. (1.6.28-31)

Charles thinks Joan is the real thing—he even wants to replace Saint Denis, a traditional patron saint of France, with Joan. But is his read on her correct? Over to you, Shmoopers.

BEDFORD
Coward of France, how much he wrongs his fame,
Despairing of his own arms' fortitude,
To join with witches and the help of hell! (2.1.17-19)

Bedford's in no doubt: He thinks Joan is a witch, getting her power from the devil and his demons. In the time period, witches and magic were seen as less Harry Potter and more Darth Sidious. But does the play give an answer as to whether Joan is one? It's not that clear yet.

TALBOT
Well, let them practice and converse with spirits.
God is our fortress, in whose conquering name
Let us resolve to scale their flinty bulwarks. (2.1.27-29)

Talbot's not too worried. Is this because he's naturally brave, or because he really does think God is on the English side? Or both?

GLOUCESTER
Am I not Protector, saucy priest?
WINCHESTER
And am not I a prelate of the Church?
GLOUCESTER
Yes, as an outlaw in a castle keeps,
And useth it to patronage his theft. (3.1.47-50)

The church may have been spiritually and politically powerful, but that doesn't keep Gloucester from arguing with Winchester. The whole way through the play, the two men are tussling over who has the most power, Gloucester as the Protector guiding England till the King is of age, or Winchester as a high official in the Church. Gloucester doesn't attack the Church itself, but he frequently accuses Winchester of being a bad representative of the Church.

TALBOT
Foul fiend of France and hag of all despite,
Encompassed with thy lustful paramours,
Becomes it thee to taunt his valiant age
And twit with cowardice a man half dead? (3.2.52-55)

Talbot thinks Joan is not just a witch but sexually loose as well. This matters partly because she claims to be blessed by the Virgin Mary. It's unlikely that the Virgin mother of Christ is going to help someone who's sleeping around, so if Talbot is right about Joan's loose morals he's probably right about her getting her power from demons, too. Of course, he doesn't offer any proof here.

KING HENRY
I shall be well content with any choice
Tends to God's glory and my country's weal. (5.1.26-27)

Henry seems pretty sincere about this. He wants to please God and take good care of his country, both things considered duties of a king at the time. But doesn't it seem a little odd that this is his big comment on getting married? Marriage for a king in the time wasn't just a personal decision; it had major political implications, so it seems like he should feel a bit more strongly about whether it's the right girl politically or not.

PUCELLE
Now help, you charming spells and periapts,
And you choice spirits that admonish me,
And give me signs of future accidents.
You speedy helpers, that are substitutes
Under the lordly monarch of the north,
Appear, and aid me in this enterprise. (5.3.2-7)

Through most of the play, it hasn't been clear if Joan is a witch or a saint. Here she calls on demons, and they appear. But when the spirits turn up, they refuse to help her. So maybe she isn't so close to them after all? Either way, the play's audience would see calling on them as a sign that she can't be trusted. Calling on demons = shady.

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