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Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 1 | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary



The setting shifts to the castle of the Countess of Auvergne, who is awaiting Talbot's arrival. She gives a cryptic instruction to her porter, the servant responsible for escorting people into and out of the castle. Then in a brief soliloquy, she congratulates herself on the "plot" she has laid. Talbot enters, escorted by a messenger, and the Countess immediately insults him with a mocking speech.

Seeing that he is not welcome, Talbot makes for the door. Just then the porter comes in with the keys, and the Countess declares that Talbot is now her prisoner. Talbot merely laughs, which aggravates the Countess. He claims she has captured only his "shadow" and proceeds to blow his horn. In response drums sound, cannons fire, and a squad of English soldiers bursts into the castle. Finding herself at a clear disadvantage, the Countess begs for Talbot's forgiveness. Talbot, chivalrous warrior that he is, asks only for wine and refreshments for his troops.


This scene helps to build out the legend of Talbot even as it adds a further dimension to his character. Throughout Act 1, and again in Act 2, Scene 2, Talbot presents himself as a severe and warlike figure who slays Frenchmen almost by instinct. Here his behavior is much more cordial: he settles his differences with the Countess over wine and "cates" (delicacies). He makes a show of force when she attempts to capture him, but he never follows through with any actual violence.

Moreover, Talbot keeps up his smooth and courtly demeanor despite some truly outrageous behavior on the Countess's part. She locks him in her castle, which is a pretty inhospitable start to their visit. Then she makes a series of increasingly rude jokes about his size, calling him a "child," a "silly dwarf," and finally a "weak and writhled [shriveled] shrimp." To see the difference in Talbot's character here, consider the likely outcome if a French man had called him a "shrimp" on the battlefield.

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