Henry VI Part 1: Act 5, Scene 5

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Act 5, scene 5

 
Richard, Duke of York is seen with Warwick and a Shepherd, Joan’s father. Richard asks for Joan to be brought in, so that she can be burnt at the stake. The Shepherd is distraught at the prospect of his daughter’s death and offers to die with her. But Joan repudiates her father, insisting that she is no daughter of his since she was born of more aristocratic blood. The Shepherd insists that the whole parish can testify that he is Joan’s father. Richard and Warwick chide her for denying her father. Joan accuses the English of bribing the Shepherd to claim parentage in order to undermine her authority.
 
When Joan refuses to kneel for her father’s blessing, he curses her and urges the English to burn her. Richard tells the guards to take her away. Joan says she is descended from kings and returns to her early claim that she was chosen by God to work His miracles on earth. She denies ever having had anything to do with evil spirits and insists that she is still a pure virgin. Her death at the hands of the English will, she says, bring down heaven’s vengeance on them. Richard again orders the guards to take her away. Warwick adds a request that enough faggots are put on the fire to ensure that she dies quickly, so as to shorten her suffering.
 
Joan then tells the English nobles that they cannot execute her because she is pregnant. The nobles suggest that Charles is the father, but Joan says that it is Alençon. The fetus of a condemned female prisoner was seen as innocent and her execution would have been postponed until after the child was born. Richard cynically says he expected such a ruse from her and that he would wish any child of Alençon to die with its mother. Joan then claims that the father is Reignier. Warwick says this is intolerable as Reignier is married. Richard and Warwick point out that Joan has had many lovers and yet recently claimed to be a virgin. Richard says that she is plainly a whore and her pleas for mercy are vain. Joan curses England before she is led out and Richard curses her in return as an agent of the devil.
 
Winchester, now a cardinal, enters. He has brought letters from Henry VI. The rulers of various countries want England to declare peace with France. Richard, Duke of York bitterly regrets that so many English nobles and soldiers have been killed for what he sees as an ignoble peace treaty. He laments the English losses in France in the recent wars and foresees that England will lose all its French territories. But Warwick says that any peace treaty will be so designed as to give little away to the French.
 
Charles and the French nobles enter and ask about the conditions of the peace treaty. Richard is too angry to speak and urges Winchester to carry out the negotiations. Winchester tells the French that in return for an end of English hostilities, the French must swear allegiance to Henry VI. Charles would be made Vice-Regent under Henry. Charles scorns the offer, saying that in France he is already viewed as king of over half of the country. He does not want to give this up in return for being a subordinate ruler of the whole of France. Richard says he has no choice: he must submit to England’s offer or the English will make unceasing war on France. Reignier advises Charles to agree to England’s terms. Alençon agrees, saying Charles should accept the terms and go back on his word when it suits him. Charles agrees to the terms of the treaty, except that the French will retain control of their garrison towns. Richard declares peace and tells them to dismiss their armies.
 
Analysis
 
Joan’s snobbish repudiation of her humbly-born father is Shakespeare’s final attempt to destroy any moral and spiritual authority she may have had in the play. Her father’s plea to the English to burn her lends some legitimacy to a problematical episode in English history: the nation’s complicity in the burning of a woman widely viewed in France as a national heroine and a saint.
 
Joan’s claim to be pregnant makes nonsense of her previous claim to be a virgin. She is here portrayed as a liar, a whore, and a hypocrite.
 
The French continue to be portrayed as fickle and deceitful, with Charles going back on his initial decision not to agree to the peace treaty and then agreeing but secretly seeming to accept Alençon’s suggestion that he can always go back on the treaty when it suits him.
 
 

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