Summary and Analysis
Act V: Scene 2
Back in the rebel camp, Worcester insists that Hotspur must not be told that the king has offered all of the insurgents free pardon. He argues that, although his young nephew's trespass will be forgiven, Henry IV will never place his trust in the elder leaders of the rebellion. Vernon reluctantly agrees to remain silent. Accordingly, Worcester tells Hotspur that the king is merciless. Like Douglas, the youth is ready to fight.
When Worcester then tells Hotspur that the prince has challenged him to single combat, the young rebel fervently expresses his wish that such a meeting could take place. He remains skeptical regarding the worth of the prince, even though Vernon describes the latter's chivalric behavior and becoming modesty.
Learning that even now the "King comes on apace," Hotspur exhorts his companions to fight nobly, and then he embraces them as the trumpets sound the start of the conflict.
Worcester's decision to keep from Hotspur the "liberal and kind offer of the king" (2) is wholly dishonorable, a monstrous act of treachery against his own flesh and blood, against the unselfish, if misguided, youth who has risen to the position of supreme commander of the insurgents. It is not by mere chance that this episode immediately follows Falstaff's soliloquy on honor. In comparison to Sir John, the Earl of Worcester is high in the baronial ranks of England; his is an act of betrayal on the grand scale. If the reader has been tempted to accept Falstaff's view of honor as realistic and eminently practical, he may find occasion now to reassess that view. Even in terms of self-interest, Worcester's act of infamy will prove to be impractical.
Vernon's agreeing to go along with Worcester is disappointing, for he has earned the reader's respect and sympathy by his chivalrous conduct. Indeed he does so in this scene by making the generous report of Hal's demeanor (52-69). He too will pay a great price for his compliance.
The character of the Prince of Wales continues to be elevated, thanks to the testimony of Sir Richard Vernon-the testimony of a hostile witness, as it were. The prince's claim made to his royal father, namely, that he had been maligned (III.iii.130-31), is supported here. Vernon states that the prince has been the victim of envy, or malice, and will be England's "sweet hope" — that is, the Ideal Prince — if his true character is revealed to all.
But the elevation of the prince is not achieved by the denigration of Hotspur's character. If young Percy finds it hard to accept Vernon's flattering description of the prince, he makes use of no term of contempt for his royal rival. In appropriate lines, Percy's courage and honor, as he conceives it, make him an attractive and a worthy opponent. Aware as the reader is that the Percy forces are outnumbered, Hotspur's brief but stirring battle oration (93-101) and his embrace of his fated companions elicit admiration and sympathy.