Lecturer: Mr. Lluongo 29th March 2010
By: Mr. Nieto
The play Henry VI part I has been said to be a ‘vivid and powerful drama about high-stake international politics’. This is best illustrated in the play through the polarized relationships between the many different characters. However, the best example of this contrast is thetheme that involves and gives shadow to the entire play, the dichotomy and eternal dilemma of any state; internal peace and external war or internal war and external peace.
The first of these relationships, in order of appearance, is the one between Gloucester, uncle to the king and Lord Protector, and the Bishop of Winchester, great uncle to the king and later Cardinal.
The nature of theirantagonism is based on the greed of power. Gloucester is the Lord Protector, hence the de facto King of England. For Winchester, Gloucester prevents him from exerting influence over the young king and expanding his control over the kingdom (I.i.173-178). On the other hand Gloucester will not to resign from his duty. This creates a clash between them which is clearly indicated to the audience asthe play opens. Not yet is King Henry’s V sepulchre closed when a fight between them emerges, and the mastery of the author turns what appears to be eloquent praising into an edgy exchange of swords (I.i.27-43). Shortly after that encounter, the soldiers of both men engage in a fight when Gloucester tries to enter the tower housing the armours (I.iii.55-60).
What is observed is not only theconflict between two men and their desire for power but the clash between two generations; Gloucester is the uncle to the king and Winchester is the great uncle. Winchester witnessed the life and reign of Henry IV and Henry the V and thus can not accept that Gloucester is above him. It is the struggle of one generation holding onto what rightly belongs to the next one. Shakespeare’s insight into thehuman being provides him with the ability to create high political characters who are simultaneously completely human, rendering them to be far more interesting and real.
Their personal fights become so extreme that it begins to affect the running of the whole kingdom thus threatening civil dissension. While England is shaken by internal conflicts the English troops under the command of LordTalbot are stranded in France.
Talbot embodies the spirit of English chivalry; he is the representative of a dying breed of nobles’ chivalrous soldiers fighting for their honour and country (I.v.25-35). When he dies the last hope and expectation of reviving such qualities dies with him. Talbot is the terror of the French. In fact he is so feared that upon his capture an archer constantly points athis heart even while he sleeps (I.iv.50-56). Nevertheless he is also a representative of gentle English manners, perfectly illustrated during the scene in which he is requested by the Countess of Auvergne. In this scene his complete mastery of all situations is shown as well as an example of his self confidence. The Countess attempts to have him arrested and Lord Talbot manipulates the situationin such a way that it ultimately results in an invitation for him and his accompanying soldiers to tea (II.iii).
If Lord Talbot embodies all the characteristics of English chivalry, then according to Shakespeare, Joan la Pucelle represents the witchcraft and evil of the French army, as is stated by the same Talbot (I.v.21). In the eyes of the French she is a holy maid entrusted by the heaven todrive the English out of France (I.ii.51-54). The Dauphin becomes rapidly infatuated by her and gives her the command of the troops to fight the English at the siege of Orleans (I.ii.107-130). That night the French are victorious and the first encounter between Lord Talbot and Joan of Arch takes place when she mysteriously tells Lord Talbot that his hour has not yet come (I.v.13). This encounter...