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THE STORY, continued
ACT III, SCENE I
The action shifts from Eastcheap to Glendower's castle in Wales. This scene is structured like a miniature drama with its own rising and falling action. Its atmosphere is unlike any other scene in the play.
Glendower, Hotspur, and Mortimer meet to sign a contract that divides England into three parts. Hotspur will rule the north of England and Scotland; Mortimer will rule the southeast of England, and Glendower will rule southwestern England and Wales.
NOTE: Notice how this contrasts with Henry's wish to have his people "march all one way." Henry's political ideas are those of an Elizabethan monarch or a modern candidate for president- a desire for a strong nation ruled by a strong leader. But the rebels want England for themselves and are dividing it up to satisfy personal needs for power. There's no political discussion in this scene, just a quarrel among three thieves (and one politician, Worcester, who probably designed the plan). They're so confident of overthrowing the king that they're sharing the spoils before committing the crime.
How would you react to hearing that the heads of a leading political party want to overthrow the government and divide up your country? Shakespeare gives us a series of clues as to how he and his audience would have felt.
The rebels' confused entrance in this scene should be contrasted to the formality of the king's court, and to the comfortable drunken sprawl of the tavern. In fact, in most stage productions the tables and chairs from the previous tavern scene are left onstage for the rebels' meeting- clearly linking themes between the two scenes.
The rebels can't decide who should sit down first and where they should sit. In the presence of royalty, the king would normally sit first and arrange his lords formally according to their ranks. As King Richard II's designated heir, then, Mortimer should take the royal initiative, and sit first. As host, Glendower ought to be granted the privilege of seating his guests. But notice that Hotspur takes charge of the seating arrangements. From this moment on everything Hotspur says and does in this scene threatens to break up the conspiracy.
Although the rebels are still confident and hopeful for the future, there's something disconcerting in the fact that Hotspur has lost the map of England they've been consulting. It's one indication of the disorder the rebels represent in the play. It may also be a sign that they've lost sight of England- her best interests- in their struggle for power.
Glendower and Hotspur quarrel over the Welshman's magical abilities. Glendower defends himself as fiercely as you've seen Hotspur defend his honor in other scenes. Their relationship in this scene depends mostly on whether you think Glendower really is a magician or not. You can see him as a wise magician whose quiet self-control outshines Hotspur's childish taunts; or you can see Glendower as a crackpot whose egotistical boasts and inane prophecies imitate Hotspur's honest and direct nature. If Glendower is a magician, then Hotspur is reacting to him as a rival; if Glendower is a fake, then Hotspur is reacting to him as a fool, and their relationship becomes parallel to Hal and Falstaff's.
Glendower boasts that when he was born the earth "shakeout like a coward"- there was an earthquake, and the ground ran away from his feet in fear. Hotspur retorts that the earth merely had indigestion, and belched. These references to trembling cowards and digestive processes sound much like the images used to describe Falstaff.
Notice that in the middle of the rebel war council Shakespeare puts the imagery of disease and disorder in their mouths. You're not to forget that these men are planning to murder a king and butcher a country.
Glendower next boasts that he can command the devil. Hotspur scolds him, like Hal scolding Falstaff after one of his monstrous lies. Glendower retaliates with some hard facts that even Hotspur can't deny: he's already beaten King Henry's army three times in battle. Henry was sent home "bootless" and "weather-beaten," like a frail man overcome by a storm. The "bootless" image recalls many of the thieves' jokes in Act II, Scenes i and ii, and the image of Henry as a man overcome by the stormy power of the Welshman recalls the news of Mortimer's defeat in Act I, Scene i.
Mortimer intervenes and turns their attention back to the map of England, which Glendower has finally recovered. Hotspur argues that Glendower's share of the country is larger than his own. Their argument quickly degenerates into a childish squabble:
Hotspur: I'll have it so. A little charge will do it.
Next, the two great generals insult each other's ear for music and poetry. Glendower says he loves to sing English songs, and Hotspur retorts that the songs sound harsh and grating to him.
Glendower finally concedes the boundary to Hotspur, but Hotspur isn't a gracious winner; he further insults Glendower by saying he'd willingly give three times that amount of land to a friend, but he'll haggle with anyone else over the smallest fraction.
Glendower leaves to fetch Mortimer's and Hotspur's wives, so they can say good-bye before they leave for Shrewsbury.
While Glendower is out of the room, Mortimer and Worcester take turns scolding Hotspur for his rudeness toward Glendower. His impatience, they tell him, sometimes makes him seem courageous, but more often it shows "Defect of manners, want of government, / Pride haughtiness, opinion, and disdain." Hotspur listens, against his will, to them listing the perils of his single-mindedness, and he sulks. As you listen to this lecture, you can compare Hotspur's faults to Hal's good points. Prince Hal has all the qualities Hotspur lacks, as his encounter with the drawers has already demonstrated.
Glendower returns with the wives, and the tense atmosphere becomes relaxed and romantic. Mortimer's wife sings in the musical language of the Welsh, accompanied by music that Glendower magically produces. There's peace in the magicians house, before the storm of battle begins. But Hotspur, the man of action, breaks the spell and calls for his horse.
ACT III, SCENE II
You saw Falstaff and Prince Hal rehearsing Hal's royal interview. Now Hal is in the palace, kneeling in front of his father, listening to a lecture on his irresponsible behavior. This scene is placed directly in the middle of the play, and it sums up many themes: authority and rebellion; kingship and politics; the education of a prince; and the relationship between a father and his son.
