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Henry VI Part 1

William Shakespeare

Characters

Summary

Act I, Scenes i-iii

King Henry VI -  King of England and various regions in France. Henry is son of Henry V, a great warrior who won many lands in France, and it has been prophesized that this son will lose the lands his father won. Henry faces great difficulty with his advisors and nobles, many of whom are involved in arguments with each other. Although young and inexperienced, he realizes what damage may be reaped by such dissention among the lords. He marries a French earl's daughter, Margaret, on the advice of Suffolk, though she does not symbolize a politically advantageous match.
Charles -  The Dauphin of France, Charles has himself crowned king and tries to recapture his kingdom from Henry. When he meets the warrior-woman Joan, he engages her in single combat but loses to her. He then wants her to become his lover but she refuses. Charles wins back half his former kingdom after a series of bloody battles, including one in which the English nobleman Talbot dies. However, following this moderate gain, Charles desists in his campaign and agrees to make peace with the English, in order to spare his people from further slaughter.
Gloucester -  Named Protector of the English Realm, Gloucester manages the kingdom until Henry is old enough to rule. He and Winchester disagree, and their serving men fight each other in street brawls. Yet Gloucester and Winchester agree to stop fighting, temporarily, over the course of the play.
Winchester -  Head of the English church and nemesis of Gloucester. Winchester accuses Gloucester of wanting to be the sole advisor to Henry, to control him, and eventually to take over the kingdom from him. He grudgingly agrees to get along with Gloucester temporarily, but by the end of the play he purchases the title of cardinal, swearing that no one will have more power in the kingdom than he.
Richard Plantagenet  -  Although his father once had claims to the throne, the young Richard Plantagenet lost all noble titles when his father was put to death. Plantagenet disagrees with Somerset about a point of law, and they each pick a different color rose as emblems of their opposing viewpoints, Plantagenet choosing the white rose, Somerset the red. Later he asks his imprisoned uncle Mortimer about the reasons for his father's downfall. Plantagenet asks the king to restore his titles, and the King Henry makes him the Duke of York. In France, the argument between Somerset and York is revealed, but the king urges them to make peace. He assigns York to control the English troops in France, where his disagreement with Somerset proves fatal when Somerset delays in sending him reinforcements. York is unable to aid Talbot without these extra troops, and Talbot dies.
Talbot -  General of the English troops in France, Talbot is so feared by the French that, when he is captured, they have archers guard him even while he sleeps. After being released, he conquers many towns and fortifications in France, until he encounters Joan. Joan breaks the Britons' siege on Orléans, but Talbot still beats the French several more times, until he is trapped at Bordeaux, where he and his son John are killed. Talbot represents a dying breed of noble chivalrous soldiers fighting for the honor of king and country. When he falls, the last of a valorous line dies out.
Joan -  Also known as Joan la Pucelle or Joan of Arc, Joan is a French maiden who comes to Charles with reports of her visions of the future of France. She says she will lead his troops in breaking the Britons' siege on Orléans, and her words prove true. Thereafter she aids the French troops in several battles. Before a battle with York and Somerset, she calls to her demons for advice but they refuse to speak to her. Then she is captured by York and put on trial. She tries to save herself by claiming she is a virgin, then saying she is pregnant, but the British burn her at the stake.
Somerset -  Somerset is an English lord who argues with Richard Plantagenet, later known as York. Their disagreement dates from a scene in the Temple Garden when they both pick roses to signify their opposite sides in a legal argument. Somerset chooses the red rose, Plantagenet the white. Later, in France, Somerset's dislike for York endangers the English campaign when he delays sending cavalry to York. Without these reinforcements York is unable to back Talbot in battle, and Talbot dies.
