So ageless and overwhelming is Shakespeare’s genius that we may forget that he was still very much a man of his place and time, and vulnerable to the same prejudices that were held by his countrymen. Thus Shakespeare often shows himself to be an Englishman of boundless pride, but also one with little tolerance for other cultures. The results are sometimes humorous and at other times disturbing, but always they make us aware that even so titanic an artist as Shakespeare may be susceptible to intense chauvinism.
Perhaps the nation for which Shakespeare has the least affection is France. The antagonism between the English and the French goes back at least as far as the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and Shakespeare seems to do all he can to perpetuate ill will between the two countries. In Henry VI, Part 1, for instance, the one heroic figure is the English general Talbot, whose courage in warfare distinguishes him from virtually everyone on the battlefield. As one messenger says:
Where valiant Talbot above human thought
Enacted wonders with his sword and lance:
Hundreds he sent to hell, and none durst stand him;
Here, there and every where, enrag’d he slew.
(I, i, 120–124)
Even his enemies are in awe of him:
All the whole army stood agaz’d on him.
(I, i, 125–126)