Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

The rebel leaders (Hotspur, Worcester, Mortimer, and Glendower) meet. They talk about how much the king's supporters, especially Lord John (the king's younger son), hate and fear them. This segues into Glendower talking about how the world gave signs of his greatness when he was born; he claims fire shone in the sky and the earth shook. Hotspur dismisses these claims, saying that while such things may have occurred, they would have happened even if only a kitten were being born. Such a dismissal by Hotspur puts Glendower in a foul mood. As they discuss how to divide Britain after the rebellion, Hotspur complains about the portion he is to be awarded and says he will have to straighten a curving river to increase his share. He and Glendower argue until Glendower gives in. Once Glendower leaves the room, Mortimer reproaches Hotspur for his treatment of the Welsh leader, but Hotspur says that the man's claims of supernatural portents and powers irritate him.

Glendower returns with Lady Percy and Mortimer's wife. Because Mortimer's wife speaks only Welsh, Glendower has to translate for her. She sings a song in Welsh for the company. Hotspur and his wife tease one another, and then the men leave.

Analysis

In this scene, the political plot moves forward as the audience gains insight into the characters of Hotspur, Glendower, and Mortimer.

In the first exchange, the rebel leaders show how important honor is to them and how aware they are of the way people view them. These men measure their worth by their reputation as warriors, by how much their enemies fear them, and by how much land they possess.

Still, even among themselves, differences exist. The Welsh Glendower represents a pagan order, one where spirits are everywhere and natural events connect to important activities in the human realm. Hotspur represents a Christian, English sensibility in which people have free will and are responsible for their own destiny.

It can be tempting to interpret Hotspur as more pragmatic than Glendower, but Hotspur is driven by his emotions to say (and, in other scenes, do) things that are not conducive to the rebel cause. He argues about a hypothetical division of land, which can happen only if the rebels win. Ironically, the argument causes discord, which makes victory less likely. As agents of discord in an orderly society, people who rebel against the king—whether they are pagan or Christian, Welsh or English—cannot be trusted to make good decisions.

The second half of the scene is an interlude that creates some empathy for the men going to war. After the arguments between Hotspur and Glendower, the wives' appearance provides a welcome break. But even here the rebels are shown to be divided; Mortimer cannot speak to his wife directly, as they do not share a language.

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