From Stories of Shakespeare's English History Plays by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company.
The first act opens in Westminster Abbey, during the funeral of Henry V. whom Bedford Regent of France, Gloucester Protector of England, and other dignitaries escort to the tomb. In his grief, Bedford bids the heavens hang themselves with black, and swears 'England ne'er lost a King of so much worth,' while Gloucester also praises the master who 'ne'er lift up his hand but conquered.' Exeter opines all England should mourn in blood, for 'the subtle-witted French,' no longer afraid of their foes, are rising up against them, while the Bishop of Winchester claims that Henry fought the battles of the Lord, and was aided by the Church. Angry that any glory should be ascribed to the priests, Gloucester mutters they hastened the King's death, whereupon Winchester accuses him of pride. When he adds the taunt that Gloucester's wife adores her husband more than her God, a quarrel ensues, which Bedford tries to check until the funeral is over, fervently praying Henry V's spirit may keep the realm 'from civil broils.' Before the end of the ceremony a messenger brings bad tidings from France, where the English have lost most of their conquests. Horrified that such a statement should be made in Henry V's dead presence, Bedford charges the messenger to speak softly, while Gloucester inquires whether Paris and Rouen have also yielded. The messenger avers lack of men and money brought about this calamity, too, ere he urges the English to recover what is lost.
These tidings so appal all present, that Exeter exclaims were 'tears wanting to this funeral, these tidings would call forth their flowing tides.' Then Bedford calls for his armour, to start immediately for France, and make the French 'weep their intermissive miseries,' just as another courier reports the Dauphin crowned at Rheims, and joined by Alengon, by the Bastard of Orleans, and by Reignier of Anjou. Hearing this, Exeter exclaims the French will now all rally around their King, while Gloucester mutters that if Bedford proves slack, he will fight the French himself, a threat he is grimly assured he will never be called upon to execute.
A third messenger next reports a fight between Talbot and the French, wherein the Englishman was defeated and taken prisoner, owing to the cowardly defection of Sir John Fastolfe. His account of the battle of Patay proves so graphic, that it decides Bedford to start immediately, and 'hale the Dauphin headlong from his throne.' As he is about to leave, the messenger informs him Orleans is besieged, and their army so weak and faint that the Earl of Salisbury can scarcely restrain his men from mutiny. Bedford gone, Gloucester proposes to visit the Tower and inspect the artillery, while Exeter mounts guard over the young King. Having watched the rest depart, Winchester mutters 'each hath his place and function,' and jealously adds he will not long 'be Jack out of office,' for he fully intends to gain possession of the King, and 'sit at chiefest stern of public weal.'
Immediately after, we behold the English fortifications before Orleans, where after sundry trumpet calls, King Charles of France is seen advancing with his army. He claims that Mars, hitherto so faithful to England, now smiles upon the French, who have come to succour Orleans, which the English have been besieging several months. When Alencon ascribes the vain efforts of the English to lack of their usual fare, Reignier adds it will be easy to drive them away. Signalling for attack, Charles now calls out in chivalrous fashion, 'him I forgive my death who killeth me, when he sees me go back one foot or fly.' But, a moment after, the French troops are really driven back by the English, Charles crying he would stand firm would his men only remain by him! While Reignier exclaims Salisbury 'fighteth as one weary of his life,' Alencon avers Froissart was right when he claimed none but Olivers and Rolands were born In England during the reign of Edward III. Such is the English courage, that Charles favours a retreat, saying hunger will enforce the citizens 'to be more eager,' for he feels sure they will gnaw their very walls sooner than allow their city to be taken.
Just then the Bastard of Orleans enters, crying Charles need not be dismayed, because Heaven has sent a holy maid to raise the siege 'and drive the English forth the bounds of France.' When he adds that her spirit of prophesy exceeds that of 'the nine sibyls of old Rome,' and can descry 'what's past and what's to come,' Charles bids the Bastard introduce this wonder. No sooner has he gone to get her, however, than the monarch delegates Reignier to occupy his place upon the throne, while he hides amid the spectators, saying 'by this means shall we sound what skill she hath.'
These arrangements completed, the Bastard ushers in Joan, — La Pucelle, — whom Reignier addresses, only to be immediately told he can not beguile her. Then, turning her back upon him, Joan singles out the real Dauphin, for whom she says she has a private message. With the comment 'she takes upon her bravely at first dash,' Reignier and the rest draw aside, while the Maid informs the Dauphin she is an untrained shepherdess, to whom appeared the Mother of God, so transforming her by her divine glory, that 'whereas I was black and swart before,' 'she infused on me that beauty I am bless'd with which you see.' Then Joan bids the King propound any question he pleases, and test her strength, whereupon Charles challenges her to single combat, promising to believe in her if she vanquishes him. Bidding him prepare, the Maid draws a blade she claims to have found in St. Catherine's churchyard, and the two begin to fight. To Charles' dismay, he is promptly disarmed, but when he exclaims Joan is an Amazon and fights with the sword of Deborah, she modestly rejoins were she not helped by Christ's mother, she would be 'too weak.' Entreating her aid, Charles promises her love in exchange, but Joan replies, 'I must not yield to any rites of love, for my profession's sacred from above,' adding that when the English are out of France she will 'think upon a recompense.'
