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Scene by Scene Synopsis

Scene: Partly in England, and partly in France.

Act I, Scene 1:  The play opens on the funeral of King Henry V; the Duke of Bedford notes astrological portents of disaster. The Duke of Gloucester and the Bishop of Winchester argue, disrupting the ceremony. A Messenger arrives with news of disastrous military defeats in France. A second Messenger arrives, bringing news of a general rebellion of France against England, featuring the crowning of the Dauphin as King CHARLES VII, in violation of the treaty enforced by Henry V, and the rallying to his cause of several important noblemen, including the Bastard of Orleans Reignier, and the Duke of Alencon. Another Messenger arrives to tell of the defeat of England's leading knight, Talbot, wounded and captured due to the cowardice of another English commander, Sir John Fastolfe. Bedford vows to lead reinforcements to France, and the Messenger relates that the army under the Earl of Salisbury is pinned down outside Orleans.

Act I, Scene 2:  At the siege of Orleans, Charles VII, Alencon, and Reignier exult in their recent good fortune and mock the English. An assault occurs, and the French are driven off-stage. The three French leaders re-enter, cursing the English, and decide that they will abandon the town. The Bastard of Orleans arrives. He describes a young woman, Joan La Pucelle who has been sent by a vision from heaven to aid the French forces Joan enters and offers to demonstrate her God-given military capacities in single combat with Charles. Charles accepts the challenge and is overwhelmed. He accepts her offer of assistance. Alencon and Reignier ask about plans for Orleans, and the newly inspired Charles declares that they will fight it out.

Act I, Scene 3:  The Duke of Gloucester and the Bishop of Winchester argue about the right to command the Tower of London They and their men come to blows. The Mayor of London enters, with the king's order commanding public peace. The disputants separate with insults and challenges.

Act I, Scene 4:  The Master Gunner of Orleans instructs a Boy to keep watch on a tower where English soldiers come to observe the besieged city. Several Englishmen, including Salisbury and Talbot, appear on the tower. Talbot explains that he has been exchanged for a captured Frenchman. They begin to plan an attack on the city, but they are struck by a cannonball. Salisbury tails badly wounded, and another man is killed. Talbot cries out against the loss of Salisbury's heroism and leadership. A Messenger arrives with the news that Charles and Joan have arrived with an army to raise the siege. 

Act I, Scene 5:  Skirmishing, Joan pursues a group of Englishmen across the stage. Talbot and Joan fight to a draw.  Joan says that Talbot's time has not yet come, and she enters the city with the successful French troops, leaving Talbot to bemoan the poor state of English morale. In another skirmish, the English are driven back into their trenches, and Talbot concedes defeat. 

Act I, Scene 6:  Joan Charles, Reignier, and Alencon assemble on the walls' of Orleans to celebrate their victory over the English. 

Act II, Scene 1:  With a group of soldiers, Talbot, Bedford, and the Duke of Burgundy, an ally of the English, assault Orleans. The French leaders are driven over the walls.  The Frenchmen exchange recriminations, but Joan encourages them to think of counter-attack. However, an English Soldier enters, shouting Talbot's name as a war cry, and the French party flees in panic. 

Act II, Scene 2:  Bedford, Burgundy, and Talbot mourn the dead Salisbury. A Messenger arrives with an invitation for Talbot from a French noblewoman, the Countess of Auvergne, who wishes to entertain the valorous conqueror. Talbot leaves with the Messenger, but he first whispers something to a Captain 

Act II, Scene 3:  The Countess of Auvergne gloats over her plan to capture Talbot. He arrives, and she mocks his physique. Offended, he begins to leave, and she announces his capture. But he springs his counter-plot, blowing his horn to summon a waiting troop of soldiers, who immediately free him.   