NOTE: As you judge Henry's statements, place them against the background of political events in the play. He sees Hal from two points of view- that of a king and that of a father.
As a king, it's his duty to punish criminals and traitors because they upset peace and order in the commonwealth. But Henry sees himself as once a "traitor," so it's hard for him to punish others. The Percies- who were rebels against the old king- went free and unpunished when their candidate, Henry, took over.
Henry has tried to maintain law and order in the kingdom, but no matter how hard he tries, disorder and fighting break out. Then his own son becomes a thief. His old supporters turn against him and embark on a new rebellion. A new set of traitors is born. The kingdom is in danger of collapsing once again.
King Henry is failing to maintain law and order, to carry out his obligations to his subjects. But he's trying, and as a father, he needs his son's support. This interview is also King Henry's way of finding out whether or not he can rely on Prince Hal.
Henry demands an explanation for Hal's riotous living. Hal simply blames his youth for some of it, and the rest on rumors and false reports that make him sound worse than he really is. Hal may be learning about kingship in the tavern world, but he doesn't take this opportunity to make Henry see it that way.
Henry tells Hal how hard he worked to get where he is today. (Isn't this a typical father's line?) He had to steal "all courtesy from heaven" (notice how this contrasts with the drawers' crowning Hal as "king of courtesy"). Henry had to "dress" himself in humility to convince the people to give their allegiance to him. (Hal has just done something like this- dressed himself in buckram- but you don't hear him boasting of it to his father.) Henry says he kept out of the public eye most of the time so that when he did make an appearance in a crowd, his presence, like a comet illuminating the night sky, struck the people with awe and wonder. He understood that in order to be a king you have to act like one.
You've already heard Hal's plan for a similar campaign strategy, in his soliloquy at the end of Act I, Scene ii. Hal intends to make his reformation "glitter" over his former bad reputation, just as Henry describes. But again, Hal keeps silent about this lesson in kingship he has already learned.
Henry then compares Hal with King Richard, who "Mingled his royalty with capering fools" until the people were sick of looking at him, and scorned him. Henry tells Hal that he, too, has lost his royal status by mixing with the wrong people.
Look at the imagery of Henry's speech, with its references to stealing, play-acting, and the importance of making the right effect. These are all lessons that Hal has already learned in the tavern with Falstaff. Many readers see Henry's speech as another elaborate justification of why he stole the crown. Like a man with a guilty conscience, he must keep retelling this story. You know that this is one crime Hal can't commit, because he'll inherit the crown. Other readers see Henry's speech as a bitter and angry outburst, lashing out both at his "almost alien" son Hal, and at current events, which threaten to take away everything he has worked so hard to win.
The king cries over Hal: "Not an eye / But is weary of thy common sight, / Save mine, which has desired to see thee more." When Hal speaks, he simply promises to behave himself in the future. He doesn't show any regret for being at odds with his father. Is Hal behaving with youthful smugness, or are his answers polite and circumspect, as befits a royal heir? In either case, Hal doesn't tell Henry anything more than the barest facts. Remember that his reformation was designed to astonish his father as well as the rest of England.
Right now, continues Henry, you're acting like Richard, and Hotspur's acting like me when I started to campaign against Richard. He deserves to be king more than you do. I once turned my friends into Richard's enemies, just as Hotspur is turning my enemies into his friends. Hotspur, like a young god of war, is leading them into battle against me. He scornfully tells his son, you might as well join them.
Maybe it's Henry's claim that Hotspur would make a better king, or maybe it's the idea that Henry thinks Hal would fight against his own father, but Henry's speech finally triggers an emotional reaction in his aloof young son. No, answers Hal, it won't be that way. When the time comes, Hal assures his father, I'll put on a disguise of blood and force Hotspur to "render every glory up" in battle.
Hal is promising his father that he'll be as good a king's son as ever lived, that he'll equal and then surpass Hotspur. Hal chooses the traditional challenge for knights- single combat.
NOTE: Even though Hal is living up to the code of chivalry, look at the images he uses: "redeem," "exchange," "factor," "engross," "call him to so strict account," "render up," "reckoning," and "cancels all bands." Understanding that honor and reputation are commodities, he intends to exchange Hotspur's honor for his own.
King Henry is relieved to find Hal loyal, and he gives him command of one-third of the royal army. The interview is over, and so is the tug-of-war between the tavern and the court. From now on, the fight will be between Hal and Hotspur, not Henry and Falstaff.
ACT III, SCENE III
This is a scene about "reckonings"- all of the debts accumulated so far in the tavern are coming due, as the battle of Shrewsbury approaches.
In Eastcheap, Falstaff is playing "Monsieur Remorse" to Bardolph and quarreling with the hostess.
Falstaff is depressed. He's usually played drunk here. He looks like he's just lost his best friend. He asks Bardolph if he looks like he's losing weight. Is Falstaff too depressed even to eat, or is he still complaining about having to walk at Gad's Hill? "Do I not dwindle?" he asks. No he hasn't, Bardolph says, not one ounce. Yet his strength is failing, Falstaff insists. He wants to repent- again- he wants to reckon up his losses with God.
Long ago, Falstaff remembers, I led a virtuous life (well, virtuous enough). But now I live "out of all order, out of all compass." He probably looks ruefully now at his belly and his wine bottle. He's still "fat Jack," and he still lives out of order- outside the social and moral order of the court. He no longer recognizes himself as a member of a society he's lived in for sixty-odd years. Prince Hal has banished him. His hope for the future is gone. Low as he feels, he makes himself feel better by insulting Bardolph. He's been paying for Bardolph's upkeep for thirty-two years.
