Explore and compare the ways that Shakespeare presents Prince Hal and Hotspur in this play?
In this play, Shakespeare goes into particular detail with two of the younger characters, Prince Hal and Hotspur. Throughout the play, we hear about Hotspur, his personal qualities, bravery, charm and humour. We learn of his views on honour, but we also learn of his lack of realism, his rashness and lack of political acumen. We see Prince Hal’s wit and humour, political acumen and signs of genuine redemption and we realise he is worthy of kingship. Throughout the play, we witness Hotspur’s fall from grace and how it coincides with Hal’s gradual ascendancy.
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Hotspur’s rise and fall are largely linked to the turnout of important events in the play. Hotspur showed personal qualities that were rare in a person. He was generous, energetic and honourable. These qualities gained him respect and admiration from his peers and made him a natural-born leader, although he had numerous bad qualities that contributed to his downfall.
In the opening section of the play, Shakespeare presents Hotspur as being more honourable and more worthy of royalty than Prince Hal. He begins this play at the height of his achievements but his progress gradually declines, until Prince Hal finally kills him in the battle for the throne in Act 5 Scene 4 Lines 76-79, Shakespeare portrays him in a negative way;
“I better brook the loss of brittle life
Than those proud titles, thou hast won of me
They wound my thoughts worse than a sword my flesh”
Coinciding with Hotspur’s downfall comes the redemption of Prince Hal who in Act 5 Scene 4 Lines 61-62 states;
“Why then I see
A very important rebel of that name”
Here Prince Hal shows that his character is maturing; he is honourable and virtuous to praise Hotspur without mentioning his faults. Now he has honourability and maturity that was not evident earlier.
Throughout the play, Hotspur shows eloquence in his speaking. Yet he is more eloquent than he would like to imagine. An example of this is presented in Act 1 Scene 3 Lines 28-68, when he is giving his view to the king on his refusal to hand over his prisoners after their battle. This speech is Hotspurs most famous speech in the play. His usual characteristics are expressed here, along with great eloquence. The language used is simple and direct to the point. It moves rapidly and shows a Hotspurs style of humour. He says of the messenger;
“He was perfumed like a milliner”
Despite Hotspur’s comments on poetry in Act 3 Scene 1 Lines 125-135 where he had commented, “Had rather be a kitten and crew mew; Than be one of those same metre ballad mongers”, he himself has some of the finest poetry in the play. In this speech, we see as well as great eloquence, his impatience and lack of tolerance.
Hotspur is shown to care greatly about honour. He mentions
“It were an easy leap
To pluck bright honour from the pale fac’d moon
Or dive into the bottom of the deep
Where fathom line could never touch the ground
And puck up drowned honour by the locks,”
Act1 Scene3 Lines199-203
This is generally seen as an imbalance in Hotspurs character. The hyperbole indicates a desire for honour and a lack of respect for the world. He has a lack of political acumen whereas Hal is very good politically.
Hotspur also has numerous weaknesses in his character, which Shakespeare gradually undermines. For example, in Act 3 Scene 1 the rebels are discussing the separation of England and Wales for themselves, Hotspur mentions;
“But in the way of bargain, mark ye me,
I’ll cavil on the ninth part of a hair”
He reveals here a lack of political acumen. He seems to show no comprehension of the effects his comments or statements may have on others. Due to this Glendower abandons the rebels at Shrewsbury, where they then lost the battle. Hotspur’s rashness also led him to be easily manipulated by his father and Uncle as it is Worcester who confesses before the battle in lines 1-2 Act 5 Scene 2;
“O no, my nephew must not know, Sir Richard
The liberal and kind offer to the kings”
Here Worcester is being cast as the villain of the piece, however, this allows Hotspur to die without any real stain on his character. Shakespeare adds to Hotspur’s innocence by his quote in act 5 Scene 2 Line 35, “Did you beg any? God forbid”. This presents Hotspur as being interested in peace. However, he is too proud to show it. His pride is also shown when Hal and Hotspur meet on the battlefield in Act 5 Scene 4;
“To end one of us; and would to God
Thy name in arms was now as great as mine!”
Hotspur shows here that he feels Hal is not as good as him as he does not have any military success behind him. Hal sees as beneficial: we know this because in Act 3 Scene 2 he mentions to his father;
“Percy is but my factor, good my lord,
To engross up glorious deed on my behalf,”
Hal is saying here that he will collect Hotspurs reputation when he kills him.
