Buy Tickets From the 2016-2017 Season: Henry the Sixth: Part One (Shakespeare’s Joan of Arc) Playing September 10, 2016 to September 18, 2016

A Suzi Bass Awards Recommended Show!

Mary Ruth Ralston as King Henry The Sixth

In the aftermath of Henry V’s death, the tension between England and France grows. Joan of Arc (written more as a witch and a seductress than as the noble heroine we know) defeats the English army only to be captured and burned at the stake, the War of the Roses starts and the young and gentle Henry VI meets the She-Wolf of France, Margaret of Anjou.

A part of The Shakespeare Evolution Series!

Join the cast and crew members for a lively Question and Answer session on Sunday September 11 after the show!

Opening Night is Fancy Dress Night! Come dressed in your finest outfit if you like! (Optional)

Atlanta Theatre Buzz Writer Brad Rudy has kindly let us use his H6 Primer article he wrote the first time we did these plays. We hope it gives you some context and deeper understanding of the plays!

Three Tales of Henry Plantagenet

As they did eight short years ago, the Atlanta Shakespeare Company at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhousewill be venturing back to the fifteenth century and the War of the Roses. The troupe will be presenting all three Henry VI plays sequentially n September and October, then in repertory for a glorious two weeks in late November. These plays are rarely performed, though they were quite popular in Shakespeare’s own time, so I am looking forward to seeing them (again), and thought I’d put together a background piece to prepare you for the experience.

As an introduction, I must confess the story of Henry has a personal appeal for me. A number of years ago (okay, make that a number of decades ago), I wanted to try my hand at writing a full-length play in Iambic Pentameter. Perhaps influenced by the Carter Presidency, I found the story of a man who was a good person but a weak leader especially appealing. Add to that a strong female leader (Henry’s wife Margaret) who would have made an excellent Queen, given half a chance, and it seem the perfect formula for a play about sex roles, about class, and about how Civil War can rend families to pieces.

Well, I finished the play, it was unproducable (and, to this date, unreadable*), but it did lead me to Shakespeare’s version of the events, for which I am ever grateful. I think you’ll find them a perfect example of young Shakespeare’s developing talent (they were some of the first plays he wrote), as well as an intriguing look into the Tudor filters through which Shakespeare often viewed History.

As background, here is some historical trivia that may help your journey:

1422—Henry V, the “Hero of Agincourt,” dies, leaving an infant son. (Regents are the baby’s uncles, The Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Gloucester).

1431—Joan of Arc helps the French defeat the British at Orleans. Most of Henry V’s gains on the continent are now lost.

1435—Death of the Duke of Bedford.

1436—Richard Plantagenet becomes the Duke of York.

1437—Henry VI comes of age and is crowned king.

1445—Henry is married to a French Princess, Margaret of Anjou.

1447—Death of the Duke of Gloucester.

1454—Henry goes a little mad. The Duke of York is named “Protector.”

1455—The War of the Roses begins in earnest with the Battle of St. Albans. The Earl of Warwick (Richard Neville) helps the York faction send Henry into exile.

From here to the end, it gets quite chaotic. Power changes hands over and over. The Earl of Warwick (often called the “Kingmaker") switches sides. York is killed, but his son is crowned Edward IV. Margaret wins a key victory that puts Henry back on the throne. Then Edward is back, and Henry is in the tower. Finally, Henry is murdered in 1471 and Margaret goes into exile. It looks like smooth sailing for Edward and his brothers, none of whom have yet read “Richard III.”

Let’s start with the first bit of Tudor Propaganda. In these plays, the author’s sympathies are definitely with the Red Rose Lancastrians. After all, Henry VI’s mother Katherine eventually married Owen Tudor and begat that whole dynasty. So, of course in Tudor eyes, the Yorkists were opportunists, usurpers, and, in Richard Junior’s case, the most despicable of villains.

But, today, we have little knowledge of the various Plantagenet factions, so we give Shakespeare a “pass” on this one. However, we do know Joan of Arc, or at least we thought we did. Shakespeare was writing 150 years after the actual occurrence, so the bitterness of the losses at Orleans were still a bit vivid (much like many in today’s South are still bitter about our own Civil War). So, it should come as no surprise, that in Part One, Joan of Arc (here called Joan La Pucelle) is characterized as a villainous, cowardly shrew who is very rightly put to death for witchcraft (I especially like how the cast of characters lists “Fiends attending on La Pucelle").