The hostess is a generous woman and a hardworking wife who runs an honest business. You learn that Falstaff owes her 24 pounds and the balance of his charge account bill for food and drink at the tavern.
As she enters, Falstaff may sense that she's come to collect her money. To divert her from bringing up the subject, he accuses her of picking his pocket. He knows that there were only restaurant bills and a piece of candy there to be taken, but he swears to her that he was robbed of a family signet ring and a good deal of money.
The hostess fights back spiritedly. Her strategy is to confront him with reality, with how much money and kindness he owes her. Notice how similar the hostess' strategy with Falstaff is to Lady Percy's with Hotspur. Both women are realistic but try to tease a confession from the men. Their efforts fail, but they make it clear how well they understand the men. Hotspur and Falstaff both resist the women's charms.
Falstaff boasts that a ring worth a fortune was stolen from his pocket, implying that he could have paid her back if it hadn't been stolen. Hal, however, had told her the ring was practically worthless, and she believes Hal.
Is Falstaff behaving like a con man or like a good military strategist? Either way, he's childishly evading his responsibilities, and transferring his anger and depression over Hal onto the innocent hostess.
In performance, when Hal enters with Peto, both dressed for war, you suddenly see the sharp contrast with Falstaff's sprawling, slovenly form. You see Falstaff at his most disreputable and Hal in his most royal uniform.
NOTE: A few lines before Hal's entrance, Falstaff shouts to the hostess, "How? the prince is a Jack [a knave, a two-faced rascal], a sneak-up. 'Sblood, an he were here, I would cudgel him like a dog if he would say so" (that the ring was worthless). The Prince of Wales enters immediately afterward. There are two ways to play this. Falstaff can say these lines deliberately, knowing that Hal is approaching and will hear them. Or Hal's entrance can follow the speech as an ironic coincidence, embarrassing Falstaff just when he's making a bold and impudent statement. He'd have only a split second in which to turn his roaring into a playful greeting.
The hostess engages Hal on her behalf in the quarrel. Notice how Hal stays slightly aloof, playing judge, not getting involved until his own name is dragged in. Depending on how you've viewed Hal throughout the play, you could say that he's indulging in one last merry debate before he goes off to war, or he's acting like the newly reformed heir to the crown, cold and conceited, angry with Falstaff for trying to trick an honest woman.
This segment of the scene mirrors Hal's confrontation with Falstaff over the "incomprehensible lies" in Act II, Scene iv.
Falstaff is once again betrayed by his friends, who accuse him of slandering the Prince of Wales. The hostess tells Hal that Falstaff claimed Hal owed him 1000 pounds and threatened repeatedly to cudgel him if he said the ring was worthless. This may be another version of the slander scene between King Henry and Hotspur in Act I, Scene ii. Remember that they accused each other of slander during an argument that was based mainly on Henry's unpaid debts.
Hal manipulates Falstaff into having either to admit he's a liar or to carry out his threat to cudgel Hal. Falstaff uses the same escape route he used in Act II, Scene iv: swearing he dared Hal only as he is a friend, not as he is a true prince. Hal attacks Falstaff for lying, nevertheless, in much the same way as he did before, with images of obesity, dishonesty, and disrespect.
Hal's anger (real or fake) is so sweeping that he finds himself admitting to the pickpocketing without realizing it:
... Why... if there were anything in thy pocket
For once Falstaff really has Hal trapped. He delivers his challenge slowly, relishing his victory: "You confess then, you picked my pocket?" Hal is so stunned at his own unexpected confession that he can only hang his head and answer, "It appears so by the story."
Falstaff is elated: The true prince has proved to be a false thief after all. He asks Hal for news of the court. Hal admits that he has returned the stolen Gad's Hill money, clearing Falstaff of the charge. Hal's words are almost fatherly. As Falstaff's "good angel," Hal will keep the old knight from coming to too much harm. As a true prince, Hal ensures that justice is still accomplished, despite allowing the thieves to remain free. He has cleared his debts in the tavern and is now ready to assume full princely responsibilities.
Falstaff, still a mischievous thief, promptly asks Hal to rob the king's treasury for him, like a good lad. But Hal isn't listening; his thoughts have returned to the troubles at court where he belongs now. He gives Falstaff charge of the foot soldiers, issues orders to Bardolph, Peto, and Falstaff, and leaves.
Hal's last words in the tavern are in the form of a rhymed couplet, a kind of summarizing tag line that points up his relationship to the rest of the play's action: "The land is burning; Percy stands on high; And either we or they must lower lie." He's now firmly committed to a rivalry with Hotspur.
Falstaff's spirits have returned, now that he sees Hal confidently fighting for the future of England. Happiness makes Falstaff feel like eating, and he calls for the hostess to bring in his breakfast: "Rare words! brave world! Hostess, my breakfast, come. O, I wish this tavern were my drum!"
Falstaff, too, recites a couplet, but his rhyme shows he's committed to adventure, eating, and drinking- just as he was at the beginning of the play.
ACT IV, SCENE I
In the time scheme of Shakespeare's play, the ninth of next month- the time for the rebellion- has arrived. The scene is in the rebels' camp at Shrewsbury. You can hear drums pounding and soldiers marching in the distance.
