Sources of the Play
The historical material in 1 Henry VI is arranged with a total disregard to chronology, as the notes on various passages indicate. The earliest event portrayed is the funeral of Henry V on November 7, 1422; the latest the recovery of Talbot's body after his death on July 17, 1453. In some parts, the play is certainly based upon Shakespeare's favorite authority, the second edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicle of England (1587). Close following of this book is evident when the introduction of Joan of Arc (I. ii. 46–150) is compared with Holinshed's words: 'In time of this siege at Orleance . . . vnto Charles the Dolphin, at Chinon, as he was in verie great care and studie how to wrestle against the English nation . . . was caried a yoong wench of an eighteene yeeres old, called Ione Are, by name of hir father (a sorie sheepheard) Iames of Are, and Isabell hir mother; brought vp poorelie in their trade of keeping cattell . . . Of fauour was she counted likesome, of person stronglie made and manlie, of courage great, hardie, and stout withall: an vnderstander of counsels though she were not at them; great semblance of chastitie both of bodie and behauiour. . . . A person (as their bookes make hir) raised vp by power diuine, onelie for succour to the French estate then deepelie in distresse. . . . From saint Katharins church of Fierbois in Touraine (where she neuer had beene and knew not) in a secret place there among old iron, appointed she hir sword to be sought out and brought hir, that with fiue floure delices was grauen on both sides, wherewith she fought and did manie slaughters by hir owne hands. . . . Vnto the Dolphin into his gallerie when first she was brought, and he shadowing himselfe behind, setting other gaie lords before him to trie hir cunning, from all the companie, with a salutation . . . she pickt him out alone; who therevpon had hir to the end of the gallerie, where she held him an houre in secret and priuate talke, that of his priuie chamber was thought verie long, and therefore would haue broken it off; but he made them a sign to let hir saie on. In which (among other), as likelie it was, she set out vnto him the singular feats (forsooth) giuen her to vnderstand by reuelation diuine, that in vertue of that sword shee should atchiue; which were, how with honor and victorie shee would raise the siege at Orleance, set him in state of the crowne of France, and driue the English out of the countrie, thereby he to inioie the kingdome alone. Heerevpon he hartened at full, appointed hir a sufficient armie with absolute power to lead them, and they obedientlie to doo as she bad them.'
The first edition of Holinshed (1577) and the other earlier English chroniclers are here briefer and quite different, containing no suggestion of the words out of which lines 60–68, 98–101, 118 ff. of the play are developed. Holinshed, however, is by no means the basis of the entire play. Several scenes—those of Talbot and the Countess of Auvergne, the rose-plucking in the Temple Garden, Plantagenet's interview with Mortimer, and Suffolk's capture of Margaret—have no discovered source. The first of these was probably borrowed from the legend of some popular warrior or outlaw, the others are fanciful embellishments of history.
In some cases, again, the drama deserts Holinshed in order to make use of the older and generally more detailed chronicle of Edward Halle (The Union of Lancaster and York, 1548). This seems to be true of the dialogue between Talbot and his son in IV. v and vi. Holinshed contents himself with a bare summary of the battle at Castillon: 'though he [Talbot] first with manfull courage, and sore fighting wan the entrie of their [the French] campe; yet at length they compassed him about, and shooting him through the thigh with an handgun, slue his horsse, and finally killed him lieng on the ground, whome they durst neuer looke in the face, while he stood on his feet. It was said, that after he perceiued there was no remedie, but present losse of the battell, he counselled his sonne, the lord Lisle, to saue himselfe by flight, sith the same could not redound to anie great reproch in him, this being the first iournie [day of battle] in which he had beene present. Manie words he vsed to persuade him to haue saued his life; but nature so wrought in the son, that neither desire of life, nor feare of death, could either cause him to shrinke, or conueie himselfe out of the danger, and so there manfullie ended his life with his said father.'
