Henry VI Part 1 Summary
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
The play starts off on a cheerful note with the death of Henry V, who is one of England's greatest heroes partly because he conquered France. Just as the English nobles are wondering how England will ever survive, a messenger comes to say that the French are rebelling and doing pretty well at it, too. The English aristocrats make plans to fight the French and protect young King Henry VI's kingdom. He needs protecting because he's literally a baby. Already, there are some signs that the nobility may not be able to get along well enough to save the day.
On top of all this, the French find a new champion, Joan of Arc. In some ways, she's more like Anakin Skywalker than Henry VI is. She comes from obscure origins (like Tattooine), seems to have supernatural powers (like being strong in the Force), and there's some ambiguity about whether she plans to use these powers for good. The French think she's a saint, which is a little bit like being a Jedi Knight, but the English think she's a witch, which in this culture is considered deeply dangerous, like being a Dark Jedi, or maybe even a Sith Lord.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the English nobility are fighting amongst themselves. Gloucester, the Lord Protector who's running the kingdom till Henry's old enough, has major conflicts with Winchester, who's sore because he thinks he doesn't get enough responsibility or respect.
A young man named Richard quarrels with an aristocrat named Somerset. Richard is about to be restored to his noble title, Duke of York, which his father lost by getting executed for treason. Not pretty, that—especially since we soon find out that Richard's family may have a better claim to the throne than Henry VI. If you're wondering what happens there, Henry VI Part 2 can fill you in. For the meantime, York and Somerset are bickering.
Henry VI makes it to France and is crowned king there, even though the English have lost a lot of France. It doesn't help that the quarrel between Richard and Somerset means they fail to get aid to Talbot, probably the strongest of the English military leaders, when he needs their help in a battle. He and his son die gloriously while fighting, but who's going to take their place?
Eventually, peace negotiations are begun by third parties (like the Pope). The English agree, and Gloucester negotiates a politically advantageous marriage with a rich noblewoman. Henry's not so sure about marrying this young, but if it's good for the kingdom, why not? He agrees.
Suffolk captures a woman named Margaret, whose father has some lands in France and is King of Naples. Suffolk thinks she's hot, but since he's already married he decides to try and set Margaret up with King Henry. Because that will end well.
Suffolk convinces Henry to dump his fiancée for Margaret, but Margaret has no money and less advantageous political connections. Gloucester is unimpressed and worried this will cause major problems for the kingdom. The play ends with Suffolk hatching a plan: He'll have an affair with Margaret, and that will let him influence her, which will let him influence the king. Yep, that should go well.
Act 1, Scene 1
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 1 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- It's sad when a play ends with a funeral, but it's seriously ominous when it starts with one. And that's just what happens here. News not bad enough yet? It's the funeral of Henry V, one of England's greatest military heroes and the leader it needs—he conquered France a while back and has been regarded as a major hero since. And oh, his son is a baby and won't be able to rule for years.
- While the English nobles are mourning, a messenger arrives from France to say that the French have rebelled and many of the English lands and towns there have been lost through "want of men and money" (1.1.71) and likely through the disunity of the English noblemen. Gee, it would be a good time for a strong leader, wouldn't it?
- Gloucester and Winchester, two members of the English nobility, have a spat as well, just the beginning of a long series of conflicts they have throughout the play. We learn that Gloucester is Lord Protector, which means dude's basically running England until Henry VI is old enough to act as king.
- Bedford announces he will go to fight in France.
- A second messenger from France arrives. By now it's probably clear that it's not going to be good news, the way you just know the Millenium Falcon is going to have hyperdrive troubles not long into The Empire Strikes Back. And sure enough, the crown prince of France has been declared king and has every intention of ruling France on his own, with no help from England.
- Gloucester and Bedford plan to fight the French.
- A third messenger arrives. You know the drill: It's bad news. The third messenger says that the English leader Talbot has been taken prisoner. He fought boldly, but didn't have enough men or supplies and was also betrayed by the cowardice of Sir John Fastolfe.
- The nobles are demoralized, but at least they have a plan: They decide to fight against France and declare Henry VI King. Even though he's a baby, they'll totally rally around him and try to make things work.
- Winchester complains that he hasn't been give a job. He feels left out and threatens to kidnap the young king from his current home and use him to gain power. There's no evidence that he actually does this, but it's a tipoff that he's a prime candidate for spending most of the play jockeying for power and quarrelling with Gloucester.
Act 1, Scene 2
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 1 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Here we bounce over to France, as we can tell by the entrance of the crown prince (called the Dauphin here). He announces that the war is going well for the French and that they have all the most significant towns in the war again. Naturally he's pretty pleased about this.
- The French attack the English at Orleans and lose badly; they marvel that the English can fight so hard when they seem to be at a disadvantage. Sounds like the English are as scary as Darth Maul. The French even threaten to stop fighting because the English are so fierce.
- Then the Bastard of Orleans (yes, that's really what he's called in this play) announces he has found Joan Puzel (whom we know as Joan of Arc), and she can help the French because she is holy and has seen visions saying she's ordained to drive the English out.
- The Bastard claims Joan can see the past and future, so the Dauphin tests Joan's skill in prophecy by having someone else pretend to be him. She passes the test. Then she explains that she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary, who told her to help the French armies.
- Just in case, Charles (the Dauphin or French heir to the throne) also tests Joan by fighting hand to hand. He is amazed at her skill. It's like fighting Qui-Gon Jin or something. And guess what? She attributes her skills to the Virgin Mary.
- Dauphin asks Joan for a romantic relationship in exaggerated terms of courtly love, and she declines based on her calling to be a prophet and leader, though there's some hint she might be open to the idea later, or at least to some form of reward.
- As they wait for the French king and Joan, the other nobles hint that there may be a flirtation or some sort of sexual encounter going on. Joan comes out and incites them to war. The Dauphin pours on more exaggerated courtly praise invoking religious and classical precedents, and everyone enthusiastically agrees to fight the English again. It feels like The Return of the Jedi in here.
Act 1, Scene 3
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 1 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The Duke of Gloucester, Lord Protector of the realm (more on that here) tries to enter the Tower, afraid that things may have gone wrong there since Henry V's death. The warders refuse to let him in, saying they have orders not to.
- Gloucester is understandably annoyed by not being let in when he's basically (and legitimately) running England, but when the guy in charge comes (he's named Woodville), he says that he has clear orders not to let Gloucester in. This is sort of like locking Dumbledore out of Hogwarts. Gloucester isn't quite as full of professor-ly charm as Dumbledore, but still.
- Worse yet, Woodville says it's Winchester who's ordered them to keep Gloucester out. As we know from the very first scene of the play, Gloucester and Winchester don't get along.
- Gloucester disses Winchester badly—he says Henry V never liked Winchester anyway, and that Woodville had better open the gates.
- Winchester turns up about now and starts things out by insulting Gloucester. How so? He calls him "ambitious." Now that sounds nice—ambition means you accomplish great things and get your homework done early, right? Well, not in the Renaissance, especially if you're a nobleman but not a king. People suspected ambition and thought an ambitious character might want to take over.
- Gloucester disses Winchester right back, and the insults get thick and fast. Winchester accuses Gloucester of usurping the King's power and betraying the kingdom, and Gloucester accuses Winchester of trying to murder Henry V way back when, among other things.
- The insults keep going until a fight breaks out, and Gloucester's men chase Winchester's men off.
