Henry VI Part 1

by: William Shakespeare

Act V, Scene vi

Summary Act V, Scene vi

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.