Henry VI Part 1

Role Call:

  • King Henry VI
  • Duke of Gloster, Henry’s uncle and protector
  • Duke of Bedford, Henry’s uncle and regent of France
  • Henry Beaufort, Henry’s great uncle and Bishop of Winchester (later Cardinal)
  • John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset (later Duke)
  • Richard Plantagenet (later Duke of York)
  • Lord Talbot
  • John Talbot, his son
  • Earl of Suffolk
  • Charles, Dauphin (later King of France)
  • Reignier, Duke of Anjou and Titular King of Naples
  • Duke of Burgundy
  • Duke of Ancon
  • Bastard of Orleans
  • Margaret, daughter of Reignier (later marries Henry)
  • Joan La Pucelle a.k.a. Joan of Arc

The Play’s the Thing: The play opens with a bunch of dukes, earls, and such mourning the corpse of Henry V. And let’s face it, I’m sad too, because without the awesomeness of Hal, this play will be a sad, sad thing. Amongst the dukes are Bedford and Gloster, who have to listen to three successive messengers bringing bad news from France. The army is being slaughtered, some of the cities are recognizing Charles as King, and Lord Talbot is having his butt kicked by the French. Bedford heads off to prep aid for the army, Gloster heads to the Tower to check munitions and proclaim Henry king, and after everyone’s left, Winchester mutters about his plot to get in good with the king so he can get more power. Meanwhile, in France, Charles, Alencon, and Reignier are trying to soundly beat the English but despite being vastly outnumbered and wounded, the English won’t back down. Then the Bastard shows up with news of a maiden that can tell them what to do and help them to victory. Enter Joan of Arc. She and Charles chat, swordfight, and he deems her legit. She then tells the French to keep fighting. Back in London, Gloster and Winchester have a showdown outside the tower with their men fighting for who should be the legit protector of the king. Back in France, the English lose some men. Talbot briefly faces off with Joan, who runs off, and the English ultimately retreat to the trenches. Charles gives the credit for the French’s victory to Joan.

Talbot and some men scale the walls of the town and successfully beat back the French causing Charles, Joan, and their cronies to get out of Dodge. Talbot receives a message that some French lady wants to meet him so head’s off. Said French lady is trying to set a trap for Talbot but he outwits her by breaking out an army when she tries to take him hostage and she’s super impressed. Over in England, we get an entire scene devoted to men choosing sides of white and red roses as metaphor for the larger political conflict. What’s most important to know is Somerset is the red rose and Richard Plantagenet (who will be York in short order) is the white rose. There’s then a scene with Plantaganet and Mortimer, the gist of which is that Mortimer dies (not really important) and that Plantagenet is going to pursue being restored to his title (important).

In Act III we finally get to see Henry. But first we have Gloster and Winchester bickering about the whole altercation in front of the Tower. Henry attempts to make peace, but then gets news that Winchester and Gloster’s men are openly fighting in London’s streets by throwing rocks because they’ve been prohibited to bear arms. Henry gets the two sides to declare a truce. And then he restores Richard Plantagenet to his title, Duke of York. Then everyone heads off to France. In France, Joan is leading a disguised party of men into a town held by Talbot. There’s a lot of trash talking  between the two sides and more fighting. The French manage a major coup by convincing the Duke of Burgundy, who has been fighting for the English, to switch sides and fight for his native France. In Paris, Henry meets Talbot and gives him props for all the stuff he’s done.

Henry is having the Governor of Paris swear loyalty to him. Talbot shows up with the news of Burgundy’s change in allegiance and Henry sends him off to fight the French. Two men allied with Somerset and York get into an altercation in front of the King. Henry tries to make peace but puts on the symbol of a red rose (not the smartest move). Talbot is having his ass handed to him and sends a messenger to ask for the aid promised by York and Somerset. York gets the message but says he can’t help because Somerset is dragging his feet in giving York some horsemen. Somerset likewise says he can’t help but that York should totally do it. Basically, their petty feud leads to the death of Talbot and Talbot’s son, who shows up to help his father and refuses to leave the battle even though Talbot knows they’re going to lose.

Henry’s back in London and is being told that the Pope wants England and France to declare peace with each other. Henry is being offered the Duke of Armagnac’s daughter as part of the peace treaty and although he’s young, he agrees. In France, we learn the Parisians are revolting and allying with Charles. The French then receive word that the English are about to attack. Shakespeare shows where he stands on Joan of Arc by having her converse with fiends and offering them her soul to let the French win, but the fiends refuse. York captures Joan. Suffolk has captured Margaret, Reignier’s daughter, but falls in love with her, despite the fact he’s married. He comes up with the brilliant plan of courting her for Henry and tells her and her father that he’ll get her married to the King. The English prep to burn Joan at the stake. The Cardinal arranges peace between Charles and Henry, and Charles swears loyalty to Henry as his regent in France, with plans to revolt as soon as he likes. Suffolk then tells Henry all about the hotness of Margaret and Henry agrees to marry her, against Gloster’s advice who reminds him he’s already betrothed to someone else. The play closes with Suffolk chortling that he’s going to have sway over the king and the new queen and ultimately England.

Heroes and Villains: Believe me guys, no one in this play is that awesome. But if I have to pick, it would be Lord Talbot, who manages to be a pretty impressive military leader and foils the weakest kidnapping attempt ever.

Speech to Know: Nothing super outstanding this time around. I miss Hal. He always had good speeches.

View from the Pit: This play is rather unimpressive. Henry VI compared with Henry V is basically a cardboard cut-out with just as much depth. Now this is partly due to the fact that he’s a teenager, but when the eponymous character doesn’t show up until the third act, it doesn’t bode well for his character development. While there’s lots of political maneuvering and plenty of foundation being laid for the later conflict between Somerset and York, it’s not the most riveting stuff to read. The play is mostly notable for Talbot and for the inclusion of Joan of Arc. I found the latter particularly interesting to see how Shakespeare characterized this historical figure. She really is an ambiguous character until the late scene in which she consorts with fiends, at which point we learn which side Shakespeare is definitely on.

No film review this week, so I’ll be back next Sunday with Part 2, where we’ll hopefully get some more interesting characters. Or at least some awesome sword fights.

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