Henry VI Part 1: Act 2, Scene 1

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Act 2, scene 1

 
The scene opens on the walls of Orleans, with French soldiers keeping watch. The English nobles Talbot, Bedford and Burgundy enter with ladders to scale the walls of Orléans. Talbot says that now will be a good time to attack the French, as they have been drinking all day. They discuss Joan, whom Burgundy suggests may really be a man. They scale the walls by different entrances. The French soldiers, caught by surprise and only half-dressed, run away, leaping over walls.
 
The Bastard of Orleans, Alençon, and Reignier, also half-dressed, enter. Charles enters with Joan and blames her for the rout. She points out that it was the fault of the soldiers who should have been keeping watch. Charles and Alençon accuse each other of failing in their duty. But Joan tells them to stop arguing and to focus on gathering their scattered forces.
 
An unarmed English soldier enters and succeeds in scattering the French nobles merely by shouting Talbot’s rallying cry, “À Talbot!” (line 79).
 
Analysis
 
The play’s propagandistic role is seen in the English nobles’ dismissal of the French victory as “Contrived by art and baleful sorcery” and “with the help of hell,” rather than through the honest route of the “fortitude” of “arms” (lines 15, 17). It is a commonplace of wartime propaganda for each side to claim that God is on their side, as Talbot does at line 26 after condemning the French victory as assisted by black magic.
 
Charles makes a comment that may suggest that he was in Joan’s sleeping quarters (line 69). This is part of the undermining of Joan’s status as a holy maid.
 
The comic incident in which the English rout the French while they are still in their nightshirts pokes fun at the French, suggesting that they are decadent and not fit for the battlefield. Their lack of heroic stature is underlined by their petty bickering about who was at fault for the breach in their defences, though it should be remembered that the English too are suffering from division in leadership at home. On the battlefield, however, the English are portrayed as heroic.
 
 

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