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The First Part of King Henry VI
ISBN 052129634X / 9780521296342 / 0-521-29634-X
Publisher Cambridge University Press
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The three plays that make up the Henry VI cycle are believed to be some of Shakespeare's very first plays. They certainly read as apprentice works, and are often neglected in favour of the more comical and dramatically assured plays Henry IV and Henry V. However, the Henry VI plays dramatise the inauspicious history of Henry V's son, Henry VI, who is only nine months old when his father dies. The play deals with the factions at court who quarrel for political control, led by the Duke of Gloucester and the Cardinal of Winchester. As political intrigue divides the English court, its army continues to fight in France in a desperate attempt to hold on to the gains made by Henry V, whose tradition is upheld by the ferocious figure of Lord Talbot, pitched against La Pucelle, better known as Joan of Arc. An uneasy peace is finally established following the execution of Joan and marriage of Henry VI to the French princess Margaret of Anjou. However, Margaret is revealed to be having an affair with the Earl of Suffolk, and it becomes clear that Henry's troubles are far from over. Criticised for their somewhat crude characterisation (especially in its portrayal of women), all three of the Henry VI plays remain fascinating as early examples of Shakespeare's dramatisation of English history. --Jerry Brotton [via]