Which leads into another motif—how the plays are structured, and how women are the dominating forces. Part One sets up everything—the death of Henry V, the squabbling of the regents, and the losses in France. Joan emerges as the “force of evil” that sets into motion the future events, and Henry emerges as a good and pious man, who would be happier in a monastery than on a throne.

Part Two centers on the rise of Richard of York, on the downfall of the Duke of Gloucester, and on a popular rebellion of 1450 led by Jack Cade. Here, the “mantle of witchcraft” is passed on to Gloucester’s Duchess, Dame Eleanor Cobham. She “goes to the dark side” in order to secure her position as well as her husband’s, and the results are disastrous.

Finally, Part Three focuses on the War of the Roses and all the whipsawing loyalties and fortunes. Here, Queen Margaret dominates, and her glee at York’s downfall is astonishing—the humiliation of York is one of the cruelest scenes in the entire canon, and is matched by an equally cruel scene where Margaret loses her son. In Part Three we also see the emergence of the man who will be Richard III, and his final scene with Henry is a beautiful “sneak peek” at what will come.

Part Three also contains one of my favorite scenes in all of Shakespeare. In a perfectly realized expression of what is in store in any Civil War, Shakespeare gives us three characters on the battlefield—Henry VI, “A son that hath killed his father” and “A father that hath killed his son:”

SON: How will my mother for a father’s death
Take on with me and ne’er be satisfied!

FATH: How will my wife for slaughter of my son
Shed seas of tears and ne’er be satisfied!

KING: How will the country for these woeful chances
Misthink the King and not be satisfied!

SON: Was ever son so rued a father’s death?

FATH: Was ever father so bemoaned his son?

KING: Was ever king so grieved for subjects’ woe?
Much is your sorrow; mine ten times so much.

Not only does this scene show the horror of the war, it also nicely gives us a portrait of Henry—his goodness, his sense of responsibility, and, yes, his weaknesses. It’s as if the entire trilogy were encapsulated in these 120+ lines.

So, what will be in store for you when you see these plays? Hundreds of characters played by dozens of actors, battle after battle after battle before the final battle. Soaring poetry and primal passion. Three nights of making an obscure (to us) period of British History come alive in its full horrifically blood-soaked glory. And, to the political enthusiasts among us, revisionist spin that beggars the efforts of modern practitioners of the art of propaganda.

If it is only half as well done as the tavern’s last 2008 productions of these plays, it will still be time well-worth spent. But plan now—each play will only be performed a limited number of times.

* I did end the first scene with a rhymed couplet I’m still a little proud of. Young Margaret has been captured after trying to run away from her “handlers,” and has reconciled herself to her future marriage:

So take me off to win my promised ring!
I’ll be your pawn—a queen to mated king!

Everything else [I wrote], though, is pure garbage (shudder).

Read the Plot Synopsis

Henry VI part 1

This is a play of battles in France (where the English try vainly to hold their possessions) and of a perilous breakdown of order in England. Internal dissension, fatal to a campaign abroad, presages civil war.

At the Westminster Abbey funeral of Henry V news arrives that the French have beaten back the English; Talbot, the valiant general, has been captured, and the Dauphin crowned. At home Gloucester (Lord Protector, the gentle young Henry VI’s uncle) and Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester (Henry’s great-uncle), are dangerously at odds. In France Joan La Pucelle, seen here not as the saintly Joan of Arc but as a harlot and witch in league with the powers of darkness, raises the siege of Orleans. Talbot regains the city.

In London, a feud between the ambitious Richard Plantagenet, claimant to the crown, and the Earl (later Duke) of Somerset, moves to the symbolic plucking of roses in Temple Gardens: a white rose for Plantagenet, a red for Somerset. King Henry makes Richard Duke of York and goes to be crowned King of France in Paris. La Pucelle captures, then loses, Rouen, but wins the support of the Duke of Burgundy. Henry, seeking to make peace among the English factions, puts on a red rose saying: “I see no reason, if I wear this rose,/That anyone should therefore be suspicious/I more incline to Somerset than York.”