- The Mayor of London comes and asks why they can't all just get along. Gloucester and Winchester tell him, at length. Gloucester complains that Winchester has no regard for God or King (pretty bad insults for a member of the nobility and a clergyman in this time), and that he's taken over the Tower. Winchester rattles off a list of accusations against Gloucester: He keeps pushing for war, he asks for too much money, he wants to overthrow religion completely, and he wants to betray Henry VI and be king himself.
- Gloucester is ticked off by this list, unsurprisingly, especially since lots of it seems to be false. He says he'll answer with blows, and the fighting starts again.
- The Mayor gets one of his officers to make a loud proclamation, which basically says, "Go home, and now you can't use weapons in my city." It even threatens the death penalty if they do use weapons here again. Dude's laying down the law, old fashioned sheriff style.
- Gloucester and Winchester agree to stop fighting now, but only on the condition that they can keep feuding in other ways.
- Gloucester is more moderate: He says he won't break the law, but that their business isn't over.
- Winchester is less moderate: He basically threatens to kill Gloucester at some later point.
- The Lord Mayor says if they don't stop he'll bring in clubs. He apparently doesn't like Winchester either, since he mutters to the audience, "This cardinal's more haughty than the devil" (1.3.85). Burn.
- Gloucester acknowledges the Mayor's authority, and Winchester makes another threat on Gloucester's life. They leave.
- The Mayor marvels that the nobles could be so quarrelsome.
Act 1, Scene 4
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 1 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or actually the town of Orleans in France, we meet the Master Gunner and his boy. The Gunner reminds the boy that the town is besieged, and that the English have actually taken the suburbs (no more shopping at those big malls outside the city for the French).
- The Boy says he's often shot at the English, but keeps missing them; he has something to prove.
- The Master Gunner says he has something to prove, too, and unfolds his plan. The English have a sneaky plot to spy out the French position, but he's placed a cannon so he can shoot at them when they do it. He has to go see the Governor, so the boy will have to take over. The Boy agrees.
- Back to the English camp at Orleans. Remember Talbot, the English leader who was taken prisoner in Scene 1? He's free and back with the English. The English leader Salisbury greets him warmly and asks him how he got out. Talbot says that the French and English traded prisoners.
- Talbot's happy that the prisoner they traded him for is a brave leader, and he complains that at one point they were going to trade him for someone less courageous. He says he'd rather die than be ransomed in such a way, and so he's pleased at how the trade eventually worked. He also complains about the cowardice of Sir John Fastolfe, and then he goes all classic Western movie and says he would execute him with his bare fists he got his hands on him. Remember Fastolfe's cowardice is what caused Talbot to be captured in the first place.
- Salisbury asks how the French treated Talbot. Badly, it turns out. They dragged him to the marketplace and made fun of him in public. He says he broke free of the guards and threw rocks at the crowd, which is pretty impressive given that he was completely outnumbered and a prisoner. Apparently the French were so impressed they stationed snipers all around him after that. Okay, snipers like in The Bourne Identity didn't exist yet. But you get the picture.
- Salisbury says he's grieved to hear what happened to Talbot, but not to worry since they'll get revenge. They start spying out the French camp from the location the French Gunner mentioned, deciding where to attack.
- The French gunners are ready, and shoot at them. They get Salisbury and another English leader, and Talbot mourns and promises revenge.
- Suddenly, there's a loud noise and a lot of thunder and lightning. A messenger enters. Ominous entry, anyone? This is like that big drum roll and frantic strings in a movie when bad news is coming.
- Turns out, the news is pretty bad: The French have a new champion, Joan Puzel, and she's thought to be a holy prophetess. To be clear, in this time period people really want to say God is on their side in a battle.
- Salisbury, who's dying, groans.
- Talbot is definitely not scared. He vows revenge even more strongly and says he'll take Salisbury's place in attacking the French.
Act 1, Scene 5
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 1 Scene 5 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Talbot laments that he cannot get his troops to keep fighting and that they're being chased off by a woman in armor.
- Talbot expresses very clearly his view that Joan is a witch, and her supernatural power comes from the devil and not God. He also says he'll kill her in battle.
- Joan replies that she will disgrace him in battle, and they fight.
- Talbot cries on the heavens to help him, invoking God's supernatural power against what he perceives to be the devil's. He says he'll strain his utmost to chastise Joan, and he calls her a strumpet (a prostitute or sexually loose woman).
- They keep fighting. Joan says she has to go to take care of other things, and taunts Talbot, claiming "This day is ours, as many more shall be" (1.5.18).
- Talbot laments that Joan's sorcery has made his men afraid, and mourns that the English fierceness has gone. He encourages the troops and leads another skirmish, but then they have to retreat; Talbot says his shame is so great he wishes he'd died with Salisbury.
- Joan flies the French flag over Orleans and proclaims that they've rescued it from the English.
- The Dauphin praises Joan with classical allusions and calls her "glorious prophetess" (1.5.47).
- Orleans celebrates with bells and bonfires, kind of like that extra ending that George Lucas added to Return of the Jedi with crazy fireworks all over the galaxy.
- Alencon says France will celebrate when it's known how brave and masculine the French armies were; Charles says the victory is Joan's.
- He also makes elaborate promises, like sharing the crown and having the priests sing praises to her (this probably sounded a bit dicey to the playwrights' English Protestant audience, many of whom were against the Catholic tradition of praying to the saints).
- A bit ominously, he also promises to revere her ashes when she has died. This may be a bit of foreshadowing. Charles the character in the play can't know this yet, but historically Shakespeare's audience knows that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by the English.
- Charles is really heaping it on—he even suggests displacing St. Denis, the patron saint of France, with Joan. Then they head in to a victory banquet.
Act 2, Scene 1
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 2 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The scene starts with the French setting a watch on the walls of Orleans.
- Talbot is planning a surprise attack, since the French have been feasting and are likely not to be on their guard. He's talking to Bedford, the king's regent or representative in France, and to Burgundy, a very powerful French noble who is on England's side.
- Bedford says Charles is cowardly to accept a witch's help in battle: Charles must not be very confident in his strength if he needs hell to help him.
- Burgundy inquires about Joan of Arc and Talbot says she is a maid or virgin.
- Bedford doubts that a maid could be so warlike, in a classic example of the views of the period.
- Burgundy says Joan may prove masculine, especially if she carries armor.
- Talbot says oh well, if the French want to invoke evil spirits, that's their problem; the English will trust in God as their fortress.
- The English agree to split up and attack Orleans from several places.
- The English call out to St. George, the patron saint of England. This is sort of like trying to get Obi-Wan Kenobi on your side.
- The sentinels aren't asleep, and they do notice the English, so the French lords are surprised instead and have to leap over the wall to retreat half ready. It's like turning up to class with your dressy Oxford shirt and your Mario pajama pants.
- The French say how desperate and bold the attack is, and wonder whether Talbot might be "a fiend of hell" (2.1.49), or supported by heaven. Either way, his success seems supernatural to them.
- Charles and Joan come in together, which is maybe a little suspicious since it's the middle of the night. Have they been in bed together? Or have they been virtuously keeping guard on the walls? Hrm…
- Charles turns on Joan and asks if she wanted them to succeed a little only to lose a lot. He's pretty fickle, given that he was just promising to make her the patron saint of France.
