Welcome to the speeches of Henry VI, Part I.
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Unlike with our previous play, The Taming of the Shrew, we had no trouble finding speeches to fill an episode.
Really, as we’ve been saying all along with one, Henry VI, part 1 deserves a closer look. Hopefully some of these speeches can encourage you to go back and listen to the episodes you missed. (Not that you missed any, right?)
“How I am braved and must perforce endure it!” Act II, scene 4, lns 112-127
Speakers: Richard Plantagenet (and eventual Duke of York), Warwick
This excerpt is from the flower-picking scene in act II. Here we learn that Richard Plantagenet, whose father was accused of being a traitor and stripped of his titles, is likely to be restored to his family’s former status as Duke of York. Warwick seems certain of it. Warwick’s short speech also ends with a prophetic foreshadowing about the War of the Roses: “this brawl to-day, / Grown to this faction in the Temple-garden, / Shall send between the red rose and the white / A thousand souls to death and deadly night.” That does about sum it up. (Also, big plus on the use of the word “Brawl,’ Bard!)
“Thus the Mortimers, / In whom the tide rested, were suppress’d.” Act II, scene 5, lns 91-118
Speakers: Mortimer, Richard Plantagenet
Mortimer only appears in one scene on this play but it is a very crucial scene. We pick up on the end of their discussion but Mortimer provides the necessary history earlier. The current king Henry VI is the descendant of Henry IV who actually usurped the throne of Richard II. Mortimer himself, connected with the old regime, has spent most of his life imprisoned or banished. Now Mortimer informs Richard Duke of York that he is in fact descended from the previous line of kings. While Mortimer cannot see yet how to topple the house of Lancaster, he counsels York to bide his time until an opportunity should present itself.
“Look on thy country, look on fertile France…” Act III, scene 3, lns 44-85
Speaker: Pucelle, Burgundy
This is the scene where Joan la Pucelle convinces the Duke of Burgundy to ally himself with the French cause. What we found particularly interesting in this passage is Burgundy’s short response in the middle of Pucelle’s longer speech: “Either she hath bewitch’d me with her words, / Or nature makes me suddenly relent.” It’s a very good question. Which is it? Is Burgundy simply doing the natural thing in seeking to defend the ‘country’ of his birth? Is he in fact French, or is he English? It’s easy for us to say that Burgundy is French but the whole point here is that Burgundy easily could have remained an English territory. And Burgundy’s actions are largely the reason it went to the French. So, was any of this ‘natural?’
“Come hither, you that would be combatants” Act IV, scene 1, lns 133-173
Speaker: King Henry VI
King Henry doesn’t say much in the play and when he does speak, he generally just shows us how ineffectual a ruler he is. We picked this passage though because it showcases one of the few moments where King Henry actually gets it at least partially right. One the one hand, the first part of Henry’s speech is spot on; the English court is in france fighting the Dauphin’s forces. Showing a strong, united front is necessary in order to discourage any further rebellion from the French forces. However, he grossly misunderstands the nature of the division in his forces. We’ve seen the argument boiling and bubbling under the surface just waiting to erupt but Henry seems entirely oblivious to the extent of the division in his court. This scene really shows us Henry’s character as an idealist ill-suited to the throne.
“O, my dear lord, lo, where your son is borne!” Act IV, scene 7, ln 17-32
Speakers: Servant, Talbot
Talbot really is the central point of most of the play. He drives the war effort in France and he sends the French forces packing at the very mention of his name. Unfortunately, York and Suffolk’s squabbling leaves him unsupported and he and his son are overwhelmed and killed in battle. This is Talbot’s final speech. His dead son is brought in and he cradles him in his arms as he dies. I wrote about his passage when we did act IV. I mentioned that Talbot mentioned Daedalus and Icarus, flying towards the sun but what would that look like? Two angels floating up to Heaven. I think it’s a great little speech.
“First, let me tell you whom you have condemn’d…” Act V, scene 4, lns 36-59
Speakers: Pucelle, York, Warwick
This is Joan la Pucelle’s execution scene. While her burning doesn’t actually happen on stage, this is the preamble leading up to it. Here she is trying to convince York not to burn her. She first starts by suggesting that she may be of noble birth and she insists that she is a virgin. When she sees that this is not working, she changes her tune and states instead the she is pregnant. This is a very strange scene. On the one had, we just saw Joan speaking with demon a few scenes ago so we now have a pretty good idea that she is a witch. On the other hand, this scene shows us a group of powerful, older men trying to burn a young (and potentially pregnant) woman alive. As Daniel has pointed out, this would be a tricky scene to stage for a contemporary audience. Come to think of it, it’s almost criminal to think that no one has written a play inspired by this scene which deals precisely with these gender and power issues.
And that’s it for Henry VI, part 1!
Stay tuned for the next play – you definitely won’t want to miss it.
Bonus sonnet 24 read by first time sonneteer Erin Byrnes.
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