Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
King Henry VI
King Henry VI, a simple, peace-loving, and almost saintly monarch. He becomes the pawn of his queen and his powerful noblemen. Although he is aware of their evil, he remains incapable of action against them.
Margaret of Anjou
Margaret of Anjou, his strong-minded, articulate queen. She despises Henry for his weakness and allies herself with the duke of Suffolk to become, in effect, the ruler of England.
William de la Pole
William de la Pole, the earl of Suffolk, her lover. A staunch Lancastrian, he tries to govern the kingdom through his influence over the queen.
Humphrey, the duke of Gloucester, the Lord Protector, a violent, uncontrollable foe of Cardinal Beaufort.
Henry Beaufort, the cardinal of Winchester, his power-hungry uncle and bitter enemy.
Lord Talbot, later the earl of Shrewsbury, the English military hero who leads his nation to victory over France and Joan of Arc.
Joan la Pucelle
Joan la Pucelle, commonly called Joan of Arc, the French shepherdess who becomes the leader of the Dauphin’s army. She is presented as a witch, possessed by devils.
Charles, the Dauphin of France, who readily accepts Joan’s aid and offers himself as her lover.
(The entire section is 288 words.)
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Gloucester (Duke of Gloucester)
He is the Lord Protector of the young Henry VI. As such, it is his task to "proclaim young Henry king" (I.i.169), which he does in IV.i. He wrangles constantly with the king's uncle, the bishop (later cardinal) of Winchester. In I.i, he accuses the bishop of Winchester of using his religious office for political ends. In I.iii, he visits the Tower of London to check on the munitions and armaments that the young king will need for the wars in France, but is stopped from entering on orders from Winchester (who may have been taking weapons for his own use or profit). In III.i he takes his quarrel before the king, who manages to reconcile both the duke and the bishop but only temporarily.
In IV.i he performs two functions: getting the governor of Paris to swear loyalty to the king, and interpreting the import of Burgundy's letter in which he announces his switch to the French side. In V.i, he urges the king to make peace with France and to seal the agreement by marrying the earl of Arminack's daughter. In the final scene he argues unsuccessfully against the king's decision to break his betrothal to the daughter of the earl of Arminack and instead marry Margaret, the daughter of the duke of Anjou. He can only helplessly and correctly predict what will follow from the king's decision: "Ay, grief, I fear me, both at first and last" (V.v.102).
Although Winchester tries to paint him otherwise, Gloucester is a trusted, honest advisor to the king. As the...
(The entire section is 328 words.)
Henry (King Henry VI of England)
The young King Henry VI is in every way the opposite of Henry V, his well-loved, warlike father. He is ineffectual, weak, and inconsistent. He is easily led by those around him. Shakespeare underlines this weakness by delaying the king's first entrance until half way through the play (III.i) and by having him appear in a total of only five scenes (this in a play bearing the king's name). It is as if he really doesn't matter in the affairs of his own kingdom.
When the king does appear, his behavior does not bode well for the future of his realm. In III.i, he relies upon what he hopes is the power of prayer ("if prayers might prevail" [III.i.67]) to make Gloucester and Winchester friends instead of enemies. He manages to get the two nobles to shake hands, but Winchester makes it clear in an aside that the act means nothing to him. (An aside is a statement that a character makes directly to the audience without the other characters overhearing him.) He elevates Richard Plantagenet to the titles of earl of Cambridge and duke of York, both of which are indeed rightfully Plantagenet's, but he does nothing to quell Somerset's anger at the move. Later (in IV.i), he mediates the dispute over power between York and Somerset by eloquently arguing for the importance of domestic harmony; he then rather foolishly sides with the Lancastrians (and Somerset) by pinning a red rose to his clothes even as he denies any favoritism.
At the beginning of the final...
(The entire section is 523 words.)
Plantagenet (Richard Plantagenet, afterwards Duke of York)
He is the Yorkist claimant to the throne after the death of Edmund Mortimer. His first appearance is in II.iv, the scene in the Temple Garden. Somerset asserts the primacy of the Lancastrian claim (and hence the right of Henry VI to reign) in response to Plantagenet's offstage assertion of the legality of the Yorkist claim. In response, Plantagenet demands that, just as he has done, those who agree with his position should pluck a white rose from the nearby bush to demonstrate their agreement with his views. Warwick, Vernon, and a lawyer side with him. The discussion then degenerates into invective and threats, with Plantagenet promising Somerset and Suffolk that he will avenge himself for their denial of the Yorkist claim even though he knows that wholesale death will result: "This quarrel will drink blood another day," he remarks to his friends (II.iv. 133).
He next appears in III.i to receive from the king the title taken away from him because his father was considered a traitor. Henry VI also restores to him the title duke of York that became his by right after the death of his brother. York now pledges allegiance to the king. He does not, however, forget his quarrel with Somerset. On the contrary, his servant (Vernon) wrangles with Somerset's servant (Basset) almost to the point of dueling, and both York and Somerset are ready to fight each other before the king forces them to make a temporary peace. In IV.iii, their quarrel causes York to abandon his...
(The entire section is 344 words.)
Alanson (Duke of Alanson)
He is a French nobleman in the entourage of Charles the Dolphin. At the siege of Orleance, he begins by deriding the English as more attracted to eating than fighting. He ends by admiring the "courage and audacity" of such "raw-bon'd rascals" (I.ii.36, 35).
They appear before Henry VI in V.i. The ambassadors from the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor have come to encourage the king to make peace with France. The ambassador from the earl of Arminack has come to request that the king and the daughter of his master be betrothed. To this last, the king agrees.
Attendants (English and French)
These unnamed characters appear in the formal scenes (such as the funeral of Henry V and the coronation of Henry VI) to swell the numbers.
Auvergne (Countess of Auvergne)
She plays an important role in II.iii by attempting to capture Lord Talbot, England's greatest fighter, through a subterfuge. She sends him an invitation to visit her at castle (II.ii.38-43), meaning to imprison him, but he expects trouble and brings soldiers with him. When she tries to imprison him, he calls his soldiers out of hiding. She seems to be motivated by patriotism rather than by deceitfulness.
He is a servant of the duke of Somerset and a supporter of the Lancastrian faction. He appears in two scenes: III.iv and IV.i. In the first he quarrels with...
(The entire section is 4352 words.)