From the background, the courtiers watch this scene, wondering at its length, and exchanging facetious remarks in regard to its subject. Overhearing Reignier now inquire whether Orleans shall be abandoned, Joan exclaims 'fight till the last gasp,' promising to be their guard. This pleases Charles, as does Joan's boast 'assign'd am I to be the English scourge. This night the siege assuredly I'll raise.' He urges all to obey her, vowing that 'glory is like a circle in the water, which never ceaseth to enlarge itself till by broad spreading it disperse to nought.' Adding that 'with Henry's death the English circle ends,' he proclaims the Maid, — whom he compares to 'Caesar and his fortunes,' — inspired like Mahomet, and declares 'no prophet will I trust, if she prove false.'
The next scene is played in London, as the Duke of Gloucester arrives with his serving men 'to survey the Tower,' for he fears dishonest practices are rife. When he haughtily demands admittance, he is surprised to hear the warder answer him rudely. In his anger, Gloucester threatens to break down the gates, and his servants are about to rush forward, when the lieutenant demands what this means? To Gloucester's assertion that he must get in, the lieutenant objects that Winchester ordered neither he nor any of his pary should be admitted. This statement causes Gloucester to denounce the Bishop, and charge the lieutenant with being 'no friend to God or to the King!'
They are still disputing when Winchester arrives with a large retinue. Rudely addressing Gloucester, he receives an equally impolite reply, which provokes an exchange of taunts, wherein Winchester accuses Gloucester of being 'the proditor, and not protector, of the King or realm,' while Gloucester taxes his foe with encouraging wantonness. Uncomplimentary speeches are bandied to and fro, until Gloucester bids his men attack his opponent. In the ensuing fray, Gloucester's men drive away the others, but before the battle is ended, the Mayor of London appears to reprove both parties for breaking the peace. Both Gloucester and Winchester now pour out their grievances, and seeing they are about to renew the skirmish, the Lord Mayor has the riot act read. Unwilling to be 'a breaker of the law,' Gloucester now desists, promising to meet Winchester where they can break their 'minds at large!' Thirsting for just such an opportunity, the cardinal vows, he'll have Gloucester's heart's blood, and both parties move off, growling defiance. Thus rid of conflicting elements, the mayor prepares to depart too, wondering that nobles should quarrel thus, when 'I myself fight not once in forty year.'
The curtain next rises on the Orleans ramparts, where a gunner informs his son their city is in danger of being taken by the English, who are already masters of the suburbs. The lad knows this, having repeatedly discharged the big gun, although he regretfully acknowledges he has always failed to hit the foe. His father, however, boasts the shot cannot fail next time, for he has trained the gun on a certain gate, where English officers often come to 'overpeer the city.' For three days past he has watched this point, to discharge his piece as soon as officers appear, and, now being obliged to leave for a while, he bids his son mount close guard, and summon him should occasion arise.
The father has no sooner gone than the lad mutters he will not trouble his parent should he see any one at the gate! These words are scarcely uttered, when Salisbury, Talbot, and Glandsdale appear on the English fortifications. Salisbury is just welcoming Talbot, who, recently exchanged for a French general, relates his captivity and his various attempts to secure release. It is evident he still feels sore about the defeat of Patay and the defection of Sir John Fastolfe, for when asked how the French entertained him, he feelingly describes the insults heaped upon him. He and Salisbury now approach the fatal gate, and as they draw near, the boy on the Orleans side applies a lighted torch to his cannon. Gazing through the bars, Salisbury is just assuring Talbot he shall soon have his revenge, and is pointing out the spot whence they mean to attack Orleans, when there is a flash of light, and Salisbury and one of his companions fall. Bending over his fallen comrade, Talbot exclaims in horror that one side of his head has been blown off, and that the victor of thirteen battles is slain! Then he vainly tries to win a last word from the sufferer, who feebly makes a sign, wihich is interpreted as a demand for revenge. Talbot has just promised to avenge Salisbury's death, when a noise is heard accompanied by thunder and lightning.
A messenger then rushes forward, declaring the Dauphin is coming with 'power to raise the siege,' and accompanied by Joan, a 'holy prophetess new risen up.' These tidings cause the dying Salisbury to groan aloud, while Talbot cries he will lead the English instead of his friend, who is carried off to his tent.
A little while later, we perceive Talbot pursuing the Dauphin, but falling back in dismay when Joan appears, because his men flee in a panic at the mere sight of a woman in armor! When the Maid stands close before him, Talbot reviles her, and offers to fight, a challenge she accepts. But, in spite of his best efforts, she soon gets the better of him, and leaves him, contemptuously remarking his hour has not yet come, for she must Victual Orleans forthwith,' while he helps Salisbury write his testament!
