"Dauphin. I am by birth a shepherd's daughter,
My wit untrain'd in any kind of art.
Heaven and our Lady gracious hath it pleas'd
To shine on my contemptible estate.
Lo, whilst I waited on my tender lambs
And to sun's parched heat display'd my cheeks,
God's Mother deigned to appear to me,
And in a vision full of majesty
Will'd me to leave my base vocation
And free my country from calamity -
Her aid she promis'd and assur'd success.
In complete glory she reveal'd herself;
And whereas I was black and swart before,
With those clear rays which she infus'd on me
That beauty am I bless'd with which you may see.
Ask me what question thou canst possible,
And I will answer unpremeditated,
My courage try by combat if thou dar'st,
And thou shalt find that I exceed my sex.
Resolve on this: thou shalt be fortunate
If thou receive me for thy warlike mate."
Act One, Scene Two, Joan la Pucelle (or Joan of Arc).
That bit of dialogue pretty much sums up what I love so far about Henry 6th (Part One).
In a very short 21 lines, Joan's character is introduced bluntly, her history expounded, her role established, a sword fight proposed (it follows) and a hint of sexual tension added to the plot. Wham bam, thank you Ma'am (or Miss as the case is).
Particularly in contrast to Comedy of Errors, but just generally in the context of the comedies and romances, Shakespeare's history plays are action in the full sense of the word. He powers through huge slabs of plot, churning through characters and scenes. He moves the reader from the bedroom to the battlefield to the boardroom fast as lightning as he chops and changes scene to scene. It's fast paced and breathless. You get the feeling as you read that the players would be struggling for breath at the end of some sections of dialogue.
Not that it's all like that. Shakespeare is a master of pace as well as all the other elements of good drama, and still pauses, and slows down, and focusses in on more intimate moments. There are finely drawn scenes and bittersweet moments.
But Henry the 6th so far has certainly not been putting me to sleep.
And I'm looking forward to the rise and rise of the bombastic and slightly deranged Joan la Pucelle as I read one Act before bed each night for the reast of this week.