Henry VI Part 1: Act 1, Scene 4-7

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Act 1, scene 4

 
The action shifts to France. The French Master Gunner of Orléans (in charge of the cannon) tells his son that the English have occupied a tower, to which they gained entrance through a secret gate. From this tower they are planning their attack on Orléans. The Gunner has placed a cannon near the place to prevent any further incursions. He asks his son (the Boy) to keep watch and let him know if he sees any Englishmen there. The Boy agrees, but once his father is out of earshot, says he will avoid telling his father of any activity: he wants to claim any glory for himself.
 
Act 1, scene 5
 
The action shifts to the English forces outside Orléans. The Earl of Salisbury and Lord Talbot enter on the turrets of a tower that the English forces have taken. Salisbury joyously greets Talbot, who had been taken prisoner by the French but has just been released in exchange for a French noble who had been a prisoner of the Duke of Bedford. Talbot is angry at the treachery of Sir John Fastolf, whose cowardice led to the capture of Talbot. Talbot says at first he was treated with contempt by the French and was paraded as a public spectacle. But so fierce was his resistance that his French captors became afraid of him, appointing a marksman to guard him at all times.
 
The Boy passes across the stage with a lighted linstock (a device used to fire a cannon).
 
Salisbury tells Talbot that the English forces will soon avenge his shame. He asks two officers, Gargrave and Glasdale, where they should next direct their fire. Suddenly shots are heard and Salisbury and Gargrave fall. Gargrave is dead and Salisbury fatally wounded. Talbot speaks a eulogy over Salisbury, recalling that he was victorious in thirteen battles and taught the art of war to Henry V. Talbot vows to avenge Salisbury’s imminent death on the French.
 
A messenger enters with the news that Joan la Pucelle has joined Charles and that their forces are ready to besiege Orléans. Salisbury is carried out.
 
Act 1, scence 6
 
The English and French forces fight. Talbot drives Charles’s forces back, but then Joan drives the English back. Talbot is amazed that a woman is making his army retreat. Joan enters and Talbot challenges her as a witch who is the mother (“dam”) of the devil. Talbot and Joan fight. Joan withdraws from the combat for reasons that are not made clear and proclaims victory for her side.
 
The English try to enter Orléans but are forced back. Talbot orders a retreat. Joan successfully enters the city. Talbot is filled with shame at the English defeat.
 
Act 1, scene 7
 
Joan, Charles, Reignier, and Alençon enter on the walls of Orléans, having taken the city from the English. Charles praises her as divine and notes that she has fulfilled her promises.
 
The men arrange to have the church bells rung and bonfires lit in the town to celebrate the French victory. Charles gives the credit to Joan and says he will divide his crown with her. He plans to have her created France’s patron saint. They all exit to a banquet.
 
Analysis of Act 1, scenes 4–7
 
The historical John Talbot, the First Earl of Shrewsbury (circa 1388–1453) was a famous military commander who served Henry V in his victorious battles in France and also served Henry VI. Shakespeare portrays him as a hero and, together with Salisbury, as a living link with the English national greatness embodied in Henry V.
 
In scene 5, Salisbury’s fatal wound may be caused by the activities of the Gunner’s Boy, who is seen passing over the stage ready to light a cannon. The image of an English hero being cut down by a glory-hungry boy who acts in disobedience to his father is a piece of nationalistic propaganda on Shakespeare’s part. The French boy is portrayed as deceitful and treacherous.
 
After Salisbury’s fatal wounding in scene 5, Talbot in scene 6 challenges Joan as a “witch” and the “devil’s dam” or mother (lines 5–6). Contrary to Joan’s claims to be inspired by God and the Virgin Mary, Talbot claims that her power comes from the devil. Such associations, put in the mouth of the English hero Talbot, have the effect both of undermining Joan’s holy persona and of casting Catholicism in a Satanic light.
 
Shakespeare’s portrayal of Joan as unnatural and possibly in league with the devil is reinforced in the image of her (scene 6) driving the English back. Fighting was not considered a proper activity for a woman in Elizabethan times, so the fact that Joan excels in it would not have been to her credit. In addition, her victory is put down not to honest manly “force” but to the “fear” (line 21) that she inspires in her English enemies by her supernatural and devilish powers.
 
Charles’s speech of praise to Joan at the end of scene 7 surrounds her in the imagery of Catholicism, with its veneration of saints’ relics, a tradition rejected by Protestantism. Charles imagines that her ashes, relic-like, will be carried before royalty at festivals. His prediction that she will be created France’s patron saint, when she has been undermined by the imagery of witchcraft and devil worship, satirically undermines Catholicism.
 
At the end of Act 1, Joan is the most powerful force. Under her leadership, many years of French defeats have been reversed. The French have all but killed one English hero (Salisbury) and made another (Talbot) hide his face in shame. They have forced the English into retreat and have entered the city of Orléans.
 
 

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