Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 1 | Act 4, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Talbot arrives at the gates of Bordeaux with a retinue of English soldiers. He demands the city give up its resistance and return to acknowledging Henry as its rightful liege. If these demands are not met, Talbot warns, he will raze Bordeaux to the ground.

The general in charge of the city appears on the ramparts and scorns Talbot's threat, assuring him that Bordeaux can withstand an English siege, especially with reinforcements from the Dauphin on the way. Talbot, he says, is a marked man: 10,000 French soldiers have "ta'en the Sacrament" (i.e., sworn an oath on the Eucharist) to aim only at "English Talbot." Hearing the Dauphin's troops approach, Talbot realizes he is surrounded, but he vows to fight to the very end.

Analysis

From this scene onward, Act 4 consists of fast-paced vignettes that dramatize the last battles between the English and the French. A secondary but still important aim of these scenes is to build up the character of Talbot as a war hero, showing his gallant behavior even in the face of defeat. Like the better-known Harfleur scene in Henry V, this scene is a vehicle for a grand speech that shows off the protagonist's courage and resolve. In a monologue replete with hunting imagery, Talbot urges his troops to behave like "moody-mad and desperate stags" rather than cowardly deer:

Turn on the bloody hounds with heads of steel
And make the cowards stand aloof at bay.
Sell every man his life as dear as mine
And they shall find dear deer of us, my friends.

Talbot's punning ("dear deer") might seem a little inane, given that he is facing an apparently unwinnable battle. This gallows humor, however, serves as a further illustration of Talbot's warlike character. It was easy enough for Talbot to scoff at the French forces when he was ambushing them in Orleance (Orleans) in Act 2, Scene 1 or chasing them out of Roan (Rouen) in Act 3, Scene 2. Now, faced with his own probable demise, Talbot remains unshaken and vows that the French shall not take him without paying a heavy price.

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