1 Henry VI

Act 1

Dusty:

I don’t think I have ever read the three Henry VI plays. Although scholars are writing a lot these days about Shakespeare’s collaboration with other Elizabethan dramatists, and thus questioning the Shakespeare canon, I gather that for more than fifty years it has been suggested that the Henry VI plays are only partly by Shakespeare.

It’s interesting to read 1H6 after the more famous H5, especially because the latter play seemed to be triumphant but, as we noticed, the epilogue noted that Henry would only rule for a short time.

The first act of 1H6 is long, six scenes, and almost 600 lines, set alternately in England and France.

Because Henry VI was an infant when his father died, he does not figure in the first of the plays, which focuses on his two uncles and two great-uncles, none of whom seem to get along with each other. To begin a play with a funeral is perhaps a surprising move, and may set the tone for the play. The quarrels between Winchester and his nephew, the Duke of Gloucester, and between Gloucester and his brother Bedford, are givens when the play opens: we don’t get any background (yet) about what caused them. It’s quickly established that there are “factions” at home and a resurgent France abroad, under Charles, who has been Dauphin and has now been declared king. More bad news arrives with the report that Talbot, the English military hero in the play, has been defeated.

Maybe Shakespeare refers to Sir John Falstaff at 1.1.131 — not the same as the famous one from the H4 plays —  because he had not written them yet, and was at first to call the famous Falstaff by the name of “Oldcastle.”

At the end of 1.1 the various English dukes depart separately — that’s perhaps significant in itself — and Winchester is left alone — “I am left out” — and is already plotting to take over the kingdom himself.

Much of the first act is given up to battle scenes. That makes it different from the H4 plays, where the various characters are more firmly established before Shakespeare sets them to war against each other. In 1.2, set in France, the English fight back. But then Joan enters, ‘defeats’ King Charles in some kind of swordplay, and rouses the French to raise the siege of Orleans. 1.3 is set not in the English camp in France, but back in England, where Englishmen are fighting each other: Winchester’s men prevent Gloucester from entering the tower, and the dispute is broken up by the Lord Mayor. 1.4 takes us back to France, where Talbot is the English champion but the English are driven out by the French, and in 1.5 Joan again ‘defeats’ an adversary in single combat, this time Talbot, but as before the loser is not killed: Joan has other business to attend to. And in 1.6 Joan has rescued Orleans, and Charles celebrates her victory.

Joan is a key figure. The French regard her as a “holy maid” and a prophetess. The English also refer to her as a “holy prophetess” but Talbot calls her a “witch” and the devil, or “the devil’s dam.” So far she has behaved modestly and not done anything witch-like. She has instead served as a military champion who has been able to defeat the English. Maybe Talbot calls her a witch because he cannot understand how a mere girl could be a military hero — unless she has some kind of supernatural powers.

The blank verse in the play is quite regularly iambic, laid down in five-foot mostly end-stopped strips, maybe suitable to a declamatory acting style. But the verse at the very end of Act 1 is more varied, more interesting.

 

Michael:

I have read them, but so long ago that I remember almost nothing except a few names. But of course the names are overwhelming in their number; my edition has genealogical tables of the descendants of Edward III in both sides of the Lancaster and York divide. Seems essential for the modern reader.

The language in much of the first act doesn’t feel like Shakespeare, though at this early date it’s hard to judge. A collaboration among a variety of playwrights seems plausible.

Yes, that first act is long and filled with battles, and though it concerns mainly one side of the play, the war with France, we do have a return of the breakout of the Gloucester and Winchester enmity from the opening in 1.4.

1.6, 1.7, and 1.8 are battle scenes that leave the French victorious at Orleans for now. Joan seems to prevail against even Talbot, though she breaks off before the skirmish is concluded. But she seems the French secret weapon.

Act 2

Michael:

The battles continue in Act 2. Talbot leads a counter-attack on the city (which may be Rouen now). Now the English prevail, and Joan appears to fail. The scene with the Countess of Auvergne confirms the strength and power of Talbot. She thinks to capture him and is unimpressed with his physical presence. But his physical presence isn’t limited to his person, and he “winds his horn” and drums and ordnance reply, and a company of his soldiers appear. The countess asks pardon, which is granted. Does this represent a reply to the spiritual power of Joan? That spiritual power remains mysterious.

2.4 is the famous scene of the plucking of the white and red roses, entirely apocryphal, to denote the sides of the War of the Roses. One wonders how much the Elizabethan audience was able to follow and make sense of this; a modern reader, with the help of the genealogical schema, can see where the allegiances derive and where they will lead. The scene seems finally to center on Richard Plantagenet, who is the father of Edward IV and Richard III. The following scene, 2.5, involves Edmund Mortimer, also a Yorkist, who perhaps represents the best claim deriving from the time of Richard II. But my note suggests that he’s conflated with more than one Mortimer. In his speech he says his claim was the best to the throne after Richard II, but he was imprisoned and is now dying. He leaves Richard Plantagenet in charge of his funeral and burial. Plantagenet seems to unite the red and white roses, since his offspring lead to Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth. Was this common knowledge of Elizabethans who thought about it, or was it designed to inform?

