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In Shakespeareís characterization of Talbot, the core of his
heroic identity is his drive toward a godlike transcendence over
all that is base and vile, the scorn for death that comes from
assurance of fame, and the final configuration of a noble life in
the timeless "pattern" of personal aspiration. The portrayal of
Talbot depends on an ideal of aristocratic conduct that is
indigenous to sixteenth century England.
Talbotís main function in the play is to solemnize the fall of the
great English peers, of whom he is the last representative. With
Talbot, the playwright creates a context in which to define true
heroic virtue. Talbot is a tragically helpless figure, for he is the
champion of a cause which higher powers have already
decided to defeat.
He trusts the fighting qualities of the English soldier. This trust
is inevitably confounded; and, so in the end, is his trust in God,
whom he had come to know as Englandís unfailing ally in the
field. The conventional pieties are often on his lips, "God is our
fortress," he tells his men and past victories has justified him in
thinking so. And when he faces a triumphant Joan, he
pathetically inquires of the heavens how they can "suffer hell
so to prevail."
Talbotís warlike virtues exist side by side throughout with a
stressed and unnatural ferocity. This is the note, which emerges
in his threat to the citizens of Bordeaux. But if you frown upon
this proffered peace/ you tempt the fury of my three attendants
/lean famine, quartering steel, and climbing fire." More crudely
it finds expression more that once in the savagery of the earlier
action, ĎYour hearts Iíll stamp out with my horseís heel/ And
make a quagmire of your mingled brains." In these lines a note
of precariousness is reflected. In other words, it is a sense of
civilized life as balanced on the edge of savagery.
Talbotís last words, when the moment of his death comes,
balance the craving for immortality against a persistent sense
of vanity and impermanence. The positive affirmation of
Talbotís declaration is flawed by its own rhetoric, felt to be
poised finally against emptiness. In his last words, there is a
presence of a persistent note of tragic irony. For he is asserting
emphatically the opposite of what he knows to be reality.
The overall picture of Talbot shows much of numerous
dimensions. He is a courageous warrior, loyal friend, an
undaunted spirit and with it all he has a human heart. He
grieves for the death of his friends, the loss of his men and
above all cares immensely for his sonís safety. So much so that
he urges him to flee, which goes against the code of honor he
himself holds so dear. All in all, Talbot is indeed the "Valiant
Talbot" and "hero" of this play.
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