Shakespeare liked war, particularly the English civil war that came to be known as the War of the Roses. The Henry VI trilogy is actually part of the first War of the Roses tetralogy, which, when coupled with the second tetralogy makes up the full War of the Roses octalogy.
Let’s start with Henry VI, Part I.
King Henry is an infant at the beginning of this play, and old enough to get married by the end. He just silently grows up in the background.
In the meantime, there are two wars going on. The first involves England and France, and it’s fought in France. The French side is led by La Pucelle (which means “maid”, which actually means virgin), who’s more commonly known as Joan of Arc, and known to Shakespeare the propagandist as a whore and a mystic.
The second war going on in this play is between two rival English dynasties, which are actually made up of guys from the same family. You may know the House of Lancaster as the strip club on Bloor Street, west of Dufferin, but in the War of the Roses it’s the dynasty Henry VI supports.
The members of the other house, the House of York (which has no exotic dancing equivalent in Toronto, despite our historic ties to the name), think the English crown belongs to their lineage.
So, a bunch of lords bicker and set each other up, and, in the meantime, settle the war with France by marrying off Henry VI to a French woman named Margaret, whom one of the lords just happens to be banging.
That’s the play. Back to Joan of Arc, though, and our lesson for guys.
She’s where our interests lie because she’s a female who makes it to the top in the very masculine war business. A canny strategist and skilled tactician, who believed she had God on her side, Joan of Arc was a daunting adversary.
Guy’s lesson from Shakespeare: Most of us won’t end up fighting a war, but if you’re fighting for a promotion, a qualified woman is a worthy adversary. While stealing her troops and spreading rumours that she’s a heretic won’t work in this day and age, you can still play dirty.