For a fleeting moment at the opening of this scene the rebel leaders are confident in their rebellion. Hotspur and Worcester, with Douglas, are waiting for their allies to arrive and for the battle to begin.
But instead of reinforcements, a messenger arrives. Northumberland has written to say he's sick, maybe dying, and can't muster an army. Northumberland isn't coming. The warnings in the letter Hotspur received from the unnamed lord in Act II, Scene iii, are starting to come true.
The absence of Northumberland's troops makes a serious hole in the rebel enterprise, and Worcester is worried. Northumberland's letter reminds him that even if they give up the rebellion now, Henry will still have them executed for treason. Hotspur, however, does not mourn his father's illness; he only sees Northumberland's absence as a chance to win even greater glory. If the forces are weakened, he reasons, it will just give more glory to their rebellion, because it's now more dangerous to fight.
Then a rebel spy, Vernon, returns to the camp with reports the rebels hadn't expected: Prince Hal, looking like a young god of war, is leading an army dressed in golden suits of armor. The sight of Hal mounted on his horse has dazzled Vernon. Hal promised a brilliant unmasking in his soliloquy in Act I, Scene ii, and here it is.
Stop it, cries Hotspur to the admiring Vernon, you're making me sick! Hotspur never imagined he'd have to fight against Prince Hal. But he's thrilled that a truly worthy rival has come to Shrewsbury; he can barely wait for Hal to arrive.
Vernon then reveals the news that Glendower's army will be two weeks late, and that the king's army is 30,000 strong. All three rebel leaders realize that they're doomed. But Hotspur shouts recklessly, "Doomsday is near. Die all, die merrily!" Hal's presence will still make the battle worth fighting. Hotspur knows he'll lose the battle, but he's sure he'll kill Prince Hal.
ACT IV, SCENE II
Falstaff's ragged troop of foot soldiers presents a vivid contrast with the description of Hal and his golden warriors.
Marching his soldiers to Shrewsbury, Falstaff takes a few minutes to rest his bulky frame. You see him equipped for battle, but he's still talking about money and drinking, not honor and war.
He's still of his self-importance, and tells you in his soliloquy about the clever trick he played to earn money from the war. First he intentionally recruited 150 cowards who he knew could afford to bribe their way out of military service, and pocketed the bribe money for himself. Then he recruited another 150 men- debtors, mostly, but also the kinds of men you've seen before in the play: unemployed servants (like Bardolph), gentlemen who have no inheritance and no trade (like Poins), drawers who've broken their contracts (like Francis), and innkeepers (like Robin Ostler, whose business was failing). The new recruits are ragged and starving, like scarecrows.
As Prince Hal and another general, Westmoreland, happen to pass Falstaff in the road, they both express shock and alarm at the sight of Falstaff's soldiers. Falstaff shrewdly remarks that beggars will fill a mass grave as well as any men. His joke (which people rarely think funny) totally undercuts Hal and Hotspur's view of battle as a noble meeting ground where honor is won. Falstaff points out the true nature of war- men die, no matter why they're fighting.
Hal is thoroughly disgusted with his old companion's attitude, and orders him to march quickly to Shrewsbury, where the king's army is waiting. As Hal and Westmoreland leave, Falstaff expresses his own view of what's important in life: not duty, loyalty, and courage, but good food and good friends, shared in safe surroundings.
At this moment you may sympathize most with Falstaff's realistic, practical view of life. But remember who he is- a fat drunkard and a failure. Hal may seem callous, cold, and deluded by abstract ideals, but at least he is an effective leader, and has discipline and self-control. Shakespeare doesn't expect you to take one side or the other, but he does want you to see that there are many ways to view life, all of which have some value.
ACT IV, SCENE III
It's the night before the battle of Shrewsbury, and the rebel leaders are quarreling over when to start their attack on the king's forces. Hotspur and Douglas, renowned for their courage, want to attack that very night; Worcester and Vernon, more cautious, are trying to persuade them to wait until daylight. They accuse each other of cowardice and defend their honors as best as they can. Underneath, however, you may sense their fear, and possibly their wish to call off the campaign.
A trumpet sounds, and Sir Walter Blunt rides up. The rebels quickly stop arguing to present a united front before the king's messenger.
Blunt states the rebels' legal position- they stand "out of limit and true rule... against anointed majesty." (Notice the similarity of this observation to Falstaff's remarks on his girth in Act III, Scene iii. The fat knight also stands outside all social and political limits.)
NOTE: Blunt is raising one of the central moral and political questions of the play: Is it ever right to rebel against a king? Shakespeare's audience would have said that rebellion against a crowned king is always a grave sin. But what if the king is also a tyrant, or a usurper? Do the same moral attitudes apply?
King Henry was a traitor against the rightful king of England, Richard II. The men who fought with Henry against Richard now fight against Henry. If a thief takes a crown from another thief, has any crime been committed? Or has a form of rough justice triumphed, one thief punishing another? If these questions sound familiar, it's because you considered them in Act II, Scene ii, when Prince Hal robbed Falstaff. Try to apply the answers you gave to Prince Hal's moral dilemma here. Do you still think they fit?
Blunt, in the name of the king, asks the rebels to state their grievances. He delivers an offer from Henry of pardon and safety if they surrender now.
Hotspur steps forward to speak for the rebels. His first words are directed at Henry's habit of breaking promises: "The King is kind, and well we know the King / Knows at what time to promise, when to pay." If Henry has broken promises to them before, why should he keep this one? Hotspur implies.
