Gary Taylor, John Jowett, Terri Bourus, and Gabriel Egan (eds), The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition

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In 1 Henry VI, Joan La Pucelle functions in many ways as a distorted image of Queen Elizabeth I … Yet she belongs to the enemy camp. The figure of Joan brings into the open a set of suppressed cultural anxieties about the Virgin Queen, her identity, and her capacity to provide continuing stability for the nation.

Leah S. Marcus, 1988

Let us assume for a moment that Joan la Pucelle, in the middle of the play at least, is indeed the creation of Marlowe. Our perspective on her immediately shifts. Her alliance with fiends and witches, her scoffing rhetoric, her acting under disguise, are then those of a Marlovian villain … If Marlowe wrote the later scenes in which she is involved, her abrupt descent into witchcraft and fornication would find parallels in Doctor Faustus in particular.

Hugh Craig, 2009

The 'La Pucelle' of Shakespeare is painted with the bitterest English prejudice, as half witch, half charlatan—a coarse, fighting, blood-thirsty Amazon, who, when made prisoner, condescends to an ignominious subterfuge to escape the death-sentence.

Henrietta Lee Palmer, 1859

The women are hated because they represent deep male fears: powerlessness and the rebellion of the traditionally weak. The women are represented in a paradoxical double bind: they are despised for powerlessness, but even more for their strength because they should not seek power or compete with men.

Marilyn L. Williamson, 1987

There are plenty of points in the text where Joan is referred to with terms designed to label a woman sexually promiscuous, but we should be careful about where we locate the judgment delivered upon characters in situations like this … When there is no authorial commentary, but only the words of characters who are inevitably shaped by their place within the dramatic narrative there is no reason to credit the insults with more than the eternal tradition of men accusing non-conforming women of being whores.

Anna Kamaralli, 2010

Among the many critical problems resulting from the uncertain text of Shakespeare's 1 Henry VI is the theatrical presentation of Joan de Pucelle, history's Joan of Arc. She is, at various times in the play, a divinely-commissioned peasant girl who dons a soldier's garb for the glory of God's mother, a glorified camp follower, a master orator in defense of her country, a conjuring witch, and an abject traitor … The political tension between the English and the French, and between Joan and both her French allies and English enemies, further demonstrates the cultural use of gender as a value-laden metaphor descriptive of both political and moral issues: biological difference becomes the site for cultural conflict.

Nancy A. Gutierrez, 1990

The trilogy's view of pre-Tudor history is pretty crude, its reverence for English imperialism much more unreserved and unsophisticated than that of Henry V, which seems chauvinistic enough to us nowadays. Talbot, the flayer of France, is the essence of bluff integrity, and Joan of Arc a witch, slut, and snob, capable of spitting in her own father's face before being lugged off to a well-merited frying. It was this particular travesty, by the way, that provoked Shaw to write St. Joan: the original idea was to show Shakespeare, all embarrassed by the 'piffling libel he'd perpetrated, scuttling down the back-streets of Heaven to avoid meeting the heroine'.

Benedict Nightingale, 1977

1 Beatriz Romilly as Joan of Arc and David Harley as Guard in Henry VI trilogy, Shakespeare's Globe (2013).

1 Beatriz Romilly as Joan of Arc and David Harley as Guard in Henry VI trilogy, Shakespeare's Globe (2013).

I never did quite get over my first excited memories of reading Henry VI in its entirety. The enormity and scope of Shakespeare's perception of the condition of England had been quite staggering. In the full texts the spectator is taken from England to France and back again; witnesses the angry political dissension between Duke Humphrey and the Bishop of Winchester; watches the manic patriotic waging of warfare in which the minutiae of personal relationships between different soldiers are established and the scope of their opinions is carefully drawn; sees the King's coronation in France; the attempts of the Duchess of Auvergne to capture Lord Talbot; the impressive pg 924rhetoric with which Suffolk persuades Henry VI that Margaret of Anjou is by far the best choice of woman to be his Queen.

Ralph Fiennes, 1993

1 Henry VI, long condescended to as the ugly duckling of Shakespeare's earliest dramatic offspring, is at last being grudgingly allowed a certain severe beauty of its own. The play may even live down the charge implicitly leveled at all ugly ducklings, of having resulted from questionable or promiscuous fathering.

David Bevington, 1966

When is a trilogy not a trilogy? When it's a matter of editorial convenience.

