Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

King Henry takes the stage with a group of nobles: Sir Walter Blunt, Northumberland, Worcester, and Hotspur, who has responded to the king's call to come to court and explain himself. The king sends Worcester away, saying he looks too rebellious. Northumberland says that disobedience is not what caused his son (Hotspur) to keep the prisoners. Hotspur elaborates, explaining that his decision was reached out of anger—he reacted badly when an overdressed, effeminate courtier demanded the prisoners be surrendered right after the battle, at which point Hotspur was still in pain from his wounds.

Blunt speaks up for Hotspur, saying that his hot speech can be overlooked if "he unsay it now." The king, though, is not satisfied, as Hotspur says he will surrender his prisoners only if King Henry pays the ransom for Mortimer (Hotspur's brother-in-law), whom the Welsh rebels have captured. When the king suggests Mortimer is a traitor and lost the battle intentionally, Hotspur objects. The king accuses Hotspur of lying about Mortimer and forbids him to mention Mortimer's name again.

The king leaves, and Worcester rejoins Hotspur and his father. Hotspur is furious with King Henry and claims that he refused to ransom Mortimer because the prior king, Richard II, named Mortimer as his heir—thus implying that Mortimer has a strong claim to the throne. It takes some time for Worcester and Northumberland to calm Hotspur down. They manage it only when Worcester shares a plan for revenge: the Percy family will join the Scottish and Welsh rebels.

Analysis

Honor and order define this scene. Hotspur believes his honor is wounded when a foppish courtier makes demands on him. As he explains, "He made me mad / To see him shine so brisk and smell so sweet / And talk so like a waiting-gentlewoman / Of guns, and drums, and wounds." As wrong as his action is, Hotspur's emotional response is understandable—why should a brave warrior have to listen to demands from a spoiled political lackey?

The scene also provides more explanation for the plot, specifically the king's behavior regarding Mortimer. The presence of someone with a better claim to the throne would be a continual threat to the king's legitimacy and therefore to England's political order. Additionally, the king has reasons to be suspicious of Mortimer, who not only survived the battle, but also recently married the daughter of Owen Glendower, one of the Welsh rebel leaders.

No matter why the king chooses not to pay Mortimer's ransom, Hotspur takes it as a serious insult to his own honor. The king's decision instigates the remainder of the political plot, as the powerful Percy family will now join the Scottish and Welsh rebellion.

The scene also serves as a counterpoint to the previous, far less serious scene. In both scenes, a young nobleman rejects the advice of an older father figure and is then incited to rebel against this father figure. The most notable distinction between the two is Hotspur's complete lack of hesitation. Prince Hal, on the other hand—even in his drunken and disorderly state—considers his options more carefully.

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