- Joan asks why he is so impatient and says her power isn't always at the same level; she blames the French military for not keeping a better watch.
- Charles blames Alencon.
- Alencon says his area was fine—what about the other leaders?
- The Bastard says his quarter was secure, too.
- Reignier gets in on the action and says "Mine, too."
- Charles says he's spent the whole night walking around and helping the sentinels, and asks how this could have happened.
- Joan says it won't really help to figure out why it happened—they should get going and fix the problem.
- An English soldier comes and chases them off. Embarrassingly, they leave their clothing, or at least some of it, behind, so the English soldier takes their things. This has got to be pretty humiliating for France: A soldier who doesn't even get a name in the play is taking spoils from the King and his closest advisors.
- The soldier points out that Talbot's name is just as good as a sword: It scares the French off. Good thing the French nobility is already gone. This would be pretty awkward if they were around to hear it.
Act 2, Scene 2
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 2 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Talbot, Bedford, and Burgundy come in. Bedford decides to give the French a break and stop chasing them for now.
- Talbot says he has revenged Salisbury, in no uncertain terms: "For every drop of blood was drawn from him / There hath at least five Frenchmen died tonight" (2.2.8-9).
- Talbot plans to build a tomb to Salisbury right in France, celebrating Salisbury's courage and rubbing it in for the French.
- Talbot notes that they didn't see the Dauphin, Joan of Arc, or the Dauphin's chief men in the battle.
- Bedford says it's thought they leapt over the walls and hid in a field.
- Burgundy says he thinks he frightened the Dauphin and Jean. He's in little doubt that they're lovers—in fact, he describes Jean as a prostitute, or "trull" (2.2.28). This looks pretty bad for Charles's military reputation, in the view of the play's audience. Fun fact: The period wasn't so strong on the make love, not war theory of life.
- A messenger turns up and asks Talbot to pay a visit to "the virtuous lady, Countess of Auvergne" (2.2.38).
- Burgundy thinks that the chivalrous thing to do is to go and Talbot agrees then heads out to see her.
Act 2, Scene 3
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 2 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The next scene starts with the Countess of Auvergne, who's talking smack to her Porter. She says she's laid a plot, and that what she'll do next will make her as famous as Tomyris.
- Who's Tomyris? A new teen pop star? Hardly. Tomyris may not be famous now, but lots of Renaissance viewers would have known she was not to be messed with. Cyrus, ancient Emperor of Persia and major bad news for his enemies, tried to date her, but what he really wanted was her kingdom. It's a long story, but after she declined to go out with him and he still wanted her kingdom, they decided their armies would join battle.
- When Cyrus indirectly caused the death of Tomyris's son by trickery, she was angry. Hard to blame her there. Her armies fought Cyrus and killed him on the battlefield, and Tomyris plunged his head into a wineskin filled with human blood. Just in case it isn't clear from the story, that's a pretty major insult to the corpse of an emperor. Yep, not to be messed with, that lady.
- So anyway, back to our tale: It sure sounds like this scene is going to shape up into a horror story. Is Talbot about to be killed and insulted in gruesome fashion by a ferocious female warrior?
- Well, not right away. The Countess starts off their meeting with a skeptical, "What? Is this the man?" (2.3.13). She's unimpressed with his physique. She was expecting someone like Hercules or Hector, and what she sees instead is a "weak and writhled shrimp" (2.3.23).
- This might be an insult, but it's hardly deadly. Talbot replies mildly that if the Countess is busy he'll come back some other time.
- The Countess informs him that he's now a prisoner in her house—Talbot is surprised—then she concludes with some thundering rhetoric about how she'll chain his legs and arms for all the evils he's done against the French.
- Talbot replies, "Ha, ha, ha" (2.3.44). So much for the speech…
- Talbot says that basically his men are the reason he's so powerful, and the Countess can't stop them just by locking him up; he shows her his soldiers to prove the point.
- The Countess apologizes, says Talbot is everything his fame suggests, and asks him not to take offense.
- Talbot says he's not offended, and any chance of getting some dinner? He calls her "fair lady," which suggests that he's still wanting to be chivalrous.
- The Countess says she'll be honored to feast so great a warrior, and that's that.
- So, no horror film here. The Countess starts off by threatening to be the bold female warrior who destroys an emperor, but she winds up in a very conventional role for an aristocratic woman: accepting a warrior's chivalrous compliments and hosting a feast.
Act 2, Scene 4
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 2 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Things do not go well in this scene. Imagine a feud between high school cliques. Then imagine a feud between high school cliques where the members have huge political power and carry swords.
- This scene starts off with a quarrel: Richard Plantagenet is having some sort of fight with Somerset. Interestingly, we never find out what the fight was actually about, but it spirals out of control pretty fast. They already had to take it outside, as Suffolk says.
- Somerset decides that Warwick should arbitrate. Warwick declines in a tactful and eloquent speech, though, so Richard says he himself is obviously right, as anyone could see.
- Somerset says the same. You can almost hear them shouting, "Is not, is too!"
- Various people take sides, but the scene really gets interesting when everyone starts plucking roses. Wait, roses? Have we suddenly gone all Hallmark card? Nope.
- Here's the deal: Richard Plantagenet's family, known as the House of York, is symbolized by a white rose. The House of Lancaster is symbolized by a red rose. Later, a war will officially start between the two houses over the crown, and this will be the start of the Wars of the Roses, a turbulent period of civil war in English history.
- So this scene is ominous. Maybe storm clouds would be more appropriate than roses.
- Richard asks his followers to pluck a white rose.
- Somerset asks his followers to pluck a red rose.
- Warwick now does take sides with Richard, choosing a white rose.
- Suffolk sides with Somerset, choosing a red rose.
- Vernon's all hold up and points out that they should agree that whoever gets the most roses wins. Somerset and Richard agree.
- Final count: Somerset: 1 rose, Richard: 3 roses.
- Richard kind of rubs it in.
- They keep arguing, and Somerset insults Richard by calling him a "yeoman" (2.4.82), a much lower rank than his family actually holds.
- Warwick points out that Richard's grandfather was a Duke, and not only that, but also the third son of a king.
- Somerset says basically "So what? Richard's father was executed for treason. Doesn't that disqualify Richard from being a nobleman?" (It's true. You could be kicked out of the aristocracy if your father was convicted of treason.)
- Richard says his father may have been executed for treason, but he wasn't actually a traitor. He says he won't forget these insults.
- The quarrelers part on bad terms, and Warwick says that Richard will be restored to the aristocracy at the next parliament, where he will be named the Duke of York. Warwick also says he'll keep wearing the white rose as a sign of support for Richard, a bit like wearing a campaign pin during an election.
- Warwick makes an ominous prophecy: Today's argument will bring about many deaths. This is a hint at the Wars of the Roses—it's like knowing that galactic war is coming as you watch the first three Star Wars films. However solid the Old Republic seems, you know it's going down.
- Richard thanks the other guys who sided with him, and they all head off to dinner. There's a lot of going to dinner in this play. Maybe Shakespeare and Co. were hungry when they wrote it.
Act 2, Scene 5
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 2 Scene 5 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- We meet Mortimer. He's dying, unable to walk, and in prison; he even says he has "desire to get a grave" (2.5.15). He does want to know if his nephew is coming, though.
- The Gaoler says that his nephew will come, revealing to the audience that Mortimer's nephew is none other than Richard. Guess he's finished dinner.