 

Dusty:

Both Act 2 and Act 3 are pretty long — nearly 500 lines each. More back and forth between England and France.

But we don’t hear a lot more about Joan of Arc. The English say she converses with spirits, but also that she is apparently a “pure” maid. The French say that Talbot is “a fiend of hell,” so maybe we are just hearing partisan name-calling on both sides.

In 2.2 it’s not clear just how the Countess of Auvergne plans to capture Talbot. Maybe she has a lot of men in hiding. Does Talbot accept her invitation because he is a gentleman, or because he is a bit naive? In 2.3 all Talbot has to do is “wind his horn” and lots of his soldiers rush in. We never hear whether they had to kill the French guards, or the French soldiers who were planning to capture Talbot.

It’s interesting that 2.4, in which Richard Plantagenet quarrels with the Duke of Somerset, comes before 2.5, in which the basis of their quarrel is fully explained. When I read 2.4 I wondered if we were witnessing two hot-blooded young nobles who had quarreled over some trifle or some “point of honor.”  It turns out that each of them is a greatgrandson of Edward III, and each thinks he has a better claim to the throne. Do we get the quarrel first and the explanation afterward to induce us to think that the quarrel is pretty baseless, and another instance of the troublesome “factions” that plague England? Warwick prophesies civil war.

In 2.5 the dying Mortimer claims that he really has the best claim to the throne. (He is the “revolted Mortimer” of 1 Henry IV.) And he makes Plantagenet, who is also the Earl of Cambridge and is later the Duke of York, and to whom Mortimer is related, his heir. It’s all very complicated genealogy, and I wonder whether the Elizabethan audiences would have followed it. (I think scholars assume that they all read Holinshed.) Because Richard Plantagenet and Mortimer have such prominence in 2.4 and 2.5, wouldn’t that make this seem a Yorkist play?

3.1 returns us to the antagonism between Gloucester and Winchester. The proximate cause seems to be Gloucester’s accusation against Winchester. I don’t think we are given enough information to know whether the accusation is just or not. The more distant — and deeper — cause seems to be that Winchester is the son of John of Gaunt’s third wife and Gloucester is the grandson of Gaunt’s first wife. That means they are both from the House of Lancaster, so that the “factions” that divide the kingdom go deeper than York vs. Lancaster. Each of the contestants has his second, Winchester supported by Somerset, Gloucester by Warwick.

The quarrel breaks out into violence, and both the young king and the Lord Mayor try to stop it. It’s not clear from the text how old the king is — he refers to “my tender years” and is said to be but “a child.” If the play is set in 1431, when Joan of Arc was burned, then Henry VI is only ten years old. I suppose he was played by one of the boys in the acting company.

A hollow truce is established, but the asides tell us to expect further trouble. The King then creates Richard Plantagenet Duke of York.  We know that this strengthens the House of York, but I don’t think the scene makes that clear at the time. Henry and his court then prepare to go to France, where he will be crowned king of France. (The English seem to ignore the fact that the French think they have a French king.) Oddly, the scene ends with a sort of coda, as Exeter remains alone on stage to refer to a fatal prophecy — that Henry V (born at Monmouth) will “win all” but Henry born at Windsor (i.e., Henry VI) will “lose all.” This seems to be the same prophecy implicit in the final words of the Chorus in Henry V. And it appears to refer to the Hundred Years War, and to territory won by Henry V and lost by Henry VI.

Act 3

Dusty:

In 3.2 Rouen is captured by the French forces under Joan. She doesn’t act like a witch, but Talbot calls her witch, sorceress, foul fiend, hag, and Hecate. (Why should we take Talbot’s point of view? and does a modern director have her played as a sexy harridan?) This scene also has an odd sort of detachable episode, in which the cowardly Falstaff flees the field. (I suppose we should see him as the antithesis of Talbot.)

In 3.3 Joan, whom the French call “sweet virgin,” appeals to Burgundy, urging him to switch sides and support his fellow Frenchmen. Burgundy oddly says he may be “bewitched” by her words — implicitly giving support to Talbot’s charge. The French then close ranks, in contrast to the English, who only pretend to arrange a truce between the factions.

In 3.4 Talbot goes to the English court in Paris, and is created Earl of Shrewsbury. This seems to invite comparison with the creation of the Duke of York in 3.1, but Talbot does not seem to be related or allied to either the Yorks or the Lancasters, and thus his promotion seems to be, so to speak, without political implications. Maybe this points a way beyond the upcoming War of the Roses. But then we get another odd sort of coda, when Vernon and Basset remain together on stage, and pick a fight with each other. At this point we know it has something to do with York vs. Somerset (a Lancastrian supporter) but as in Act 2 we don’t hear the full explanation of the genealogical basis for the fight until the following scene (4.1). Again, by presenting the fight before the explanation, is Shakespeare hinting that this “War” of the two factions, White and Red rose, springs from hotheaded ( young?) men — compare Capulets vs. Montagues — and not from any justifiable cause?