Suffolk -  Suffolk is an English lord who captures Margaret after the French are defeated and is so impressed with her that he is determined to woo her. But he is married, so he woos her for Henry, and then convinces Henry to marry her. Thus, the new queen is a woman he has handpicked--a woman with whom he is intimate, a woman over who trusts and listens to him: Suffolk plans to influence the British reign by way of this connection.
Mortimer -  Richard Plantagenet's uncle, Mortimer has been imprisoned in the Tower of London for years because of his claim to the English throne; Henry's allies have wanted him out of the way. Mortimer tells Plantagenet about this claim but urges him to forget about it because the ruling party is immovable.
Burgundy -  Although a French lord, Burgundy fights with Talbot's English forces. However, Joan convinces him to return to the French. His departure from the scene of the battle leaves Talbot weakened, and the French are able to kill Talbot in his next battle.
Bedford -  An English general, Bedford rushes off to France to help Talbot at the beginning of the play. Later, at Rouen, he is nearly too old and ill to lead his forces. Yet he does lead them, issuing verbal directions from his chair, and the English win; Bedford dies content.
Alençon -  A French lord who fights with Charles
René -  A French lord who opposes Charles. Also Margaret's father.
Bastard of Orléans -  A French lord who quarrels with Charles and first introduces Joan to him.
Exeter -  An English lord, Exeter becomes a kind of commentator, remaining behind at the end of scenes after everyone else has exited and remarking on the problems caused by internal dissention and strife in England and abroad.
Warwick -  An English lord, Warwick is called on to serve as judge on various issues, including the dispute between Somerset and Richard Plantagenet and, later, Joan's trial.
Salisbury -  An English soldier killed during the siege of Orléans
Gargrave -  An English soldier who meets his death in the siege of Orléans
Glasdale -  An English soldier who fights at the siege of Orléans
Vernon -  One of Somerset's men, Vernon resents Basset because Bassett serves the Duke of York, Somerset's nemesis in a dispute over a point of law. Vernon and Basset ask King Henry to allow them to fight it out. Thus, the noblemen's disagreement trickles down to their employees.
Basset -  One of York's men, Basset gets in a fight with Vernon because he serves York's nemesis Somerset, and the two men ask the king to allow them to fight it out. Thus, the noblemen's disagreement trickles down to their employees.
Lucy -  Sir William Lucy is a messenger sent by Talbot to ask York and Somerset for reinforcements. He scolds both men when they are unable to come to Talbot's aid.
John  -  Talbot's son, John desires to learn the art of war from his father but arrives on the battlefield in Bordeaux at just the wrong moment. Talbot urges him to flee rather than be killed in the ensuing fight, since the English are doomed, but John refuses. He says to flee would disgrace the family name; he stays and fights and dies with his father.
Margaret -  René's daughter, captured by Suffolk. Suffolk is so impressed with her beauty that he convinces Henry to marry her even though her father has no money and only a minor title.
Countess of Auvergne -  This French woman lures Talbot to her castle, planning to capture him so the French troops can win. But Talbot travels with an army and cannot be so easily trapped.
Sir John Fastolf -  A coward, Fastolf is an English soldier who repeatedly flees the scene of battle when he fears for his life. Talbot curses Fastolf for lacking the valor and honor of the old generation of knights.
Woodville -  Woodville is the lieutenant or head warden of the Tower of London. Winchester has ordered him to bar Gloucester from entering.
Mayor -  The Mayor of London has his hands full with all the struggles between Winchester and Gloucester's men in the streets of the city. He orders them to not fight with weapons, so they revert to throwing rocks.
Master Gunner -  A French soldier who helps Joan bring down the British siege at Orléans
Boy -  The Master Gunner's son, the boy helps bring down the British siege at Orléans
Governor -  The Governor of Paris
General -  The General of Bordeaux
Shepherd -  Joan's probable father. When he is brought to her trial, Joan denies she has such low parentage and the shepherd leaves, urging the English to burn her, as hanging is too mild a punishment.

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A Young King and the Dangers of a Power Vacuum

by ReadingShakespearefor450th, April 30, 2013

I finished reading and blogged on Henry VI, Part One in effort to read all Shakespeare by April 2014. If it's of interest, my blog link follows:

http://ow.ly/kA2g5

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