- Mortimer laments that he used to be a great warrior, but since Henry of Monmouth (Henry V) began to reign, he's been locked up. He says Henry's reign has been bad for Richard, too. He praises death again and wishes his nephew well.
- Richard arrives and they greet each other warmly, then Richard describes the quarrel he just had. He also asks Mortimer why his father was executed for treason. Turns out he doesn't know.
- Actually, it's the same reason Mortimer is in prison, and he says he'll tell Richard as long as he doesn't die before he finishes the story. Talk about heightening the suspense…
- Mortimer tells a long story. Basically, he says he had a better claim to the throne than Henry IV, the current King Henry VI's grandfather. When a group of noblemen tried to put Mortimer on the throne, though, they were killed and he was imprisoned.
- Then Henry V inherited the throne from Henry IV (original names, huh?), and Richard's father, the Earl of Cambridge, tried to put Mortimer on the throne again. And again, it didn't work—Richard's father was beheaded, and Mortimer is still imprisoned.
- Richard and Mortimer now move on to the present. Mortimer has no son, so as his nephew, Richard is his heir. Basically, this means Richard could be king, at least if he and Mortimer are right about the succession.
- Mortimer warns him to be careful, especially since the house of Lancaster has been so successful.
- Mortimer tells his nephew not to be too sad, but to plan Mortimer's funeral. Then he wishes Richard well and dies. Talk about an intense scene.
- Richard wishes his uncle's soul well and says he'll give him a good funeral. Richard also seems to be thinking about his uncle's advice—he isn't telling anyone yet, but it sounds like he might be interested in the throne ("Well, I will lock his counsel in my breast,/And what I do imagine—let that rest" (2.5.119)).
- Richard heads off to Parliament, hoping to be restored to the title of Duke of York held by his family before his father's execution.
Act 3, Scene 1
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 3 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- You can probably guess what's going to happen in this one just by reading the stage direction. Where there's Gloucester and Winchester, there's going to be a quarrel—and in Parliament, no less. It's like if Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker started quarrelling in the vast galactic Senate meeting. But without the hovercraft, unfortunately.
- Gloucester is trying to bring up a bill listing Winchester's bad behavior in Parliament.
- Winchester grabs the paper from his hands, and—no kidding—complains that he wrote out what he wants to say. Picky, picky. Winchester says if Gloucester is going to accuse him, he should do it on the spot without planning ahead; apparently Winchester really respects improv. And guess what? He thinks he's pretty darn good at it: He says he'll answer Gloucester without having to plan it.
- Gloucester says he may have written down Winchester's crimes, but he's also perfectly able to recite them from memory.
- Then he gets going on everything that's wrong with Winchester. He throws the book at him, calling his actions "pestiferous" and "dissentious" (3.1.16).
- Gloucester accuses Winchester of basically being a loan shark, an enemy to peace, and lustful. This is pretty strong stuff anyway, but it's particularly pointed because Winchester is a priest in the Catholic Church and is doubly not supposed to be doing all this stuff.
- Gloucester finishes it off with the most dangerous accusation of all: Winchester is a traitor and has laid traps to kill Gloucester. Not only that, but Gloucester even suspects him of trying to kill the King. We know from the story of Richard's father that traitors can be executed, so Winchester can't be happy to be called one by the Lord Protector.
- Winchester says none of these accusations are true, and Gloucester just wants to run the Kingdom by influencing the young king.
- Gloucester interrupts to shout that Winchester is a "bastard" descended from his grandfather. We at Shmoop try not to use strong language, especially in Parliament, but Gloucester apparently has no such scruples.
- Winchester accuses Gloucester of pushing people around under the cover of King Henry VI's authority.
- Gloucester points out that he is officially the Protector of the realm, and Winchester points out that he's pretty high up in the Church (which was quite politically powerful in the time and sometimes challenged kings).
- Gloucester and Winchester continue to bicker.
- Warwick and Somerset get in on the action, trying to settle the dispute.
- Richard says he has to hold his tongue and not interfere in the debate just now (before being restored to his title), but otherwise he'd argue with Winchester.
- The young King Henry VI makes a moving appeal to Gloucester and Winchester to make peace. There's a commotion outside as he speaks.
- The Mayor turns up again. This guy has a hard job—and last time he told Gloucester and Winchester that their men couldn't carry weapons, so now they're throwing stones. They really are like squabbling kids. He asks the lords and the king to stop the fight. Windows are getting knocked out in the city, and shops have to close.
- The King tells the men to stop fighting, and they say, "Tough luck! We're going to keep fighting even if we have to use our teeth." Or something like that. They go back to fighting.
- Gloucester tells his men to stop. One of his servants says they're fighting so Gloucester won't be disgraced, though, and another expresses enthusiasm—and then they start fighting again.
- Gloucester tells them to stop, the King pleads with Winchester to back off (not all that kingly, possibly), and Warwick appeals to both the feuding nobles to make peace.
- Winchester says he won't yield. Gloucester says he'll stop for the King, but that's the only reason.
- Gloucester does try to make peace, but Winchester brushes him off.; finally the King and Warwick convince him to shake hands with Gloucester.
- Gloucester doubts that Winchester's sincere, but tries to convince Parliament and the public that the two are at peace.
- The King says how happy he is and tells the servants to stop fighting now that their lords have agreed. The servants head off to find a doctor.
- Warwick now introduces the topic of Richard becoming Duke of York again. Gloucester, the King, and Warwick all like the idea, and Winchester agrees to go along with it.
- The king says that he'll restore all of York's lost inheritance to Richard if Richard will be loyal to him.
- Richard vows obedience and service up to death. No small promise, that.
- They do the ceremony that makes Richard Duke, and the lords welcome Richard as one of them.
- Well, mostly. Somerset mutters to the audience: "Perish, base prince, ignoble Duke of York" (3.1.180). Apparently he's not of the forget-and-forgive school.
- Gloucester says to the king, "Hey, let's go get you crowned in France."
- The King says something like, "Whatever you say, my friend." Gloucester is still kind of running this show, even if it is Henry who's about to be crowned; Gloucester's even got the ships ready to go. But his advice is good, as Henry says (3.1.187).
- Exeter is pretty worried about the feuds among the nobles. He says it's like a fire hidden under ashes that will break out into a flame, or like an infection slowly rotting away a sick person's body. Then he quotes a prophecy that Henry born at Monmouth (Henry V) would win all, while Henry born at Windsor (Henry VI) would lose all.
- Exeter is loyal, even if he doesn't expect things to go well. He says he wishes he would die before these bad things happen.
Act 3, Scene 2
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 3 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Back to France, where some sneaky spy stuff is going down. Joan Pucelle turns up in disguise—she and a few soldiers are trying to sneak into the city of Rouen disguised as poor farmers selling corn.
- The Watch of the city is totally fooled, and lets them in. Apparently the Watch didn't watch their James Bond…
- The French nobles turn up and wait for a signal from Joan. She'll hold out a torch from the window of a tower to show the weakest place to attack, and then they'll storm the town.
- They charge in, planning to kill the watchmen and take over.
- Talbot realizes what's happening and rallies to fight. He blames Joan Pucelle and says she's a witch.
- Soon Joan and the French nobles are on the walls of the town, proving they've taken it over. She taunts the English and Burgundy, now outside the city.
- Burgundy insults her back, saying she's a fiend and courtesan (prostitute). He basically says, "You'll regret this!"