 

Michael:

I don’t think we ever know what the quarrel is between Gloucester and Winchester; it’s just rooted in the enmities that determine and continue, lead to, the War of the Roses. While the boy king urges peace, the quarrel breaks out into violence. Interesting that the “alarums and excursions” with the French are echoed in the dissent of the English aristocrats tossing rocks at each other. When the king makes another appeal, Gloucester seems to yield, then Winchester. Then the king is encouraged to restore Richard Plantagenet to his “blood,” his inheritance, so now the Yorkist  and Lancastian factions appear healed. But Exeter’s closing soliloquy suggests that whatever peace this represents will be futile.

Then back to the real war with France. Not obvious why Joan and her disguised soldiers are admitted to Rouen, but she seems instrumental in admitting Charles to the city. There’s some variance in editorial assignment of scenes here; I have 3.5 for the “alarum and excursions” that leads to the parley with Joan and Talbot and results in Talbot’s vow to win the city. Falstolf (in my edition’s spelling to distinguish him from the future Falstaff) must be there as a contrast to Talbot — and to Bedford. It appears Rouen has been retaken by Talbot and the English.

Then Joan’s appeal to Burgundy to come to the French side: did it seem anomalous that he had been fighting for the English?

Apparently the king had not met Talbot before their encounter in Paris, probably because Talbot has been engaged in France all this time. The outbreak of enmity between Vernon and Basset seem to foreshadow more hostility among the English.

Act 4

Michael:

Act 4, in Paris, might appear to represent triumph, with Gloucester and Winchester, old enemies, crowning Henry as king of France and requiring allegiance from the governor of Paris. But then, we have the disgracing of Falstolf, then hearing of the changed sides of Burgundy. Then the quarrel of Vernon and Basset returns, and the old enmity of Richard of York and Somerset appears to stand behind it. The war in France is constantly beset with the quarrels of the English. Henry appeals for peace among them and, though a Lancastrian, takes a red Yorkist rose and swears that both sides are his kinsmen, appointing his “cousin of York” (Richard) as regent of “these parts of France” and Somerset to command the army and both to expend their choler on their enemies, while he returns to England. The end of the scene, with Warwick, York, then Exeter solus, indicates how unlikely any reconciliation among them will be. Exeter suggests part of the problem is the scepter in a child’s hands, but even more the continuing division among the aristocrats.

4.2 resumes the war with the French, now at Bordeaux. Talbot threatens the general of the city, but what ensues shows clearly the result of the dissension among the English on the campaign in France. The general refuses Talbot’s threats, says the Dauphin is ready to defend against him, and Talbot is uncharacteristically apprehensive, speaking of the English as deer beset by the hounds of France. In 4.3 Richard of York curses his old rival Somerset for his tardiness in coming to his aid. Lucy stands in the middle, pleading with each for aid to Talbot. 4.4 continues the dissension, Somerset insisting that the expedition of Talbot and York was too rashly plotted and insisting it’s too late for him to send help. Lucy continues to plead with them, but is finally forced to conclude that “The fraud of England, not the force of France, Hath now entrapped the noble-minded Talbot.” And Talbot is betrayed by their strife.

The rest of the act becomes the mini-tragedy of Talbot and his son. Talbot attempts to send his son away from the battle, but the son, John, insists he cannot honorably leave. It climaxes in ten lines of stichomythia that heighten the emotion of the scene. In the following scene John is hemmed about by French soldiers and his father rescues him. The scene is, curiously, in rhyme. Is its purpose to similarly heighten the emotional level? It ends with a reference to Daedalus and Icarus myth by Talbot. The rhyme continues in the following scene, where Talbot recounts the death of John.

In 4.7 Talbot, “led by a servant,” addresses his dead son, and his body is brought to him, a kind of pieta’. Even Joan offers something of a tribute. Lucy asks for the bodies of the defeated and recites all Talbot’s titles. He goes back and forth with the French about their bodies, whether they are honored or, as Joan says, stinking corpses. Thus ends the tragedy of Talbot.

 

Dusty:

Burgundy, maybe for geo-political reasons,  had an alliance with England from 1423 to 1435

It’s verbally significant that Burgundy declares that he is forsaking “your pernicious faction” and joining with the French. So “faction” can refer not just to an internal division but to an international one.

Vernon and Basset prepare to fight over a mere insult about roses. That tends to make the “War of the Roses” look pretty trivial. Vernon also denounces “factious emulations.” The boy king is ten years old. Can he speak with any authority and gravitas? “Prettily plays the orator” suggests that the courtiers think he is acting a part.

Once again, at the end of 4.1., a character is left on stage alone, prophesying trouble. It’s almost as if he is acting as Chorus, or as extra-dramatic commentator. Would a modern director have him stand down front and address the audience directly? The rest of Act 4 consists of six battle scenes. Again, at the end of 4.3, a character is left on stage alone to comment this time on “the vulture of sedition.”

