Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

Outside of Roan (Rouen), Joan la Pucelle and the other French leaders (Charles the Dauphin, the Bastard of Orleance, and the Duke of Alanson) are regrouping after their recent defeat. Joan tells them not to worry: she will find a way to retake the city before too long. Charles and the rest reassure Joan of their trust in her, then ask what plan she has in mind. Joan suggests trying to lure the Duke of Burgundy back to the French side, since he is a Frenchman by birth.

As luck would have it, Burgundy's army passes by on the way out of Roan; Joan and Charles call for a parley (a negotiation). Burgundy halts his march, and Joan urges him to consider all the harm his defection has done to his native France. The English, she insinuates, are merely using him and will "thrust [him] out" of his territories "like a fugitive" as soon as they win the war. Burgundy, "bewitched" by Joan's words, agrees to rejoin his countrymen and help them take back France from the English.

Analysis

Throughout the play Shakespeare has included several moments of anti-French humor, but these jokes are usually uttered by English characters. Here, however, even Joan la Pucelle gets in on the action. When she succeeds in convincing Burgundy to leave the English side, she turns to the audience and says, "Done like a Frenchman: turn and turn again"; in other words Burgundy is behaving like a typical Frenchman in changing his mind so suddenly. This is an odd joke for Joan, a Frenchwoman, to make, though her own later deceitfulness also contributes to the stereotype of the French as unreliable. Spoken by a boy actor, the line probably got some laughs from its initial Rose Theatre audience.

On a more serious note, Burgundy's defection in this scene counterbalances the English victory at Roan (Act 3, Scene 2). The English may have retained the city, but the French have gained an additional army. Shakespeare's first audiences would have known, at least in broad strokes, how the Hundred Years' War turned out: although the Treaty of Tours (dramatized in Act 5) bought the English a few years, the French were the ultimate victors. Even with the benefit of historical hindsight, however, this change of fortune helps to keep the play moving forward, preventing either the short-term truce or the eventual French victory from seeming like too much of a foregone conclusion. It also provides an immediate pretext for Talbot's attempted invasion of Bordeaux in Act 4, which is where the fighting between the French and the English really heats up.

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