Henry VI Part 1: by Shakespeare - Summary

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      Henry VI Part 1, a historical play in three parts, of which William Shakespeare was the main, but almost certainly not the sole, author. The first part may date from as early as 1590, and the second and third can be presumed, from Elizabethan theatre practice, to have followed fairly closely. It may be that this uneven trilogy contains the first surviving stage composition by Shakespeare. The only reliable text is that published in the First Folio of 1623. The main sources are Holinshed’s Chronicles and Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate Families of Lancastre and York.

      Henry VI is an episodic account of the reign of Henry V’s son, from the years of his infancy to his murder by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Whereas Part I divides its attention between factional quarrels in England and the war in France, the last two parts confine themselves to the dynastic struggles that have come to be known as the Wars of the Roses. The complex history of plot and counter-plot is uncertainly controlled, and the trilogy is less successful as a whole than it is memorable for a handful of episodes and characters.

      The first part deals with the efforts of Talbot, the great and faithful soldier to save England and his failure culminates in his death. England loses her provinces in France due to the sorcery and tricky procedures of the supposed witch, Joan. Like other historians and Elizabethans, Shakespeare must have shared the prejudice that Joan had dealings with devils otherwise she could not have prevailed against mighty England. A reading of Shaw’s Saint John would help to find the difference between this John of Arc and the innocent and resolute Joan who was later canonized. The first part itself we find apart from the loss of England’s foreign possessions and the death of Talbot, the dissensions gathering greater dimensions. But the one consolation was the presence of the good Duke Humphrey of Gloucester who maintains the judicial administration in proper order. He proves immensely helpful to the young king.

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