Act II, Scene 4:  Richard Plantagenet argues hotly with the Duke of Somerset in the company of several other men.  Richard plucks a white rose from a garden tree and calls on those who support him to do likewise Somerset immediately takes a red rose as his own emblem The Earl of Warwick joins Plantagenet, Suffolk sides with Somerset. Both Plantagenet and Somerset agree that the dispute should be settled by a majority vote among the group. However, when most support Plantagenet, Somerset hints at a duel.  He goes on to cast aspersions on Plantagenet, referring to the execution of his father, the Earl of Cambridge for treason. Plantagenet counters that the execution had not been carried out legally. He threatens action against Somerset, who replies in kind and departs. Warwick assures Plantagenet that he will be reinstated as Duke of York. 

Act II, Scene 5:  In the Tower of London, Plantagenet visits a dying relative, Mprtimer, who is a prisoner. Plantagenet wants to know the story of his father's death. Mortimer tells of the deposition of King Richard by Henry IV, head of the Lancastrian branch of the royal family. Mortimer, of the York branch, had been the legitimate heir to the throne, but an attempt to install him as king has resulted in his imprisonment for life while still a young man. In the reign of Henry V, Mortimerís brother-in-law, who had been Richard Plantagenet s father had repeated the attempt to crown Mortimer and was executed for it. Mortimer names Plantagenet his successor, and he dies, after cautioning the younger man not to act against the house of Lancaster, which is too strong to be removed. Plantagenet vows that he will begin to seek vengeance for his family by becoming reinstalled as Duke of York at the forthcoming Parliament. 

Act III, Scene 1:  In the Parliament House, Winchester and Gloucester and their respective supporters argue violently. King Henry VI, still a child, pleads for peace between the factions. The Mayor enters, reporting that the followers of Gloucester and Winchester are battling in the streets. Two Serving burst in, fighting. The king continues to plead for peace; Gloucester says he is willing. Winchester, reluctant, finally agrees, and the servingmen are dismissed. The king agrees to restore Plantagenet as Duke of York. Gloucester announces that all the preparations have been made for Henry to be crowned King of France in Paris. As the others depart, Exeter remains and, in a soliloquy, predicts disaster for the English forces.

Act III, Scene 2 Outside the gates of Rouen, Joan and four soldiers gain entrance to the city disguised as tradesmen. She signals to the French troops, who take the city. The French leaders taunt the English, who are now outside the walls. Talbot and Burgundy exchange vows to recapture the town immediately. The dying Bedford, confined to an invalid's chair, refuses to leave the scene of battle. The skirmishing begins, and Fastoife appears, fleeing in panic. The French are defeated, and Bedford, pronouncing himself satisfied, dies in his chair. Talbot and Burgundy exult in their victory and eulogise Bedford.   

Act III, Scene 3 The French leaders call the Duke of Burgundy to a parley to convince him to desert the English. Joan speaks to him of the misery of his homeland and asserts that the English are not his true friends. While suggesting that he may have been bewitched by Joan, Burgundy does change sides, declaring himself an ally of France.   

Act III, Scene 4:  Talbot is knighted by Henry in Paris, where the king has come to be crowned. Vernon and Basset engage in another round of the York-Somerset rivalry, exchanging insults and threats.  

Act IV, Scene 1 Winchester crowns the king, and the Governor of Paris kneels and accepts the oath administered by Gloucester. Fastolfe arrives with a message from Burgundy. Talbot tears off the Order of the Garter that Fastoife wears, declaring him a coward, and the king banishes Fastoife. Gloucester reads Burgundy's letter, in which he declares his changed allegiance. Talbot is ordered to march against Burgundy and departs spiritedly. Vernon and Basset appear, demanding a trial by combat. Their dispute spreads, and York challenges Somerset to a duel. Gloucester intervenes, and the king attempts to restore order. To demonstrate his even-handedness, he foolishly divides the command of the English forces, assigning the infantry to York and the cavalry to Somerset. 

Act IV, Scene 2 Talbot appears before the walls of Bordeaux and demands the surrender of the city. A general on the walls refuses, confident in the strength of the approaching French army. Talbot recognizes danger, and he urges his troops to fight fiercely. 

