Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 1 | Act 1, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

As the English flee Orléans, Talbot encounters Joan la Pucelle in single combat. He is startled to find he cannot defeat her, though she exits before the fight is finished. Watching his fellow Englishmen continue to run away, Talbot helplessly exhorts them to stand their ground. Finally, overcome with shame and anger, he retreats with the rest of the English forces.

Analysis

This brief scene serves to establish two important points: Joan is extremely (perhaps supernaturally) strong, and Talbot does not handle defeat well. Overcoming the Dauphin in a sword fight (Act 1, Scene 2) does not necessarily establish Joan as a great warrior: the French prince may merely be weak, love-struck, or unskilled in combat. Going toe to toe with Talbot is a much more substantial test of Joan's abilities: he expects to defeat her handily, but she puts up enough of a fight that he accuses her of possessing hellish powers. (He's right, but the audience doesn't know it until Act 5, Scene 3.)

Talbot himself is livid at the sudden English defeat. He likens his retreating troops to "whelps," "sheep," and "oxen," suggesting that their flight from Orléans is an unthinking stampede rather than a tactical decision. Even worse, he accuses them of "consent[ing] unto Salisbury's death," since none of them will stick around and try to avenge him. Fortunately for Team England, Talbot will cool off somewhat by Act 2: enough, at least, to formulate a plan for retaking Orléans.

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