Hotspur recites yet another history of the events that led up to the crowning of Henry. All through the play, you've heard hints and fragments of information about Henry's political campaign. But now, just before the battle, Shakespeare presents the evidence against the king, like a skillful prosecutor summarizing a case before a jury.
From the beginning of his speech Hotspur describes Henry as a criminal, "a poor unminded outlaw sneaking home." In Hotspur's version of history his father Northumberland was Henry's campaign manager, who led the rest of the country in supporting Henry. Hotspur describes how Henry calculated each step up the ladder of political success, taking opportunities as he found them and turning them into political platforms, all the time seeming to care only about the country's problems. Hotspur is convinced that Henry was after power for his own use.
In Act III, Scene ii, you heard Henry's version of this story. He, too, sees himself as a clever politician, one who is able to win popular support. But Henry didn't tell you all the political events in his campaign. Here, Hotspur is cataloguing some of the worst deeds. At this late moment perhaps Shakespeare is showing you that there are no clearcut heros or villains in this fight. In the middle of war it's sometimes hard to tell which side is "right."
Hotspur's history of Henry's crimes against the commonwealth stops with the deposition and murder of Richard. He continues with a list of personal grievances, which are the true reasons for the rebellion. Everything Hotspur lists, you saw happen in Act I, Scene iii. There it seemed that the Percies were contriving a series of challenges to Henry's authority and then accusing the king of acting unreasonably, so they would have grounds for rebellion. But from Hotspur's account here, it does sound like their grievances are very plausible. Think about the accounts of current events you hear on the news. Most of you probably accept these as true. But in this play you've seen events twisted, represented differently to support different factions' political goals. How does this make you feel about what you hear or read in the news?
At the end of his list of grievances Hotspur asks Blunt to bring them some guarantee of safety if they surrender, and Blunt goes back to the royal camp to obtain it. Does this mean that Hotspur is thinking about surrendering, after all his talk about honor? It's a surprising possibility, but we'll never find out, because he won't be given the chance to surrender, as you'll see in Act V.
ACT IV, SCENE IV
This brief scene gives the illusion of time passing while Blunt is carrying the rebels' answer back to Henry. Like the carrier scene in Act II, this one provides a commentary on the action about to begin.
You're in the Archbishop of York's palace, where a very worried York is sending messages posthaste to the other rebel leaders.
You learn that the king's army outnumbers the rebel army three to one.
NOTE: Think about Falstaff's similar predicament at Gad's Hill: He was outnumbered two to one by the men in buckram. In the face of such overwhelming odds Falstaff chose to turn and run. Faced with even greater odds, however, Hotspur will stand and fight. It's one measure of the differences between these two characters. You have to decide which man you think uses the best strategy.
You also learn that Glendower has refused to show up at Shrewsbury, convinced by prophecies that he shouldn't join in. Mortimer isn't coming to claim his inheritance, either. Could it be that Glendower really knows the outcome of the battle? Or is he merely playing a political game, still annoyed by Hotspur's rude behavior when he was a guest in his house? Either way, you have a growing sense that the rebels' alliance is falling apart.
ACT V, SCENE I
On the morning before a civil war, the sun looks bloody and the winds howl ominiously. Nature unleashes her fury when a country tears itself apart.
In the king's camp Henry, Hal, Prince John, Blunt, and Falstaff assemble to meet with the rebel's emissary, Worcester. A trumpet sounds, and Worcester arrives to answer the king's offer of pardon.
Henry chides Worcester amiably, like an old friend. Worcester agrees that there are better ways he could spend his declining years, but the rebellion could not be avoided. Falstaff jokes cynically that Worcester found rebellion the way you might find a penny in the street while walking (in Elizabethan terms, Worcester found a crown in his path and took it). Hal tells Falstaff to be quiet. The old knight has already shown how absurd Worcester's defense is, but you can also see how out of place Falstaff's roguish wit is when serious matters are being discussed.
Now Worcester tells you his version of Henry's political campaign. Rather than sound angry, Worcester manages to sound sad that rebellion was forced on him. Worcester paints Henry more as a victim of time and circumstance than as the self-seeking politician of Hotspur's speech. Worcester says Henry was swept into kingship on a "flood of greatness" and "a swarm of advantages." He drew support from the people- with the Percies' help- but after he assumed his full power, Worcester explains, they were afraid of being swallowed by the new king. Remember Worcester's warning to Henry that the Percies were the true power behind the crown, who brought him to his "portly" greatness (Act I, Scene iii, line 13)? Now he talks about Henry's "bulk" of power. Again, you may think of Falstaff and his contrast with the king.
The main part of Worcester's grievances, though, stems from the broken promises Henry made to the Percies before he became a candidate for kingship. The rebellion, therefore, Worcester claims, was caused by Henry himself, by his "unkind usage, dangerous countenance, / And violation of all faith and troth." Worcester doesn't even mention the deposition. Perhaps he's clever enough to see that he shouldn't accuse Henry of being a traitor when he is hoping to overthrow a king himself.
Prince Hal's manner so far in this scene has been detached and critical (as it so often was in the tavern). Now he cuts short the king and Worcester's argument, by offering himself in hand-to-hand combat against Hotspur. Hal offers himself humbly as a "truant" to knighthood, against the man he calls the greatest knight of his time. The odds sound much better for Hotspur this way.
But Hal wouldn't suggest this fight if he didn't think he could win. You've seen before how carefully he reckons his chances before launching any action. You've already learned that he isn't interested in winning honor for its own sake, but intends to force Hotspur to render up every glory. This must be another of Hal's calculated moves in his reformation plan.