4.5 through 4.7 is almost a separate epic “episode.” in which Talbot wants his son to flee. Unlike Fastolf, he refuses. The scenes are also formally distinguished from the rest of the play, stichomythia in 4.5, and extended passages of rhyme in 4.6 and 4.7. Why, in 4.7, does Lucy reel off Talbot’s many titles? I agree with Joan: this seems  “silly, stately style.” The clear lesson of Act 4 is that the English lose because of internal dissension.

Act 5

Dusty:

5.1 is back in England, where the boy king is ready to agree to peace, wanting not divisions “among professor of my faith” — i.e., not just domestic factions but international quarrels among Christian (Catholic) nations. Is it amusing when the Boy King modestly protests that he is too young to think about marriage? Again there is a “coda” to the scene, when a single character is left on stage — this time Winchester, acting not as Chorus but as traitor and hypocrite.

IN 5.3 why does Joan, who has been presented as a pure maid, now suddenly, as if she strayed in from a rehearsal of Macbeth,  call up “choice spirits,” thunder, and Fiends? It now appears that the English, who considered her a witch, a hag, and an enchantress, were right all along.

We now have another complication: two different wives are proposed for a political marriage that will unite England and France. Suffolk, for his own reasons, wants the king to marry Margaret of Anjou. For her part, Margaret seems coy but willing to go along with the charade. Would you play her asides as comic? It’s notable that even political and dynastic marriages in the play are suspect.

In 5.4 Shakespeare seems to be putting his thumb on the scales, by having Joan deny her father, deny that she called up spirits, and insist that she’s with child by Alencon. I guess she lies in order to try to save her neck, but exits the scene with a curse. (We don’t get a burning scene.)

5.5 is set back in London at the royal palace, where the two proposed royal wives are presented. Would it not seem slightly embarrassing or inappropriate for the Boy King to refer to “fruition” — maybe the word had more than one meaning at the time, but I imagine the courtiers all secretly smiling. Would he not be embarrassed at talk of “issue”?

Yet again a character remains on stage at the end of the scene: Suffolk confides to the audience that he has prevailed and will rule both king and queen. Some things have been resolved. England has won, and women have been restored to their proper place. (Margaret seems more submissive in this scene than in  5.3). But the French are only pretending to submit, York is unhappy with the peace. and Lancastrian Gloucester is unhappy with the marriage. This  is an even more unstable “resolution” than at the end of I Henry 4.

 

Michael:

I’m struck by the anthology-like character of 1H6. We have various topics that occur, and sometimes reappear, throughout the play. Obviously the main lines consist of warring aristocrats between York and Lancaster and the war in France. But in Act 4 we have the mini-tragedy of Talbot and his son and in Act 5 we have the complication of the two royal betrothals. And the scene in the Temple garden of the plucking of the roses seems self-contained.

Joan La Pucelle  seems to come and go, and her character is unstable: sometimes a witch (as in 5.3) and sometimes spiritually authoritative patron of the French. Is she the daughter of the shepherd, who seems to make a good case, or is that an English libel? Is she pregnant or not, and if so, was it Charles or Alençon, or René, king of Naples? Or is that a fiction to save her from execution? And she exits with a curse of the English. What exactly are we to make of her? Sh. seems conflicted.

I think that by the time the marriage to Margaret was arranged Henry was old enough for marriage, some time in his early 20s, I think, and they did have a son, Edward of Westminster. But this must be in the future, and how aware is the play of the ages of the various figures? This can’t been the royal kid we’ve seen earlier, at the beginning of Act 5, for example, when Gloucester proposed the daughter of the earl of Armagnac. But nothing tells us otherwise, and even there, Henry had been ready to send a jewel.

Suffolk’s final lines seem threatening: he’ll rule both the king and Margaret. Yes, it all seems pretty unstable at the end.

The most thematically significant theme of the play may be the dissension among the aristocrats and the way this seems to undermine the war in France. But this too varies from battle to battle, seen more prominently in the Talbot episode.

Shakespeare, and maybe his collaborators like Nashe, must have been learning how to turn chronicle history into theater — and perhaps what the chronicle history itself meant and was to teach. And they, or he, were also working on the question of rhyme, what it meant and when to use it.

 

Dusty:

Your point about how to turn chronicle history into theatre led me to do a little quick “research.” It turns out that his English advisors proposed five different marriages to the king, sequentially and not simultaneously. This would have made a strange play: “The Five (Almost) Wives of Henry VI.”

So Shakespeare and his collaborator pared that down to two marriage, to simplify things, made them simultaneous, to sustain the conflict between factions, and collapsed the time between 5.4 (1431) and 5.5  (1443), to suggest that Henry was now marriageable. Funny thing though: Margaret of Anjou was only 15 at the time of the marriage, so Shakespeare has to age her a bit.

As for end-of-scene commentary via soliloquy or aside, Shakespeare continued to be quite fond of it, as witness Hamlet, but also Edgar in Lear, and Prince Hal in 1 Henry 4. But it appears that he needed to go beyond quick summary of what the audience has seen and to give the comments some substance and some complication.