Halle, on the other hand, paints the whole scene far more graphically, and suggests some of the actual words which the dramatist puts into Talbot's mouth: 'When the Englishmen were come to the place where the Frenchmen were encamped, in the which (as Eneas Siluius testifieth) were iii. C. peces of brasse, beside diuers other small peces, and subtill Engynes to the Englishmen vnknowen, and nothing suspected, they lyghted al on fote, the erle of Shrewesbury only except, which because of his age, rode on a litle hakeney, and fought fiercely with the Frenchmen, & gat thentre of their campe, and by fyne force entered into the same. This conflicte continued in doubtfull iudgement of victory ii. longe houres: durynge which fight the lordes of Montamban and Humadayre, with a great companye of Frenchmen entered the battayle, and began a new felde, & sodaynly the Gonners perceiuynge the Englishmen to approche nere, discharged their ordinaunce, and slew iii. C. persons, nere to the erle, who perceiuynge the imminent ieopardy, and subtile labirynth, in the which he and hys people were enclosed and illaqueate, despicynge his awne sauegarde, and desirynge the life of his entierly and welbeloued sonne the lord Lisle, willed, aduertised, and counsailled hym to departe out of the felde, and to saue hym selfe. But when the sonne had aunswered that it was neither honest nor natural for him, to leue his father in the extreme ieopardye of his life, and that he woulde taste of that draught, which his father and Parent should assay and begyn: The noble erle & comfortable capitayn sayd to him: Oh sonne sonne, I thy father, which onely hath bene the terror and scourge of the French people so many yeres, which hath subuerted so many townes, and profligate and discomfited so many of them in open battayle, and marcial conflict, neither can here dye, for the honor of my countrey, without great laude and perpetuall fame, nor flye or departe without perpetuall shame and continualle infamy. But because this is thy first iourney and enterprise, neither thy flyeng shall redounde to thy shame, nor thy death to thy glory: for as hardy a man wisely flieth, as a temerarious person folishely abidethe, therefore ye fleyng of me shalbe ye dishonor, not only of me & my progenie, but also a discomfiture of all my company: thy departure shall saue thy lyfe, and make the able another tyme, if I be slayn to reuenge my death and to do honor to thy Prince and profyt to his Realme. But nature so wrought in the sonne, that neither desire of lyfe, nor thought of securitie, could withdraw or pluck him from his natural father: Who consideryng the constancy of his chyld, and the great daunger that they stode in, comforted his souldiours, cheared his Capitayns, and valeauntly set on his enemies, and slew of them more in number than he had in his company. But his enemies hauyng a greater company of men, & more abundaunce of ordinaunce then before had bene sene in a battayle, fyrst shot him through the thyghe with a handgonne, and slew his horse, & cowardly killed him, lyenge on the ground, whome they neuer durste loke in the face, whyle he stode on his fete, and with him, there dyed manfully hys sonne the lord Lisle. . . .'
Verbal echoes of the passage above are probably to be found in lines 18, 40, 45, 46 of IV. v and in line 30 of the next scene.
- Holinshed is certainly the source also of IV. i. 18 ff. See infra, p. 144.
- The resemblance to Robin Hood stories, suggested by several critics, is of the vaguest.
- These words, repeated from Halle, are echoed in I. i. 138–140 of the play.
- It is fair to observe that the verbal indebtedness to Halle is not as close as the indebtedness to Holinshed in the extract given on p. 128, and is very likely a debt at second hand. That is, Halle's dialogue between father and son may have been utilized by the original author of the play, and Shakespeare, rewriting the scene without direct reference to Halle, may have removed much of Halle's wording, though leaving enough to show that Shakespeare's authority, Holinshed, did not furnish all the material. Moreover, it is impossible to say whether the original dramatist used Halle's Chronicle itself or resorted to the later work of Grafton (1569), for Grafton incorporates the entire passage verbatim. The only change he makes is to remove three words of Halle, which he evidently regarded as archaic. Instead of 'illaqueate' he reads 'wrapped'; instead of 'profligate and discomfited,' 'discomfited' alone; and instead of 'temerarious,' 'rashe.'