- Charles gets in on the act, taunting Burgundy as well, and pretty soon the insults are flying back and forth from all over.
- It gets particularly bad when an older English lord who has to be carried in a chair says something and Joan picks on him about his age.
- This enrages Talbot, who calls her "Foul fiend of France and hag of all despite" (3.2.52); he says she shouldn't pick on a brave old man and challenges her to combat. She says the French aren't going to fight for what's already theirs.
- Talbot says he's not talking to her, but to the French lords. They also decline to fight. The French leave the walls and go about their business.
- Talbot encourages Burgundy to take the town again, and then promises to take it himself or die. He lists English heroes who make him want to fight: the current king, the king's father Henry V who took Rouen originally, and Richard the lionhearted, whose heart was buried in Rouen.
- Burgundy says he'll vow just as strongly as Talbot to take Rouen back.
- Talbot offers to move the ailing Bedford to somewhere more comfortable, and Bedford insists on staying with them before the walls and suffering with them. Talbot congratulates his courage and invites Burgundy to gather the troops and charge. They fight.
- Sir John Fastolfe runs away from battle. Again. Even though his side wins—he isn't sure who's winning, so he deserts the lines.
- Bedford dies, proud that the English are winning.
- Talbot and Burgundy come in, gleeful because they've just taken back Rouen. They congratulate each other and thank heaven for the victory, then Talbot makes fun of Joan and the French.
- They set up some government for the town, then head off to meet King Henry, who's now in France. They also plan to honor Bedford with a good funeral before they go.
Act 3, Scene 3
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 3 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- When the next scene opens, Joan is telling the French nobles that it's really not so bad—she says if they'll just listen to her, she'll straighten it all out.
- Charles says one small setback won't keep him from trusting Joan, and the others agree; Alencon even says they'll honor her like a saint.
- Joan unfolds her plan. More spy stuff going down. She thinks they can convince Burgundy to come over to their side, with a little persuasion and some "sugared words" (3.3.18).
- Everyone agrees that the plan is a good one.
- Joan says you can hear the English drums as they march toward Paris. The Duke of Burgundy is in the back, so they can talk to him alone.
- They manage to get an audience with Burgundy. He seems skeptical at first, but Joan gives a pretty awesome speech about how he has wounded France by helping the English. She begs him to turn his sword against the invading English and protect his country.
- Burgundy is impressed. He can't tell if Joan is bewitching him with words, or if by nature he should be supporting France and he is now just coming to realize it.
- Joan presses her advantage. She says when English Henry is lord of France, they'll shove Burgundy out of power—England has recently failed to do what Burgundy wants, and it will hardly get better when the English have more power. She welcomes Burgundy back and pleads with him to return to the French side.
- Burgundy says her words have battered him like shots from a cannon, and he can't hold out against them. He'll come back to the French side. The French have a big group hug to celebrate.
- The others welcome him back and Alencon praises Joan for getting Burgundy to change sides. According to Alencon, Joan deserves a coronet of gold.
- Charles encourages them all to battle.
Act 3, Scene 4
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 3 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Unaware of the cloak and dagger stuff going on behind his back, Talbot is back with the English lords and the king, now in France. He greets the king, noting along the way that he's reclaimed fifty fortresses, twelve cities, and seven walled towns, not to mention five hundred esteemed prisoners. Not bad.
- He tells the king he's loyal and that he gives credit for all this first to God, then to the king.
- The king is pleased to meet him and recalls how his father used to praise Talbot. He praises Talbot himself, then makes him Earl of Shrewsbury.
- Meanwhile, the friends of York and Somerset are still quarrelling. The scene ends with an argument between Vernon and Basset about them.
Act 4, Scene 1
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 4 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Henry VI has his coronation at Paris. Confetti all around, yo.
- Only it would be a tiny bit better if Fastolfe didn't arrive right after with the news that Burgundy has switched sides.
- Talbot is really angry with Fastolfe. You can see why, of course—it's not so easy to be cheerful when someone's cowardice has led to your imprisonment. Especially if the guy ran away again when you were winning. And now he's back saying one of your most powerful allies has switched sides. Talbot actually tears the garter off Fastolfe's leg.
- The garter in this case is a symbol of a particular kind of knighthood Fastolfe holds—the knights of the Garter are a particular kind of English knight.
- Talbot reminds the lords of Fastolfe's cowardice. He apologizes for losing it in front of the king and lords, but he asks if he wasn't right to do it.
- Gloucester agrees that Fastolfe is pretty cowardly.
- Talbot describes all the awesome things that used to be true of the knights of the Garter—they used to be "valiant and virtuous" (4.1.35), full of courage, proven in battle, all that good stuff. Fastolfe doesn't deserve to be one of them.
- The King agrees, strips Fastolfe of his knighthood, and sends him packing, banished on pain of death.
- They then turn their attention to the letter from Burgundy announcing his defection to the French side. It's not very respectful, for a letter addressed to a king, and the King decides to send Talbot to talk to Burgundy and give him a hard time.
- Talbot says he would have begged for the assignment if the King hadn't given it, then heads off to argue with Burgundy.
- Remember Vernon and Basset? They spent the last act fighting over the quarrel between York and Somerset. Now they turn up and ask the king if they can duel each other.
- The king sensibly says he'd like to know why they want to duel before he makes a decision.
- They explain the quarrel, mentioning the red and white roses that proved so symbolic earlier.
- York asks if they can't leave this malice behind. He may be sincere or he may be sarcastic, but either way, Somerset isn't convinced—he assumes York still has a grudge against him and shows little inclination to make peace.
- The King tries to make peace, but York and Somerset push for a duel first. Somerset says he and York should duel directly, and York literally throws down the gauntlet.
- Vernon and Basset egg their masters on.
- Gloucester yells at them for disturbing the King. More politely, he tells York and Somerset they shouldn't duel and proposes another way.
- Exeter also says York and Somerset should be friends.
- The King gives a speech, telling them that they should forget the quarrel. He reminds them that they are in France, "a fickle wavering nation" (4.1.139), and says that any disunity will make the French more likely to rebel against the English. He asks them to make up for the sake of his father and his own youth, and he says "let us not forgo/That for a trifle that was bought with blood" (4.1.151), meaning the lands in France.
- This is all pretty good. Henry is showing leadership, and his rhetoric's not half bad. It's all pretty king-y of him.
- But then Henry does something suddenly and disastrously wrong: He takes the red rose and pins it on, claiming quite sincerely that he's equally fond of Somerset and York and no one will think he's favoring one over the other. This is kind of like putting on the campaign badge of one presidential candidate the day before the election and saying you don't really care who wins. You may be sincere, but no one's going to believe you.
- Then Henry VI puts York in charge of this part of France. He also asks Somerset to work with him there and fight their enemies, not each other.
- The king says he's heading back to England soon but hopes they will be victorious shortly.
- Afterward, Warwick says the King did a pretty good job at the old oratory.
- York agrees, but says he isn't too happy about the King wearing Somerset's badge.
- Warwick says the King didn't mean anything by it, which is likely all too true (Henry's young, remember, and a little naïve).
- York sounds like he would have been pretty unhappy if the King had meant to take Somerset's side over his, but he checks himself and says there are other things to do. Then everyone but Exeter leaves the stage.