1 Henry VI

Dusty:

I don’t think I have ever read the three Henry VI plays. Although scholars are writing a lot these days about Shakespeare’s collaboration with other Elizabethan dramatists, and thus questioning the Shakespeare canon, I gather that for more than fifty years it has been suggested that the Henry VI plays are only partly by Shakespeare.

It’s interesting to read 1H6 after the more famous H5, especially because the latter play seemed to be triumphant but, as we noticed, the epilogue noted that Henry would only rule for a short time.

The first act of 1H6 is long, six scenes, and almost 600 lines, set alternately in England and France.

Because Henry VI was an infant when his father died, he does not figure in the first of the plays, which focuses on his two uncles and two great-uncles, none of whom seem to get along with each other. To begin a play with a funeral is perhaps a surprising move, and may set the tone for the play. The quarrels between Winchester and his nephew, the Duke of Gloucester, and between Gloucester and his brother Bedford, are givens when the play opens: we don’t get any background (yet) about what caused them. It’s quickly established that there are “factions” at home and a resurgent France abroad, under Charles, who has been Dauphin and has now been declared king. More bad news arrives with the report that Talbot, the English military hero in the play, has been defeated.

Maybe Shakespeare refers to Sir John Falstaff at 1.1.131 — not the same as the famous one from the H4 plays —  because he had not written them yet, and was at first to call the famous Falstaff by the name of “Oldcastle.”

At the end of 1.1 the various English dukes depart separately — that’s perhaps significant in itself — and Winchester is left alone — “I am left out” — and is already plotting to take over the kingdom himself.

Much of the first act is given up to battle scenes. That makes it different from the H4 plays, where the various characters are more firmly established before Shakespeare sets them to war against each other. In 1.2, set in France, the English fight back. But then Joan enters, ‘defeats’ King Charles in some kind of swordplay, and rouses the French to raise the siege of Orleans. 1.3 is set not in the English camp in France, but back in England, where Englishmen are fighting each other: Winchester’s men prevent Gloucester from entering the tower, and the dispute is broken up by the Lord Mayor. 1.4 takes us back to France, where Talbot is the English champion but the English are driven out by the French, and in 1.5 Joan again ‘defeats’ an adversary in single combat, this time Talbot, but as before the loser is not killed: Joan has other business to attend to. And in 1.6 Joan has rescued Orleans, and Charles celebrates her victory.

Joan is a key figure. The French regard her as a “holy maid” and a prophetess. The English also refer to her as a “holy prophetess” but Talbot calls her a “witch” and the devil, or “the devil’s dam.” So far she has behaved modestly and not done anything witch-like. She has instead served as a military champion who has been able to defeat the English. Maybe Talbot calls her a witch because he cannot understand how a mere girl could be a military hero — unless she has some kind of supernatural powers.

The blank verse in the play is quite regularly iambic, laid down in five-foot mostly end-stopped strips, maybe suitable to a declamatory acting style. But the verse at the very end of Act 1 is more varied, more interesting.

 

Michael:

I have read them, but so long ago that I remember almost nothing except a few names. But of course the names are overwhelming in their number; my edition has genealogical tables of the descendants of Edward III in both sides of the Lancaster and York divide. Seems essential for the modern reader.

The language in much of the first act doesn’t feel like Shakespeare, though at this early date it’s hard to judge. A collaboration among a variety of playwrights seems plausible.

Yes, that first act is long and filled with battles, and though it concerns mainly one side of the play, the war with France, we do have a return of the breakout of the Gloucester and Winchester enmity from the opening in 1.4.

1.6, 1.7, and 1.8 are battle scenes that leave the French victorious at Orleans for now. Joan seems to prevail against even Talbot, though she breaks off before the skirmish is concluded. But she seems the French secret weapon.

Michael:

The battles continue in Act 2. Talbot leads a counter-attack on the city (which may be Rouen now). Now the English prevail, and Joan appears to fail. The scene with the Countess of Auvergne confirms the strength and power of Talbot. She thinks to capture him and is unimpressed with his physical presence. But his physical presence isn’t limited to his person, and he “winds his horn” and drums and ordnance reply, and a company of his soldiers appear. The countess asks pardon, which is granted. Does this represent a reply to the spiritual power of Joan? That spiritual power remains mysterious.

2.4 is the famous scene of the plucking of the white and red roses, entirely apocryphal, to denote the sides of the War of the Roses. One wonders how much the Elizabethan audience was able to follow and make sense of this; a modern reader, with the help of the genealogical schema, can see where the allegiances derive and where they will lead. The scene seems finally to center on Richard Plantagenet, who is the father of Edward IV and Richard III. The following scene, 2.5, involves Edmund Mortimer, also a Yorkist, who perhaps represents the best claim deriving from the time of Richard II. But my note suggests that he’s conflated with more than one Mortimer. In his speech he says his claim was the best to the throne after Richard II, but he was imprisoned and is now dying. He leaves Richard Plantagenet in charge of his funeral and burial. Plantagenet seems to unite the red and white roses, since his offspring lead to Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth. Was this common knowledge of Elizabethans who thought about it, or was it designed to inform?

