Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 1 | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Back in Orléans the French are still under siege by the English. The master gunner (the officer responsible for the Orléans's artillery) tells his son he has learned the location of the English commanders, who are hiding out in a tower in the suburbs. He asks the boy to keep an eye on this tower through the window and let him know if any movement is spied within. After the master gunner leaves, the boy resolves to deal with the English himself if he happens to spot them.

Up in the tower, a recently freed Lord Talbot is greeted by a group of English officers, including the Earl of Salisbury, Sir William Glansdale, and Sir Thomas Gargrave. Salisbury asks about Talbot's time in captivity; Talbot replies that he was treated poorly by his French captors but managed to strike fear into their hearts.

As the Englishmen confer, the gunner's boy crosses the stage with a linstock (a long, matchlike device for lighting cannon fuses). Moments later, gunfire comes from offstage, and Salisbury and Gargrave are struck down. Gargrave dies almost instantly, but Salisbury lingers for a while. In a long and passionate speech, Talbot pleads with God to spare Salisbury, but his prayer goes unanswered: Salisbury lives just long enough to hear that Joan and her party have arrived to raise the siege. As the earl breathes his last, an enraged Talbot swears vengeance upon the French.

Analysis

This is the audience's first glimpse of the famous Lord Talbot, who makes quite an impression with his gory, warlike speeches. In Act 1, Scene 2, after the first failed attempt to raise the siege of Orléans, Reignier likened the English to a group of wind-up automatons who were "set" to fight:

I think by some odd gimmers or device
Their arms are set, like clocks, still to strike on;
Else ne'er could they hold out so as they do.

Talbot, who seems never to weary of battle, has a lot in common with these imagined clockwork soldiers. He seems, indeed, almost programmed to fight. In fact he continues to do so even in captivity with whatever weapons are available—stones, his bare hands, even threatening looks. (Eventually the French wise up and place Talbot under twenty-four-hour armed guard, which slows him down somewhat.) He is eager to return to the fray and readily joins his fellow lords in planning the next assault. This untiring pursuit of combat will be a hallmark of Talbot's character right up to his death in Act 4, Scene 7.

What truly makes Talbot "tick," however, is honor. During his captivity, he informs his fellow officers, he was offered the chance to be ransomed in exchange for a "baser man-of-arms" (i.e., a lower-ranking soldier). Refusing to be sold so cheaply, he held out until he could be "redeemed ... as [he] desired": namely, exchanged for a worthier French prisoner. Closely related to Talbot's love of honor is his thirst for vengeance when he or his allies have been wronged. He views the gunning down of Salisbury as an underhanded French trick and vows revenge in extraordinarily gruesome terms, promising to stamp out the Frenchmen's hearts and spill out their brains into a "quagmire."

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