Alfred Hickling, 2013

Considered by many scholars to be a collaborative prequel to what we now know as Parts II and III, [1 Henry VI] certainly bears some of the hallmarks of being both an afterthought and the product of a different imagination. It is something of a portmanteau affair; part political back-story to the family blood-feud that will dominate the sequel parts, and part historical fantasy and hymn to plain-spoken English heroism.

Will Sharpe, 2007

The episodic plot can be explained as a symptom of divided authorship, but it can also be interpreted as the necessary structure for dramatizing a world where authority is likewise divided and problematic. The play has no strong, central character; the young king is powerless to control his unruly nobles, and there is no evidence of a divine providence shaping the outcome of events. In the chaotic world of Henry VI, good intentions are as likely to end in disaster as success.

Phyllis Rackin, 2008

Shakespeare's dramatic use of over-determination is very skillful. The treatment of the beginning of the Wars of the Roses in the rose-picking scene (2.4), in which persons take sides half-arbitrarily and find their motives strengthened, retroactively, by the coarsely physical badges they have assumed, is more penetrating, philosophically and psychologically, than anything in Marlowe. The best thinkers I know have to run to keep up with Shakespeare.

A. D. Nuttall, 2007

The major figures in the Henry VI plays undergo no moral change of character. Even at the moment of death when they face an eternity of punishment, they feel no regrets and make no judgment on a life of misdeeds, as, for example, Richard II does before he is murdered. In carrying out their actions, they experience no hesitations or fear, struggle with no conflicting paths of action as Macbeth was to face, and sense no discrepancy between motive and duty as Hamlet was to feel. When their plans fail, they utter no second thoughts about them. York and Somerset never speak of their failure to aid Talbot, nor the Duchess of Gloucester about her conjuring, nor Margaret and Suffolk about the murder of Duke Humphrey, nor Jack Cade about his rebellion … If they speak at all of their failures, they are bitter not against themselves but against enemies or circumstances.

Robert Y. Turner, 1964

2 Plucking the Red and White Roses in Old Temple Gardens by Henry A. Payne, 1910. This scene (2.4), dramatizing the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, has no precedent in the Chronicles, and is likely Shakespeare's invention.

2 Plucking the Red and White Roses in Old Temple Gardens by Henry A. Payne, 1910. This scene (2.4), dramatizing the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, has no precedent in the Chronicles, and is likely Shakespeare's invention.

[1 Henry VI] is a combination of pageant chronicle and cartoon theatre. It is episodic, a series of short, sharp pg 925scenes linked together with direct passions and proceeding, like a cartoon strip, from frame to frame. Speeches are attached to speaker as with a cartoonist's balloon, and the intellectual points they make are rendered with the directness of political caricature. This is a play of ungraded blacks and whites, and the RSC has shown courage and discipline in preserving its starkness, in refusing to tinker with its primitiveness … The famous garden scene impresses by its starkness; the red and white roses have twined themselves around something that looks suspiciously like the steel barricade Talbot will use to defend his last ditch: a rose bush of barbed wire.

Carol A. Chillington, on Terry Hands's RSC production, 1977

None of the actors is given much time—often only four or five minutes—to get a hold on a scene. Well, we wanted to find out if that was deliberate, a poetry in juxtaposition, a kind of dramatic juxtaposition that sets up a different kind of poetry—not of the lyric line but of a person and a face and an emotion and an idea.

Terry Hands, on his RSC production, 1977

What Nashe brought to the history play, beyond a different music and a mind better equipped to start texts than to finish them, was the vigorous xenophobia that we can also see in The Unfortunate Traveler. We may not praise this, but English audiences still respond to the Francophobia (often with laughter), and it was an essential ingredient to the growth of history as an Elizabethan dramatic genre. … Anti-Catholicism and Xenophobia go hand-in-hand, and together with their good friend Misogyny they made 1 Henry VI a huge popular success.

Gary Taylor, 2014

Incongruences and inconsistencies abound in 1 Henry VI; indeed, it has a good claim to be the most disorganized play in the canon.

Brian Vickers, 2007

Indeed, though there are several master strokes in these three plays [the three parts of Henry VI], which incontestably betray the workmanship of Shakespeare, yet I am almost doubtful, whether they were entirely of his writing. And unless they were wrote by him very early, I should rather imagine them to have been brought to him as a director of the stage, and so have received some finishing beauties at his hand.

Lewis Theobald, 1733

The hand of Shakespeare is nowhere visible throughout the entire of this 'Drum-and-Trumpet-Thing', as Mr. [Maurice] Morgann has justly termed it.

