Henry VI 1: Act 2 the act with that scene …
No, not the one in the garden. Surely, there’s only one thing worth talking about … in the words of Joe Jackson:
Is she really going out with him?
Is she really gonna take him home tonight?
Is she really going out with him?
Cause if my eyes don’t deceive me,
There’s something going wrong around here.
… are the Dolphin and La Pucelle an item or not?
I think we’ve all been there before – scrutinising each word, noting every flicker of the eyes, registering the body language. We’re on the hunt for clues about an office romance, and the game’s afoot. Tally ho!
The French behave like a football team who are still high-fiving each other and doing the robot-dance whilst the opposition are racing up the field to equalise. Which is exactly what the English do.
And then there’s a marvellous passage of about 25 lines which moves from recriminations to something more suggestive. Charles and Joan enter together, but separately from the other French commanders. I think it’s safe to assume that – given the surprise nature of the English attack – they too are ‘in their shirts’, ‘half ready and half unready’, as the SD tells us the commanders are.
The Bastard is quick to infer, but the pair are too busy bickering to respond. The questions and accusations – a feature of the Act as a whole, I think – follow thick and fast. Yet there is an indignance about Joan’s response to the Dolphin, and perhaps we oughtn’t ignore the familiarity in the first line:
Wherefore is Charles impatient with his friend? (II.i.54)
My emphasis on her rather familiar address. Does he know full well where she has been and what she has been doing? No wonder she’s angry! She’s an unwilling participant in this charade, perhaps.
Joan turns her ire on the commanders (with an accompanying disruption to her iambic pentameter), and the Dolphin follows suit quickly and abruptly. If he carries on bickering with Joan, who knows what might come out?
When the commanders deny any dereliction of duty, Charles’ response bears the kind of analysis we usually reserve for couples who aren’t yet ‘Facebook official’. Let’s take a look at these lines in some detail:
And for myself, most part of all this night
Within her quarter and mine own precinct
I was employed in passing to and fro
About relieving of the sentinels (II.i.67-70)
Firstly, look at the enjambment. Where hitherto I have half-noticed more end-stopping than in later plays, Charles – and let’s not forget he is in charge – rushes out a breathless four-line alibi. The Bastard and Reignier used 9 words between them. And what a suggestive alibi it is …
‘Within her quarter and mine own precinct‘ invites inference that he has been inside Joan’s rooms or indeed her body (Arden glosses ‘quarter’ in the sense of ‘hindquarters’ as well as the rooms someone is staying in). Or she has been in his rooms. Or both. And the trochee of precinct. It doesn’t need to be there. It sounds a bit phallic, if you ask me. All that’s missing is one of those dirty Sid James laughs from the ‘Carry On’ films. Add ‘part’ for further snigger-value. Finally, if we take ‘quarter’ literally, to suggest a division into four pieces, Alençon, Reignier and the Bastard have had a quarter each … with the final one shared by Charles and Joan.
With our sexual antennae firmly tuned in, the innuendo inherent in ‘passing to and fro’ needs little explanation, not least when it is coupled (if you pardon the pun) with ‘relieving’. Ought we to believe that a Dolphin has been engaged in such a mundane task as overseeing the sentries? Even were he, the job would involve passing from one station to another, with no one person able to account for him for the whole period …
I sensed from the outset that Joan was smarter than Charles, and her next remark puts the entire subject to bed (sorry, can’t help it) before he digs himself any deeper. Quite simply, any inquest is no longer useful or important. That said, her use of ‘shift’ remains interesting given most of those on stage aren’t fully dressed, and when she talks of a breach of some ‘weakly guarded’ place, I’m certain that she has been well and truly ‘breached’. You heard it here first.
(Note I haven’t read the play all through, by the way, and am commenting, tongue in cheek, on what I read. I could be completely wrong)
In other news, in scene 3, Talbot gives those Frenchies a lesson in how to deal with devious women. I enjoyed very much his invitation to his friends to come along to the Countess of Auvergne’s with him, and Bedford’s 9-syllable response at II.ii.54 allows a moment’s lascivious fun.
Despite the awful insult to Talbot’s manhood by describing him as a ‘writhled shrimp’ (II.iii.22) – placing an image in my mind I wish Shakespeare could retract – he demonstrates admirable and chivalrous restraint in not pressing home his advantage.
Be not dismayed, fair lady, nor misconster
The mind of Talbot as you did mistake
The outward composition of his body.
What you have done hath not offended me;
Nor other satisfaction do I crave (II.iii.72-76)
… than to get a decent meal out of her for him and his men. The Countess has just, I think, invited intimacy with an informal ‘thou’, having been bested by a ‘real man’. Yet he maintains a formal distance with his respectful ‘you’, and in another long, but this time deliberate, line, appears to reassure her that he won’t be turning his victory into a conquest. To her disappointment, I think: this rebuff is the sweetest revenge. Or – she hit the nail on the head when she talked about the ‘shrimp’ …
Either way, take note, Charles! That’s how we do it across the Channel!
And, finally, speaking of our ‘sceptred isle’ – oh yes, nearly forgot, sorry! Back in England a bunch of bickering barons vandalise a rose garden because … well actually, why? We are never told the actual cause of the contention. Which makes me care about it even less at this juncture!
Let’s get back to France – that’s where all the serious action is …
See you in a week or so!