Act 4, scene 7
Some time has passed, and young John Talbot has been killed in battle. Talbot is led in. He praises John’s courage. When Talbot was beaten back, John had successfully fought off his French attackers. Then he had plunged into a crowd of French soldiers and been killed.
John’s body is brought in and, at Talbot’s request, laid in his father’s arms. Talbot can no longer bear to live now that his son is dead, and dies.
Charles, Alençon, Burgundy, the Bastard of Orléans, and Joan enter. Charles comments that if Richard, Duke of York and Somerset had brought reinforcements, the French would have lost. Seeing the bodies of Talbot and John, the Bastard of Orléans comments on John’s brave fighting. Joan says that she encountered John and challenged him, but he refused to fight a woman and instead rushed into a crowd of male French soldiers. The Bastard of Orléans suggests that they hack apart the bodies of Talbot and John, but Charles refuses to allow it.
Sir William Lucy enters and asks who has won the day and what English prisoners the French have taken. In particular, he asks after Talbot and recites his grand titles at length. Joan gets bored and says that Talbot’s body “Stinking and flyblown lies here at our feet” (line 76). Lucy is furious that the French have killed Talbot. He asks to be allowed to take away their bodies. Joan agrees, because they stink. Lucy warns that the English will avenge their deaths.
Again, Talbot likens his son to Icarus, who, in Greek myth, dared too much and died as a result.
The image of a dead English hero being brought onto the stage is repeated three times in the play: in the first scene, when Henry V’s body is brought in; in Act 2, scene 2, Salisbury’s body is brought in; and here, when John Talbot’s body is brought in. The image of John’s body is the most poignant, as in the rightful order of things, a son should survive his father and carry on his name and reputation. But in the England of Henry VI, things are not in their rightful order.
Talbot and his son embody the old ideals of aristocratic chivalry, in which military prowess and loyalty to the crown passed from father to son. England has begun to be ruled by self-serving politicians instead of chivalric men of honor who served their country and monarch. The politicians have denied Talbot and John the reinforcements they deserve and both die. There will be no possibility of passing the father’s military skills and honorable name down to the next generation. They have been sacrificed to petty disagreements and personal ambition.
Joan, as a low-born peasant woman who has risen to great heights of power on merit alone, represents a new meritocracy that came to replace the old aristocracy, particularly in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The uncomfortable clash between the two orders is exemplified in the exchange between Sir William Lucy and Joan. Lucy commemorates Talbot, the embodiment of the military hero, by enumerating his aristocratic titles at great length. Joan has no time for such ceremonies. To her, the dead Talbot is not a fallen hero, or even a symbol of the French victory, but simply another stinking, flyblown corpse that should be cleared away as soon as possible. Lucy is the romantic, Joan the pragmatic realist. Lucy looks to the glory of England’s past, and Joan to the future, when grand hereditary titles will matter less than what modern society calls ‘the bottom line’: the political or financial outcome.