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Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 1 | Act 4, Scene 5 | Summary



The action returns to Bordeaux for this and the two following scenes. Talbot, now joined by his young son John Talbot, has been fighting a desperate battle and expects to be killed at any moment. He urges his son to flee so the Talbot family line will survive, but John refuses to abandon his father. Undeterred, Talbot makes a further attempt to reason with the boy: if John survives, he can avenge his father's death and comfort his widowed mother. John remains firm in his resolve, however, saying that he will not dishonor himself or his father through an act of cowardice. The older Talbot eventually relents, and the two rush back into the battle "side by side."


This scene immediately picks up the "Talbot and son" subplot introduced in Act 4, Scene 4. In earlier speeches (see especially Act 4, Scene 2), Shakespeare has established Talbot as irreproachably fearless and valiant. Now he pours on the pathos, showing a tender side to this warlike figure. The Talbot who now begs John to flee the battlefield is practically a different man from the Talbot who, three scenes ago, led his troops charging into the face of certain death.

One cue to this shift is Talbot's willingness to bend the rules for his son. In Act 1, Scene 5 Talbot was anguished at the thought of retreating from battle, even though the English forces were thoroughly routed. Now, however, he is pleading with John to do just that. He lists every excuse he can think of in order to make fleeing seem like an honorable choice rather than an act of cowardice. In light of all this, the young man's decision not to run away may seem like suicide; a more ennobling interpretation is that John, like the elder Talbot, prizes deeds above words. He chooses to emulate Talbot the warrior and not to be swayed by the pleas of Talbot the father.

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