Henry VI, Part 1

I love Shakespeare for the universal appeal of his writing. I love that someone from every single country in the world has probably read or watched a rendition of Hamlet. That being said, I also have a weakness for the obscure and esoteric so, in an effort to get back into ‘fighting shape’ before returning to academia in September, I decided to read a lesser-known Shakespeare play.

The play I chose is called Henry VI, Part I. The first of the king’s

The English Coat of Arms, adopted in 1198

eponymous trilogy begins to detail England’s loss of the French land that Henry V had pillaged. Before continuing, I’ll admit that I haven’t finished reading the play. Why? Because the language is so wonderful and I have to keep stopping to absorb it all! If I wrote a textbook, that would be the definition of an Arresting Image. After all this time, I still find it uncanny how one man can make a set of letters come to life in the form of a dramatic battle scene.

With that, here is my arresting image of the day:

Hark, countrymen! either renew the fight,
Or tear the lions out of England’s coat;
Renounce your soil, give sheep in lions’ stead:
Sheep run not half so treacherous from the wolf,
Or horse or oxen from the leopard,
As you fly from your oft-subdued slaves.

Spoken by the valiant Talbot, these lines abound in metaphors. Comparing human characteristics to animals makes the character types in the play (brave, chivalric, cowardly, two-timing) accessible to anyone. Shakespeare’s viewers didn’t have to have seen a lion or leopard to know that they are fast – it was the job of fairy tales to do that. Many of us have never seen battle, but we understand how Talbot is trying to motivate his soldiers based on metaphors that they could easily access. Genius. In a moment when he could have gotten carried away with the passions of war, Shakespeare took the time to pause and decide how to get his viewers onto the same page. What did he come up with? A successfully Arresting Image.


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