Henry is too proud of his son and heir (at last!) to risk losing him. He's seen proof of Hal's diplomatic skill just now, but he knows nothing yet of the young man's military abilities. Henry refuses to let Hal fight Hotspur, and earnestly entreats Worcester to reconsider the offer of pardon, to heal the breach and make everyone friends again. These optimistic lines seem a little forced, though. Notice that Henry follows them with a stern warning of punishment if the rebels insist on a battle.
Worcester departs without another word. The king and Hal agree that Hotspur and Douglas are too proud and confident ever to agree to surrender, and so they begin preparations for battle. Henry goes off to war, praying for God's help, "as our cause is just."
These words are ironic, coming from a man whose list of political crimes you've just heard twice. Yet Henry is the king, and if order is to be maintained, any rebellion must be regarded as illegal and sinful.
As Hal starts to leave, Falstaff holds him back to ask for protection in the battle, to prove that they're still friends.
Hal, however, counsels Falstaff to say his prayers, and reminds the old man that he owes God his final reckoning- death. The actor playing Hal might say these words with bitterness, or with a joking tone, or with an air of preoccupation, his thoughts already on the battle. Whichever way he speaks to Falstaff, though, Hal goes off to join his father, leaving Falstaff alone before a great battle. The old knight is horseless as well. His circumstances are just as they were at the beginning of the Gads Hill robbery.
This time, though, Falstaff doesn't roar for Hal to come back. He turns Hal's cynical words about death around; if that's a debt he owes God, then he can put off paying it. You've seen how much Falstaff dislikes paying his bills; the thought of paying God for his life must seem like the worst reckoning of all. I won't call God, decides Falstaff, if he doesn't call me.
Having thus talked himself into some kind of courage, Falstaff starts to walk off to war. "Honor pricks me on," he announces confidently. But then he stops, thinks, turns around, and has a series of second thoughts.
He wonders if honor is something worth dying for, and proceeds to argue with himself (since no one else is around) over the practical advantages of fighting for honor.
Can honor set a leg? No. Or an arm? No.... What
Honor can give Falstaff neither life nor fame, it won't help him live through a battle or live forever in reputation. The battle Falstaff is about to risk his life in is being fought for honor- and he doubts very much that that's worth dying for.
Some readers say Falstaff's catechism on honor is his way of rationalizing being a coward. Other readers see it as a realistic if cynical, look at the fortunes of war.
NOTE: If you compare Falstaff's and Hotspur's views of honor, you'll understand the two men's relationship for the rest of the play. To Hotspur, honor is more important than life itself, and the pursuit of honor drives him to his death. He stands for image and ideals. Falstaff hacks away at the meaning of honor until he's reduced it to a puff of air, a word. The only honor worth having is life. Falstaff is physical, realistic, vivid, contradictory- a slice of life.
ACT V, SCENE II
In this scene the rebels deceive each other.
In most stage productions of this play the audience sees the battle starting now. Trumpets are blaring, drums are beating; soldiers are fastening helmets, checking their weapons, giving and taking orders.
Worcester tells Vernon not even to tell Hotspur of the king's "liberal and kind" offer for peace. Worcester doesn't trust the king to keep his word; once you're a traitor, he points out, you'll always be regarded as a traitor, so there's no way we can really go back to our former position at court. Hotspur, however, is likely to escape the king's punishment, Worcester adds, because we'll be blamed for misleading and corrupting him. "We did train him on," sighs the old politician, and we "shall pay for all." Unlike Prince Hal, Hotspur couldn't see that his elder companions were misleading him. Hal rejected Falstaff, but Hotspur joined Worcester and Northumberland. His downfall thus began at just about the same time as Hal's reformation.
Hotspur and Douglas enter together to discover what happened between Worcester and King Henry. Notice that the rebel leaders are still split into two factions, divided by different levels of courage and politics. Their internal dissension is in contrast to the solid front on the king's side.
Worcester lies, telling Hotspur that "There is no seeming mercy in the King." Douglas is sent to find Westmoreland, to deliver the rebels' challenge.
Douglas returns almost immediately with a frantic call to arms. Now that the war has been officially declared, Worcester feels it's safe to tell Hotspur about Hal's challenge to fight him in single combat. Hotspur's reaction exactly parallels Hal's offer: Both young men wish they could fight this war alone, and together.
Vernon describes Hal's challenge in glowing terms, and speaks of Hal's amazing transformation:
If he outlive the envy of this day,
Nobody on stage in this scene wants to hear this. The battle preparations stop, and no one else speaks. Hal has redeemed his bad reputation- exactly as he said he would.
NOTE: Everyone in Shakespeare's audience knew what would happen next- Hal would kill Hotspur in hand-to-hand combat. Hal appears here like the sudden blaze of a comet, lighting up the dark sky of rebellion. It's an omen: a good one for England and a poor one for Hotspur. It's a mirror that he could look into and see his own death.
Yet Hotspur buoyantly teases Vernon for being "enamored" of Hal's new image, and promises to crush Hal by hugging him- in a soldier's death-grip embrace. Hotspur turns to his soldiers and gives them a rousing pep talk. But a messenger arrives; Hotspur ignores him. He keeps talking boldly about their future glory, whether they win or lose, live or die. A second messenger arrives, announcing that the king's army is coming. Hotspur and his soldiers on stage are locked together in an embrace of soldierly commitment, though the odds against their winning are impossibly high. The trumpets play. Before the military tattoo is over, the stage is left empty.