 

Dusty:

Both Act 2 and Act 3 are pretty long — nearly 500 lines each. More back and forth between England and France.

But we don’t hear a lot more about Joan of Arc. The English say she converses with spirits, but also that she is apparently a “pure” maid. The French say that Talbot is “a fiend of hell,” so maybe we are just hearing partisan name-calling on both sides.

In 2.2 it’s not clear just how the Countess of Auvergne plans to capture Talbot. Maybe she has a lot of men in hiding. Does Talbot accept her invitation because he is a gentleman, or because he is a bit naive? In 2.3 all Talbot has to do is “wind his horn” and lots of his soldiers rush in. We never hear whether they had to kill the French guards, or the French soldiers who were planning to capture Talbot.

It’s interesting that 2.4, in which Richard Plantagenet quarrels with the Duke of Somerset, comes before 2.5, in which the basis of their quarrel is fully explained. When I read 2.4 I wondered if we were witnessing two hot-blooded young nobles who had quarreled over some trifle or some “point of honor.”  It turns out that each of them is a greatgrandson of Edward III, and each thinks he has a better claim to the throne. Do we get the quarrel first and the explanation afterward to induce us to think that the quarrel is pretty baseless, and another instance of the troublesome “factions” that plague England? Warwick prophesies civil war.

In 2.5 the dying Mortimer claims that he really has the best claim to the throne. (He is the “revolted Mortimer” of 1 Henry IV.) And he makes Plantagenet, who is also the Earl of Cambridge and is later the Duke of York, and to whom Mortimer is related, his heir. It’s all very complicated genealogy, and I wonder whether the Elizabethan audiences would have followed it. (I think scholars assume that they all read Holinshed.) Because Richard Plantagenet and Mortimer have such prominence in 2.4 and 2.5, wouldn’t that make this seem a Yorkist play?

3.1 returns us to the antagonism between Gloucester and Winchester. The proximate cause seems to be Gloucester’s accusation against Winchester. I don’t think we are given enough information to know whether the accusation is just or not. The more distant — and deeper — cause seems to be that Winchester is the son of John of Gaunt’s third wife and Gloucester is the grandson of Gaunt’s first wife. That means they are both from the House of Lancaster, so that the “factions” that divide the kingdom go deeper than York vs. Lancaster. Each of the contestants has his second, Winchester supported by Somerset, Gloucester by Warwick.

The quarrel breaks out into violence, and both the young king and the Lord Mayor try to stop it. It’s not clear from the text how old the king is — he refers to “my tender years” and is said to be but “a child.” If the play is set in 1431, when Joan of Arc was burned, then Henry VI is only ten years old. I suppose he was played by one of the boys in the acting company.

A hollow truce is established, but the asides tell us to expect further trouble. The King then creates Richard Plantagenet Duke of York.  We know that this strengthens the House of York, but I don’t think the scene makes that clear at the time. Henry and his court then prepare to go to France, where he will be crowned king of France. (The English seem to ignore the fact that the French think they have a French king.) Oddly, the scene ends with a sort of coda, as Exeter remains alone on stage to refer to a fatal prophecy — that Henry V (born at Monmouth) will “win all” but Henry born at Windsor (i.e., Henry VI) will “lose all.” This seems to be the same prophecy implicit in the final words of the Chorus in Henry V. And it appears to refer to the Hundred Years War, and to territory won by Henry V and lost by Henry VI.

Dusty:

In 3.2 Rouen is captured by the French forces under Joan. She doesn’t act like a witch, but Talbot calls her witch, sorceress, foul fiend, hag, and Hecate. (Why should we take Talbot’s point of view? and does a modern director have her played as a sexy harridan?) This scene also has an odd sort of detachable episode, in which the cowardly Falstaff flees the field. (I suppose we should see him as the antithesis of Talbot.)

In 3.3 Joan, whom the French call “sweet virgin,” appeals to Burgundy, urging him to switch sides and support his fellow Frenchmen. Burgundy oddly says he may be “bewitched” by her words — implicitly giving support to Talbot’s charge. The French then close ranks, in contrast to the English, who only pretend to arrange a truce between the factions.

In 3.4 Talbot goes to the English court in Paris, and is created Earl of Shrewsbury. This seems to invite comparison with the creation of the Duke of York in 3.1, but Talbot does not seem to be related or allied to either the Yorks or the Lancasters, and thus his promotion seems to be, so to speak, without political implications. Maybe this points a way beyond the upcoming War of the Roses. But then we get another odd sort of coda, when Vernon and Basset remain together on stage, and pick a fight with each other. At this point we know it has something to do with York vs. Somerset (a Lancastrian supporter) but as in Act 2 we don’t hear the full explanation of the genealogical basis for the fight until the following scene (4.1). Again, by presenting the fight before the explanation, is Shakespeare hinting that this “War” of the two factions, White and Red rose, springs from hotheaded ( young?) men — compare Capulets vs. Montagues — and not from any justifiable cause?