Nathan Drake, 1817

If this play had been called the Tragedy of Talbot it would stand a much better chance of being heeded by a public which very naturally finds it hard to remember which part of Henry VI is which, and where Joan of Arc or Jack Cade, or Margaret crowning York with a paper crown, occur. And if we want something by which to distinguish the play, let us by all means give it that title.

E. M. W. Tillyard, 1947

Shakespeare's way of working doesn't matter—whether he wrote Part One first or not, or whether he knew ahead of time that he was going to write them all. The fact is he knew how to hold them all together, knew how to develop them so that of course they belong and work together, are coherent. One isn't playing in three plays, one is playing in a single long play—like a TV serial or a serialized novel by Dickens.

Helen Mirren, on playing Margaret in Terry Hands's RSC production of all three Henry VI plays, 1978

[In 1 Henry VI] audiences, both onstage and off, play a witness's role that is woven even into the metaphorical and philosophical fabric of the drama. The world in which 1 Henry VI takes place is a world evacuated of its panoptic vantage, a world that has fallen, as it were, into perspective where unitary vision is fractured into overlapping, fragmentary, and contestory loci of sight. As such the play is plagued by the blindnesses peculiar to spectator consciousness.

Lisa Dickson, 2000

Are the Henry VI plays (and so by implication the Henry IV plays) so written that the advantage lies with the spectator who has seen them all in sequence, with the same actors playing the major roles—Henry VI, Margaret, Warwick, York? … Such a performance creates a forward trajectory pg 926 and momentum which the plays do not necessarily require. Critics have concerned themselves with the question how effectively Peggy Ashcroft or Helen Mirren advances Margaret from the passive maiden of Part I to the terrifying harridan of Part II, or of Richard III; but this is a question which does not arise naturally from the plays themselves. Each Margaret (Henry VI I, II, III and Richard III) is in fact a different Margaret, accommodated to a different structure and operating in terms of a different range of relationships and effects.

G. K. Hunter, 1978

[Henry's] first appearance in Act III Scene I, sandwiched between scenes displaying figures dying in their sick-chairs, neatly sums up the problems linked both to the Yorkists' claim to the throne (symbolized by Mortimer) and the dying off of that loyal older generation devoted to the good of the country rather than factional interests (symbolized by Bedford). As with Joan's fiends and Talbot's shadow versus substance, much of the theatrical coherence of this episodic play arises from such linked images and configurations.

Alan Dessen, 1993

Shakespeare's struggle with the writing and rewriting of the Talbot scenes taught him how to collapse the genres, how to slip the noose of the chronicles, and how to subordinate the facts of history to the idea of history.

E. Pearlman, 1996

A topical play asks haste, since national excitements are at all times short-lived, eclipsed in the popular mind by new excitements of a different sort; and haste in play-making is most readily secured by setting a team of playwrights to work, even at the risk of too many cooks a little spoiling the broth. That such at least was the genesis of 1 Henry VI seems borne out by its variety of styles, and its numerous and glaring inconsistencies and contradictions, which combine to create an impression of authorship at once multiple and precipitate.

John Dover Wilson, 1952

How would it have joyed brave Talbot (the terror of the French) to think that after he had lain two hundred years in his tomb, he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at least (at several times), who, in the tragedian that represents his person, imagine they behold him fresh bleeding?

Thomas Nashe, 1592

In the process of a more fully capitalized notion of entertainment value, one indebted more to the increasing importance of manufactured goods and the consumer, Shakespeare's innovation, I propose, was to conceive of something like a choice of masculinities rather than a unique, never-to-be-repeated masculinity. With Marlowe, masculinity rises to the uniquely sublime; with Shakespeare, masculinity begins proliferating in wild exchange … Bearing these considerations in mind, we may ask a heuristic question only partly unhistorical: 'Who are the butch characters in Shakespeare?'

Donald Hedrick, 2002

[Shakespeare's] public, in the first place, dearly loved to see soldiers, combats, and battles on the stage … in [1 Henry VI] there were represented a pitched battle of two armies, an attack on a city wall with scaling-ladders, two street scuffles, four single combats, four skirmishes, and seven excursions. No genuine play of Shakespeare's, I suppose, is so military from beginning to end.

A. C. Bradley, 1902

Marshaled by writers and warriors alike to denote the area in which a conflict takes place, the expression 'theater of war'—like its comrades 'friendly fire' and 'battle for hearts and minds'—evokes humanity's paradoxical capacities for creation and destruction … Shakespeare's histories of royals, like Voltaire's, took in all levels of society, shaped material to ideological purposes, and engaged with the idea of a 'theater of war' even if they did not utilize that particular linguistic construction.

Laura Grace Godwin, 2014

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