An Easier Way to Study Hard

Bartleby Woman on Laptop Sponsored

Henry VI Part 1

by: William Shakespeare

Act III, Scene i


Multiple disagreements between elements of the nobility emerge in this scene, each coming so close on the heels of the last that it appears as if Henry's court is filled exclusively with discontented lords. Gloucester and Winchester argue so fiercely that even their serving men become enraged and create disruptions throughout the city with their violence toward each other. The king must use all of his power to persuade them to desist in their conflict, but the conciliation seems momentary, and violence will likely flare up again later.

Plantagenet asks the king to have his inherited rights reinstated, and the king agrees immediately. Yet as soon as Plantagenet becomes the Duke of York, Somerset curses him, setting the stage for the argument that will dominate the second half of the play. What has Plantagenet done to Gloucester to cause such strife? Or, for that matter, what really caused Gloucester and Winchester to argue so fiercely? Is it true, as Winchester suggests, that Gloucester can't stand the thought of sharing his influence over the king? Or does Winchester actually want total power for himself? The audience will never know. Their unwillingness to work together certainly does not bode well for the nation, as they set off to try to right the troubles in France.

Exeter serves as a kind of commentator in this scene, as he will in future acts. He takes part in the Parliament scene, yet seems to be the only lord with enough insight to see that internal disagreements will weaken the English force in France, causing the eventual loss of English lands there. The king does seem to have some understanding of this danger when he speaks of dissention as a worm that gnaws at the strength of the nation. Yet no one can do anything to stop this threat. The king can barely get the serving men to stop fighting with each other in Parliament, let alone make Winchester and Gloucester actually cease to hate each other.

Thus, this scene presents history as an inevitable series of events unalterable by human agency. Yet other parts of the play emphasize human will as the decisive force behind all events: Talbot, for example, believes that any victory is obtainable if only one fights hard enough for it. These two theories of history sometimes clash directly with one another. For example, whenever conflict occurs between Joan--representing the powers of fate through her alleged connection to higher powers--and Talbot--a figure who makes his own path through action--we can practically see the collision of fate and free will. To some degree, neither force wins: both Joan and Talbot perish before the end of the play. Yet, overall, the forces of fate may prove the stronger: nothing can stop Henry VI's prophecy from coming true.