Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Hotspur, Worcester, and Douglas are planning the rebellion when a messenger shows up with bad news. Hotspur's father, Northumberland, is "grievous sick," too ill to join them. He had already been laid up in bed for four days when the messenger left. Because of this, the forces he would have led are not coming either. Worcester is very upset, saying the news is a "maim," or injury, to the rebel forces. Hotspur agrees at first, but either convinces himself it will be all right or puts on a brave face.

Another messenger arrives, telling them the king has arrived with his forces and that Prince Hal is there as well, armored for battle. If that's not bad enough, the messenger tells them Glendower has been delayed and will not arrive with his forces for two weeks.

Analysis

The absence of Northumberland and Glendower highlights the risk and the danger for the rebel forces. At first they fear they will look weak, and finally they begin to realize how weak they truly are and what the consequences of their actions might be.

When Hotspur argues with Glendower at the beginning of Act 3, Hotspur seems to be the rational one, while Glendower appears to be a self-important pagan who believes in magic. This scene, by contrast, shows that Hotspur is motivated not by reason but by emotion and self-deception. When he learns that Prince Hal is leading forces, he says, "Come, let me taste my horse, / Who is to bear me like a thunderbolt / Against the bosom of the Prince of Wales. / Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse, / Meet and ne'er part till one drop down a corse [corpse]."

Despite the king's public laments about his son's behavior, Prince Hal is the Prince of Wales and next in line to the throne. It is unrealistic for Hotspur to think that any action against the prince will be rewarded. Such an attitude is reckless, especially given the rebels' changed circumstances.

Hotspur, though, convinces himself that their victory will be even more glorious because of Northumberland's and Glendower's absence. His vain boasting foreshadows a rebel loss, and a bad one at that.

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