Tug Of War: Foreign Fire

Edward III, Henry V, Henry VI, Part 1

May 11

June 12, 2016

at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

by William Shakespeare
adapted and directed by Barbara Gaines

Playgoer's Guide

Part One
The French turncoat, Robert of Artois, appears before England’s king, Edward III, and lays out the case for Edward’s claim to the French throne. As the king declares his intentions to wage war in France, he gets word of a rebellion in the North, where the Scots have laid siege to a castle, home to the Countess of Salisbury. King Edward sends his son Prince Edward to begin the French campaign while he moves north to drive out the Scots. The king immediately falls deeply in lust for the Countess he meets there. He plots to have her by any means necessary, but with an equally strong will, the Countess attempts to avoid his advances. Edward redirects his energies to the conquest of France. From the coast, the French King John II watches as Edward’s forces land, ready for war.

• Intermission •

Part Two
As they retreat from Prince Edward’s advancing army, the French suffer massive casualties. But when the prince is surrounded on the battlefield, his father, deaf to the pleas of the English nobles, refuses to send help to his son, and instead the prince’s own acumen must save him. The war with its victories and losses goes back and forth between France and England. The French city of Calais offers surrender, but King Edward refuses to accept unless the town sends its three chief citizens to him as human sacrifices. Now the French outnumber the English by tens of thousands. Edward’s inferior power is quickly overwhelmed, until a miracle sways the battle to the English once again, and England is victorious. 

Two generations later, all of Edward’s gains in France have been lost. The newly crowned Henry V is inspired to lead a campaign to reclaim the French throne, supported by a bought-and-paid-for alliance with the Church. Once in France, Henry’s army is outnumbered five-to-one. The king strives to bolster his troops through soaring rhetoric despite disputes that have begun to crop up among his officers and the growing disillusionment of his soldiers.

• Meal Break •

Part Three
On the eve of the great battle of Agincourt, the confident French nobility idly entertain themselves. Cloaked by night, King Henry disguises himself as a common soldier to wander among his men in the field, and is disturbed by what he learns. The next morning in the confusion of combat, Henry learns that the retreating French forces have murdered the boys the English left behind in camp. Enraged, Henry retaliates. He only discovers the scale of the British victory when the French herald appears to plead for the bodies of their noblemen. The English and the battered French meet to agree on the terms of peace, as King Henry attempts to win the heart of French Princess Katherine. 

Just two years later after Henry’s sudden death, the English crown is passed to his infant son, Henry VI. But infants do not rule kingdoms, and as the power struggle continues over the years between Humphrey the Lord Protector and the nobles of the English court, the French conquests of Henry V are lost. As the French debate giving up their siege on the British-held city of Orleance, their king is introduced to a young maiden, Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc). He realizes that Joan can be an asset, both as a soldier and as an inspiration to the French forces. With the fate of Orleance in the balance, Joan and the English warrior Lord Talbot meet in battle. In England, Humphrey struggles to keep control of the government in the face of the increasing threat of the Bishop of Winchester. The boy-king brokers a tenuous peace between the two men, and restores land and title to Richard Plantagenet, the disgraced Duke of York. Then the young king of England sets sail to claim the French crown. 

• Intermission •

Part Four
Joan and her men talk their way into the English-held city of Rouen and drive the English out. Then the English, led by Talbot and aided by the French Duke of Burgundy, immediately reclaim the town. Joan refocuses her energy, successfully seducing Burgundy back to the French side. Henry VI has barely been crowned France’s king before the Earl of Suffolk brings news of Burgundy’s betrayal, which in turn causes the long-simmering resentment between the Dukes of Somerset and York to flare. 

Henry attempts to quell their division by forcing the two men to work together to lead the British power in France, but their ongoing quarrel soon leads to tragedy. When the British forces finally unite, the battle turns against the French—and King Charles now turns against Joan. The British and French begrudgingly meet to arrange a so-called “truce.” Humphrey brokers a practical arranged marriage for Henry, but the young king has different ideas after he is persuaded by Suffolk to marry another—a poor French princess named Margaret of Anjou, with whom Suffolk is already intimately acquainted.

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