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Let’s play: Prince Hal, Henry IV, and Hotspur

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Recently, we looked at the relationships between Henry IV, Prince Hal, and Falstaff in Henry IV Part I. You can read that set of articles at the following link: Let’s Play Falstaff, Prince Hal, and Henry IV.


One might summarise those relationships as two old men competing to be ‘father’ to Prince Hal. Henry IV, guilt-ridden for supplanting Richard II, offers his son little love, but lots of judgement. Falstaff, whilst interested in his own advantage, seems genuinely to like Prince Hal, and enjoys having fun with him. Perhaps the young Prince Hal needs aspects of what both his ‘fathers’ have to offer.


Of course, the play is a lot more complex than that. One complexity is that there is another triangle of men in the play: Prince Hal, Henry IV, and Hotspur. Whereas in the first triangle there were two fathers, in a sense, competing for one son, in this second triangle, there is one father, torn in loyalty between two ‘sons’. This enriches and deepens the relationships in the first set of relationships.


This theme of the play is of less importance than the relationships between Henry IV, Hal, and Falstaff, and so there aren’t that many scenes which we can play to explore the relationships. There are a few, and you’ll find them below.  But mostly there are speeches which throw light on the relationships in scenes which have a wider purpose.


The very first scene offers us such a speech. Not surprisingly the first scene is setting the scene for the whole play so there’s lots of stuff about the rebellion which is the main plot of the play. However, Henry IV has one speech which gives us a brief sketch of his feelings about Prince Hal and Hotspur:


Yea, there thou makest me sad, and makest me sin,
In envy, that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the Father of so blessed a Son:
A Son, who is the Theme of Honour’s tongue;
Amongst a Grove, the very straightest Plant,
Who is sweet Fortune’s Minion, and her Pride:
Whilst I by looking on the praise of him,
See Riot and Dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O that it could be proved,
That some Night-tripping-Fairy, had exchanged
In Cradle-clothes, our Children where they lay,
And called mine Percy, his Plantagenet:
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine:


It’s interesting that Shakespeare uses the folk/fairy-tale motif of the changeling child  to show us clearly that Henry prefers Hotspur to Harry. One can play an intersting game of ‘Spot the folk-tale’ in most / all of Shakespeare’s plays.


Later, in a scene we’ll play below, Henry will explicitly warn Prince Hal that he risks being replaced by Hotspur, much as Richard II was replaced by Henry IV.


What is it that Henry so admires about Hotspur? At least part of the attraction is that Hotspur plays the traditional hero – almost an Achilles, rather than Hal’s much more complex character, perhaps Machiavellian. Hotspur is obsessed with honour and shows this side of his character in the very fist scene we meet him in, A1S3:


By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap,
To pluck bright Honour from the pale-faced Moon,
Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where Fathom-line could never touch the ground,
And pluck up drowned Honour by the Locks:
So he that doth redeem her thence, might wear
Without Co-rival, all her Dignities:
 Hotspur searches for Honour, perhaps without the everlasting-fame that Achilles hopes for. And Hotspur is consistent. As he dies, killed in battle by Prince Hal, he returns to the theme of honour:
Oh Harry, thou hast robbed me of my youth:
I better brook the loss of brittle life,
Then those proud Titles thou hast won of me,
They wound my thoughts worse, than the sword my flesh:

So the speeches above introduce you to Hotspur and Henry IV’s relationship with him, but now it’s time to play some scenes which tell  you more about the three men’s relationships. Why this focus on ‘playing’ the scenes? The main reason is that ‘playing’ the scene deepens and enriches one’s understanding of characters’ thoughts and emotions. It complements the study of the text, by using play. The text comes alive when played. The text can tell many different stories, and it is the players who make particular aspects of the play come alive through their understanding and playing of the characters.
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Perhaps the scene which tells us most about Henry IV’s relationships with Hotspur  and Hal as A2S3, where Henry IV tells off Prince Hal more than somewhat. Prince Hal is letting him down by his bad behaviour, and Henry doesn’t mince his words, and compares Hal unfavourably with Hotspur. But he wants his son to succeed him, and he needs him to reform. He has spent a lifetime building up his power and weakening his enemies, and wants his son to take over and build on that. His rebukes sting Prince Hal who tries to explain that he intends to reform – but perhaps not quite yet.
You can find this scene at: Henry IV tells off Prince Hal (his son)
There is no scene between Prince Hal and Hotspur until their fight at the Battle of Shrewsbury, but Hal does make some, usually rather disparaging comments, about him in earlier scenes:


