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MonkeyNotes-Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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Notes

The scene begins with Henry exerting his authority. Henry claims that his supposedly mild nature has been taken for granted, but no more. When Worcester protests that the king has neglected to repay him for his support, Henry dismisses him.

The Earl of Northumberland then intervenes to cool matters. He reminds them of the vital question of the meeting: the Scots prisoners of war. The Earl clarifies that his son is more than willing to hand over the prisoners of the war. Hotspur himself explains that his refusal to do so on the battlefield was purely a spontaneous one. Wounded and weary after the battle, an irritating and effeminate messenger accosted him and he "answered neglectingly" (53).

However, Henry smells a challenge in such a refusal. He believes that Hotspur is holding the prisoners in order to force Henry to ransom Mortimer. Henry is sure that Mortimer, who has married Glendower's daughter, is a traitor, and he rails against Mortimer and Hotspur both.

In this scene a very powerful Henry emerges. He strictly forbids anyone at all to disobey or challenge him. He haughtily dismisses Worcester when he speaks out of line. He shrewdly recognizes the challenge to his authority implicit in Hotspur's excuse and wisely suspects Mortimer's treachery. When his demand for the prisoners from Hotspur threatens to devolve into an argument over Mortimer's loyalty, he ends it with a threat and leaves. Although he is distressed, as he indicated in Act I, Scene 1, he is in control and knows how to swim through opposing tides forcefully.

Hal's soliloquy becomes significant here, for the time has come for the prince to take his responsibilities seriously. Hal has not yet arrived to help, however, and for now the king must handle his difficulties alone.


The guilt of usurping the throne from Richard II does not disturb Henry at present. He is quite ruthless in his dealings with the Percies; almost "ungrateful" as they would put it. The king is insistent on having the prisoners and sees Hotspur's behavior as dishonorable. The Percies, meanwhile, are disgusted with the king who seems to have forgotten that it was they who helped him to power. Hotspur bemoans having replaced Richard, "that sweet lovely rose" (179), with Henry, "this thorn, this canker" (180). Their resentment here turns into outright rebellion. To a modern reader, it may seem that the Percies have a legitimate complaint; Henry's conduct in becoming king was certainly less than honorable. To the orthodox Elizabethan mind, however, as king he was to be obeyed whether honorable or not. Treason, in fact, was one of the worst crimes imaginable.

The three Percies emerge as distinct characters. The Earl is a mature, practical man. He tries to defend his son's act to the king and pacify relations. He castigates Hotspur when he loses his temper and urges him to have emotional control. When Worcester reveals his plot, he urges his son to be patient and takes the long view: "We shall thrive, I trust" (311), he tells his brother. Worcester, in contrast, is vicious and persistent in his malice. He is motivated by the desire for power and revenge, and he feels terribly wronged that Henry has not rewarded him handsomely. It is important to note that it is Worcester who germinates the seeds of rebellion in his volatile young nephew’s head.

Hotspur, though brave, is rash, indiscreet, and emotional. He considers the dangerous act of rebellion to be a mere sport and looks forward to challenging the king. His name suits him. He is "hot" and works on the "spur" of the moment - thus Hotspur. He is certainly not capable of the calculating evil of his uncle, who eggs him on in his anger, but he is dangerous nonetheless. From this point onward Hotspur’s thoughts run along a single path: overthrowing Henry.

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MonkeyNotes-Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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