 

Michael:

I don’t think we ever know what the quarrel is between Gloucester and Winchester; it’s just rooted in the enmities that determine and continue, lead to, the War of the Roses. While the boy king urges peace, the quarrel breaks out into violence. Interesting that the “alarums and excursions” with the French are echoed in the dissent of the English aristocrats tossing rocks at each other. When the king makes another appeal, Gloucester seems to yield, then Winchester. Then the king is encouraged to restore Richard Plantagenet to his “blood,” his inheritance, so now the Yorkist  and Lancastian factions appear healed. But Exeter’s closing soliloquy suggests that whatever peace this represents will be futile.

Then back to the real war with France. Not obvious why Joan and her disguised soldiers are admitted to Rouen, but she seems instrumental in admitting Charles to the city. There’s some variance in editorial assignment of scenes here; I have 3.5 for the “alarum and excursions” that leads to the parley with Joan and Talbot and results in Talbot’s vow to win the city. Falstolf (in my edition’s spelling to distinguish him from the future Falstaff) must be there as a contrast to Talbot — and to Bedford. It appears Rouen has been retaken by Talbot and the English.

Then Joan’s appeal to Burgundy to come to the French side: did it seem anomalous that he had been fighting for the English?

Apparently the king had not met Talbot before their encounter in Paris, probably because Talbot has been engaged in France all this time. The outbreak of enmity between Vernon and Basset seem to foreshadow more hostility among the English.

Michael:

Act 4, in Paris, might appear to represent triumph, with Gloucester and Winchester, old enemies, crowning Henry as king of France and requiring allegiance from the governor of Paris. But then, we have the disgracing of Falstolf, then hearing of the changed sides of Burgundy. Then the quarrel of Vernon and Basset returns, and the old enmity of Richard of York and Somerset appears to stand behind it. The war in France is constantly beset with the quarrels of the English. Henry appeals for peace among them and, though a Lancastrian, takes a red Yorkist rose and swears that both sides are his kinsmen, appointing his “cousin of York” (Richard) as regent of “these parts of France” and Somerset to command the army and both to expend their choler on their enemies, while he returns to England. The end of the scene, with Warwick, York, then Exeter solus, indicates how unlikely any reconciliation among them will be. Exeter suggests part of the problem is the scepter in a child’s hands, but even more the continuing division among the aristocrats.

4.2 resumes the war with the French, now at Bordeaux. Talbot threatens the general of the city, but what ensues shows clearly the result of the dissension among the English on the campaign in France. The general refuses Talbot’s threats, says the Dauphin is ready to defend against him, and Talbot is uncharacteristically apprehensive, speaking of the English as deer beset by the hounds of France. In 4.3 Richard of York curses his old rival Somerset for his tardiness in coming to his aid. Lucy stands in the middle, pleading with each for aid to Talbot. 4.4 continues the dissension, Somerset insisting that the expedition of Talbot and York was too rashly plotted and insisting it’s too late for him to send help. Lucy continues to plead with them, but is finally forced to conclude that “The fraud of England, not the force of France, Hath now entrapped the noble-minded Talbot.” And Talbot is betrayed by their strife.

The rest of the act becomes the mini-tragedy of Talbot and his son. Talbot attempts to send his son away from the battle, but the son, John, insists he cannot honorably leave. It climaxes in ten lines of stichomythia that heighten the emotion of the scene. In the following scene John is hemmed about by French soldiers and his father rescues him. The scene is, curiously, in rhyme. Is its purpose to similarly heighten the emotional level? It ends with a reference to Daedalus and Icarus myth by Talbot. The rhyme continues in the following scene, where Talbot recounts the death of John.

In 4.7 Talbot, “led by a servant,” addresses his dead son, and his body is brought to him, a kind of pieta’. Even Joan offers something of a tribute. Lucy asks for the bodies of the defeated and recites all Talbot’s titles. He goes back and forth with the French about their bodies, whether they are honored or, as Joan says, stinking corpses. Thus ends the tragedy of Talbot.

 

Dusty:

Burgundy, maybe for geo-political reasons,  had an alliance with England from 1423 to 1435

It’s verbally significant that Burgundy declares that he is forsaking “your pernicious faction” and joining with the French. So “faction” can refer not just to an internal division but to an international one.

Vernon and Basset prepare to fight over a mere insult about roses. That tends to make the “War of the Roses” look pretty trivial. Vernon also denounces “factious emulations.” The boy king is ten years old. Can he speak with any authority and gravitas? “Prettily plays the orator” suggests that the courtiers think he is acting a part.

Once again, at the end of 4.1., a character is left on stage alone, prophesying trouble. It’s almost as if he is acting as Chorus, or as extra-dramatic commentator. Would a modern director have him stand down front and address the audience directly? The rest of Act 4 consists of six battle scenes. Again, at the end of 4.3, a character is left on stage alone to comment this time on “the vulture of sedition.”