After the Maid has vanished crying, 'this day is ours, as many more shall be,' Talbot confessing his 'thoughts are whirled like a potter's wheel,' implores his companions to renew the fight or renounce the name of Englishmen! The skirmish therefore continues, until, In spite of heroic efforts, Talbot perceives Joan has succeeded in entering Orleans.
A little while later King Charles, and the Maid appear on the walls of this city, where Joan bids her companions plant their colours, for Orleans has been rescued and her promise redeemed. After lauding the Maid, Charles declares no greater triumph was ever won, while Reignler and Alengon call for general rejoicing. But although the courtiers try to attribute the glory to the King, Charles ascribes it all to Joan, enthusiastically offering to share his crown with her, have her praises sung, and honour her with a finer tomb than any sovereign! He adds that her name shall hereafter be used as the French rallying cry, and invites all present to a banquet in honour of the victory.
The second act opens before Orleans, where a French sergeant bids his sentries mount careful guard. The sentinels are grumbling, when Talbot, Bedford and Burgundy draw near with forces and scaling ladders, crying the French are so secure that they can easily be surprised! Talbot rejoices at the prospect of victory, while Bedford pronounces Charles a coward for seeking the aid of a witch to regain his kingdom! Hearing this, Burgundy inquires who the Maid may be, only to receive from various interlocutors more or less reliable information about Joan.
The ladders placed, Bedford invites Talbot to mount first, only to be told it would be wiser to scale the ramparts from different points, so if some fail others may succeed. This plan being adopted, the English reach the crest of the wall before the sentinels can give the alarm. With their battle-cry 'St. George' and 'a Talbot,' the English scramble over the walls, and a moment later the French escape from Orleans In scanty attire. In the fugitives we recognise the Bastard of Orleans, Alencon and Relgnier, all hotly chiding each other, for not mounting better guard. They are still discussing the surprise, and wondering what has become of the King, when the Bastard exclaims Joan was with him and hence they need feel no anxiety about his safety. Just then Charles and the Maid run In, the King denouncing his companion for having led him into a trap! The Maid retorts that instead of blaming her, he should reprove his guards. Then Charles accuses the different nobles of poorly defending their share of wall, although all deny It. Besides, Charles himself acknowledges having spent part of the night in going the rounds, to ascertain that the sentinels were all at their post. The Maid concludes the English found some weakly guarded spot, and is just suggesting their forces be rallied so they can retrieve the day, when an English soldier rushes forward, crying 'a Talbot!' Deeming his companions close behind him, the French flee, dropping the clothes and valuables they carry, which the soldier collects, gleefully exclaiming his ruse has brought him plentiful spoil!
The curtain next rises within Orleans, where Bedford summons the English, and Talbot orders the body of Salisbury buried In the centre of the city. He wonders where the King, Joan, and their confederates may be, as they must have escaped from bed at the first alarm. Burgundy then mockingly reports how he saw the King and Joan flee past him, arm in arm, like a pair of turtle-doves 'that could not live asunder day or night.' The English are still on this square, when a messenger Informs Talbot the Countess of Auvergne wishes him to visit her. After some joking with his companions, Talbot rejoins that when a lady craves audience a gentleman cannot refuse. He therefore sends his compliments and promises to call before long, but when he invites his friends to accompany him, they laughingly decline, Bedford sagely remarking 'unbidden guests are often welcomest when they are gone.' Summoning one of his captains, Talbot now whispers to him, uttering aloud the final words, 'you perceive my mind?' and receiving an affirmative answer, grimly watches his man depart.
In the castle of Auvergne, the Countess charges her porter to bring her the keys as soon as her visitor has entered. When this man has left the room, she murmurs she hopes to outdo the great heroines of history by winding her coils around the bravest of the English. As her soliloquy ends, a servant ushers in Talbot, whom the lady welcomes with pretended surprise, saying the man she imagined like to a Hercules seems little more than a dwarf! This uncomplimentary reception so angers Talbot, that he turns on his heel, curtly stating he will visit her at a more opportune time. The Countess has just sent her page after him to inquire why he is leaving so abruptly, when the porter brings in the keys. Calling to Talbot that he is now her prisoner, the Countess tauntingly adds she means to avenge her country's wrongs by making him suffer all she can. When Talbot laughs, she vows his mirth will soon turn to sorrow, but starts in dismay when he rejoins she has only secured Talbot's shadow! He soon adds that were his whole frame here, 'your roof would not suffice to contain it,' an enigmatical remark to which he furnishes the solution by winding his horn, whereupon English troops immediately force their way into the castle, for they have been lying in ambush awaiting this very signal.
Completely outwitted, the Countess now begs Talbot's pardon, which he freely grants on condition she feed his men, 'for soldiers' stomachs always serve them well.' This scene ends with the Countess' humble assurance, I 'think me honoured to feast so great a warrior in my house.'
