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Summary Act 1


The Dukes of Bedford and Gloucester eulogize King Henry V who has died. The Duke of Exeter wonders if their King’s death is the work of fate or if it was the doing of the French and their sorcery and witchcraft. The Bishop of Winchester offers his eulogy only to be taken to task by Gloucester who accuses him of neglecting his religious duties and thereby contributing to King Henry V’s premature death. Winchester objects. Bedford mediates when a messenger appears with grave news from France. Lacking adequate arms and manpower, the result of English infighting (so the blame goes), the English have lost control of key French cities. Bedford vows to rectify the situation at once when a second messenger arrives with more bad news. Dauphin Charles has been crowned king and all but the most insignificant of towns are now under French control. Gloucester vows to do his part to reverse the trend, and adds that if Bedford continues to procrastinate that he himself will take control of Bedford’s forces. Bedford objects when a third messenger arrives with news of Sir John Falstaff’s cowardice that has undermined Talbot’s bravery. Consequently, Talbot, England’s most valiant soldier, has been taken prisoner and Salisbury is now under siege. Presently, the dukes make preparations to have their forces deployed to France, while Winchester, for a lack of something to do, vows that he will have a role in how things will turn out in England.


Encouraged by their success in defeating Talbot, Dauphin Charles, the Duke of Alencon, and Reignier besiege Orleans which is in English control with Salisbury at command. The French, however, find themselves routed and repulsed, leading to the conclusion that Salisbury is a maniac and that the English will fight to the last man like a cornered rat. The French decide to abandon their Orleans campaign and let hunger defeat the English whose supplies and provisions are dangerously low. However, as the French are about set off for greener pastures, the Bastard of Orleans arrives to introduce them to their savior Joan La Pucelle who, the Bastard claims, has supernatural powers. Skeptical Charles has Reignier pose as the Dauphin if only to test Pucelle’s supposed supernatural powers. Pucelle passes the test, compelling Charles to grant her a private conference during which she apprises the Dauphin that though she is a lowly shepherd by trade she has been ordained by Mother Mary to be France’s savior. Skeptical again, Charles puts her to test only to be persuaded when Pucelle defeats him in a sword duel. By and by, Alencon and Reignier are told that, led by Pucelle, Orleans will be besieged anew.


Gloucester has come to the Tower to see about arms and munitions which are therein stored when he is barred entry by the Lieutenant of the Tower Woodville who asserts his authority, arguing that it derives from Cardinal Winchester. Rebuking Woodville for foolishly taking sides with Winchester, Gloucester has his men try to gain entry by force when Winchester himself appears to oppose Gloucester and to accuse him of trying to usurp the throne by taking command of the kingdom’s supply of arms and munitions. In turn, Gloucester accuses Winchester of disgracing his office, and then has his men grapple with Winchester’s, so disgusted is he of Winchester’s audacity when the Mayor of London appears to restore order. Indeed, the Mayor promises the death penalty to either party if they continue to disturb the peace. For now Gloucester and Winchester desist, but they promise each other that the other will eventually pay dearly.


The French Master-Gunner of Orleans orders his son to try to sabotage the English attempt to assess the situation on the field, which the English have been successfully doing from a particular vantage point. The son assures his father that he will succeed. Meanwhile, the Duke of Salibury welcomes Lord Talbot whose release the Duke of Exeter has secured by offering the French a renowned French prisoner in return. Talbot tells Salisbury of his imprisonment, of how the French so feared him that they took every precaution and then some to prevent Talbot from wreaking havoc. Presently, Salisbury leads Talbot and other English nobles to a vantage point where the English have been able to assess the field to their advantage when an explosion incapacitates Salisbury and Sir Thomas Gargrave. Trying to solace Salisbury and Gargrave, Talbot vows that he will exact a terrible revenge on the French when a messenger informs Talbot that the French, led by the prophetess Joan La Pucelle, have renewed their siege of Orleans. Talbot vows that after getting Salisbury and Gargrave safely bestowed to a secure shelter he will make mincemeat of the French.


Incredulous that his soldiers, the English, are being subdued by a French maid, Talbot engages Joan La Pucelle himself only to realize that her strength is formidable. Indeed, boasting that she will vanquish Talbot at another time, and daring Talbot to pursue her if he can, Pucelle joins the French to enter and gain control of Orleans. Talbot exhorts and tries to rally his troops one last time, but to no avail. The English retreat and Talbot feels nothing but shame.


The French have regained control of Orleans, prompting festivities to begin. Charles gives all the credit to Pucelle and promises her an honor worthy of a saint.

William Shakespeare