Henry VI Part 1

by: William Shakespeare

Act IV, Scenes v-vii

Summary Act IV, Scenes v-vii


Talbot and his son John stand on the battlefield near Bordeaux. Talbot says he had sent for his son to teach him the strategies of war so that the name of Talbot might be carried on into future wars. But John has arrived in a situation of too much danger, and Talbot tells his son to escape. John refuses, however, explaining that to flee now would be to disgrace the name of Talbot. Talbot tells John to flee so that he may avenge his father's death, but John says anyone who flees will never again be taken seriously in a fight.

Talbot says they can't both stay, as they will both die. So John tells Talbot to flee, offering to stay himself. The death of Talbot would be a great loss, but the death of his son, not yet a famous figure, would mean nothing. For Talbot to flee now would not stain the permanent honor he has already won, but it would ruin John's career to flee his first fight. Talbot asks him if he wants his mother's heart to be broken when her only son and husband both die, but John says he prefers that his mother suffer this sadness than suffer the terrible shame of knowing her son to be a coward. Talbot repeats that if John flees the Talbot legacy will live on, but John insists that that legacy will be worthless if he sullies it by fleeing. Finally, Talbot relents and sadly welcomes his son to fight--and probably die--with him.

In the ensuing battle, John becomes surrounded by French soldiers, and Talbot rescues him. Talbot sees that his son has received his first wound in battle, struck by the Bastard of Orléans. This first penetration by a sword has deflowered this young soldier, Talbot says. He asks if John is tired, urging him again to leave the battlefield. Hasn't he achieved enough glory now to escape with honor and live on to avenge his father's death? Why endanger both their lives on the same bloody field? If he himself dies, he merely cuts off the few short years he has remaining, but if John dies, then the family name dies, along with the revenge of his death, and the connection between English leadership and the Talbot name.

John understands all that his father says, yet he insists that if he flees then he will no longer deserve the name of Talbot's son. If he does possess the name Talbot, his duty is to die at his father's side. Talbot returns with his son to battle, comparing him to Icarus. (In Greek myth, Icarus and his father Daedalus are trapped in a labyrinth; Daedalus constructs wings for them from feathers and wax so that both may escape; however, Icarus flies too near the sun, his wings melt, and he drowns in the sea.)

Some time has elapsed, and Talbot now reappears, led by a servant. He mourns his son, who he says repeatedly saved him on the battlefield, fighting valiantly. Yet, like Icarus, he, too, fell because of his high-flying spirit, and he was brought down by the French. John's body is borne in and Talbot weeps over it. He says his spirit cannot survive this blow, and he dies. Soldiers depart with the bodies.

Charles and his men, including Alençon, Burgundy, the Bastard of Orléans, and Joan, enter. Charles expresses gladness that York and Somerset's troops never arrived, for the French would not have won had they come as planned. The lords discuss John and how powerful a warrior he proved before he fell. Joan says that she encountered him in the field but he refused to fight with her, believing a woman to be an unworthy opponent. Burgundy says he would have made a noble knight.