Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 1 | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

As dawn breaks, Talbot, Bedford, and Burgundy sound a retreat, having retaken Orléans from the French. In the town square, Talbot holds a brief funeral for Salisbury, who was gunned down in Act 1, Scene 4. He asks Bedford what has become of Joan la Pucelle and the Dauphin, and Bedford informs him that the French leaders leapt over the walls and fled the town. Burgundy suggests pursuing the Dauphin's forces as soon as Orléans has been secured.

A messenger arrives, bearing an invitation from the Countess of Auvergne. She wishes Lord Talbot to visit her castle, "that she may boast she hath beheld the man/Whose glory fills the world with loud report." Flattered by the Countess's invitation, Talbot agrees to go and see her. He asks if Bedford and Burgundy will accompany him, but they demur, saying it would be rude to invite themselves. Before he leaves the stage, he whispers some instructions into the ear of one of his captains.

Analysis

This short scene is a breather for the English, just as Act 1, Scene 6 was for the French. In his funeral speech for Salisbury, Talbot lays out a rather disturbing calculus of revenge in which "every drop of blood" drawn from the slain earl merits the deaths of "at least five Frenchmen." This attitude contrasts sharply with the mild and peaceful rhetoric of King Henry, who in Act 5 seizes his first opportunity to bring the war to a halt. For the young king, the blood being shed on both sides is Christian blood, first and foremost; he never attempts, as Talbot does here, to suggest that French blood is categorically worth less than English. Henry's ability to think beyond national rivalries is admirable, but the English are lucky that it is Talbot who commands the "boots on the ground."

In responding to the Countess's flattery, Talbot might momentarily seem vain or even gullible. Given the way his character develops in the rest of the play, however, a more plausible explanation is that he is simply being chivalrous. Despite the ego-stroking tone of the message, Talbot is not fooled into assuming the Countess's intentions are friendly: his brief exchange with the captain, which is not heard by the audience, shows that he suspects a trap.

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