Henry VI Parts 1, 2, and 3 were all written within the same year, 1592, and saw great box office success for the time. It was performed six times in fifteen months.
This is the first of what is know as the History Plays to be written. These plays were based on the real-life stories of the English monarchy. However, we should keep in mind that the sources Shakespeare used (such as Holingshed’s Chronicles ) were not always accurate by today’s standards. Shakespeare would also write the plays to greatly favor the Queen and her family, and as such would portray them in the most pleasing light possible.
In Henry VI Part 1 Shakespeare was particularly loose with historical fact. For example, Henry is described as “an effeminate boy” when in reality he was an infant at the time of his father’s death. As such, the country was actually ruled by the Duke of Gloucester until Henry became of age, and this is where the play starts.
The majority of the play is focused on England’s war with France, as France tries to reclaim the territories Henry V seized. The French effort is, in part, led by Joan of Arc, and she is a key character in the play. And of course, in true diplomatic fashion, there is some wooing and then marriage that happens as a tactical advantage.
I am most intrigued to read the story of Joan of Arc, or Joan La Pucelle, as she is called in the play because it is an account from the opposing side. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school for most of my school care. I loved the story of Joan of Arc and took her as my confirmation name, so it will be interesting to hear a different account. Of course, I will take the story with a grain of salt because it is from the losing side and written about a century later, but it will still be an interesting read.
What do you think is interesting about this play, or any of the history plays? How should we consider the fact that these plays are based in historical fact as we read them?