Study Guide

Henry VI Part 1 Act 5, Scene 3

By William Shakespeare

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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.

Henry VI Part 1 Act 5, Scene 3 Study Group

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