Act IV, Scene 3 York receives a Messenger, who tells of the force that is marching to attack Talbot, and he curses Somerset for not providing cavalry support. Sir William Lucy arrives from Bordeaux with an urgent plea for reinforcements. He is resisted by York, who continues to accuse Somerset. 

Act IV, Scene 4:  Lucy approaches Somerset with the same plea, and Somerset refuses, criticizing York for a bad plan. He refuses to send cavalry without an explicit request from York. Lucy cries out that Talbot will be defeated and killed, and he blames Somerset for feuding.

Act IV, Scene 5 Talbot tells his young son, John, that he should flee the certain death to be expected in the upcoming battle. John refuses, citing the honor of the family. They debate the matter, but the boy insists that he will stay. 

Act IV, Scene 6 In the midst of the battle, Talbot rescues his son, fighting off surrounding attackers. The father describes the fierce fighting that has occurred, and he renews his insistence that his son should flee, but John again refuses. 

Act IV, Scene 7 Talbot, mortally wounded, mourns the death of his son, killed in the battle, and then dies also. The victorious French leaders talk of John Talbot's velour and express thanks for York and Somerset's absence. Lucy appears, under a flag of truce, to retrieve the bodies of the two Talbots. 

Act V, Scene 1 Gloucester tells King Henry that a peace treaty has been arranged, and that a marriage, intended to secure the peace, has been proposed between the king and the daughter of a French nobleman, the Earl of Armagnac. The King agrees to treaty and marriage, and the visiting ambassadors are summoned to receive his formal acceptance. 

Act V, Scene 2 The French leaders rejoice at the news that Paris has risen against the English, but they are then disturbed by further news that the English army, reunited, is approaching.  

Act V, Scene 3 Joan uses witchcraft to summon a group of Fiends, but these spirits silently refuse to aid her, and she realizes that all is indeed lost. After a skirmish, York defeats Burgundy and takes Joan prisoner. He leads her away as Suffolk enters with Margaret of Anjou as his prisoner. He has already fallen in love with her, and he devises a plot to make her his lover, although he is already married. He offers to marry her to King Henry and make her Queen of England if she will be his lover. She accepts, on the condition that her father, Reignier, agree. Reignier is summoned, and he does agree, provided that he be awarded his home territories, Anjou and Maine. Suffolk promises to arrange this, and he leaves Margaret with her father. 

Act V, Scene 4 Joan, condemned to be burned, encounters her father, a Shepherd, but she refuses to acknowledge him, claiming descent from royalty. She declares that her death will bring damnation to her executioners. She is nevertheless ordered to the stake. Next, she claims she is pregnant, but she is sent to her death, cursing England. The French leaders arrive to settle the details of the peace. Charles at first refuses to declare himself a subject of the English king, but Reignier and Alencon convince him to sign, for he can always break his word later.

Act V, Scene 5 Suffolk's description of Margaret's virtues has caused the King to desire her. Gloucester objects, citing the earlier marriage agreement. However, the king orders Suffolk to return to France to arrange a marriage to Margaret. The play closes with a soliloquy by Suffolk, in which he proposes to rule the kingdom himself, through Margaret.


To view other Henry VI, Part 1 sections:

Main Play Page      Play Text    Scene by Scene Synopsis     Character Directory     Commentary  


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All's Well the Ends Well Antony & Cleopatra As You Like It Cardenio Comedy of Errors Coriolanus
Cymbeline Edward III Hamlet Henry IV, Part 1 Henry IV, Part 2 Henry V
Henry VI, Part 1 Henry VI, Part 2 Henry VI, Part 3 Henry VIII Julius Caesar King John
King Lear Love's Labours Lost Love's Labours Wonne Macbeth Measure for Measure Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor A Mid Summer Night's Dream  Much Ado About Nothing Othello Pericles Richard II
Richard III Romeo & Juliet Sir Thomas More Taming of the Shrew The Tempest Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus Troilus & Cressida Twelfth Night Two Gentlemen of Verona The Two Noble Kinsman The Winter's Tale


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