… I am not yet of Percy’s mind, the Hotspur of the North, he that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a Breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife; Fie upon this quiet life, I want work. O my sweet Harry says she, how many hast thou killed today? Give my Roan horse a drench (says he) and answers, some fourteen, an hour after: a trifle, a trifle…
…But tell me Hal, art not thou horrible afeared? thou being Heir apparent, could the World pick thee out three such Enemies again, as that Fiend Douglas, that Spirit Percy, and that Devil Glendower? Art not thou horrible afraid? Doth not thy blood thrill at it?
Not a whit: I lack some of thy instinct.
And, of course, he will tell his father in A3S2:

I will redeem all this on Percy’s head,
And in the closing of some glorious day,
Be bold to tell you, that I am your Son,
When I will wear a Garment all of Blood,
And stain my favours in a bloody Mask:
Which washed away, shall scour my shame with it.
 Now read those lines again. If you were playing Hal, how would you make them feel real to you? – and to Henry IV? – and the audience?
How is wearing a Garment all of Blood, staining your face with blood, and then washing the blood away going to scour away your shame as well?
He seems to see himself as a Christ-like figure, but sacrificing Hal, rather than himself.
Whatever your answer, Hal’s speech is extraordinarily deep-felt.
And finally we come to the Death of Hotspur at the battle of Salisbury. A5S4 starts with the royalist troops pressed on all sides. Douglas finds Henry IV and fights him, soon putting the King under pressure. But Prince Hal is near at hand, comes on to help his father, fights with Douglas makes him flee, savies his father, and proves himself a hero. The King exits, and very soon Hotspur comes in and he and Hal fight, with Falstaff watching on. You can play this scene at:
Hotspur dies, regretting the loss of honour, and Falstaff comes on with a soliloquy about counterfeiting. No honour for him as he has already pointed out in A5S1:
… Well, ’tis no matter, Honour pricks me on. But how if Honour prick me off when I come on? How then? Can Honour set too a leg? No: or an arm? No: Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in Surgery, then? No. What is Honour? A word.  What is that word Honour? Air: A trim reckoning. Who hath it? He that died a Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. Is it insensible then? yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it, therefore I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere Scutcheon, and so ends my Catechism.
So Hotspur lives and dies for honour; Falstaff has no truck with honour which leads to the interesting question – What do Prince Hal and Henry IV think about honour? And perhaps even more interestingly – What do we think of honour? This is perhaps the subject of another essay or two.
I can’t end this article without pointing up the lack of women in the play. It is, I understand, the play in the canon with the least lines said by a female. There are really only three female parts: the Hostess; Mortimer’s wife (who only speaks in Welsh!), and Lady Percy.. Well, it’s a war play – man’s stuff! At least Lady Percy gets one scene with Hotspur, and though she has to speak a long list of weapons, and he keeps her firmly in her fourteenth-century place, it does show a different side of Hotspur. So why don’t you play it? You can find it at:


So, we’ve explored  the relationships between Henry IV, Prince Hal, and Falstaff, and the relationships between Prince Hal, Henry IV, and Hotspur. But that is only two sub-plots in this play. We’ve barely touched on the main theme of the play – the rebellion of Worcester, Northumberland and Hotspur, and the suppression of that rebellion by Henry IV.
Well, I guess there’s nothing for it, but to play the play. If you can get eight or ten of you together, you can play-read the play at:

Let’s Play!

‘The Director’,
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