King Henry IV, Part 1 By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act II: Scene 3

Summary

At Warkworth Castle, Hotspur reads a letter from a noble whom he has asked to join in the rebellion. The noble advances one excuse after another for declining the invitation. Young Percy is indignant and scornful of the writer, who ignores the fact that the Percies have powerful allies, some of whose forces already have set forth for the place of assembly. Hotspur suspects that this timorous lord may betray the plot to the king. Vehemently he expresses his defiance.

Lady Percy enters. She is deeply worried about her young husband, whose preoccupation with some serious business has made him neglect her and most normal activities. Hotspur will tell her nothing, and she suspects that he faces great danger. He does assure her, however, that she will join him at an unidentified destination.

Analysis

An occasional earlier commentator has argued that this scene may be justified largely on the grounds that we must be given a recess from Falstaff. This is a wholly unwarranted conclusion. First, the scene reveals the progress of the rebellion planned by the Percies in the first act; second, it adds appreciably to what is now becoming a full-length portrait of Hotspur, the "theme of Honour's tongue," as Henry IV called him at the beginning of the play.

Young Percy's choleric asides, filled with contemptuous epithets ("lack-brain" . . . "frosty-spirited rogue" . . . "dish of skim milk") are sufficiently revealing. In writing to the unidentified noble, Hotspur has eliminated any possibility of surprise; inevitably the king will be informed. Enraged to the point where he could "divide [himself] and go to buffets" (34), he nevertheless will brook no delay; he will set forth that very night, still convinced that the revolt is an "honourable" action. The figure of speech he uses to reassure himself is admirable: "out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety" (9-10). Especially characteristic is his rough, yet good-natured, sparring with his wife. Declaring that this world is not one for playing with mammets (dolls) or tilting lips, he adds:

We must have bloody noses and crack'd crowns,
And pass them current too. God's me, my horse! (96-97)

It is hard to imagine anything that could be more revealing and graphic than Lady Percy's speech describing her husband's obsession with thoughts of armed conflict — a set speech, replete with rhetorical questions and balanced lines: "Of sallies . . . Of palisadoes . . . Of basilisks . . . Of prisoners' ransoms" (40-67).

But another side of Hotspur's character comes through strongly, one that is most attractive — a bluff manliness and wit of sorts. No one can doubt that he deeply loves his Kate, just as she dotes on him. His last words to her echo the well-known passage from the Book of Ruth and leave no room for doubt concerning the relationship between this attractive young couple: "Whither I go, thither shall you go too." There is irony in the fact that he will not tell her what the "heavy business" exactly is, since he indiscreetly wrote all about it to a fellow nobleman.

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