I’m onto month two of The Shake the Stacks Challenge, my 37 month journey to read the complete works of William Shakespeare. You can read more about the challenge here. I am going in a sort of chronological order, even though the chronology of these plays is widely disputed. I’m using the list from Open Source Shakespeare. This month I took on the first play of Henry the Sixth.
In Henry IV part 1 we are joined into the world of England after the death of Henry V, and the tumult that comes with the changing of kings, the pledging of loyalties, and the battles that surround this type of activity. The play is a major set up for the next three plays that are part of this tetralogy, culminating in Richard III. Which all goes to say, this play is kind of boring. You’re meeting a ton of characters, and then they’re talking about fighting battles, and introducing you to other people and contextualizing relationships. Basically, a lot of talk an not a lot of action.
There is one character of note, who sticks out to me in this one, and thats Joan la Pucelle aka Joan of Arc. Of all the characters in this play she is the one you remember. She leads the French in winning and losing battles against the English. She speaks truth to power, and she fights like hell. We all know what happens in the end. She isa great character in mediocre play.
This play is clearly meant to serve as exposition for the plays that follow, and thats fine, but it also makes for a pretty boring read. I would imagine if you could see all three of the Henry VI plays followed by Richard III this play would be more fun and feel more purposeful. There are some really beautifully written scenes and speeches, but for the most part its all set up, The War of the Roses comes next, and that should be exciting.
If you’re interested in this tetralogy, you should certainly read this play, but as a stand alone piece it doesn’t do much.
- Paperback: 123 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
- 2/5 stars
- Buy Henry VI Part 1 on Amazon
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