Study Guide

Henry VI Part 1 Act 5, Scene 2

By William Shakespeare

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.