In the Temple Garden in London, some nobles congregate after a council, where they have evidently been quarrelling, since they exclaim this will be a convenient place to settle their dispute! At these words, Richard Plantagenet, heir of Mortimer and York, bids Suffolk proclaim him right and Somerset wrong, a decision this nobleman declines to make. Called upon to pronounce judgment in his turn, Warwick states it is easier to decide between the merits of two hawks, two dogs, two blades, two horses, or two girls, than such 'nice sharp quillets of the law.' Hearing this, Plantagenet avers the truth is plainly on his side, and invites all present sharing his opinion to imitate him and pluck a white rose from a bush near by. Thereupon Somerset summons those who side with him, to pluck red ones from another bush. While Warwick plucks a white blossom, and Suffolk a red, Vernon suggests that the majority of roses decide the quarrel — a decision which satisfies both parties. One nobleman after another now steps forward to pick his flower, proudly justifying his choice, although taunted by his rivals.
These taunts produce friction, especially when Somerset accuses Suffolk of being of common birth, although Warwick indignantly proves him descended from Clarence. Then Somerset retaliates by charging Plantagenet with being the offspring of a traitor. Hearing this, Plantagenet claims his father was wrongfully accused, and offers to prove it at the point of his sword! The quarrel becomes so acrimonious that Suffolk finally marches away uttering a defiant speech, and is closely followed by Somerset. Plantagenet wonders how he can brook such insults, until Warwick reminds him that Parliament will soon decide his case, and that meanwhile the heads of both parties, Winchester and Gloucester, are bound to keep peace. He adds that should Plantagenet not recover his title, he will uphold him arms in hand, and solemnly pledges himself always to wear the white rose. Next he prophesies that this 'brawl to-day, grown to this faction in the Temple Garden, shall send, between the red rose and the white, a thousand souls to death and deadly night.' Then, thanking the partisans who have loyally sided with him, Plantagenet goes away, inviting them to dinner, sure that 'this quarrel will drink blood another day.'
The curtain next rises on the Tower of London, where aged Mortimer is brought into the court by his jailers. Bidding them set his chair down in the sunshine so he can rest, he declares himself so weary that he lives only in the hope of seeing his nephew. When the jailer assures him Plantagenet is coming, the aged Mortimer exclaims that after seeing him he will be able to depart in peace!
A moment later Plantagenet appears, and after embracing this nephew, whom he hails as the hope of the Yorks, old Mortimer sinks back in his chair. To account for his delay, Plantagenet relates his quarrel with Somerset, who taunted him with his father's death. As he wishes to know why his parent lost his life, Mortimer explains that his father was even better entitled to the crown than Henry IV. After setting forth the genealogy proving this claim, the aged lord relates how, — displeased with Henry's government, — the Percys revolted, and tried to place York on the throne. As a result, Mortimer was made a prisoner and had to spend the rest of his life in the Tower, — while his brother was beheaded as a traitor! This explanation satisfies Plantagenet his father's execution was an act of 'bloody tyranny,' a statement his uncle bids him never express aloud, since the House of Lancaster is as fixed as a mountain and likely to resent it. A few moments later, the aged Mortimer breathes his last in his nephew's arms, still giving him good advice. Pledging himself to give his kinsman a fitting burial, and mournfully watching the jailers bear away his corpse, Richard Plantagenet declares it behooves him also to avenge the insult Somerset offered his race, and hastens to Parliament to secure the restitution of his father's title and estates.
The third act opens in Parliament, where Winchester, seeing Gloucester attempt to post up a bill, snatches it from him and tears it to pieces, bidding him accuse him openly without 'invention,' so he can answer with 'sudden and extemporal speech!' Turning upon his opponent, Gloucester now reviles him, accusing him of having twice criminally attempted his life! In return Winchester denounces Gloucester, telling the lords present his antagonist is insulting him wantonly, although they are of equal rank. This statement Gloucester refutes, and the quarrel waxes ever fiercer as Somerset and Warwick join in it to support their respective parties.
Meantime, Plantagenet prudently holds his tongue, and young Henry VI, who has watched the contention with terror, — piteously implores his uncles Gloucester and Winchester to be friends, assuring them 'civil dissension is a viperous worm that gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.'
This truth becomes only too apparent when a tumult arises, which is soon followed by the entrance of the mayor, complaining that the followers of Winchester and Gloucester, forbidden all other weapons, are pelting each other with pebbles! As a result, all the windows in the street are broken and many bloody heads are to be seen. Through the open doors a glimpse is gained of the skirmish, which the King implores Gloucester to end. Vowing that if forbidden stones they will use their teeth, Gloucester's servants continue the fight, until he interferes, and the terrified little King implores Winchester to use his authority in behalf of peace. Hearing Warwick urge this too, the churchman haughtily vows that unless Gloucester submit he will never yield. Out of compassion for the child monarch, Gloucester now gives in, and Warwick calls Winchester's attention to the fact that his foe is holding out his hand In token of reconciliation. The bishop, however, seeming unready to meet his antagonist half way, is reproached by the King for acting so little according to his calling. This re- proof being reiterated by Warwick, Winchester re- luctantly shakes hands with Gloucester, who realises how hollow this truce is when the priest murmurs he has no intention of respecting it.
