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Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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



Meanwhile in France, Joan la Pucelle and her soldiers are attempting to gain entrance to the English-occupied city of Roan (Rouen), disguised as farmers with sacks of grain. They slip past the watch without difficulty. Soon afterward Charles the Dauphin appears, escorted by the French noblemen Alanson, Reignier, and the Bastard of Orleance. Joan signals to them from the ramparts, and the French leaders follow her into the city, then begin killing off the English guards.

No sooner does the fighting begin than Talbot appears on the scene. Joan, now joined on the walls by the Dauphin and his nobles, taunts Talbot from above. More reinforcements for the English side arrive, including the Duke of Burgundy (a Frenchman collaborating with the English). The Duke of Bedford, too sick and aged to fight, is brought in on a chair by two servants. Joan mocks the old duke, calling him a "graybeard" and asking if he will "break a lance/and run a-tilt at Death within a chair." This infuriates Talbot, who challenges the French to combat in the field outside the city. They decline his offer.

Now worked up into a proper rage, Talbot swears to retake Roan if it's the last thing he does. Burgundy swears a similar oath, but before they can carry out the plan the two warriors must decide what to do with Bedford, who is in no condition to fight. Bedford insists that he be left in his chair to watch the battle, and Talbot and Burgundy honor his wish.

Into this already confusing scene comes Sir John Fastolf, who has already been mentioned (in Act 1, Scene 1) as the cowardly knight responsible for Talbot's capture. Fastolf runs across the stage, accompanied by an unnamed captain who admonishes him for fleeing the battle. Fastolf says he has no qualms about betraying his commander: he would abandon "all the Talbots in the world, to save [his] life."

At last the English win the day, driving out Joan and the Dauphin. Bedford, content with having seen "our enemies' overthrow," dies quietly and is carried off by his two retainers. Talbot and Burgundy reenter, cheered up considerably by their sudden victory. The next stop, they agree, is Paris, where King Henry awaits. Before they leave Roan, however, Talbot and Burgundy decide to arrange the "exequies" (the funeral) of the late Bedford.


In the war scenes of Henry VI, Part 1 Talbot generally gets most of the attention, not to mention several of the best speeches. Bedford, however, is another prime example of the English valor that the play was written to celebrate. In Act 1, Scene 1 Bedford is a minor character, part of a chorus of grieving lords whose intentions have not yet been sounded by the play's events. He loudly laments the death of Henry V, predicting that the passing of the late king will mean the demise of England's military might. Later, despite his advanced age, he participates in Talbot's daring assault on Orléans. This scene, however, is the one that establishes him as a hero: he remains on the battlefield to encourage the troops, even though he has neither the strength to fend off an attacker nor the mobility to flee.

Incidentally, when Talbot uses the word crazy to refer to Bedford, he does not mean "mentally unsound"—he is not, for example, questioning the sanity of Bedford's decision to stay on the battlefield. That later, more familiar sense of crazy does not show up in writing until the very end of Shakespeare's career; in Elizabethan English the word literally means "cracked," like a piece of broken glass. Talbot uses this image to connote Bedford's physical fragility and, perhaps, his wrinkled face. It's a term of pity, in other words, and not one of contempt.

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