- Exeter speculates to the audience that Richard, Duke of York, may be an angry type; he also says the fighting in the court is a bad sign, and something bad is coming.
- He says it's tough to make things work when the king is a child, but what makes things really go south is when envy causes strife.
Act 4, Scene 2
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 4 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Meanwhile, Talbot is back at war. He comes to the French town of Bordeaux and demands surrender.
- Bordeaux says it will fight back, and on top of that, ten thousand French warriors have promised to shoot at no one but Talbot. Good times.
- The spokesman for the French says he is pretty impressed with Talbot's courage, but Talbot will be dead within an hour.
- Talbot admits to himself, not to the herald, that things do look pretty bad for the English. But he rallies the troops and says they can fight with courage.
Act 4, Scene 3
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 4 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Talbot might get help, if York and Somerset could just agree. Messengers keep trying to convince them to help Talbot, and each says he can't and blames the other.
- We find out that Talbot's son has come out to help his father, and they may die together if York and Somerset don't find a way to help.
- One of the messengers, Sir William Lucy, says the feud between Somerset and York is betraying the memory of Henry V, because it's causing the English to lose what he won.
- Somerset finally says he'll send some horsemen, but Sir William Lucy fears it will be too late, since they will take six hours to get there.
- Lucy tells Somerset if Talbot is dead "His fame lives in the world, his shame in you" (4.4.46), likely meaning that Talbot's courage will be remembered, but that Talbot would have been ashamed of Somerset's behavior.
Act 4, Scene 4
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 4 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Imagine the scene: Talbot is swinging his sword in slow motion, fending off the French who are swarming around him, dodging arrows, all of that. Then suddenly his son arrives. Talbot tells his son that he called him here to teach him arts of war, so that Talbot's courage can live on in his son. But now, Talbot says, his son will die if he stays, and the Talbot line will be cut off. He tells the boy to take his swiftest horse and fly the scene.
- John Talbot, the son, is having none of it. "Is my name Talbot? And am I your son? And shall I fly?" (4.4.13) Yep, Hollywood would be all over this dialogue. Talbot and his son debate the point, Talbot telling John to flee so that he can revenge his father and John insisting that someone who would fly in these circumstances would never come back for revenge.
- John says that he'll stay, and his father can flee. But of course the older Talbot doesn't agree to this plan. They debate it, each trying to save the other's life, until finally they decide to fight side by side until they die. This is definitely the scene where the music would surge and the camera would pan out for a long zoom showing the grim battlefield and the hopeless odds and the Talbots side by side on white horses.
- The French nobles rush in at this point and surround John Talbot, but his father swoops in to the rescue, shouting "Saint George and victory!" (4.6.1)
- The Talbots really are all they're cracked up to be: bold, loyal, courageous, and strong. So the audience is likely to enjoy it when Talbot gives a speech about his son's courage and his rescue effort. He again asks if his son would like to flee so that he can avenge Talbot later, now that John has proven his courage.
- John Talbot says in no uncertain terms that he's ashamed even by the suggestion that he would flee, and that he will stay and die with his father if that's what it takes.
- Talbot accepts his son's decision and says they will fight side by side until they die, full of pride.
- More fighting ensues.
- Talbot starts to talk again, saying that young Talbot rescued him from the French, his son being "like a hungry lion" (4.7.7). Sounds pretty fierce.
- Talbot describes how his son then leapt into the French, ferociously attacking them, and there died. Talbot is immensely proud of his son.
- Soldiers enter, carrying John Talbot, who is actually not yet dead, but is dying.
- Talbot celebrates the fact that he and John will escape death together today by entering immortality. This was a standard idea in the Renaissance, since belief in the Christian idea of resurrection after death was widespread. (John Donne talked about the idea in his poem "Death Be Not Proud").
- Talbot takes his son in his arms and dies, celebrating courage and valor as he does.
- The French nobles and Joan turn up.
- Charles says that if York and Somerset had gotten their act together, it would have been hard on the French. This just underlines what a tragedy it is from the English perspective that the two couldn't cooperate: They might have saved the Talbots and won the battle.
- The Bastard says that Talbot's son was raging and spilt a lot of French blood.
- Joan says she tried to fight him, but he refused her as being unworthy to fight and went off to attack the other French forces.
- Burgundy says that John Talbot would undoubtedly have made a noble knight.
- The Bastard wants to chop the Talbots to pieces, which seems like a pretty brash insult, but Charles says they should show more respect to the dead bodies of those who made them flee in life.
- Sir William Lucy comes in, wanting to know who has won, who the prisoners are, and who has been killed.
- Lucy is especially looking for Talbot. Here he lists all of Talbot's titles, which takes upward of ten lines (4.4.172-183). They just go on, including a bunch we haven't even heard before in the play: Earl of Washford, Waterford and Valence; Lord Talbot of Goodrig and Urchinfield; Lord Strange of Blackmere; Lord Verdon of Alton, and more.
- Joan says this is a silly way of putting it, and then goes on to call Lucy's style "tedious" and say that the person Lucy gives all these titles lies "stinking and flyblown…here at our feet" (4.7.78). Joan's very brave, but she could work on the chivalry a bit.
- Lucy cries out in grief. He wishes that his eyes would turn into bullets so he could shoot the French, and that even the picture of Talbot would be a stumbling block to the French. He asks for the bodies of the Talbots and says he'll give them the burial they deserve.
- Joan says they should definitely give Lucy the bodies—you know, because otherwise they will stink up the air. Again, you can tell that certain kinds of chivalry aren't her thing.
- Charles gives the bodies to Lucy, who says that from their ashes will rise a phoenix to terrify the French.
- Charles heads off to Paris, hopeful that he'll win everything now that Talbot isn't standing in the way.
Act 5, Scene 1
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 5 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The King, Gloucester, and Exeter are discussing the King's mail. The Pope, who is a figure of great political power as well as spiritual significance, has written and asked England and France to make peace.
- The King asks Gloucester's advice, and Gloucester says it would be nice if they could stop killing each other and live a quiet life.
- We also learn that the Earl of Armagnac, a powerful man in France, has offered his daughter in marriage with a magnificent dowry if that will help conclude the peace deal.
- The King says he's pretty young to get married, and should probably be doing his homework instead of wooing a bride. He calls the marriage a "wanton dalliance," which seems a little harsh on poor Mademoiselle Armagnac—it sounds more like the way you'd describe a mistress than a wife. Henry may just be too young and clueless to realize that this could be offensive; he certainly doesn't seem to know much about love.
- He does say he'll be content with any choice that will advance God's glory and the good of his country. This is a noble sentiment, but doesn't seem like the most passionate idea of marriage out there.
- Winchester and some ambassadors turn up. Exeter gives Winchester a hard time about advancing to the rank of cardinal, and says that Henry the Fifth thought Winchester would be trying to equal the King if he got the Cardinal's role.
- The King says he's good with peace and it will all be arranged.
- Gloucester tells the ambassador from the Earl of Armagnac that the King likes the Earl's daughter and wants to make her queen. This is kind of odd: Shouldn't Henry be saying this himself? And shouldn't he have decided one way or the other earlier in the scene? This is probably another way of showing his youth and naiveté.
- The King does send a jewel to the Earl's daughter at least. Fingers crossed it's a nice one.
- As the scene ends, we get a presumably private moment where Winchester pays off the Pope's representative for making him a cardinal. He also says how happy he is that he'll now be of equal rank with Gloucester, adding that he'll make Gloucester bow to him or else he'll sack the whole country with a mutiny. Which seems a little excessive.