Meantime, deceived by appearances, the little King sighs with relief, and dismisses the quarrelling servants, who, perceiving their masters hand in hand, deem it expedient to cease fighting. All go off, therefore, to have their wounds bound, and Warwick solemnly presents Plantagenet's petition, which Gloucester upholds. Duly prepared for this move, the King announces Richard Plantagenet is restored to his rank, and at Warwick's suggestion decrees he shall have all 'that doth belong unto the house of York.' In return for this boon, Plantagenet does homage to Henry VI, and while kneeling receives again 'the valiant sword of York.' This ceremony over, all congratulate the new Duke, save Somerset, who grumbles against him.
Business settled, Gloucester informs his little Majesty it behooves them to cross the seas so he can be crowned in France, and they depart. Left alone in the hall after the others have marched out, Exeter murmurs old dissensions will soon break out into flame, for he fears the fatal prediction that 'Henry born at Monmouth should win all, and Henry born at Windsor should lose all,' may yet come true.
In France, the Maid approaches the gates of Rouen, attired like a peasant, and accompanied by four disguised soldiers, who bear sacks on their backs. Instructing these men to enter with her as harmless peasants, Joan proposes to deliver the place to the Dauphin, who is lying in ambush out- side. With the punning remark that the sacks they bear will serve as means to sack the city, the soldiers knock, describing themselves to the porter as poor peasants coming to market to sell corn.
Because all such venders are invariably allowed free access, the watchman lets the group pass in, and as they do so, the Maid triumphantly exclaims 'nova, Rouen, I'll shake thy bulwarks to the ground.'
Meanwhile, Charles and his followers arrive, the King remarking the Maid is to signal by thrusting a lighted torch out of the tower window. They are grouped together, eagerly gazing upward, when Joan suddenly appears on the tower, waving a brand, which she joyously dubs 'the happy wedding torch that joineth Rouen unto her countrymen.' Sounding their trumpets, Alencon, the Bastard and Reignier force their way in, and a moment later Talbot flees across the stage, lustily swearing against the Maid, who has forced him thus to retreat.
After some confused running to and fro, Bedford, surrounded by English generals, is brought in a chair close to the wall. Within the town are now seen the Maid, the King of France and their followers. Hearing Joan taunt them, the Duke of Burgundy bids her scoff on, for he will choke her ere long! In reply to a taunt from King Charles, Bedford suggests that instead of bandying words, they proceed to deeds, a remark which makes the Maid inquire whether he proposes to 'run a tilt at Death within a chair?' This seems too cruel to Talbot, who reproves her for defying a half dead man, and haughtily challenges her to another duel.
After putting their heads together for a while, the English, who have chosen Talbot as their spokesman, watch him step forward and dare the French to meet them in battle on the plain. To this the Maid rejoins they would be fools 'to try if that our own be ours or not' only to be told Talbot is not speaking to her, but to the warriors, whom he reviles for not acting like gentlemen. The Maid now suggests they leave the ramparts, and passes out of sight with a jaunty farewell to the foe and the remark, 'we came but to tell you that we are here.'
When she has gone, Talbot states unless they recover Rouen their reputation will be lost. Bergundy, too, is anxious to regain the city, but before beginning operations, wishes to remove the Duke of Bedford. He, however, refuses to budge, declaring his presence will encourage the soldiers, a spirit his friends admire ere setting off to attack the foe.
Some more fighting ensues, after which Sir John Fastolfe flees across the stage, declaring he would forsake all the Talbots in the world to save his life! He is closely followed by a captain, who protests against his cowardly flight. After some more excursions to and fro, the Maid, Alengon, and Charles escape from the city in their turn, while Bedford, perceiving the English have triumphed, dies for joy. It is, therefore, only a corpse which is borne into the city by Talbot, Burgundy and their men, who exclaim that Rouen has been lost and recovered in a day!
After wondering where the Maid and the French can be, the English decide to place the recovered town under good guard and march off to Paris, to witness the coronation of their little King. But, before leaving, Talbot gives orders for Bedford's burial, declaring 'a gentler heart did never sway in court.'
On the plains near Rouen, the fleeing French assemble, the Maid bidding her countrymen not grieve over the loss of the city, since 'care is no cure, but rather corrosive for things that are not to be remedied.' When she encourages them with hopes of future success, Charles inquires what she intends to do; so after some demur, she reveals she proposes to win the Duke of Burgundy over to the French side. Should this come to pass, Charles feels sure the English would soon leave France, so he hopefully watches the Maid's efforts.
Just then trumpets are heard and the English march out of Rouen headed by Talbot. They have scarcely passed out of sight, when a second march ushers in the Burgundians. Bidding the French sound a parley, the Pucelle announces she wishes to talk to the Duke. Burgundy answers these summons by saying he has no time for idle talk, and when Charles bids the Maid 'enchant him with her words,' he rudely urges her to be *not over-tedious.' In an eloquent speech, Joan now invites her interlocutor to gaze upon France and behold the marks of ruin implanted by years of warfare, pleading his arms should rather be turned against the common foe, for 'one drop of blood drawn from thy country's bosom should grieve thee more than streams of foreign gore.' Touched by this speech, Burgundy finally mutters she has bewitched him or nature is causing him to relent!
