Henry VI, Part 1
The whole cluster of the Henry VI plays are apparently fairly early in Shakespeare’s career, and they are sprawling, somewhat indirect affairs, filled with complexities, but without a lot of thematic backbone. They were still apparently well enough known that Shakespeare could refer to them in the epilogue chorus to Henry V, talking about how Henry’s empire largely fell apart from gross mismanagement, “as oft our stage hath shown.” None of the Henry VI plays makes mention of the insanity that apparently afflicted Henry for a number of years.
They are historically very diffuse, beginning at the death of Henry V, and concluding with the death of Henry VI some fifty years later. The discontinuities of the series of plays are probably inevitable given the scope of the action they are expected to cover, but they do not make for a solid grasp of the historical reality if one doesn’t back them up with a good deal of outside reading. The chief problem with these plays is that one seems to need a timeline, a family tree, and a scorecard. Even then, it’s tricky to keep everyone distinguished.
The first of the plays largely deals with the loss of Henry V’s hard-won French territories; probably its most famous sequence is the action against La Pucelle, which is to say, Joan of Arc. Joan is of course condemned and executed by burning at the stake, but the movement she began was not to be quelled so easily.
By the end of the play, as well, the divisions that were to give rise to the Wars of the Roses are well and truly rooted, and the realm is not again unified until the death of Richard III at Bosworth Field.
Most of the versions of these plays come from series that are otherwise covering a larger stretch of plays: they’re not performed for their own sake very often.