Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Henry VI, part one: The Joan of Arc cut

William Shakespeare’s history plays Henry V and Richard III are two of his, and English-speaking Theatre's, greatest plays. They are also among his best known works. Less famous, however, are the three Henry VI plays- these are basically the historical filler between the death of Henry V and the famous Winter of Discontent. 

The second two Henry VI plays are about the civil strife that hurled England into the War of the Roses; part one is about the loss of French territories, and is rarely performed except in conjunction with the other two parts. In fact, it may only partially be Shakespeare’s work; recent scholarship has suggested that it was co-written by Christopher Marlowe.

The play starts with the funeral of Henry V, and follows the feuding between various English factions as Joan of Arc cuts a swath through the English holdings in France. In fact, Joan is the most interesting character in the play. 

Shakespeare didn’t write a lot of great women roles. Women weren’t even allowed to perform during his career, so there probably wasn’t much demand. Still, his Joan is not too different to a modern heroine. As most Shakespeare plays these days are cut for length anyway, I tried to cut it in a way that highlighted Joan’s story, and not that of the hapless English.

In the full play, the one sympathetic Englishman of substance is Talbot. He’s a bit of a Mary Sue, and is actually quite dull, so most of the cuts relate to other people praising him. This makes him seem more vainglorious (he still praises himself), and heightens the tragedy of his son believing everything he says about his greatness.

The other cuts are extraneous sideplots and foreshadowing of the subsequent plays. This is Joan’s story, not the setup for the War of the Roses. When the Henry IV plays get combined, often those scenes are the only ones kept, so I can lose them. Aside from that, just a few of the more vitriolic jabs at Joan towards the end had to go to make her story consistent and compelling.

Of course, editing a Shakespeare play to highlight the French over their pathetic English adversaries might feel treacherous to the denizens of that island where, as Joan says, “May the glorious sun never reflex his beams.” So I decided to twist the knife by using as my reference the Folger Shakespeare Library version; an American edition of the text. 

So, in their entirety, the cuts to the Folger Shakespeare Library version of Henry VI, part 1, are as follows:


Act 1, scene 1: 

Cut lines 25-27

Cut lines 122-136 (Joan, not Talbot, is the focus of this edit)

Cut lines 141-142


Act 1 scene 2

Cut lines 13-24 

Cut lines 35-36


Act 2, scene 1:

Cut everything (including directions) after line 81


Act 2 scene 2:

Cut entire scene (Not Talbot’s play)

Act 2 scene 3

Cut entire scene (Not Talbot’s play)

Act 2 scene 5

Cut entire scene (setup for sequel plays)


Act 3 scene 3

Cut lines 58-59

Cut lines 78-80

Cut line 85


Act 3 scene 4

Cut entire scene


Act 4 scene 1

Cut everything (including directions) after line 78


Act 4 scene 2

Cut lines 31-34


Act 4 scene 7

Cut lines 40-44

Cut lines 48-51


Act 5 scene 3

Cut lines 10-11

Cut lines 14-22

Cut line 28

Cut “But Suffolk Stay” from line 192

Cut lines 193 to end of scene


Act 5 scene 4

Cut lines 7-8

Cut lines 10-16

Cut lines 18-19

Cut “Now cursed be the time” from line 26

Cut lines 27-34

Cut lines 38-39

Cut “Hath been” from line 50

Cut lines 51-53

Cut lines 61-85


Act 5 scene 5

Cut entire scene (this sets up the next play)


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