Henry VI Part 1: Act 3, Scene 3

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Act 3, scene 3

 
Charles, the Bastard of Orléans, Alençon, and Joan enter with French soldiers. Joan tells the nobles not to be downcast at loss of Rouen to the English, and promises that if Charles follows her advice, Talbot will be defeated. Charles assures her that one failure cannot make him mistrust her. The Bastard and Alençon secretly promise Joan that if she comes up with a winning stratagem, they will make her famous and a saint.
 
Joan conceives the idea of persuading Burgundy, a French noble who has thus far fought for England, to join the French side. At that moment, Talbot is seen in the distance leading the English army to Paris. Burgundy and his men are slightly lagging behind the rest. Joan tells Charles to summon Burgundy for a parley.
 
Joan points out to Burgundy that by fighting for the English, he is wounding his home country. She warns him that if France falls to Henry VI, Burgundy will be sidelined or killed by the English. Burgundy wonders if Joan has persuaded him through witchcraft (“Either she hath bewitched me with her words, / Or nature makes me suddenly relent” – lines 58-9), but is easily won over and promises his own and his army’s allegiance to France. The French nobles welcome him, saying that his friendship will help their cause.
 
Analysis
 
Shakespeare undermines Joan’s integrity by having the nobles promise that they will make her famous, and a saint, if she comes up with a winning stratagem to defeat the English. Her endeavors thus take on a self-seeking, vain aspect.
 
Shakespeare’s introduction of the idea of sainthood for Joan was prophetic in the light of the history of Joan of Arc. From 1435 (four years after Joan’s execution by English-controlled authorities), the city of Orléans put on a religious play each year to commemorate her death. This play presented her as a woman with a sacred mission from God, guided by angels. Joan was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1909 and made a saint in 1920.
 
The scarcely credible ease with which Joan persuades Burgundy to turn traitor against England and fight for France shows her persuasive powers as well the untrustworthiness of the French. In a controversial comment, Joan says, “Done like a Frenchman – [aside] turn and turn again” (line 85). Burgundy, in common with other English nobles, wonders if Joan’s powers of persuasion are those of witchcraft (“Either she hath bewitched me with her words, / Or nature makes me suddenly relent” – lines 58-9). As ever in the play, such talk of witchcraft and the devil undermines her claim of a sacred, God-given mission.
 
Joan’s use of persuasion to win over Burgundy is a significant departure from the traditional chivalric ideal of war, such as is exemplified by Talbot and the English military commanders. It is shown as pragmatic and effective but as morally questionable. Naturally, it reflects the reality of war past and present. The incident has something of the flavor of an Italian political treatise by Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince (published 1532), which advocated gaining and keeping political power by underhand and covert means. The Prince became, and remains, a seminal work in political theory.
 

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