Talbot dies, beleaguered with his son outside Bordeaux where no reinforcement has reached him from the quarreling nobles. But La Pucelle is taken prisoner before Angers, deserted by her familiar spirits and sent to the stake. A “solemn peace” is patched up between France and England. The unscrupulous Earl of Suffolk, entranced by his captive, Margaret, beautiful daughter of Reignier, the Duke of Anjou, plans for his own benefit to have her married to the King; Henry, influenced by a “wondrous rare description”, breaks a previous diplomatic betrothal and orders Suffolk to bring back Margaret as his Queen.

from The Pocket Companion to Shakespeare’s Plays by J.C. Trewin

Director's Notes

Directed by Jeff Watkins

Not surprisingly, Americans have almost no experience with these plays. They aren’t taught in public schools (we are also presenting a new production of Macbeth in October), require a large cast, are difficult to produce and— taken as a single narrative— have a combined running time of ~ 7½ hours.

What a shame! To me, these plays are like Shakespeare’s Pulp Fiction. Yes, through it all is the history lesson for all right-minded English folk about how lucky we are to live in Elizabeth’s England, but the stories of love, loss, betrayal; the battles, the severed heads and tales of revenge; Joan of Arc (portrayed as a witch!); Richard III before he got his hump . . . (OK he was born with the hump but here we actually see him become the monster we love to hate in Henry VI part 3.); the witches, the murders, the rebellions . . . all masterfully intertwined in a remarkably easy to understand story that could just as easily be called The Game of Thrones.

With Shakespeare’s History of King Henry VI, we see a fledgling playwright become a Master Storyteller right before our eyes. Not only is it astonishing in its brilliance, it’s also just plain old-fashioned fun!

Show Information


Act One - 60 min / 15 min intermission / Act Two - 60 min / 5 minute break / Act Three - 30 min.

Show Roles

Performances September 10-18, 2016

Dramatis Personae
King Henry VI - Mary Ruth Ralston
Duke of Gloucester - Doug Kaye*
Duke of Bedford - Peter Hardy
Thomas Beaufort - Troy Willis*
Henry Beaufort - J. Tony Brown*
John Beaufort - David Sterritt
Richard Plantagenet (York) - Maurice Ralston*
Earl of Suffolk - Trey York
Richard Beauchamp - Clarke Weigle
Earl of Salisbury - Troy Willis*
Lord Talbot - Drew Reeves*
John Talbot - Adam King
Joan la Pucelle - Kristin Storla
An old shepherd - Drew Reeves*
Edmund Mortimer - Drew Reeves*
Sir John Fastolfe - Nathan Hesse
Sir William Lucy - Nicholas Faircloth
Sir William Glansdale - Colin Hartnett
Sir Thomas Gargrave - Vinnie Mascola
Mayor of London - Peter Hardy
Woodville - Nathan Hesse
Vernon - Colin Hartnett
Basset - Charlie Thomas
Charles, Dauphin - David Sterritt
Reignier, Duke of Anjou - Nicholas Faircloth
Margaret, daughter to Reignier - Amee Vyas*
Duke of Burgundy - Vinnie Mascola
Duke of Alençon - Adam King
Bastard of Orleans - Shea Stephens
Master Gunner of Orleans - Maurice Ralston*
Son of the Master Gunner - Mary Ruth Ralston
Countess of Auvergne - Mary Bridget McCarthy
Governor of Paris - Mary Bridget McCarthy
Lawyer - Mary Ruth Ralston
Legate - Nathan Hesse
French Sentinel - Clarke Weigle
French General - Peter Hardy
Gloucester’s Man - Colin Hartnett
A Porter - Adam King
Captain - Colin Hartnett
Ambassadors - Clarke Weigle, Charlie Thomas
Fiends appearing to La Pucelle - Shea Stephens, Mary Bridget McCarthy, Colin Hartnett
Trumpeter - Clarke Weigle

Show Times
Shows at The Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse begin at 7:30pm, except on Sundays, when they begin at 6:30pm

Bardometer Rating

How difficult is this Shakespearean play to grasp? On a scale of 1 to 10.
What does rating this mean?

You may already know the story and what happens at the end. But even if you don’t, the play is light and the plot is easy to follow. Limited violence, limited bawdiness (see below). There are very few things – historical, religious, or political – that you need to know ahead of time. Just enjoy!

A note about bawdiness in Shakespeare: It exists. Despite what your English teacher taught you, Shakespeare wrote some pretty saucy lines and they pop up from time to time. While there is never any nudity on stage, our actors are trained to make the text clear. If we feel a show contains a plethora of Graphic Elizabethan Poetry (or is very bloody/violent/triggering) we will put that disclaimer in the blurb about the show. It won’t happen often. If this Bardometer lists a play as a 1 or 2, you can rest assured that it is an appropriate show for kids under ten.

Additional Information

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