Meanwhile, the Pucelle explains how the English are merely using him to reach their ends, and how, once masters of France, they will discard him. Vanquished by these arguments, Burgundy joins the French, vowing he will never trust Talbot again. Although proud of her victory, the Maid considers this 'done like a Frenchman: turn and turn again,' (a very unorthodox version of her real sentiments) — and while the rest congratulate her upon what she has done, Charles invites all present to join him and Burgundy and 'prejudice the foe.'
The next scene is played in the palace in Paris, where Henry VI is seated on his throne, while Talbot lays his sword at his feet, boasting of his military feats. When Gloucester assures the Monarch this is the great Talbot, the little King bids him welcome, stating he remembers how his father said 'a stouter champion never handled sword,' — surely a remarkable feat of memory for an infant nine months old! In reward for his services, Talbot is created Earl of Shrewsbury, and given a share in the coronation pageant, and all march out save two lords of the Yorkish and Lancaster factions. These now renew aloud a quarrel previously begun, and after challenging each other, decide to petition the King to permit an immediate encounter, for all duels have been prohibited during the campaign.
The fourth act opens in Paris, as Gloucester invites Winchester to crown the King. This done, the governor of Paris takes his oath, after which Fastolfe enters, bearing a letter from the Duke of Burgundy. Indignant to behold this coward, Talbot marches up to him and tears off his insignia of the Garter, proclaiming to all present how shamefully Fastolfe behaved at the battle of Patay. His explanation satisfies the spectators, and determines the King to banish Fastolfe from court 'on pain of death.'
This execution done, Henry VI begs to hear what Burgundy writes, and Glouster, gazing at the letter, is surprised to see it is merely addressed 'to the King of England.' Its contents further enrage him, for the Duke states that, moved by compassion for his country's woes, he forsakes the English to join Charles, 'rightful King of France!' This treachery being duly explained to the little King, he promptly requests Talbot to punish the Duke, saying he wishes he could go with him and show Burgundy 'what offence It is to flout his friends.'
When Talbot has departed, the would-be duelists, supported by their respective masters, present their plea, relating how they quarrelled while crossing the seas, in regard to the colour of their rose badges; thus continuing the fight begun in the Temple Inn Garden. They and their sponsors wrangle on, until the little King exclaims madness must prevail, since men can quarrel for so slight a cause as the colour of a rose! He implores both Dukes to make peace, a request they heed as little as their followers, since they too, challenge each other. The King, — who is all for peace, — charges all Englishmen to remember it ill becomes them to quarrel among themselves when they have other foes to contend with. In hopes of ending the strife, he further dons a red rose, claiming both Somerset and York as his kinsmen, and begs them to continue in peace and love, and vent all their anger on the enemy. He next appoints weighty duties for each, and states he will now return to Calais and from thence to England, where he hopes soon to learn they have conquered the French! Thereupon Henry VI marches out, while Warwick murmurs the King 'prettily, methought, played the orator.'
Then, hearing York grumble because the monarch assumed Somerset's badge, Warwick vainly tries to pacify him, and all finally leave the hall except Exeter, who exclaims had York only revealed his sentiments, people would have known this mouldering quarrel 'doth presage some ill event.' Besides, he feels certain a sceptre in a child's hand must bring about ruin and confusion.
In the next scene the mighty Talbot is summoning the city of Bourdeaux to surrender, only to be warned he is in imminent danger, for trumpets herald the approach of the Dauphin. Caught between the town and the French army, Talbot bravely prays 'prosper our colours in this dangerous fight!'
The curtain next rises on the plains of Gascony, where a messenger, meeting York, reports Talbot before Bourdeaux, whither the Dauphin is following him. Angry to think that Somerset, who was to send supplies, has failed to do so, York exclaims he cannot march on with so small a force, although Talbot needs reinforcements. Praying God comfort his countrymen in this necessity, but realising if he is slain, war will soon cease in France, York remains inactive.
When Sir William Lucy also urges him to hasten to Talbot's rescue, York rejoins he cannot go, although he knows Talbot has just been joined by his young son, from whom he has been parted for seven years. Grieving that the father should welcome this lad to a grave, York marches out, sadly saying 'no more my fortune can, but curse the cause, I cannot aid the man.' Left alone, Lucy comments that while the vulture of sedition feeds in the bosom of great commanders, conquests are lost and Henry V's memory disgraced.
In another part of Gascony, Somerset receives an embassy from Talbot. Declaring it is too late to send forces to succour his comrade, who by overdaring, has 'sullied all his gloss of former honour,' Somerset accuses York of having 'set him on to fight and die in shame.' Just then Sir William Lucy reports Talbot lost and crying out against York and Somerset, whose defection is causing his death. Although Somerset now casts the blame upon York, Lucy rejoins the latter accuses him, and despairingly adds 'the fraud of England, not the force of France, hath now entrapped the noble-minded Talbot!' This speech shames Somerset into sending horsemen to Talbot's aid, although Lucy fancies this help will come too late, and declares 'his fame lives in the world, his shame in you!'
