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Henry IV: Hotspur vs. Harry

At the beginning of the play it seems that the chief rebel, Hotspur, is in dispute with the King but as the play progresses we find that the main contest is between Hotspur and Hal, the King’s son. At first thought, Hotspur seems to be the easy winner, for all Hal does is spend his time with his friends gallivanting around, stealing and drinking. Hotspur, on the other hand, has returned from a battle in which he defeated the Scots led by Glendower. He has taken many prisoners including the Earl of Douglas, a Scottish warlord. Hotspur is a very valiant warrior who has won a great reputation for himself on the battlefield.

He is young and impetuous as his name suggests. Henry IV has more admiration for Hotspur than his own son Hal, and is envious of Northumberland for having such a son: ‘a son who is the theme of honours tongue’. ‘ in envy that my Lord Northumberland should be father to so blest a son’. The King feels that Hotspur reminds him of himself, when he challenged Richard for the throne. Hotspur is brave and valiant and has a good reputation with the people, whereas Hal compared with Richard does not care for the welfare of the country and spends his time entertaining himself with poor company. Hotspur has nothing but disrespect for Hal.

During the play he calls him: ‘the madcap Prince of Wales’. He thinks of Hal as an unworthy opponent. From Hotspur’s point of view the only real opponent is King Henry, and yet it is Hal, ‘the madcap of Wales’, who vanquishes him in the end, much to his surprise and dismay. We are neither surprised nor dismayed by Hal’s triumph because we know Hal better than Hotspur does, and we know what is going to happen. In the first few scenes of the play we feel that Hal is exactly as Hotspur describes him, a madcap Prince, but as the play progresses we see that Hal intends to shine when he becomes King.

He says that when the time comes he will ‘ throw off’ his loose behaviour and present himself as the worthy successor to King Henry. On the other hand, Henry is of the opinion that Hal is behaving in a similar way to King Richard, whilst Hotspur is winning the respect and admiration that may well help him to gain the Crown. After talking to the King, Hal apologizes for his conduct and promises to reform and live up to his position. The King tells Hal how much he dislikes his behaviour and says that if he does not change his attitude towards the throne and country then Hotspur may steal his position as King. Hal should be in the forefront of state affairs, but spends his time with unruly characters, more interested in women, alcohol and stealing than in anything else. In Falstaff’s opinion they are: ‘Diana’s forester’s, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon'(1. 2. 25-7). This wayward behaviour is just a game that Hal is playing, biding his time, waiting until eventually he can reveal his true self. Hal is always very conscious that he knows what to do and when to do it. He says to his father that he may seem unpromising and dull at the moment but when he becomes King he will shine.

He also says, to the Kings delight, that he is using Hotspur to collect all his great deeds so that when he kills Hotspur they will all become his and they will atone for all his faults. There are advantages to the way that Hal lives because while Hotspur wins battles and gets a great reputation for himself, Hal just sits back and relaxes and waits until the right moment to step up and benefit from Hotspur’s good deeds and battle trophies. He shows his father all the ambition that he has for the future. Hal shows to his friends that he can be ruthless when Falstaff asks him whether he will banish him when he becomes king.

Hal replies to this with decisive brevity: ‘ I do, I will. ‘ (2. 4. 491). Hal learns much from his low associates about the lives of ordinary people. He has a sense of fun and releases this when he is with his friends, as this will not be possible when he is King: ‘I’ll so offend, to make offense a skill , redeeming this when men think least I will’ (1. 2. 218-219). Westmoreland informs Henry that Worcester has turned his nephew Hotspur against the King : ‘ this is his uncle’s teaching , this Worcester, malevolent to you in all aspects. ‘ (1. 1. 95-6). Worcester is presented as the chief architect of the plot against Henry.

After a long argument with the King, Hotspur proclaims his sympathy for the dead and murdered Richard, ‘ That sweet lovely rose’, (1. 3. 173), ‘ and his emnity towards this thorn, this canker Bolingbroke’ (1. 3. 174). This anger of Hotspur’s gives Worcester the opportunity to suggest a rebellion against the King. Hotspur jumps at the chance of adventure and this gives him the opportunity to get revenge on the King. Both his father, Northumberland, and his uncle Worcester, are worried about Hotspur’s temper and impatience. Northumberland calls him a : ‘ A wasps-stung and impatient fool ‘(1. 3. 2-33).

Hotspur has a great relationship with Lady Percy (named Kate by Shakespeare). When Hal is reconciled with his father at Shrewsbury, he promises to win from Hotspur all his honours. Just as the battle approaches Hotspur’s father falls sick and Hotspur is alarmed: ‘ This sickness doth infect the very life-blood of our enterprise’. (4. 1. 28-30). After this horrifying news Hotspur and Douglas decide to fight on and not retreat (as advised by Worcester). The next thing that tells us that Hotspur does not really have a chance is when Vernon describes Hal as a transformed person on the battlefield waiting for them to arrive.

Vernon says that he saw Harry leaping onto his horse saddle, fully armed, a God-like figure: ‘ I saw young Harry with his beaver on’ (4. 1. 104-110). Hal definitely impresses Vernon, and his offer for single combat with Hotspur shows concern for his future subjects. When the two finally meet, we know who will be the victor for Hal becomes the great Henry V that wins at Agincourt. They speak briefly together and then commence their dual. As Hotspur lays on the ground at the point of death, Hal praises him and even lets Falstaff take credit for the victory. The rebels have lost the battle and are defeated.

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