Numbers: Midpoint (Cue the Extreme tune…)

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at The First Part of Henry the Sixth.

There are 2677 lines in the play, which puts the midpoint at line 1339, which is at Act Three, Scene Five, line 12.

At this point in the play, Joan and her French compatriots (including Charles the Dauphin) taunt Talbot and the aged and dying Bedford (midpoint in bold):

Your grace may starve perhaps before that time.

O, let no words, but deeds, revenge this treason!

What will you do, good greybeard? Break a lance
And run a tilt at death within a chair?

Foul fiend of France, and hag of all despite,
Encompassed with thy lustful paramours!
Becomes it thee to taunt his valiant age
And twit with cowardice a man half-dead?
Damsel, I'll have a bout with you again,
Or else let Talbot perish with this shame.

— III.v.8-17

Some interesting things going on here:

  • The midpoint line itself re-calls the main negative depiction of Joan as witch–“Foul fiend” and “hag of all despite”–then follows it up in the next line with the secondary mudslinging angle against la Pucelle: she’s a slut with “lustful paramours.”
  • There’s a nice piece of foreshadowing, pointing to the deaths of both Bedford in line 15 (a death that happens less than 60 lines later at the end of this scene), and Talbot in line 17 (which will happen in Act Four, Scene Seven).
  • Then we get more bawdy double entendre (for the sophomore boys out there):  When Bedford says that English “deeds” will revenge them on the French, Joan responds with her taunt “What will you do, good greybeard? Break a lance // And run a tilt at death within a chair?” (III.v.10-11).  First, she insults Bedford’s age (and implied infirmity–physical and mental) by calling him a “graybeard,” and then sarcastically demeans his sexual impotence with a reference to his “break(ing) a lance… (and having) a tilt at death.”  Breaking a lance is a reference to sexual copulation (Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare’s Bawdy. New York: Routledge, 2008; page 169); and to “die” is to “experience a sexual orgasm” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 118).  She mocks his ability to have sex, since he is in his death-bed, er, death-chair.

However, all of this pales in comparison to something interesting that relates to Monday’s entry on Talbot’s death.  Bedford tells Charles that “no words, but deeds (can) revenge” the French villainy (III.v.9).  And he’s right: words won’t be successful, only deeds will.  Bedford SAYS this, and ends the scene no longer among the living.  And as we noted a couple of days back, Talbot talks and talks and talks, and also ends up dead.

So within a handful of lines from the midpoint, we have a thematic tie-in (deeds, not words, are successful), a restatement of Joan’s villainous character (on two different levels), and foreshadowing for two English deaths (plus, a nice dose of our seemingly ever-present bawdy body talk).

Looks like another mission accomplished for Professor Rodes and his theory.