Henry VI Part 1

by: William Shakespeare

Act 1, Scenes iv-viii

Talbot attacks the French and drives them back, then Joan's forces drive back Talbot's army. Talbot cannot understand how a woman could be defeating his troops. Joan enters the scene, and he challenges her to a fight, accusing her of being a witch. Joan and Talbot fight, and her strength amazes him. Joan tells Talbot that his time to die has not yet come. She says she must return to Orléans, and he should go cheer on his troops.

Talbot has difficulty comprehending the power of Joan, who drives his forces before her as easily as bees are driven by smoke. Talbot urges his men onto another skirmish but orders their retreat when it becomes obvious that they cannot win. He accuses his soldiers of consenting willingly to Salisbury's death, since none managed to effect a revenge. Talbot exits in shame.

Joan calls for French flags to be flown from Orléans' towers, for she has freed the city from the English siege as promised. Charles wants to honor Joan for her remarkable leadership. Alençon and René suggest they should celebrate the successes of all the warriors, including themselves, but Charles says it was Joan, not they, who won the day. He offers to divide the crown with her, to order all the religious men in his realm to sing her praises, and to honor her ashes highly when she dies. He declares Joan la Pucelle is France's new saint and leads them off to a banquet.


The street brawl between Gloucester and Winchester is represented by the contrast of two colors, the blue and the tawny shades of the men's uniforms. This foreshadows the imminent turn of events when all the nobles in the royal court come to divide themselves up by color; the discord between those who support the white rose--the symbol of the house of York--and those who support the red rose--symbolizing the house of Lancaster (Somerset)--will mark the beginning of the War of the Roses. The disagreements in this scene seem to stem almost exclusively from the political schemes of both men to gain personal power. Both worry that the other plots against him, yet neither has much of a case against the other.

Joan's attack on the English forces begins with the death of Salisbury, second only to Talbot in his battlefield prowess. Joan (whom the French call "la Pucelle," meaning "the maid," or "the virgin") keeps her promise to free Orléans that day, as she launches her assault.

Talbot's return to the battle seems the result of bad planning on the part of the French; having once captured the most dangerous man in the English army, why do they free him, particularly in exchange for what Talbot claims is a lesser lord? It seems that old codes of warfare, involving honorable pacts to fight fairly, etc., still hold sway in some portions of this war; the men in charge have not yet become entirely bloodthirsty and mercenary, though Talbot's release is followed by a violent surprise attack on the English lookout tower. Joan's arrival, however, serves to increase the war's viciousness; the gentlemanly ways of past wars are quickly being abandoned.