Henry VI, Part 1: Act IV

Seven short scenes detailing the fall of a great English family…and some quarrelling.

Key words, people, and phrases

Swain: person of low birth

Carping: to cavil, to find fault, to mock

Pale: enclosure

Espials: spies

Succour: aid or auxiliary troops

Long: fault

Spleen: fire, heat, impetuosity, eagerness

Mickle: much, great

Boot: profit, advantage

Lither: soft, pliant

Giglot wench: lewd woman

Scene 1 summary

Immediately after Henry is crowned John Fastolfe shows up, after abandoning Talbot twice, with a letter for the King. Talbot, unsurprisingly, is not too happy to see Fastolfe. He rips off the garter, which signifies him as a valiant knight. Talbot explains to the King how much Fastolfe stinks at being a loyal, valiant knight and wants to fight him. The King agrees that Fastolfe is pretty awful and banishes him.

They turn their attention to the letter. Gloucester reads it aloud and is immediately offended at how casually Burgundy addresses the King. Then they get to the part where Burgundy explains he has switched sides and fights with the French. The King can’t believe that someone abandoned him and sends Talbot to go talk some sense into Burgundy.

Now, Vernon and Bassett bust on to the scene to involve the King in their shenanigans. Henry gives them both a chance to speak. Bassett explains that Vernon super rudely made fun of his master. Vernon says only after Bassett made fun of his rose and master first. Somerset and York jump in on this action until the King asks them to stop. Instead of listening to Henry, York throws down the gauntlet and Somerset accepts, so now they have to fight. The King isn’t a big fan of violence, so he just tells them to forget about their fight. To show his support, he puts on the red rose of Lancaster (his family), but makes York the Regent of France, so York gets actual power. However, as we will see, Somerset can divert resources and cause some serious damage.

Scene 2 summary

This is the point where history is completely thrown out the window, so Talbot’s defeat can be a result of the English infighting. We jump forward nearly two decades to when Talbot is sent to win back Bordeaux, which had been in English hands since Richard the Lionheart.

Talbot arrives at the gates where one of his generals informs him that French are going to win and that the Dauphin is approaching them from behind. Talbot acknowledges that he is at a serious disadvantage, but that’s no problem because they’re in English, so – by God and Saint George – they will win!

Scene 3 summary

Now, we see the devastating effects of Somerset diverting resources. A messenger comes to York, explaining that spies saw two large armies joining the Dauphin as he marched toward Bordeaux. York curses Somerset for not supplying the horses and men that were promised. Sir William Lucy arrives to plead for aid for Talbot and his son, who marches toward his father. York laments that he has no aid to give and Talbot’s imminent death.

Scene 4 summary

Somerset explains that he can’t help Talbot now. Talbot was foolhardy and rushed into Bordeaux on York’s order. He spins the story to seem as though he had no time to send help. It was York’s fault for rushing it.

Sir William Lucy arrives to inform Somerset that Talbot needs help. Somerset asks why York isn’t helping. Lucy explains that York is blaming Somerset for withholding resources. Somerset scoffs that if York never asked. Somerset agrees to send help, but Lucy tells him it’s too late.

Scene 5 summary

Talbot’s son, John, arrives, Talbot immediately orders him to flee, but he refuses repeatedly. Talbot tells his son to flee for his mother, to save the Talbot name, to revenge Talbot’s death, and so on. John refuses to have his name besmirched by fleeing before the battle even starts. He has not won any honor for his own name, and so they will say he was afraid. John tells his father to flee, which of course will never happen  because he is the great hero of England. And so, they agree to die fighting.

Scene 6 summary

On the field of battle, Talbot orders his men to continue fighting as he holds his son, who he just rescued. Talbot explains how the Bastard of Orleans drew his son’s blood and so Talbot did the same to him.

He asks his son to flee again. John has shown his willingness to fight and could now flee with honor. He tells his son that his mother’s life, the Talbot name, avenging Talbot’s death, his youth and England’s fame all depend on John being alive. No pressure. Still, John refuses, possibly because he’s already dying.

Scene 7 summary

Talbot mourns the death of his son, which happened off stage.  He explains how John went straight back into the fray, dealing much damage, but getting slain in the process. As John’s body is brought out, Talbot sings his son’s praises and mourns his loss. He commands the others to leave and dies holding his son.

The Dauphin, Joan, Alençon, Bastard of Orleans, and Burgundy enters with the French forces. The Dauphin acknowledges that had York and Somerset provided aid, the French would have lost. This is when the Bastard of Orleans makes one of the best double entendres ever:

 “How the young whelp of Talbot’s, raging-wood, / Did flesh his puny sword in Frenchmen’s blood.”

Joan discusses her encounter with young Talbot. He insulted Joan and then did not fight her, feeling it was an unworthy fight. Burgundy remarks that young Talbot would have made a noble knight, but it doesn’t matter because both Talbots are dead.

Sir William Lucy comes in and asks what has happened to Talbot via his many, many titles. They tell him Talbot is dead. Lucy asks to take their bodies back o England, and they let him.

Discussion Questions and Activities

  1. Write about Fastolfe’s entrance from Talbot’s point of view.
  2. Do you think the King’s reluctance to all violence reflects positively or negatively on his character?
  3. Write newspaper stories explaining the story of Talbot’s lack of aid from York and Somerset’s points of view.
  4. Host a debate between the two Talbot’s and argue the values of chivalry and honor as they did on the battle field.

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