Henry IV, Part 1
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
HENRY IV, PART 1
Northumberland has sent a message to Hotspur, Worcester, and Douglas: he’s sick and cannot come to the war. Northumberland “is remembered as the man who in the abdication scene kicked Richard when he was down. Confirming the old proverb about the bully, he is the archcoward of Henry IV” (Goddard, I 166). So he won’t be leading his army to Shrewsbury. Hotspur still wants a fight though: “I rather of his absence make this use: / It lends a lustre and more great opinion, / A larger dare to our great enterprise” (IV.i.76-78).
Sir Richard Vernon brings news of the approaching royal armies, including that of Prince Hal, whom is again called “madcap” (IV.i.95). And though the Prince is impressing all, surprisingly, Hotspur is revved and wants to battle him specifically: “Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse, / Meet and ne’er part till one drop down a cor[p]se” (IV.i.122-123). Vernon adds the additional bad news that Glendower seems to be wimping out, claiming to need more time to gather his forces. Hotspur’s vaunting enthusiasm for battle under these increasingly grim conditions begins to seem deluded, or even pathological.
The attention to Shrewsbury may have partly been because theEarl of Shrewsbury served as custodian of Mary Stuart; she was imprisoned in his castle for most of her time in England (Clark 692). A descendant of Northumberland — Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland — was a contemporary of Shakespeare and was considered as a possible marriage candidate for Elizabeth Vere, Oxford’s oldest daughter, around 1592 (Farina 118). Meanwhile, the 11th Earl, so prominent in Famous Victories, has all but disappeared. Apparently, for Oxford in 1586 “the terms of the grant had stipulated stringent anonymity” (Ogburn and Ogburn 713). The necessary expertise in horsemanship in this scene (IV.i.104-110) has also supported the questioning of traditional authorship (Ogburn and Ogburn 722).
Falstaff and Bardolph lead an outfit of would-be soldiers near Coventry. Falstaff sponges off Bardolph, obviously, wanting another bottle of sack, and he comments to himself at length regarding the ragtag state of his men. Hal and Westmoreland enter and remark on the state of these troops: “I did never see such pitiful rascals” (IV.ii.64). Falstaff responds, “Tut, tut, good enough to toss, food for powder, food for powder [cannon-fodder]; they’ll fill a pit as well as better” (IV.ii.65-67). Onward towards the field of battle they advance, Falstaff in no particular hurry. “To the latter end of a fray and the beginning of a feast / Fits a dull fighter and a keen guest” (IV.ii.79-80).
Hotspur and Douglas want to fight; Worcester and Vernon are reluctant. Hotspurs seems a bit desperate in focusing on the advantage they have in terms only of rested horses. Blunt offers a deal from the King. Hotspur rants about Henry’s ingratitude to the people who helped him to the throne:
The King is kind, and well we know the King
Knows at what time to promise, when to pay.
My father and my uncle and myself
Did gve him that same royalty he wears….
Hotspur rails at length regarding Henry IV’s treacheries and unworthiness. But between this and Worcester’s explanation in the first scene of the last act, we finally get the full case of complaint against Henry IV. They’ll respond formally to Henry tomorrow morning.
The Archbishop of York has instructions delivered to his allies. He knows that Northumberland, Glendower, and Mortimer have bailed, thinks Hotspur will be beaten, and fears Henry’s retaliation for his own part in the rebellion. This material will matter more in Henry IV, Part 2.