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MonkeyNotes-Henry VI, Part 1 by William Shakespeare

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SCENE Summaries and Notes

Act I, Scene I

Summary

King Henry V is dead; his captains are gathered about his bier
mourning his untimely death. They see it as an act of fate
against England or as a result of sorcery used by the French.
One messenger after another interrupts their council with
tidings of cities last to the French and of English armies
scattered in defeat. The reason, behind this, lies in the internal
disunity of the English. Lord Talbot, one of the bravest English
generals has been defeated and captured by the French. This
occurs because he is deserted by a cowardly Sir John Fastolfe,
in the midst of battle. Swearing revenge Duke of Bedford
leaves to go to prepare for battle in France. The Duke of
Gloucester, who is protector to the King leaves to organize the
ammunition and make arrangements for Henry VIís
coronation. The Duke of Exeter, the young kingís special
governor departs to ensure the Kingís personal safety. Left
alone, the Bishop of Winchester discloses his intention of
becoming the real power behind the crown.

Notes

Scene I is a key scene, it introduces all the key elements of the
play. Henry V, the hero-king is dead and is mourned by the
entire nation. It had been his initiative that had led to English
victories in France. His nobles look upon his death as
something preordained by "the bad revolting stars." They
suspect that the French used black magic to destroy a man who
proved invincible in the earthly realm. It is important to
observe the strong superstitious beliefs that the noblemen hold.
They ascribe events to supernatural causes and see the French
as "conjurers and sorcerers."

The death of Henry V is followed by monumental English
losses till all they have left are " some petty towns of no
import." The losses described in this scene actually occurred
over a period of twenty-two years. But the playwright
compresses this time period, to that of just one day, for the
purpose of dramatic effectiveness. This scene also reveals the
reason for the English loss. One of the messengers has the
explanation "you maintain several factions" he informs the
noblemen. The English generals lack unity of purpose and
vision and are thereby weakened and defeated.

This scene also serves as an introduction of Lord Talbot. He is
one of the main characters in the play, with the largest number
of lines. He is a valiant general and very highly esteemed by
the English. He is defeated and captured by the French, not due
to any lack of valor on his part but because he is betrayed by
the cowardly desertion of one of his men, Sir John Fastolfe.
This is symbolic of a greater theme that runs throughout the
play. Lord Talbot is the personification of the valor and
bravery of the English soldiers. Fastolfe personifies the
disunity that exists in the English ranks. Thus, it is his
desertion, not the French might that leads to Talbotís defeat.
The French victories are due to weakness in the English, not
due to any inherent strength in the French themselves.

The noblemen gathered during the funeral have key positions
in the English hierarchy of power. And the animosity that
exists between two of them, namely Gloucester and Winchester
is underlined by their acrimonious exchange of insults.
Through this exchange, too, runs the thread of disharmony that
is sapping the English strength.

Exeter reminds those present of their oaths to the dead king,
namely, the destruction or subjugation of the Dauphin. This is
the central theme of the play; it deals with the French wars and
subsequent losses that occur during the reign of Henry VI.

The scene ends with matters closer to England: the upcoming
coronation of Henry VI as King. Winchesterís words, said
aloud when he is left alone, reveal that his ambitions run in the
direction of assuring real power behind the crown of the child
king. With his words the focus shifts from the action in France
to the political undercurrents in England.

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MonkeyNotes-Henry VI, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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