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Henry VI, Part 1

Period written: 1589-1590
Known first performance: March 3, 1592 (Rose Theatre, Southwark, London)

Henry V is dead, and some of the nobles are beginning to quarrel, especially Gloucester (Protector of the young Henry VI) and the Bishop of Winchester, who is ambitious for power. News arrives of English defeats in France and Bedford prepares to leave with reinforcements.

The French are attacking the English-held Orleans, but are beaten back. They are offered help by Joan la Pucelle, who beats the Dauphin in a duel, thereby persuading them she has a divinely inspired ability to lead France to victory. An Orleans gunner kills two English lords, spurring the English leader Talbot to fresh action. He fights Pucelle, who takes Orleans; but Talbot leads a force into the city at night, forcing the French to flee. The Countess of Auvergne tries to capture Talbot by inviting him to her castle, but he anticipates her treachery.

Back in England, Gloucester and his men arrive at the Tower but are refused their right to enter, on Winchester’s orders. The two factions fight, until stopped by the Mayor. Richard Plantagenet (of York) and the Earl of Somerset (of Lancaster) argue in the Temple gardens. They ask those around them to join whoever they think is right in the argument by picking a red rose for Lancaster or a white rose for York. Richard learns about his claim to the throne from his dying uncle, Mortimer. Gloucester and Winchester continue to quarrel in front of the King, who insists on their reconciliation; they agree, though Winchester does not intend to keep his word. Henry restores Richard’s title as Duke of York, then goes to France to be crowned in Paris.

Pucelle captures Rouen, but is driven out by Talbot, aided by Burgundy. Pucelle then persuades Burgundy to change sides and return to his native France. The news of Burgundy’s betrayal reaches Henry in Paris, and Talbot is sent to deal with him. Rivalry breaks out again between the York and Lancaster factions, and intended reinforcements are not sent to Talbot. As a result, though Talbot and his son fight bravely, both are killed. French fortunes begin to turn, and Pucelle uses black magic to ask for help, but the spirits refuse. York overcomes her, and she is brought to trial. She pleads for mercy, but is sent to be burned at the stake.

Henry is advised to seek peace, and to marry a French princess. Suffolk captures Margaret daughter of Reignier, and falls in love with her; being married already, he woos her on behalf of Henry. The two countries having agreed peace, Suffolk returns to England and gives Henry a description of Margaret which convinces him to marry her, despite objections from other nobles. Suffolk’s hope is that the Queen will come to dominate Henry, and that through her he himself will achieve a position of great power.

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