Trevor's Reviews > Henry VI, Part 1

Henry VI, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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Aug 07, 2011

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You see, Manny is probably right – this play really would have been a better play if Jean of Arc had been portrayed as the central character and had been seen as the tragic heroine. That might have been asking a bit much of an English dramatist at the time, but it would have made a much more interesting play, not least as she is easily the most interesting character in the play, even in this play where she is made to sound a whore.

The Talbot (don’t you love when people somehow get the definite article dropped in front of their name – and countries too, The Lebanon, but not The England or The Australia) is probably the tragic hero of this play – but a lot of the play is almost farcical and so ‘heroes’ aren’t really thick on the ground.

The story in thumbnail is that Henry V has just died (he died remarkably young) and left his son (a child) to be King, but guided by a protector and group of Lords. The group of Lords bicker and then actively undermine each other. The nice bit of all this play is watching Henry VI trying to explain to people that their actions are undermining the nation and the nations ability to hold France. I’ve no idea what qualities are necessary to make an effective ruler (and I’m glad that for me such questions will always remain purely academic) – but those qualities are clearly not exhausted in stating the obvious to those around you or in being a bit of a nice guy. In trying to be everyone’s friend he insults all sides and makes matters worse. In fact, it is worse than this – by seeking to treat the symbols of the two sides in the war of the roses (the white rose and the red rose) as if they are almost meaningless he does not realise that symbols are much more important than reality. He would have had more success in banging heads together – this would probably have been forgiven and forgotten – but his ‘making light’ of the symbols, you are never forgiven for that sort of thing. His, I’ll give one side a military honour and the other side the honour of my wearing their rose could only ensure both sides were insulted. The play ends with a military defeat, a clearly tenuous peace and lots of room for there to be a Henry VI parts 2 and 3.

There is an awful lot of running around and shouting in this play. It becomes quite tedious to be honest. And the long scene where The Talbot and The Son of Talbot talk to each other by finishing each other’s rhyming couplets – something like: “I really, really want you to go” / “Oh no, I’ll stay and fight your foe” / “But I’m telling you to run away” / “No, Dad, I’ve said I’ve got to stay” Didn’t really work for me. It turned what might well have been the ‘high drama’ scene of the play – I mean, a father and son fighting side by side to the death and dying in each others arms – into something of a joke.

As someone said to me once – if you want to drive someone you are arguing with nuts you should rhyme. You can’t be seriously thinking about the ‘argument’ if you have time to think up a rhyme. I think that was part of my problem with this endless string of rhyming couplets.

But the play actually ends with Lord Suffock convincing Henry to marry Margaret – someone Suffock himself has clearly fallen in love with. This can’t bode well – and let’s face it, if it did there wouldn’t be much point going on to Part Two.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Manny You had me at "Manny is probably right". Thank you! :)


Trevor Yes - never know how to let people know, glad you spotted it.


message 3: by Lindig (new)

Lindig Ah, Henry & Margaret. I read a historical novel once with him as the "hero" and she as the "heroine" -- it was all very high-minded and boring (as well as inaccurate in many small ways).


David Sarkies That rhyming couplet sounds like something out of a Dr Suess book. Not that I'm dissing Dr Seuss - he writes some excellent poetry - I just didn't expect it from Shakespeare.


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