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

Summary

In Bangor, Wales, Hotspur and Worcester confer with Glendower, their host, and Mortimer. Young Percy and the Welsh leader, after exchanging compliments, engage in a personal dispute and are interrupted by Mortimer. A map is produced, whereupon the rebel leaders proceed to divide England into three parts — the north going to the Percies, the west to Glendower, and the south to Mortimer. It is Mortimer who explains the immediate action to be taken. He will set forth with Hotspur and Worcester to meet Northumberland and the Scottish forces at Shrewsbury; Glendower, who will need time to muster his forces, will join them later.

Hotspur expresses his dissatisfaction with the division, insisting that the course of the River Trent be changed so as to enlarge his share. Glendower protests, but the two reach an accord.

Mortimer's wife is desolate because her husband must leave her. The couple tries to communicate, although neither speaks the other's language. She then sings a Welsh song to the accompaniment of music invoked by Glendower's magic. Hotspur promptly urges his wife to join him in an amorous interlude, and they exchange witty remarks devoid of sentimentality. In short order, however, Hotspur puts an end to this interlude. He will sign the articles of partition and depart for Shrewsbury within two hours.

Analysis

This is the "division" scene; in terms of political doctrine it is especially important. Conceivably some members of Shakespeare's audiences, like many today, had their doubts about the titular hero of this play, Henry IV, recalling not only the illegal manner in which he came to the throne, but also finding him too much the politician, too calculating. For them, Falstaff's comic rationalizations of his own actions to some extent parody those of the king. But few, if any, Englishmen would have tolerated even the thought of division of their country. Their sympathies inevitably would have been on the side of the Crown. Therefore, however valid any complaint by the Percies may have been, their present action, in which they are joined by Mortimer and Glendower, cannot be justified. In opposing them, the king and his son will emerge as saviors of England.

Fortunately, the heavily doctrinal elements here and elsewhere in the play are rendered sufficiently palatable, thanks largely to superior character portrayal. Not only does Hotspur continue to attract, especially because one sees him in contrast to Prince Hal, but others, including Glendower and Mortimer, interest reader and audience alike. Glendower, it may be noted, is anything but the wild, barbaric figure of the prose histories. And, of course, the scene includes a delightful romantic interlude with music.

Appropriately, it is the character of Hotspur that receives greatest attention in this scene, and his very first speech is revealing. One may question the ultimate worth of a leader who, even momentarily, cannot recall whether he has forgotten or mislaid the important map. This would suggest that he is hardly the one for planning an action, however capable he may be in other areas. Most serious is young Percy's absolute inability to restrain himself, or to tolerate what he considers to be conceit and superstition in Glendower, his host and ally and a man of genuine military greatness. Well along in this scene, Worcester lectures his headstrong nephew, and his words are weighty with import:

In faith, my lord, you are too wilful-blame;
And since your coming hither have done enough
To put him [Glendower] quite beside his patience.
You must needs learn, lord, to amend this fault.
Though sometimes it show greatness, courage, blood,-
And that's the dearest grace it renders you,-
Yet oftentimes it doth present harsh rage,
Defect of manners, want of government,
Pride, haughtiness, opinion and disdain;
The least of which haunting a nobleman
Loseth men's hearts and leaves behind a stain
Upon the beauty of all parts besides,
Beguiling them of commendation. (177-89)

"Loseth men's hearts": One recalls that, in the previous scene, Prince Hal had been winning men's hearts!

This is not to say that Hotspur loses one's sympathy in this scene. Quite the contrary. There is graciousness and good heartedness in his reply to his uncle: "Well, I am school'd. Good manners be your speed!" The reader enjoys his satiric thrusts, well illustrated by his reply to Glendower, who claims the ability to "call spirits from the vasty deep":

Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them? (54-55)

Young Percy is no less amusing, but just as tactless and intolerant, when he comments on "lovely English ditties" and Welsh airs and what he calls "mincing poetry." These cultivated subjects have no place in the life of the Hotspur of the North. Although at one point Lady Percy says that her husband is "governed by humours" (237), it is really the single humour insisted upon by Prince Hal in the previous scene which rules him. Compared to either Mortimer or Glendower, whose cultural as well as military accomplishments receive attention, Hotspur is a personable barbarian. It may be added that, although Glendower probably would have had serious difficulty in calling up devils from the vasty deep, Shakespeare does give some evidence of his supernatural powers; for it is Glendower who magically provides the music for the Welsh love song. But, admittedly, the dramatist introduces this rather casually; perhaps, like Hotspur, we are not much impressed.

Something more can be said to the credit of Hotspur. As in Act II, Scene 3, his relation with the lovely Lady Kate, who affectionately calls him a "giddy goose" (232), is delightful. Hotspur's bluffness, his boyish attractiveness comes through strongly. Moreover, gallantry and fair-mindedness remain prominent in his character. When Glendower agrees that the Trent must be "turn'd," Hotspur replies:

I do not care. I'll give thrice so much land
To any well-deserving friend. (137-38)

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