Act 5, Scene 2
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 5 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The French don't seem to have gotten the memo about the peace. At least, Charles and his lords still seem keen to fight. They're happy that the Parisians are in revolt against the English, and they're just planning to go to Paris when a scout comes and says the two parts of the English army are rejoined.
- The English are also about to start battle with the French again.
- Charles thinks this is short notice, but he's willing to fight, and Joan predicts success, then the battle begins.
- Joan sees the battle is going badly, and she calls on spirits or demons to help her. This is a surprising moment in the play, because up till now the play hasn't offered a lot of clear evidence as to whether Joan talks to demons or not. The English think she's a witch; the French think she's a saint; so far, the language of the play hasn't offered a clear answer.
- But here, when she calls on fiends, it sounds pretty likely that she's a witch.
- And it only seems more likely when fiends turn up.
- But then it gets a bit less clear. Joan asks them, "Help me this once, that France may get the field" (5.3.12). Does this mean they haven't helped her before?
- The demons walk around but don't say anything. You'd think summoning powerful evil beings to your aid would get some more dramatic action going, so maybe Joan isn't a witch, or maybe she's not as experienced with demons as you'd think from the fact they turn up.
- She does go on to say that she used to feed them with her blood and that she'd be willing to lop off a body part and give it to them if they help her. Pretty creepy stuff.
- The demons just hang their heads.
- Joan offers to repay them with her body, but they still shake their heads no.
- She even offers her soul, a bigger offer than the body in the time period, but the demons leave.
- Joan laments that she is not strong enough in these things, and that France's glory will droop into the dust.
- Fighting continues onstage, which must look awesome—too bad we're just getting the stage direction version.
- The French are fleeing, and York captures Joan. York definitely thinks Joan is a witch, and says so in no uncertain terms. He compares her to Circe, a witch who turned a bunch of Odysseus's crew into pigs in the Odyssey. He thinks Joan will fail where Circe succeeded, hinting that she might want to change his shape but can't.
- Joan still has some pluck about her, though, and she says that York couldn't possibly be changed into a worse shape.
- York taunts her by suggesting she's infatuated with Charles and can't be pleased by any other man's looks.
- Joan curses them both, so York calls her a hag and enchantress and says that she'll be burned at the stake.
- Meanwhile, Suffolk has captured a very different kind of woman named Margaret. But he seems in danger of falling in love with his prisoner—he starts throwing around courtly language like "O fairest beauty" (5.3.46) and asking to know who she is so he can honor her.
- She says her name is Margaret and she's the daughter of the King of Naples.
- Suffolk introduces himself and keeps up the courtly language, comparing her to cygnets (or baby swans), sun on glassy streams—all the Hallmark greetings you can think of. He also plunges himself into contradictions: He wants to let Margaret go, but he says he can't because his heart says no; he really wants to woo her, but he's afraid to speak; and when he finally decides that maybe he can write down how he feels, he says it would be better to just speak. Actually, he says, her beauty confuses his tongue. Aside: Suffolk may not be the best relationship model.
- Margaret has more practical things on her mind. She doesn't want to be a prisoner, and she asks what ransom she has to give to get away.
- The next part is sadly funny, with Suffolk talking to himself about Margaret and Margaret just trying to get a straight answer about the ransom.
- As Suffolk is talking to himself—does she or doesn't she like him?—we find out that he already has a wife. Aside 2: Suffolk really may not be the best relationship model. Finally, Suffolk decides he can have it both ways: He'll woo Margaret, but for the King. Aside 3: Suffolk really may not be the best relationship model.
- As Suffolk is talking himself into it, he comes up with another objection. The King of Naples is poor, as kings go, and the English nobility won't like that. The King is supposed to marry someone who will add to the wealth, not decrease it.
- He figures he can solve this. Henry's young, and can be talked into pretty much anything.
- Poor Margaret has been trying to get Suffolk's attention all this time, and he finally tells her he has a secret to reveal.
- But now it's Margaret's turn. She keeps talking to herself while Suffolk tries to get her to listen, now that he's finally worked out what he wants to say.
- Margaret, trying to make the best of a bad situation, tells herself that he seems a knight (and chivalrous), and won't dishonor her.
- She keeps talking to herself, wondering if the French will rescue her, and recognizing that she's (unfortunately) not the only woman to be captured.
- Suffolk asks her why she's talking this way (instead of listening to him), and she quite reasonably points out that she's just returning the favor.
- Finally Suffolk gets to the subject of Margaret and the king. He might have chosen better wording, though—he asks Margaret if she wouldn't think her bondage happy if she were made a queen. Suffolk may not be so great with women…
- Margaret responds that being a queen in bondage would be even worse than being a regular slave; queens should be free.
- Yeah, Suffolk's wooing isn't going so well. He sort of saves the situation, or at least keeps it from getting worse, by saying she would be free if the king of England was free. He explains his plan.
- He does slip up, though. He says he'll plan to make Margaret Henry's queen and then adds, "If thou wilt condescend to be my—" (5.3.121, emphasis added).
- Margaret is quick to pick up on this. Before he can finish the sentence, she says "What?" (5.2.142)
- Suffolk catches himself and says "his love", meaning the King's (5.3.123, emphasis added).
- Margaret says she's not worthy of being Henry's wife, Suffolk says he's not worthy to woo her to be Henry's wife, and courtly language turns up all round. Margaret does eventually agree to marry Henry, so long as it pleases her father.
- Suffolk parleys with her father, Reignier. Like Margaret earlier, Reignier is pretty businesslike, a contrast to the lovelorn Suffolk. When he finds out that Suffolk has captured his daughter, he basically says, "Let's solve the problem. I'm a soldier. I don't sit around and cry or complain about fortune's fickleness." He's probably hoping Suffolk will just tell him the ransom amount, but Suffolk suggests marrying her to King Henry.
- Reignier decides to come down from his walls and talk it over.
- He now seems a lot more interested in talking to Suffolk. He agrees to let the King marry his daughter if Reignier can peacefully enjoy two sections of land he sees as his own, Maine and Anjou. That's Maine in France, not Maine like the American state with moose, snow, and blueberries.
- Suffolk agrees to this deal (oddly without asking Henry or anyone else at the English court) and returns Margaret to her father for the present.
- They fix it up and Suffolk heads home to England. But there are lots of hints that he still wants a relationship with Margaret for himself. He leaves a diamond for her, tries to get her to send romantic words or tokens to the king (is Suffolk imagining how much he'd like to hear her say something romantic, even if it's not actually for him?), and kisses her. All in all, maybe not the best way to keep it all focused on business.
- Margaret says that the kiss will have to be for Suffolk, since she wouldn't send such peevish tokens to a king. This sounds like a rebuke, but is Margaret secretly wishing she could kiss Suffolk legitimately? It's hard to tell.
- But Suffolk leaves us in no doubt of his feelings: He exclaims that he wishes Margaret was his own. Then he stops himself, saying that ugly things lurk in his desire to have Margaret as his own instead of give her to the king. He then sets to work figuring out how to praise her in such a way that Henry will be amazed.