We return to the English camp near Bourdeaux, where a wonderful scene occurs between John Talbot and his son, the father regretting the youth should arrive 'unto a feast of death,' and urging him to flee for the sake of his mother and family. The boy, however, declares his father may flee, having already earned a reputation for courage, but that he must remain, and when Talbot bids him live to avenge him, cries 'here on my knee, I beg mortality, rather than life preserved with infamy.' When the son, in his turn, pleads v^ith his father to escape, the old man proves as obstinate as he; so both remain, and after they have taken affection- ate leave of each other, the father exclaims 'come, side by side together live and die, and soul with soul from France to heaven fly.'
We now see the battle-field, where, in the midst of the fight, Talbot's son is rescued by his father, who proudly claims he has twice given him life! The lad having shown his mettle, is praised for the wonders he has done, and again urged to flee since he has proved his courage. Not even the prospect of future revenge can prevail, however, so both plunge back into the fray, exclaiming 'let us die in pride,' for neither will consent to abandon the post of honour.
In another part of the battle-field, old Talbot, supported by an attendant, later seeks traces of his son, describing how the lad protected him when in peril. Just then his attention is called to the fact that soldiers are bringing in the body of young Talbot! The father, after bidding the lad a touching farewell, clasps him in his arms, crying, 'soldiers, adieu! I have what I would have, now my old arms are young John Talbot's grave,' and expires. The heart-broken father has just breathed his last, when the French King enters with the Maid, declaring had York or Somerset supported Talbot, the day would have turned out bloody for them. Both the Bastard and Maid confirm this verdict, and relate how young Talbot defied them, while Burgundy exclaims had he lived, he would have made a noble knight. On perceiving the young hero 'inhearsed' in his father's arms, the Bastard fiercely proposes hacking both corpses to pieces, but Charles bids him forbear, declaring 'that which we have fled during the life, let us not wrong it dead.'
At this moment Sir William Lucy is ushered in, to inquire In regard to prisoners and dead, for his task is to compute their losses. When Lucy rattles off the imposing string of titles borne by Talbot, the Maid contemptuously bids him cease using silly terms, as the man he magnifies with 'all these titles, stinking and fly-blown lies here at our feet.' Discovering thus that Talbot is slain, Lucy wishes his eye-balls might turn into bullets to hurl against the foe, before he begs for the bodies to bury them. The Maid advises they be handed over to him since their presence putrifies the air, and Lucy bears them off, declaring 'from their ashes shall be rear'd a phoenix that shall make all France afeard.' This scene closes with Charles' invitation to his followers to accompany him to Paris, for he feels all will be his, 'now bloody Talbot's slain.'
The fifth act opens in the palace of London, where Henry VI is inquiring of his nobles whether they have read the letters from abroad suing for peace? As Gloucester is in favour of accepting the proposals, the King adds that strife always seemed Impious and unnatural between professors of the self-same faith. When Gloucester adds that the Earl of Armagnac is offering his daughter in marriage with a large dowry, the King, although over young to marry, promises to 'be well content with any choice which tends to God's glory and my country's weal.' Just then Winchester enters in his new cardinal robes, accompanied by legate and ambassador. Because he hates Winchester, Exeter indulges in unkind comments, although the King announces Winchester shall be his peace emissary. Turning to the ambassador, Gloucester then informs him how the King, having heard of the virtues and dowry of Armagnac's daughter, is ready to accept the proposed alliance, in confirmation of which Henry VI entrusts to him a ring for the lady whom he is to escort to Dover.
All having gone out, save Winchester and the legate, the Cardinal disburses the sum promised the Pope in return for his new title. Then, in an aside, he mutters that thanks to his new dignity he can now overawe Gloucester, and make him either 'stoop and bend the knee, or sack this country with a mutiny.'
In the plains of Anjou, Charles and his forces assemble, just as news arrives that the Parisians are rebelling against the English. When the Maid and generals advise Charles to take advantage of this fact, he hesitates, until a scout reports that both parts of the English army have conjoined, and are about to offer battle. Although this move is unexpected, Charles does not flinch, while Burgundy hopes the spirit of Talbot is not present since he was most feared by the English. The Maid, however, prophesies all France will soon belong to Charles, who, thus encouraged, goes into the fight.
The curtain next rises before Angiers, where fighting takes place and where the Maid despairingly cries that, since the French are fleeing, she must call up 'ye choice spirits that admonish' her. In the midst of thunder and lightning fiends now appear, whom Joan addresses as her 'familiar spirits,' entreating their aid. Gazing silently at her, they all file past, while she vainly offers to feed them with her blood, or to sacrifice to them her chastity. Then they vanish, and Joan, realising that even 'Hell is too strong for me to buckle with,' and that France's glory 'droopeth to the dust,' vanishes to continue the fight.
