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Henry VI Part 1

William Shakespeare

Act V, Scene vi

Act V, Scene v

Act V, Scene vii

Summary

In York's camp, York has arranged a trial for Joan, attended by Warwick and a shepherd. The shepherd is Joan's father, and he weeps to see her fallen state. Yet she refuses to acknowledge any connection to him. Warwick asks her if she denies her parentage, which York thinks is a sign of her wickedness. The shepherd begs her to admit he is her father, but Joan insists the English have merely brought him in to suggest her birth was low. Distraught, the shepherd says he wishes some wolf had eaten her when she tended his sheep. He urges the English to burn her, as hanging would be too good a death, and departs.

York orders her to be taken away, but Joan insists on telling of her origins. She announces that she is the descendant of kings, chosen by the heavens to be virtuous and holy and to bring miracles to the earth. She declares that her judges are unable to believe in her innocence because they are polluted by their own lusts and stained by the bloods of the innocents they have killed before. She declares she has always been a chaste virgin; if the English spill her blood, they will only be sending her to heaven, where she can call upon God to reap revenge. York is unconvinced and tells the guards to take her away. Warwick orders the preparation of a large bonfire in which to burn her.

Joan asks them to stop in their plan to kill her, now declaring that she is pregnant and they mustn't murder the child within her. York is startled that the allegedly holy virgin now claims to be with child; who fathered the child, they wonder? They suggest Charles, but she denies it. She says it was Alençon, then she names René. The English think all these names suggest she has been promiscuous with the French lords, while all the while claiming to be a virgin. York tells her to cease her efforts, they are in vain; she will go to the bonfire no matter what she says. Joan then curses England, and she is led away.

Winchester enters, with letters from Henry. York reads of the plan to negotiate peace. He is frustrated to think that so many died and were captured for their country, only to now be dishonored by what he considers "effeminate peace"(V.vi.107). He foresees the loss of the rest of the French kingdom.

Charles enters with his lords, Alençon, René, and the Bastard of Orléans, to discuss the terms of the treaty. York urges Winchester to speak, since he is filled with too much anger to speak himself. Winchester says that Henry consents to cease the war and to let Charles's men become feudal lords, loyal to the crown of England. And he tells Charles that he may become a viceroy under the king. But Alençon doesn't want Charles to become a shadow of his former powerful self, and Charles himself reminds Winchester that he possesses more than half the French territories and is already reverenced as king in those regions; he would rather be king of half a kingdom than viceroy of a whole one. York asks Charles if he wants to quibble about the terms and give the hard line: either accept the title offered generously by Henry or the English will continue the war.

René urges Charles to accept the offer, knowing another is not likely to come again. Alençon agrees. Charles should accept and, thus, stop the massacre of his people; he can always go back on his word when conditions are favorable. Charles agrees to the truce, on the condition that the English leave him all his fortified towns. York insists that they swear allegiance to the English throne, and they do. Then, he tells them to dismiss their armies.

Commentary

This scene's portrayal of the famous events leading up to Joan of Arc's death differs somewhat from other accounts. Some stories show Joan as dying for her alleged heresies and her claim to be able to communicate with heavenly beings; others focus on her sentencers' fear of her unconventional life and her warrior-woman status. Yet York and Warwick order her death for no particular reason, it seems; they merely want to be rid of her as an enemy.

Joan's pleas for her life strip her of dignity. First, she insists she is a holy virgin and that to kill her will be to invoke the wrath of heaven. But when they lead her to the bonfire, she changes her story and claims she is pregnant. She desperately lists off French nobles who could be her child's father, thus, rendering her story entirely implausible and further encouraging the English to have her killed. The mythical and romantic image of Joan of Arc, the girl who is perhaps mad, perhaps really hearing heavenly instructions, here takes the form of this pathetic young girl so afraid of death that she will invoke all aspects of femininity--from virginity to pregnancy--and in doing so sacrifice her integrity. But all reminders of her femininity do nothing to save her; her "masculine" brutality against the English remains too clear in the minds of her judges.

Meanwhile, the French accept the peace offer but clearly intend only to keep the treaty as long as it suits them. Hence, even international contracts seem to have lost all semblance of honor and integrity, just as the codes of individual warriors' conduct have given way to self-serving ambition.

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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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