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Henry VI Part 1

William Shakespeare

Act III, Scenes vi-viii

Act III, Scenes ii-v

Act IV, Scene i

Summary

Talbot and Burgundy enter, congratulating themselves on having both lost and recovered their positions in the same day. Talbot wonders where Joan and her forces have gone and if they have fled. They plan to restore order in Rouen and then depart for Paris to see King Henry. Before they go, they will bury and honor the deceased Bedford.

Joan tells Charles and his lords Alençon and the Bastard of Orléans not to despair after losing to Talbot, as she foresees crushing him later. Charles says that he has no doubt of her skill; one small setback will not make him distrust her. Alençon and the Bastard assure her that they'll make her famous throughout the world; they'll have her statue placed in a prominent location and treat it like a saintly relic if she continues her work. She announces her plan to lure Burgundy away from Talbot and to have him join the French forces. Charles and his lords are delighted, sure that such a plan will rid France of the English soldiers forever.

Seeing that Talbot and Burgundy are leading their troops toward them, Joan orders a messenger to request a conversation with Burgundy, who comes immediately when summoned. Charles asks Joan to speak and enchant Burgundy with her words. Joan tells Burgundy to listen to her, referring to herself as a humble handmaiden. She calls to him to look on the fields of France and to see the destruction wrought by its foe and the wounds he has caused his country by siding with its foe. She urges him to turn against those who have hurt his country. Burgundy remarks to himself that either she has a very good point or her words bewitch him.

Joan goes on to say that the French now doubt his nationality. She says he sides with a nation that wants him only for the sake of profit and will expulse him when they have won. She accuses him of fighting against his countrymen, becoming the slaughterer of his kinsmen. Burgundy admits he is vanquished; Joan's words have battered him like cannon shot. He asks the French lords to forgive him and to accept his embrace, as he intends to hand over his forces to them and break with Talbot. Charles welcomes him.

In Paris, Henry and his lords Gloucester, Winchester, Exeter, Warwick, Suffolk, Somerset, York (formerly Richard Plantagenet), Vernon, and Basset welcome the arrival of Talbot. Talbot announces that he has reclaimed 50 fortresses and 12 cities and seven walled towns, along with many prisoners. The king thanks him and rewards him with an earldom in gratitude for his long service to the crown and to England.

The lords all exit, leaving Vernon and Basset alone. Vernon wears a white rose and Basset a red one. Vernon asks Basset if he meant all the bad things he said at sea about his lord, York. Basset says he did and wonders if Vernon stands by his comments about Somerset. The two argue, and Vernon strikes Basset. Basset reminds him that they have been forbidden to fight upon pain of death. Basset concedes that the time is not right for a fight, but another time will come when he will revenge the wrongs against him. Vernon agrees, and the two depart.

Commentary

Joan's tactics against Burgundy in these scenes do make a strong case against the old style of chivalrous warfare. Why did Burgundy come so trustingly to speak with his enemy? Presumably he, being an honorable man, thought the French would act honorably, too--that there was no harm in having a reasonable conversation with his enemy, since they weren't actually fighting at the time. But the dangers in such a move seem obvious.

In Joan's modern version of battle, the war is always going on, even when it's less a pitched battle than a war of wits. And in this case she wins, convincing Burgundy in a few paragraphs to stop fighting against his countrymen (Burgundy was a French lord who sided with the English)) and to join the French. And he is unable to resist. Was her rhetoric so convincing or did she trick him in some way with her magical powers? Either way, the upright and noble Talbot would never have suspected anyone of such a sneaky tactic as luring a warrior to change sides; thus, he will fall to Joan.

The argument between Basset and Vernon shows that the struggle between followers of the white rose and the red rose has crossed the Channel, and it will threaten the coming battle. Vernon and Basset know they are forbidden to fight with each other, but their mutual hate is so intense that they will find other ways to harm each other. The battlefield will probably end up being the site of their argument's climax; who can stop them from fighting each other in the middle of a bloody struggle between the British and the French? Hence, the British forces will be divided against each other, weaker than ever against the French.

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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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