Some time later, in the midst of the fray, the Maid is seen struggling with York, who has taken her captive. In triumph, he cries he has secured a prize, and that her spells and charms will henceforth be useless! While the Maid curses him, he taunts her, but is surprised when she begins to revile her monarch, too. Joan is led away, and the fighting goes on until Suffolk drags Margaret of Anjou on the scene, as his prisoner. He is, however, so fascinated by her beauty, that he wonders who she may be, and learning her father is Reignier, King of Naples, promises her his protection. Then he murmurs he has fallen so deeply in love, that he would fain woo his captive, but dares not. He is just adding he will have to send for pen and paper since he is tongue-tied, when the lady, mystified by his queer actions, inquires what ransom he demands.
Concluding 'she's beautiful and therefore to be woo'd, she is a woman therefore to be won,' Suffolk openly regrets he is provided with a wife. Fancying him mad, because he does not answer her, Margaret hears him murmur he will woo her for his King, and promise to place a sceptre in her hand and a crown on her head ! When she demurs that she is unworthy to be Henry's wife, he exclaims he is unworthy to woo for his master, yet that he implores her to consent to his royal alliance. Because, finally, she refers him to her father, Suffolk summons Reignier to a parley. Appearing on the walls, the King of Anjou, seeing his daughter captive, offers to come down and discuss the proposed alliance. A moment later he joins them, and Suffolk after making his proposal, receives Reignier's consent, provided no dowry be asked and he be allowed to remain in possession of Maine and Anjou. After agreeing to these terms, Suffolk returns Margaret to her father, promising to hasten to England to arrange for the wedding, although he murmurs he would fain sue in his own behalf.
After taking leave of Reignier, Suffolk approaches Margaret, and when she promises 'a pure unspotted heart, never yet taint with love,' to her future spouse, he kisses her, under pretext he must bear that token to his master, too. Then, watching father and daughter re-enter Angiers, Suffolk sighs although he would win Margaret himself, he must prove so eloquent an advocate, that Henry will consent to the marriage he has devised.
The curtain next rises on York's camp, just as he orders his servants to bring forth the witch to burn her. A moment later the Maid appears on the stage, followed by an old shepherd, — her father, — who exclaims he has sought her far and near, only to behold a sight which is death to him! The Maid, however, refuses to recognise the shepherd, insisting she is of gentle descent, although the old man describes how he married her mother, and calls Joan the first born of his children. The fact that she disowns her own father, is scornfully commented upon by Warwick, York and the shepherd, who all vainly try to make her admit her origin. In despair, the father finally curses Joan, and bids the men burn her, for he considers hanging too good! He departs after saying this, but when York orders the soldiers to lead Joan away she cries she will speak. Then she wildly claims to be descended from Kings, to be immaculate, and chosen from above, vowing her maiden blood 'will cry for vengeance at the gates of heaven!'
When Warwick coolly orders barrels of pitch placed around the stake, Joan, deeming no other plea will move such relentless hearts, claims the protection of the law in regard to pregnant women. When all present exclaim because a virgin makes such a plea, and suggest that any offspring of the Dauphin should perish, Joan declares he is not at fault, and wildly names one French nobleman after another. These excuses so enhance her guilt, that she is ordered off to the stake, and leaves the stage, cursing France and all around her, and saying 'darkness and the gloomy shade of death environ you, till mischief and despair drive you to break your necks, or hang yourselves!' This curse is answered by one equally lurid on the part of York as she is led away to death.
A little later, Winchester greets York, informing him peace has been concluded with the Dauphin and the French. These tidings prove unwelcome to the Duke, who would have preferred to fight It out, and who foresees that if trickery is used, the realm of France will soon be lost. A moment later Charles approaches with his train, announcing he has come to learn the English conditions for peace. At York's request, Winchester explains that Henry w^ill suspend war, provided Charles will become his subject, pay tribute, and consent to act merely as England's viceroy. Although Alencon deems these hard conditions, and Charles urges he has already recovered half his realm, York so berates him, that his friends advise him in a whisper to conclude the truce 'although you break It when your pleasure serves.' Thus over-persuaded, Charles consents, and after swearing allegiance to England, dismisses his army, while peace is proclaimed.
In the London palace, Suffolk gives the King such a glowing account of Margaret's beauty, that he thereby breeds 'love's settled passions' in the royal heart. But when Henry VI asks Gloucester's consent to this marriage, the Protector reminds him he has recently entered into a contract with the daughter of Armagnac, which cannot honourably be broken. Determined to reach his ends, Suffolk objects an Earl's daughter Is unworthy of consideration, and when Gloucester remarks Margaret is scarcely more, claims her father is titular King of Naples and Jerusalem. He finally so fires Henry VI's youthful imagination, that the latter decides the question, promising If Margaret will cross the seas, he will make her his 'faithful and anointed Queen.'
Then, Henry VI authorises Suffolk to collect one-tenth of the kingdom's revenues to defray travel expenses, and leaves the stage with Gloucester, who greatly disapproves this move. Left alone, Suffolk triumphantly announces he has prevailed, claiming that just as Paris bore Helen over to Troy, he will bring Margaret to England, to rule the King, although he fully intends to 'rule both her, the King and realm.'