Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 1 | Act 4, Scene 7 | Summary

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Summary

The English have continued to lose ground at Bordeaux. Talbot, injured, is led onstage by a servant. He is searching desperately for his son, whom he has lost in the heat of battle. As he looks about the battlefield, some English soldiers arrive, carrying a mortally wounded John Talbot. This prompts a bitter speech from the elder Talbot, who begs his son to speak to him one last time. John, however, can only manage a weak smile. Talbot takes the boy in his arms, bids his soldiers farewell, and dies.

Onto this grisly scene appear Charles the Dauphin, accompanied by Alanson, Burgundy, the Bastard of Orleance, and Joan la Pucelle. Charles congratulates himself on his good fortune—if English reinforcements had arrived on time, he says, this would have been a "bloody day" indeed. The French leaders then exchange stories of John Talbot's fierceness in the day's battle. The Bastard offers to desecrate the Talbots' corpses by "hack[ing] their bones asunder," but Charles urges him to forbear.

Sir William Lucy arrives, led by a French herald. Charles asks if the English have come to submit, and Lucy haughtily replies that "submission" is "a mere French word." He inquires whether the French have taken any prisoners and asks what has become of Lord Talbot. Joan contemptuously gestures toward the two corpses, and Lucy loudly laments Talbot's death. He then demands the bodies for burial; the French willingly accede. Once Lucy and his attendants have left, Charles announces the French army's next destination: Paris.

Analysis

This scene brings the Talbot story arc to a tragic close and signals the end of the most vigorous phase of the fighting. It also contains some of the play's highest praise for Talbot, though it comes from an unexpected source: the French. As earlier scenes have shown, the English are already well aware of Talbot's heroism and prize him as an ally. Lucy's short eulogy reaffirms this by likening Talbot to mythological figures: he describes Talbot as the "Alcides" (i.e., Hercules) of the battlefield and the "Nemesis" (avenging spirit) of the French.

What counts for even more, though, is the French leaders' admissions of fear and respect. The Bastard of Orleance calls Talbot and his son "England's glory, Gallia's [i.e., France's] wonder"; the Dauphin is unashamed to confess that he fled from Talbot "during the life." Of course, none of them will admit this in the presence of a living Englishman: when Lucy comes onto the stage, they treat Talbot's corpse as a mere nuisance, to be disposed of as quickly as possible.

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