Act 5, Scene 3
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 5 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- York starts this scene by calling "Bring forth that sorceress condemned to burn" (5.4.1). Things do not look good for Joan. This scene is an odd combination of family drama and courtroom scene, with a shepherd who claims to be Joan's father trying to talk to her, Joan trying to convince York not to kill her, and York arguing that the English are right to burn her at the stake. It's pretty intense.
- The shepherd says he's been looking everywhere for Joan, and is brokenhearted that he's found her about to die. He offers to die with her, much as Talbot and his son agreed to fight and die together.
- This could be a moving, if sad, family scene—but Joan says he isn't her father, or even her friend. She calls him "Decrepit miser, base ignoble wretch" (5.4.7), and insists she's descended from someone noble, not a lowly shepherd.
- The shepherd insists that he is her father, and everyone in their hometown knows it.
- Warwick and York are angry with Joan for denying her father, and say her life must have been wicked if she can turn away her parent.
- The shepherd pleads for Joan to listen to him, but she refuses (she even says "avaunt!"). Then she accuses York of hiring the man to pretend to be Joan's father, so that people won't know she's of noble birth.
- The shepherd tries to give Joan his blessing, but when she refuses, he curses her instead. He gets really angry and finally says, "O burn her, burn her, hanging is too good" (5.4.34). So yeah… so much for the touching family reunion.
- York says to take Joan away and kill her, but Joan says, "First, let me tell you whom you have condemned" (5.4.37). She gives an impressive speech in which she describes how she is descended from kings, virtuous and holy, and chosen by heaven to work miracles on earth. She insists that she never worked with demons, but that the English are so evil they can't imagine miracles coming from a good source.
- Joan ends with beautiful language insisting on her innocence and the guilt that the English will bear if they burn her. She says that she is a virgin, chaste and pure even in her thoughts, and that her spilled out blood will call for vengeance "at the gates of heaven" (5.4.54).
- York is completely unmoved by this speech. He just says, "Ay, ay: away with her to execution" (5.4.55).
- Warwick goes further and actually makes fun of her, saying that since she's a maiden and so innocent, they should make sure the fire is fiercer so she dies faster and doesn't suffer so long. This seems pretty brutal, given the circumstances.
- Joan truly seems desperate. She says, "Will nothing turn your unrelenting hearts?" (5.4.60).
- She then says she's pregnant, and they can't kill her or they'll kill the child along with her.
- York and Warwick make fun of her, saying if she's a virgin she must have done quite a miracle to get pregnant. Then they accuse her of sleeping with Charles and also say basically that they'd like to kill the child of the Dauphin.
- Joan keeps changing the name of the father, trying to find someone whose child they'd spare, and they keep giving reasons why they will burn her anyway. York and Warwick almost sound as though they are teasing, which makes the scene even more brutal, since they seriously do plan to kill Joan. It's unclear if they actually think she's pregnant, or if they think she's lying.
- They keep making fun of her and finally tell her not to bother pleading with them, since it will be pointless.
- She gives up and says they might as well lead her away (to execution). She curses them as she goes, wishing that the sun itself will not shine over their country, and that darkness will drive them to break their necks or hang themselves.
- It's a pretty terrifying part of the scene, all round. There's so little human kindness and so much violence and cursing.
- After Joan is taken away, the Cardinal of Winchester comes in and tells York that the King is trying to negotiate a peace deal and the Dauphin is coming to talk.
- York isn't so excited about peace. He gives a speech saying basically "Did we work so hard for this? Did we lose so many of our best men just to end up with peace? Haven't we lost almost everything our ancestors conquered?" He ends by saying "O Warwick, Warwick, I foresee with grief/The utter loss of all the realm of France" (5.4.112-113).
- Warwick tells him to be patient and says they can come up with a peace treaty that won't give the French much advantage.
- Charles comes in to discuss the peace terms, and York tells Winchester he'll have to do the talking, since York is too furious to say anything.
- Winchester explains the deal: If Charles will proclaim Henry to be his lord, Charles can still run France under Henry's authority.
- Alencon and Charles don't think this is such a good deal, given that Charles already runs a bunch of the French territory on his own.
- York threatens to keep plaguing the French with unending wars unless they agree to the deal.
- Reignier doesn't think they're likely to do better, and Alencon seems to be coming around to the idea, too.
- Charles agrees, making one condition (which the English don't bother to argue with), and the peace is made.
Act 5, Scene 4
Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 5 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Where was the King during that peace negotiation? Not there. He's not there a lot, Henry VI. Now we see him having a conference with Suffolk, who's trying to convince him to marry Margaret.
- It seems to be going well. Possibly forgetting that he's already agreed to marry a noblewoman with a big dowry, Henry VI seems pretty convinced by Suffolk's speeches about Margaret.
- Suffolk says there's lots more to tell about how great she is, and on top of that she's happy to obey Henry and be his wife. (The men in this play aren't so hot on gender equality.)
- The King asks Gloucester to give consent to the marriage, but Gloucester points out, inconveniently, that the King is already engaged.
- Suffolk says that's no problem—the other girl is only an earl's daughter, so it's fine to break a promise to her.
- But Gloucester says that Margaret's father might have more impressive titles, but he's really no higher up than an earl.
- Suffolk and Gloucester then debate whether Margaret's father or the father of Henry's current fiancée is likely to do them more good as an ally.
- Exeter points out that the father of the current fiancée, Armagnac, is wealthy and likely to give a great dowry, which is not so likely with Margaret's father. Sounds like he might be poor and stingy, which is not so good from the perspective of the English nobles looking to fill the crown's pockets.
- Suffolk says the king doesn't need a dowry, and can marry whomever he likes for love.
- He gives a really long speech arguing that Margaret is a better match for the King, the King is really in love with her, and so on. This is pretty ludicrous, because the King hasn't even met either woman, so he's not actually in love with either of them. It's kind of like saying, "I read two profiles on Match.com, and I'm sure I'm in love with this one."
- All the same, the King seems convinced. He's not sure whether it's Suffolk's praise or the fact that he's never been in love before, but he's sick with hope and fear until he can marry Margaret.
- He even tells Suffolk he can levy a special extra tax for expenses. You know how much people like extra taxes.
- Henry asks his uncle to remember what young love was like and not be offended. Gloucester mutters that this will likely cause grief, and we can just see how unconvinced he is.
- Suffolk ends the play with a little speech where he describes himself as being like Paris, the Trojan prince who married the most beautiful woman in the world. He also hopes that he will be able to influence the king by influencing Margaret, thus ruling the realm behind the scenes.
- There are so many ominous things about this six line speech it's hard to know where to start. For one, Paris didn't really have great success. Yes, he did marry the most beautiful woman in the world, but only after stealing her from her husband, who came and besieged Paris's city of Troy for ten years. And that's just the beginning. Paris was also widely scorned by his countrymen for causing so much trouble, and he was eventually killed in the fighting over Troy. Not to mention that Troy fell completely to the Greeks and was obliterated.
- Suffolk sort of recognizes this—he says he hopes to prosper more than Paris—but it's still a really bad comparison. He's saying, "Sure this character steals someone else's wife, is hated by most of his friends, causes the downfall of his entire homeland, and dies in the process. But I think I can emulate him and have better luck."
- And that's the end of the play.
- This play begins with the funeral of one of England's greatest heroes and ends with a rash nobleman hoping he can run the kingdom by having an affair with the queen and influencing the king through her. Not so good. It's all looming, kind of the way the threat of Darth Vader is looming when you see that cute kid Anakin.