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It is doubtless that bravery, valor, honor, chivalry, and determination are virtues displayed by Hal and Hotspur alike. However, Hotspur’s stubborn nature and violent temper lead him astray from the right path and cause his unnecessary death.
Hotspur is an able leader and a courageous warrior, almost fit to be a prince. His victory against the Scots at Holmedon is notable, but his rash refusal to obey Henry's orders puts him into the king's bad books. Only with his wife is he a little calm and soft in his conduct. Otherwise, he raves and rants when he does not get what he desires, be it ransom money, respect, a certain noble's support, or a seemingly fair division of England's soil.
Yet Hotspur is not evil. He fights for what he believes is his honor. It is very important to note that Hotspur is instigated by Worcester to rebel against the king and is later tricked by Worcester into fighting when the king had offered peace terms. His pride, ego, impulsiveness, and temper allow him to be carried away by his wily uncle's encouragement. In the duel against Hal, he is mortally wounded and dies an unglorified death, all in the name of "honor." It is a sad ending to a promising life. His death is a tragic waste for one who had the makings of a hero.
Shakespeare has done full justice in his portrayal of the prince, and his development from an irresponsible youth into a capable hero is one of the most remarkable features of the play. Everything about Hal's behavior - his actions, his speech, and his decisions - is natural. Like a bird escaping from its golden cage, the prince is on a holiday, enjoying the company of his lowly companions far from the responsibilities and confinements of the royal court.
Though Hal appears at first as fun loving and irresponsible, his soliloquy in Act I, Scene 2, reveals his true intentions.
“Yet herein will I imitate the sun, Who doth permit the base contagious clouds To smother up his beauty from the world, That when he please again to be himself, Being wanted, he may be more wondered at, By breaking through the foul and ugly mists Of vapors that did seem to strangle him....
My reformation, glitt'ring o'er my fault, Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes Than that which hath not foil to set it off.” (204-222)
The audience is told that when the time comes, the prince will give up his buffoonery. This prepares the audience for the change in the prince’s behavior later in the play.
Prince Hal is a direct contrast to Hotspur. Where Hotspur has proven himself to be brave and responsible, Hal has become notorious for his ill conduct. Where Hotspur is single-minded, Hal is fickle. However, his
flexibility will serve him well. Unlike Hotspur, whose obsession with honor and fixation on battle will lead to his death, Hal is a man of many "humours," capable of dealing with various situations and classes of people with ease.
Although he obviously enjoys his lowly company and partakes of the common man’s lifestyle, Hal’s authority and status are obvious. Poins always calls him "My Lord," and even Falstaff makes the occasional nod to his authority. A curt tone here and there in Hal’s speech with his comrades also signals his social position.
Hal's heroic nature becomes apparent after he receives the news of an uprising against the crown. Summoned by his father, the prince faces the bitter anger of his father. His acceptance of long- neglected responsibilities signals a very important and natural change in the prince; he has indeed reformed himself at the appropriate time. Returning to the tavern, he settles the robbery dispute, gives a no-nonsense order to Falstaff, and sets off for Shrewsbury.
Hal's nobility is further seen in his suggestion that he fight a duel with Hotspur in order to avoid the unnecessary deaths that would come with a full-scale battle. His generous praise of Hotspur's character and achievements also shows his unenvious, magnanimous spirit. There is also no doubt that he is brave. When wounded in battle, he refuses to rest, and he jumps in to save Henry from Douglas when the king's life is in danger. Even Hotspur praises his valor at the end. He also has a touch of his father's shrewdness; by setting Douglas free he may win over the Scots.
Prince Hal was popularly remembered as a successful king and, is, indeed, later portrayed as such by Shakespeare. To develop a happy-go-lucky youth into an able monarch was the magical touch of the playwright. Shakespeare’s dramatic skills are incomparable indeed.