Henry IV, Part 1
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
HENRY IV, PART 1
Hotspur, Worcester, Owen Glendower, and Mortimer meet and consult a map of England, Hotspur all the while debating with Owen Glendower over the meaning or meaninglessness of “signs.” Hotspur demythologizes Glendower’s attempts to connect natural omens to his own birth. For example, regarding the earth quaking on the day of his birth, Hotspur remarks, “so it would have done / at the same season if your mother’s cat had / But kitten’d, though yourself had never been born” (III.i.17-19). Glendower persists in listing the supernatural wonders as indications that “I am not in the roll of common men” (III.i.42).
The rebels divide up England: the north to the Percy family, the west to Glendower, the south to Mortimer. Mortimer, Hotspur, and Worcester will meet up with Northumberland at Shrewsbury and Glendower will join later. Hotspur vows to divert a river in order to acquire more land. Contention breaks out again between Hotspur and Glendower over the latter’s ability to speak English as well as Welsh. Glendower defends himself:
I can speak English, lord, as well as you,
For I was train’d up in the English court,
Where being but young I framed to the harp
Many an English ditty lovely well,
And gave the tongue a helpful ornament,
A virtue that was never seen in you.
Hotspur says he is glad of not having such an accomplishment:
I had rather be a kitten and cry mew
Than one of these same metre ballet-mongers.
I had rather hear a brazen canstick turn’d,
Or a dry wheel grate on the axle-tree,
And that would set my teeth nothing on edge,
Nothing so much as mincing poetry.
So that’s Hotspur’s take on the arts, I guess. Glendower agrees to the river diverting, perhaps thinking Hotspur is simply being contrary over that issue, but Hotspur says,
I do not care. I’ll give thrice so much land
To any well-deserving friend;
But in the way of bargain, mark ye me,
I’ll cavil on the ninth part of a hair.
Glendower leaves to announce their coming departure to their wives.
Worcester tries to reason with his nephew, cataloguing the effects his wildness has. He shows too much willfulness:
You must needs learn, lord, to amend this fault;
Though sometimes it show greatness, courage, blood —
And that’s the dearest grace it renders you —
Yet oftentimes it doth present harsh rage,
Defect of manners, want of government,
Pride, haughtiness, opinion, and disdain,
The least of which haunting a nobleman
Loseth men’s hearts and leaves behind a stain
Upon the beauty of all parts besides,
Beguiling them of commendation.
The rebels’ wives enter. Mortimer and his wife don’t share a common language, but Mortimer finds her Welsh “as sweet as ditties highly penn’d, / Sung by a fair queen in a summer’s bow’r, / With ravishingdivision, to her lute” (III.i.206-208). Glendower explains to Mortimer that she wishes for him to lay his head in her lap as she sings. Hotspur wants to hurry up and relax faster with his head in his wife’s lap too. Lady Percy refuses his request that she sing. He’s leaving in a couple hours.
“Mortimer is on the stage in only one scene. But he is the play’s mainspring as certainly as is the Ghost in Hamlet. Shakespeare grew more and more fond of quietly suggesting the immense dramatic importance of figures partly or wholly behind the action, of making the absent present” (Goddard, I 165).
Features of this scene make some sense as displaced depictions of anti-Elizabeth treasons of the early 1580s, with Worcester speaking to his nephew more as a father would, paralleling Henry Howard speaking to his nephew the Earl of Arundel while actually being a father-figure to him (Clark 686). And “No point within the British Isles could be spoken of as ‘a thousand leagues’ from any other point there; but from Spain by a roundabout journey to the coast of Lancashire…” (Clark 688).
Henry chides Hal for his behavior but takes it as his own punishment from God to have such a jackass for a son. Clark is certain that the scene between Hal and his father resembled the scene between Oxford and Elizabeth when the former was taken back into favor (Clark 680, 688). The statement “And God forgive them that hath so much sway’d / Your majesty’s good thoughts away from me” (III.ii.130-131) is particularly applicable (Ogburn and Ogburn 716), as are the appeals to noble “ancestors” (III.ii.31) and the dismay concerning Hal’s being “So common-hackney’d in the eyes of men, / So stale and cheap to the vulgar company” (III.ii.40-41).
“The language that pursues him [Henry] throughout the play is the language of costume and counterfeiting” (Garber 320), represented here by Henry’s references to having “dress’d myself in such humility” (III.ii.51) and “My presence, like a robe pontifical” (III.ii.56). He tells Hal, “thou hast lost thy princely privilege / With vile participation” (III.ii.86-87). Hal says reports have been exaggerated but that he will henceforth “Be more myself” (III.ii.93). Henry fears another Richard II character emerging in Hal, whereas what we want is more Hotspurs. Hal will prove himself in fighting against the rebels, he vows, and will earn the honor of being Henry’s son “When I will wear a garment all of blood, / And stain my favors in a bloody mask” (III.ii.135-136). Henry is happy to hear this and gives him an army which will join the one led by himself, Westmoreland, and Prince John (Hal’s more responsible brother). Sir Walter Blunt brings news that the rebel forces have amassed at Shrewsbury.
“‘Factor,’ ‘engross,’ ‘account,’ ‘render,’ and ‘reckoning.’ This is the language of economic reality, the language of calculation” (Garber 338).
Falstaff and Bardolph exchange insults, including some about Bardolph’s complexion, flushed red with alcohol. That Falstaff is called an apple-john (III.iii.4) — a.k.a. medlar –> meddler — may hint that the original depiction was to have been of Burghley (Ogburn and Ogburn 716). When the Boar’s Head Tavern Hostess enters, Falstaff calls her “Dame Partlet the hen” (III.iii.52) — another Chaucer and Canterbury Tales reference, since although footnoters can insist it’s a traditional name for a hen, it’s not traditional on any Warwickshire farm; it’s traditional from mock heroic literature, and in particular, Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale in which the most anonymous and receding of storytellers dishes up what many think should have been declared the winning story of the Canterbury pilgrimage if that plan had been seen through to its originally intended conclusion.
Falstaff soon is accusing Mistress Quickly of picking his pockets, so he refuses to pay his bill. Amid Falstaff’s blustering, he calls Prince Hal a knave and says he’d whoop him if he were present. Hal does arrive, the Hostess tattles, and after some disagreement about the ostensible value of a ring Falstaff had from his grandfather and some military irreverence, Falstaff learns that Hal was responsible for picking his pockets and he forgives Quickly. The robbery trouble has been resolved but Falstaff now must lead a troop of foot soldiers. Hal gives orders to Falstaff, and to Bardolph and Peto, as battle with the rebels is anticipated.