Joan of Arc burnt at stake
Inside Shakespeare’s mind - Henry IV (Part I):
One wonders when Shakespeare wrote plays in the lives and reigns of
kings, whether he paused to reason out such plays could be mounted or
boarded? May be much later they could have stretched across films or
But then, Shakespeare was not thinking of such possibilities of the
future. He was not to know how gloriously his plays would span in
He was satisfied with the Blackfriare and Globe settings.
Today, far removed from his time, the dialogue keeps improving with
more brilliance from their origin as the Thespians of today render them
Sited in England and France and written in 1589-90, Henry VI, is all
about war in France when England try vainly to hold their strength and
assessed superiority. There is a perilous breakdown of order in England.
Fatal to campaign abroad, internal dissent presages civil war. They feel
Joan of Arc sees herself as a vision
carrying out the purpose of God. A painting by Lionel Royer.
At Westminster Abbey the news of Henry V passing away arrive along
with the French beating back the English army. They had also captured
the valiant general, Talbot and the Dauphine is crowned. Back in
Gloucester, Lord Protector who is the uncle of young Henry VI is in
disagreement with the Bishop of Winchester who is Henry's great-uncle.
They are at odds over many reasons. In France a young maid by the name
of Joan La Pucelle, later to become Joan of Arc, a saint and warrior, is
condemned as a harlot and a witch. They accuse her as being in league
with powers of darkness. However, she raises the seige of Orleans, later
burnt at stake.
(Before Orleans; Enter Talbot, Bedford, Burgundy)
Talbot – Lord Regent, and redoubted Burgendy by whose approach the
region of Artols, Wallon and Picardy are friends to us. This happy night
the Frenchmen are secured....
Bedford – Coward of France, how much he wrong his fame, despairing of
his own arm's fortitude to join with witches and the help of hell.
But traitors have never other company. But what's that Purcelle whom
they term so pure?
Tal. - A maid they say
Bed. - A maid? And be so martial
Burgendy – Pray God she prove not masculine ere long, if underneath
French she carry armour as she hath begun ...
- Act II Sce. I
A feud between the ambitious Richard Plantagent and the Earl of
Somerset in London claiming the throne, moves to the symbolic plucking
of roses in Temple Gardene: a white rose for the Plantagenet and a red
rose for the Somerset. Richard is made Duke of York by King Henry and
later crowned King of France in Paris. La Pucelle captures but loses
later. But Rouen wins the support of the Duke of Burgundy.
With the hope of making peace among the English fractions, Henry puts
on a red rose saying, ‘I see no reason if I were this rose.
That anyone should therefore be suspicious
I more incline to Somerset than York’
No reinforcement reaches Talbot from the quarrelling noble and
beleaguered with his son's death outside Bordeaux, Talbot dies a sad
man. It is then that La Purcelle is taken prisoner before Angers,
deserted by all her familiar spirits, and sent to the stake to burn. (La
Purcelle, guarded and a shepherd)
Purcelle – First let me tell you whom you have condemned, not me
begotten of a shepherd swain, but instead from the progeny of kings ....
No misconceived; Joan of Arc hath been a virgin from her tender infancy.
Chaste and immaculate in very thought, whose maiden blood, thus
rigorously effus'd will cry for vengeance at the gates of heaven.
York – Ay, ay. Away with her to execution’
- Act. V, Sce. IV
Peace is patched between England and France. The unscrupulous Earl of
Suffolk entranced by his captive, Margaret who is the beautiful daughter
of Reigner who is the Duke of Anjou, plans to get her married to the
King for his own gain and bring back Margaret as his Queen.
It is inhuman to act this play because of its vast involvement at war
and, along with a long list of characters but ideally good for filming.
The play was acted appropriately at the Rose on Bankside, manipulated
in short crisp scenes from the history of Edward Halle. Part I has
divided scholars to many groups, thinking differently. But many scholars
of history think this to be Shakespeare's apprentice work. I don't think
He has to be rigidly by history as well as its identified characters
and Shakespeare rises to it. Highly popular at the beginning of the
medieval era, it lapsed into silence until the restoration revived it in
the 20th century.
However, it did have a single performance at Covent Garden in 1738.
Many were surprised when Osmond Tearle selected Part I for revival at
the old Stratford Memorial Theatre in 1889. This was three hundred years
after the play was written.
Frand Benson took on the challenge to stage this trilogy and Talbot
became his central character. There were cuts to suit each and every
production and some were not successful and had little critical
response. Old Vic was a favourite stage to board many of the plays.
Later in the 1950s Douglas Seale took on the trilogy and one of the
three plays, opend at the Old Vic. The other two Parts extended up to
1953. Terry Hands directed an unusual adoption where the Countess of
Auvergne seeks to entrap Talbot.
The War Of the Roses based on Henry I, won the Oivier Award for best
director of the English Shakespeare Company's touring production in
A year later, the Royal Shakespeare Company presented their version
with Michael Pennington.
Elsewhere in the USA, the first American performance was in 1935 at
Pasadena Community Playhouse under the direction of Gilmore Brown.
The war of roses was seldom performed in the USA. It appeared at the
Palace Theatre Stamford, Connecticut as part of the 1988 Stamford
Shakespeare Festival. Peter Dew's television sequences had this trilogy
titled, An age of Kings for the BBC in 1961.