4.5 through 4.7 is almost a separate epic “episode.” in which Talbot wants his son to flee. Unlike Fastolf, he refuses. The scenes are also formally distinguished from the rest of the play, stichomythia in 4.5, and extended passages of rhyme in 4.6 and 4.7. Why, in 4.7, does Lucy reel off Talbot’s many titles? I agree with Joan: this seems  “silly, stately style.” The clear lesson of Act 4 is that the English lose because of internal dissension.

Dusty:

5.1 is back in England, where the boy king is ready to agree to peace, wanting not divisions “among professor of my faith” — i.e., not just domestic factions but international quarrels among Christian (Catholic) nations. Is it amusing when the Boy King modestly protests that he is too young to think about marriage? Again there is a “coda” to the scene, when a single character is left on stage — this time Winchester, acting not as Chorus but as traitor and hypocrite.

IN 5.3 why does Joan, who has been presented as a pure maid, now suddenly, as if she strayed in from a rehearsal of Macbeth,  call up “choice spirits,” thunder, and Fiends? It now appears that the English, who considered her a witch, a hag, and an enchantress, were right all along.

We now have another complication: two different wives are proposed for a political marriage that will unite England and France. Suffolk, for his own reasons, wants the king to marry Margaret of Anjou. For her part, Margaret seems coy but willing to go along with the charade. Would you play her asides as comic? It’s notable that even political and dynastic marriages in the play are suspect.

In 5.4 Shakespeare seems to be putting his thumb on the scales, by having Joan deny her father, deny that she called up spirits, and insist that she’s with child by Alencon. I guess she lies in order to try to save her neck, but exits the scene with a curse. (We don’t get a burning scene.)

5.5 is set back in London at the royal palace, where the two proposed royal wives are presented. Would it not seem slightly embarrassing or inappropriate for the Boy King to refer to “fruition” — maybe the word had more than one meaning at the time, but I imagine the courtiers all secretly smiling. Would he not be embarrassed at talk of “issue”?

Yet again a character remains on stage at the end of the scene: Suffolk confides to the audience that he has prevailed and will rule both king and queen. Some things have been resolved. England has won, and women have been restored to their proper place. (Margaret seems more submissive in this scene than in  5.3). But the French are only pretending to submit, York is unhappy with the peace. and Lancastrian Gloucester is unhappy with the marriage. This  is an even more unstable “resolution” than at the end of I Henry 4.

 

Michael:

I’m struck by the anthology-like character of 1H6. We have various topics that occur, and sometimes reappear, throughout the play. Obviously the main lines consist of warring aristocrats between York and Lancaster and the war in France. But in Act 4 we have the mini-tragedy of Talbot and his son and in Act 5 we have the complication of the two royal betrothals. And the scene in the Temple garden of the plucking of the roses seems self-contained.

Joan La Pucelle  seems to come and go, and her character is unstable: sometimes a witch (as in 5.3) and sometimes spiritually authoritative patron of the French. Is she the daughter of the shepherd, who seems to make a good case, or is that an English libel? Is she pregnant or not, and if so, was it Charles or Alençon, or René, king of Naples? Or is that a fiction to save her from execution? And she exits with a curse of the English. What exactly are we to make of her? Sh. seems conflicted.

I think that by the time the marriage to Margaret was arranged Henry was old enough for marriage, some time in his early 20s, I think, and they did have a son, Edward of Westminster. But this must be in the future, and how aware is the play of the ages of the various figures? This can’t been the royal kid we’ve seen earlier, at the beginning of Act 5, for example, when Gloucester proposed the daughter of the earl of Armagnac. But nothing tells us otherwise, and even there, Henry had been ready to send a jewel.

Suffolk’s final lines seem threatening: he’ll rule both the king and Margaret. Yes, it all seems pretty unstable at the end.

The most thematically significant theme of the play may be the dissension among the aristocrats and the way this seems to undermine the war in France. But this too varies from battle to battle, seen more prominently in the Talbot episode.

Shakespeare, and maybe his collaborators like Nashe, must have been learning how to turn chronicle history into theater — and perhaps what the chronicle history itself meant and was to teach. And they, or he, were also working on the question of rhyme, what it meant and when to use it.

 

Dusty:

Your point about how to turn chronicle history into theatre led me to do a little quick “research.” It turns out that his English advisors proposed five different marriages to the king, sequentially and not simultaneously. This would have made a strange play: “The Five (Almost) Wives of Henry VI.”

So Shakespeare and his collaborator pared that down to two marriage, to simplify things, made them simultaneous, to sustain the conflict between factions, and collapsed the time between 5.4 (1431) and 5.5  (1443), to suggest that Henry was now marriageable. Funny thing though: Margaret of Anjou was only 15 at the time of the marriage, so Shakespeare has to age her a bit.

As for end-of-scene commentary via soliloquy or aside, Shakespeare continued to be quite fond of it, as witness Hamlet, but also Edgar in Lear, and Prince Hal in 1 Henry 4. But it appears that he needed to go beyond quick summary of what the audience has seen and to give the comments some substance and some complication.