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Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 1 | Quotes


King Henry the Fifth, too famous to live long./England ne'er lost a king of so much worth.

Bedford, Act 1, Scene 1

This bit of hyperbolic praise is not meant to set up low expectations for the young king's reign but only to further glorify the late Henry V. Still Bedford's remark does seem to establish an impossibly high standard for Henry VI.


Your hearts I'll stamp out with my horse's heels/And make a quagmire of your mingled brains.

Talbot, Act 1, Scene 4

This is Talbot's immediate reaction to the death of the Earl of Salisbury, and it shows just who the French are dealing with: a cold-blooded tactician who can suddenly and terrifyingly turn into a hot-blooded madman. Although the onstage gore and guts are usually kept to a minimum in this play, Talbot does symbolically make good on his pledge here, killing many Frenchmen during the recapture of Orléans in Act 2.


My thoughts are whirlèd like a potter's wheel./I know not where I am nor what I do.

Talbot, Act 1, Scene 5

Talbot has just come from his brief sword fight with Joan. He is amazed at her fighting skill but also—and more importantly—by the way she frightens off his troops, driving them away from a city that the English had been besieging for several months. As English soldiers continue to race by in retreat, Talbot grows dizzy with anger and confusion.


No longer on Saint Dennis will we cry,/But Joan la Pucelle shall be France's saint.

Charles the Dauphin, Act 1, Scene 6

Charles's speech is presumptuous, even for royalty. It illustrates the depth of his infatuation with Joan: he is willing to sweep aside centuries of tradition and install her as the new patron saint of the realm.


And here I prophesy: this brawl today ... Shall send, between the red rose and the white,/A thousand souls to death and deadly night.

Warwick, Act 2, Scene 4

Warwick is foreshadowing the broader arc of the Henry VI trilogy here. The factional dispute will not erupt into open war until the end of Part 2, with the Battle of Saint Albans. In the meantime however, the Yorkist/Lancastrian quarrel does plenty of damage to the English cause in France.

Warwick's "thousand souls," which is meant poetically, ends up being a puny underestimate for the total loss of life in the ensuing wars. The death toll numbered in the tens of thousands, with the Battle of Towton alone claiming an estimated 28,000 lives.


Believe me, lords, my tender years can tell/Civil dissension is a viperous worm/That gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.

King Henry VI, Act 3, Scene 1

King Henry is precisely correct here: "civil dissension" (internal conflict) is the one force that will do the most to weaken England not only in this play but also in the subsequent two parts of the Henry VI trilogy. Unfortunately, by the time Henry grows up he will already have been branded as harmless, softhearted, and easily outmaneuvered. Nobody listens to his prophecy now, and few seem to remember it later.


And now I fear that fatal prophecy ... That Henry born at Monmouth should win all,/And Henry born at Windsor should lose all.

Exeter, Act 3, Scene 1

Shakespeare never reveals where Exeter gets his prophecies. The duke claims this particular prophecy was something children used to say in the time of Henry V, which is more than a little creepy. Much like King Henry's outcry against civil war, Exeter's prediction proves sadly accurate, but it takes decades to come true.


'Tis much when scepters are in children's hands.

Exeter, Act 4, Scene 1

Exeter's prophecy here is a somewhat obvious observation. King Henry VI is a child, not only in years but also in spirit. Keeping the realm together will prove to be beyond the capabilities of the young king.


These eyes, that see thee now well-colorèd,/Shall see thee withered, bloody, pale, and dead.

General, Act 4, Scene 2

This flippant answer comes down from the walls of Bordeaux when Talbot and his army arrive to besiege the city. Clearly the general has not been around for Talbot's almost werewolf-like spells of rage in previous scenes. As it happens he is correct in predicting that Talbot will be slain, but he has no idea at what cost.


Now thou art come unto a feast of Death,/A terrible and unavoided danger.

Talbot, Act 4, Scene 5

Talbot utters these words to his son John at the Battle of Bordeaux, in which both father and son will lose their lives. The English defeat at Bordeaux is indeed terrible and could have been avoided if Somerset had cooperated in sending reinforcements. As badly as one might feel for Talbot, however, this battle is merely a single course—a grisly appetizer of sorts—in the "feast of Death" that is the Henry VI trilogy.


I'll either make thee stoop and bend thy knee,/Or sack this country with a mutiny.

Winchester, Act 5, Scene 1

In his feud with Gloucester, Winchester has resolved to take no prisoners, an unusually vindictive stance for a man of the cloth. Winchester realizes he may not be able to overcome Gloucester, but if he does he has no qualms taking England down with him.


She's beautiful, and therefore to be wooed;/She is a woman, therefore to be won.

Suffolk, Act 5, Scene 3

Margaret of Anjou, the subject of these lines, is one of only three women in a play dominated by men. Like the Englishmen who mock Joan la Pucelle, Suffolk greatly underestimates Margaret, seeing her as merely a beautiful captive. In fact, as the rest of the trilogy will show, Margaret is a force to be reckoned with. In Part 2 she becomes an influential power broker at the English court; in Part 3 she assumes de facto leadership of the Lancastrian (Red Rose) faction.

Shakespeare uses an almost identical couplet in Titus Andronicus (Act 2, Scene 1), though the context there is much more menacing.


I prithee give me leave to curse awhile.

Joan la Pucelle, Act 5, Scene 3

Joan, even when utterly thwarted, still has some fight left in her. Surrounded by armed Englishmen, abandoned by her fiendish familiars, and facing an imminent fiery death, Joan looks at her captor York and tells him to wait a minute while she finishes cursing. To be fair, she has a great deal to curse about at this point.


Break thou in pieces, and consume to ashes,/Thou foul accursèd minister of hell!

Richard Plantagenet, Act 5, Scene 4

Joan has evidently gotten under her captor's skin. Disgusted by her lies and exhausted by her insults, York fires back with a few curses of his own just before leading her offstage.


Margaret shall now be queen, and rule the King,/But I will rule both her, the King, and realm.

Suffolk, Act 5, Scene 5

For much of the play, the Earl of Suffolk is silent, though he plays a modest part in the York/Somerset spat of Act 2, Scene 4. In Act 5 his political ambitions are suddenly awakened, a process helped along greatly by his infatuation with Margaret. Suffolk's confession here, spoken to an empty stage, amounts to a signal at the end of Part 1 that the story will be continued.

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