ACT V, SCENE III
During the battle of Shrewsbury, all the major themes are brought together, and focus on the figure of Prince Hal.
Henry enters with his army. They take up battle positions for an attack. At the sound of a trumpet, they rush noisily into battle (offstage).
NOTE: The king's shrewd tactic is to send lords dressed in his royal colors into battle. Douglas will kill these "kings" one by one, until he finally meets the real king of England. These "counterfeit" kings may symbolize all the claimants for the crown in the play, or they may be signs that Henry is as much of a coward as Falstaff, disguising his fears with mighty images. It is indeed ironic that Henry, the royal impostor, should send royal impostors into battle to defend his crown.
Falstaff, running as fast as he can, stumbles over one of the dead "counterfeits," Sir Walter Blunt. "There's honor for you! Here's no vanity!" he cries. Blunt's lifeless body perfectly illustrates Falstaff's conception of honor.
Falstaff willingly has led his ragamuffin soldiers into wholesale slaughter: not even three of them are left alive. His pathetic army, though comical, serves as an ironic commentary on Henry's royal counterfeits. Both the foot soldiers and the disguised noblemen now lie in the mud. Yet Falstaff is alive, against great odds.
When he hears someone coming near, Falstaff looks for a hiding place. He's relieved to discover it's no one fiercer than Prince Hal. Falstaff tells him a monstrous lie, that he's done Hal a great favor and killed Hotspur. Hal calls Falstaff a liar and asks to borrow his sword. Falstaff gives Hal a bottle of sack instead. But Hal furiously throws the bottle at Falstaff; the middle of a battlefield is no place for jokes. This episode shows Hal as a dedicated soldier- and it shows Falstaff's continued resistance to the honor of war.
Alone, Falstaff makes a bargain with himself to fight Hotspur- if their paths should happen to cross. He takes another look at dead Blunt, and shudders. "Give me life," he declares. If he can't live, he knows he'll have honor in his death, but he doesn't particularly want to pursue that.
ACT V, SCENE IV
The royal father and sons meet on the edge of the battlefield. Hal is badly wounded but refuses to rest. He advises Henry to return to the fighting, lest the army think he's dead and lose heart.
NOTE: When Henry returned from exile and began his campaign to become king, King Richard II was in Ireland, losing a war. His return to England was delayed by bad weather, and many people thought he was dead. That was one of the reasons Henry had so little trouble taking the crown. The fact that Henry returns to the battle at Shrewsbury is a clue that, unlike Richard, he will win and keep his crown.
Here you see Hal in the garment of blood he promised to put on in Act III, Scene ii. He's proving to be a brave soldier and continues to brush off his father's cautious advice. He praises his younger brother like a generous knight and scorns his wounds with as much disregard as Hotspur does.
The king's army of counterfeit kings seem to pop up everywhere (much like Falstaff's army of imaginary thieves in Act II, Scene iv). When Douglas faces Henry and challenges Henry's identity, he voices one of the play's central questions: Who is the real king?
Douglas remains skeptical, although he admits that this man bears himself like a king. So, you know, did Falstaff when he was play-acting in the tavern. Both Henry and Falstaff steal crowns and both manage to act like kings. Does acting like a king entitle a man to rule? Hotspur is called the "king of honor" and is Henry's ideal of an heir. Mortimer is Richard's designated heir. Each has a claim to the crown, but does either of them deserve to be king?
Whether or not Douglas is convinced that he is indeed standing before the true king, he fights Henry, an older and weaker man, to the ground. Henry is about to be robbed of his life and his crown, when Prince Hal arrives on the scene. He announces his identity to Douglas: "It is the Prince of Wales that threatens thee, / Who never promiseth but he means to pay." Douglas does not doubt Hal's word or his ability with a sword. Henry may be vulnerable, but his son is not. After fighting with Hal, Douglas flees.
The true prince rescues his father and restores his crown to him. (Remember that he restored the treasury "crowns" stolen at Gad's Hill, in Act III, Scene iii.)
Henry praises Hal's behavior and admits that the young man has overturned his father's opinion of him. The king welcomes Hal back into the line of succession. He confesses that he thought Hal wanted him dead. Hal's reply to his father is bitter but honest; it's dangerous to listen to rumors, he says. If my bad reputation had been real, father, you would now be dead. Notice how realistic their reconciliation is. It takes a long time for people to learn to trust each other again after a long estrangement. There's no sudden, magical reunion here.
As the king limps away to return to battle, Hotspur appears before Hal. Hotspur has come to steal Hal's title, his claim to the crown. Hal now has a chance to take away Hotspur's honors, with which he intends to "make a garland for my head"- a crown of honor.
Notice that the very minute Hal becomes Hotspur's equal in Henry's eyes, Hotspur arrives to challenge him. Now that they are equal at last, only one of them can live: "England cannot brook a double reign / Of Harry Percy and the Prince of Wales," Hal warns Hotspur.
As the rival princes fight, Falstaff enters and stands nearby, cheering Hal on from the sidelines just as he cheered on the thieves at Gad's Hill.
Douglas reenters, and finding no more kings to fight, he challenges Sir John Falstaff (who has, after all, looked like a king before in this play). The old knight fights as long as he sees reason- and then falls down, pretending to die. (Sometimes on stage, the actor playing Falstaff falls down before Douglas strikes even one blow.) Falstaff moans as though in his death agonies. Douglas comes closer to inspect his dying foe. Falstaff suddenly lies very still, pretending to be dead. Douglas shrugs and moves off, looking for better opponents.
