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The major theme that runs throughout the play and holds its
various parts together is the war between France and England.
In these wars Talbot is the personification of England and all
its ideals of courage and heroism. Every other character and
action is dwarfed by the focus on the French wars.
The play begins with the death of Henry V. And while his
noblemen grieve for him they also grieve for the loss of a
warrior who had led them to victory against the English. To
their sorrow is added a newer and heavier burden: the news of
English losses in France. The end of the first scene shows them
gearing up, to take measures against such a blow against their
Joan comes into prominence only because she is incidental in
leading the French to victory against the English. The
significance of her character lies not in itself but in the role it
plays in bringing the English down. Talbot, the hero of the
play, puts an end to his own life so that the English may
triumph. But the real "hero" of the play, England, does not pass
away with Talbotís death. It survives and other men carry its
After Talbotís death both sides reach a stalemate. Further war
means loss for both and this leads to a reluctant declaration of
peace between the two nations. Neither is satisfied with the
truce but they see no other alternative. And so, although the
truce is reluctant it is very real nonetheless. Thus, the play
reaches its conclusion, foreshadowed as it was by the dynamic
interaction of internal disunity within the English and the
devious maneuvers of the French.
The minor theme focuses on the death of English chivalry and
unity, both of which lead to internal conflict and national
defeat in war. This theme is manifested by the rivalry between
Gloucester and Winchester, quarrel between Somerset and
York and the base selfishness of Suffolk.
At a time when England needs her noblemen to stand united
because she is without a ruler, Gloucester and Winchester
engage in petty squabbles threatening the morale of those
around them. Winchester is so bent on self-glorification that he
sees the matter of causing England ruin through civil war as a
matter of no great importance.
The quarrel between Somerset and York has grim
consequences: it causes England to lose its noblest and most
fierce warrior. Their dissension causes his death and thus
destroys Englandís last hope of living victorious over France.
They exemplify the evils of internal disunity at its most vivid.
And finally, Suffolk, who totally lacks the loyalty a nobleman
owes to his ruler and nation, manipulates the King to further
his own personal interest and to extend his ambitions. The
King is helpless to fight an enemy who bears the appearance of
a friend. This theme serves to show that great danger to a
nation need not only come from an outside enemy but can also
occur in the form of selfish citizens. And when this happens the
nation is left at the mercy of the outside world and forces that
seek to destroy it.
The humor in the play is of the crudest sort. Most of it is in the
form of slapstick action shown by the fights between the
English noblemen and their servants, the French retreating in
indecent haste from the English and so on. The comic matter
found in the dialogue is nothing better than feeble puns: Rome,
roam; dauphin, dolphin, dogfish; and Pucelle, Pussel (harlot).
This play lacks the sparkling wit, gay humor and poetry that
are a characteristic of many Shakespeare works.
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