Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

The scene shifts to Somerset's camp, which (like York's in Act 4, Scene 3) is situated in Gascony, near Bordeaux. Speaking to a captain from Talbot's army, Somerset explains that it is too late to save Talbot, and that he is unwilling to risk his own troops in such a "rashly plotted" venture.

Sir William Lucy arrives and implores Somerset to send aid to Talbot at once. The siege, Somerset replies, is York's business: "York set [Talbot] on; York should have sent him aid." Lucy, unsatisfied with this answer, points out how disgraceful it is that "the fraud of England, not the force of France" should be responsible for Talbot's death. This observation shames Somerset into sending the horsemen, though he says it will take them six hours to reach Bordeaux. Lucy counters that this is too little, too late: by this time Talbot has surely been captured or killed.

Analysis

Somerset's initial speech in this scene is cold and unfeeling, but it is difficult to object to his assessment of the situation at Bordeaux. His argument with Sir William Lucy, however, shows that Somerset is clearly in the wrong. He knew, or at least suspected, that Talbot would require reinforcements, but he withheld them because he did not want to seem too eager to cooperate with York:

York lies. He might have sent and had the horse.
I owe him little duty and less love,
And take foul scorn to fawn on him by sending.

Somerset, as Lucy realizes, is letting his hatred for York get in the way of his loyalty to England. This is no way to fight a war, and both men seem to know it: Somerset grudgingly, perhaps a little guiltily, agrees to send reinforcements after all. Lucy, however, is unwilling to let him off the hook: by pointing out that Talbot would rather die than flee, he implicitly compares the heroic commander to the craven and dishonorable Somerset.

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