Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Hotspur, Worcester, Douglas, and Vernon are on the battlefield, arguing about when they should attack. Hotspur and Douglas want to attack immediately, but Vernon thinks they should wait because some of his family's forces have not yet arrived and Worcester's forces are tired.

Sir Walter Blunt arrives for a parley. The rebels tell Blunt that they wish he were on their side, even though he is not as great a warrior as they are. Blunt says he will never side with them so long as they stand against the king. Then he delivers his message: King Henry praises their worth and asks them to name their grievances; if they stand down, he will pardon everyone on their side. Hotspur lists their complaints. Chief among them is that the king got his throne only because the Percy family helped him, and he has forgotten how much he owes them. When Blunt asks if he should take the king this message, Hotspur says that they will give the king their answer in the morning.

Analysis

Once again, the audience senses the fate of the rebels; they are divided among themselves, and Hotspur is so hotheaded that he won't listen to the many valid reasons why they should delay their attack.

Blunt's arrival underscores the importance of honor and the rebels' lack of it. The rebels are so committed to their cause that they invite the king's messenger to join them in their rebellion, which would be a dishonorable act on his part. The rebels feel they have to assert their honor by claiming to be greater warriors than Blunt, thus insulting the very person they are seeking to recruit. Their false sense of honor causes them to act illogically.

The rest of the scene continues to demonstrate how an overblown sense of honor prevents people from making the best choices. The Percys have long carried a grudge against the king, believing he has forgotten his debts to them and thus insulted their honor. Their reaction to the king is so extreme and their claims so lacking in evidence that Blunt asks them, essentially, to think long and hard about their reasoning. He is trying to make the Percys understand that they are making the situation worse.

Showing yet another sign of internal dissent and indecision, they relent, deciding to wait until morning to send their final answer (which turns out to be the same). The audience is thus left to wonder whether the rebels actually want to reconsider their claims, whether Hotspur plans to mount a surprise attack in the middle of the night, or whether Hotspur has changed his mind and sees this as a chance to rest the troops without looking weak.

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