At the very moment Falstaff feigns death, on another part of the stage Hal mortally wounds Hotspur. As Hotspur dies, he mourns the loss of his honor more than the loss of his life. To the end, he remains consistently the "King of honor."
NOTE: Dying, Hotspur sees himself as "life's fool," but some readers say that Hotspur is honor's fool. Hotspur's view of himself is romantic and tragic. Falstaff might say that his loss of life is ridiculous. Why choose to be food for worms when there are so many good things in life?
Hal mourns the dead Hotspur as he would a brother. He does not steal Hotspur's honor, after all, but generously allows Hotspur to "take thy praise with thee to heaven." Just as he returned the stolen crowns and his father's crown, so Hal now restores Hotspur's crown of honor. Hal tenderly covers Hotspur's mangled face with a few feathers plucked from his helmet. This noble gesture shows how well Hal deserves his own title, the "king of courtesy."
As Hal rises from bending over Hotspur's body, he sees Falstaff lying "dead." Having just spoken a eulogy over Hotspur, now he speaks one over Falstaff. Hal treated Hotspur like a prince, but he treats his old friend with a more familiar, joking tone:
Poor Jack, farewell!
"Vanity" is empty boasting, Falstaff's brand of honor, which Hal has now rejected. In spite of himself, Hal is sorry to lose a good friend, but he won't miss his frivolity. Hal promises to pay for Falstaff's funeral, to have him emboweled for posterity.
On stage, Hal would be now standing between his two models, Hotspur and Falstaff: between virtue and vice, courage and cowardice, spirit and sensuality, rebel and thief. He looks at both bodies and walks away.
Falstaff may want to lose weight but disemboweling wasn't what he had in mind. He gets to his feet as quickly as possible and proceeds to rationalize his counterfeit death as "the true and perfect image of life." You might say that the dead Hotspur is the true and perfect image of honor. To Falstaff, however, a better honor is "discretion," knowing when to run for one's life.
Falstaff sees Hotspur's dead body, and his cynical, practical view immediately transforms the corpse's value. Falstaff sees it as a chance to steal some glory. He looks around to make sure no one is watching, stabs Hotspur in the thigh, and throws the corpse over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes.
As Falstaff lugs away Hotspur, Hal and John return to attend to the bodies. They watch Falstaff struggle, fascinated. Hal can't believe his eyes, but Falstaff assures them he is very much alive. He tosses Hotspur to the ground with a mock humility, and claims whatever reward is due.
Falstaff is claiming the reward for killing the greatest knight as well as the king's worst enemy. Hal stands dumbfounded while Falstaff spins another web of monstrous lies about his duel with Hotspur. Falstaff accuses Hal of lying and boasts that he and Hotspur fought for an hour before he wounded Hotspur. Falstaff never actually says he killed Hotspur, but implies it with great bravado:
If I may be believed, so; if not, let them that
Falstaff has turned Hotspur's beloved ideal of military glory into a quest for tangible rewards, for titles, wealth, and social status. These are the commodities Hal has just rejected, the elements of honor he doesn't need.
To his credit, Hal takes the whole thing as a joke, and promises to see how much he can get for Falstaff as a reward. Can you imagine Hotspur doing the same? Hal's honor is proving to be not only a sense of humility with the people of England, but also a sense of security that needs no outward display. Perhaps you've known people like this, who don't have to be conceited about their good qualities. Do you think they make good leaders?
As the trumpet sounds the retreat, Hal and John go to survey the field. You learn that the king's army has won.
With Hotspur's body flung across his back, Falstaff goes off, promising to repent, lose weight, stop drinking, and live modestly, "as a nobleman should do." When Falstaff reappears in Henry IV, Part 2, Hal will have procured him a pension; Falstaff will be dressed lavishly and living off a fake reputation as a great military hero.
ACT V, SCENE V
You can see the victory at Shrewsbury as a sign that King Henry has won the right to rule England. He has also ensured the rightful succession of the crown, by restoring Prince Hal to favor. But because Henry's a usurper, rebels will grow like Hydra's heads; there are still threats to his kingdom. King Henry therefore divides his triumphant army in two, to march against Northumberland and York, Glendower and Mortimer. The play ends as it began, with civil uprisings and bloodshed.
Notice that Henry is still not a perfect king. He exercises justice arbitrarily; he condemns Worcester and Vernon to death but allows Prince Hal to free Douglas. But unlike his behavior in Act I, Scene i, Henry seems here to be acting with a firm control over the destinies of his people, and trusts his son to administer justice.
Hal is definitely emerging as a model leader. His attitude toward prisoners of war contrasts with Hotspur's in Act I. Hotspur treated his "honorable spoil" as political pawns, but Hal graciously allows his brother John to free his "honorable bounty" Douglas unconditionally. The battle of Shrewsbury has taught Hal "to cherish such high deeds, / Even in the bosom of our adversaries." As a true prince, Hal shows generosity to his enemies and courtesy to the court. As a good politician, Hal values Douglas' military skill- a grateful Scottish general would be a powerful asset to an English king- and bends the laws against treason in order to gain a potential ally.
Royal grace mixes equally with shrewd political ability in the character of Prince Hal. This balance of leadership qualities will help him become England's great hero-king, Henry V. But that's another play.
[Henry IV, Part 1 Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]
[William Shakespeare - King Henry VI: Part 1 - Familiar quotes]
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