Hotspur is also a great soldier. Shakespeare presents him as being courageous, energetic and with a playful attitude to his wife. Although he use a playful attitude toward his wife we should acknowledge that he is treating her poorly. He seems her misjudge her in Act 2 Scene 3 saying;
“I know you wise but yet no further wise
Than Harry Percy’s wife; constant you are
But yet a woman; and for secrecy….”
He intends to tell her nothing of the rebellion due to his belief in line 115 that “Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know.” Lady Percy now seems distressed and saddened, in lines 42-43 she mentions;
“Tell me, sweet lord, what isn’t that takes from thee
Thy stomach, pleasure, and golden sleep?”
Prince Hal is the energetic, high-spirited eldest son of Henry IV. He has a carefree way of life. His gradual rises from associating with lonely thieves like Falstaff to defeating Hotspur at the end of the play.
When associating with Falstaff, Hal knows exactly what he is doing. By socialising with people looked down upon by society, he knows that he redeems himself it will seem all the better because of his past. This is shown in his soliloquy. In Act 1 Scene 2 Lines 218-219 he says:
“I’ll so offend to make the offence a skill
Redeeming time when men think least I will”
In the king’s opinion, Hotspur is the most serious contender for the throne, he feels punished in having a disloyal son for usurping the throne and killing the precious king:
“For the hot vengeance and nod of heaven
To punish my misleading, tell me ehoe”
He is also unhappy to have lost his place in council to his younger brother, John of Lancaster:
“Thy place in council than last host rudely
Which by the younger is supply’d”
The kings also expresses his disappointment in his son Hal:
“Had I so lavish of my presence been
So common-hackneyed in the eyes of men”
So stale and cheap to vulgar company
However, the Prince seems to be taking the same path of life as his father. His father kept himself in obscurity and was more praised when he emerged:
“By being seldom seen, I could not stir
But like a comet, I was wondered at”
This is what Hal is doing, he is obscured by his bad reputation, but plans to change this as we see in Act 4 scene 4, “I have sounded the very base string of humidity”. In this speech, Hal is commenting on how he is being ironic with “Tom, Dick and Harry”, and how they treat him as equal. This speech presents Hal as humorous when referring to the lower class of London:
“With four loggerheads amongst three or four score hogshead”
However, he is bitter of his life so far, he states:
“To conclude, I am so good a proficient in one
A quarter of an hour that I can drink any tinker
In his own language diving my life.”
In this speech he criticises himself saying how he has discarded his position as Prince of Wales. The speech is full of bitterness and clearly shows a stage of transition in Hals life. Now his ascendancy begins. He is aware of public opinion but one of his main strength is understanding lower-class people as he spent most of his life so far. Hal’s reply to his fathers is that redemption for him when they fight the rebellion and more notably Hotspur in particular:
“I will redeem all this on Percy’s head,”
In this speech he begins to use violent words which suggest he is beginning to rage:
“Or I will tear the reckoning from his heart”
He feels that defeating Hotspur will lead to redemption, and cover the shame of his past.
Shakespeare portrays Hal in scenes of wit and humour and, also shows a calculating nature. The humorous scenes with Hal and Falstaff keep the play from being too serious.
Hals has great political acumen, whereas Hotspur does not. You could possibly blame the rebels defeat on the mentality of Hotspur. In Act 2 Scene 4 the Prince states:
“I am not yet of Percy’s mind; the Hotspur of the north- he thie
Kills me some six or seven dozen of Scot at a
Breakfast washes his hands and says to his wife”
Here Hal gives his opinion of Hotspur, his opinion is clearly biased and he may even be envious of his success. Hal begins the play at the lowest point of his life, but his gradual ascendancy and promises of redemption are kept and at the end of the play we begin to see this at the battle of Shrewsbury. Even Vernon, one of the rebels can see genuine signs of princely behaviour in Hal in Act % Scene 2 when he tells Hotspur the contrary of Hotspur’s opinionated stance on Hal:
“If he outlives the envy of this day
England did never owe so sweet a hope
So much misconstrued in his wantness
When Hal and Hotspur fight in Act 5 Scene 4 we see the Prince reach his potential and is now worthy of kingship.
“I am the Prince of Wales, and think not Percy,
To share with me in glory any more.”
Here Hal Views Hotspur as a real contender for the throne, in saying this he compliments him. After defeating him he is noble to say:
“Adieu, and take thy praises with thee to heaven
Thy ignominy sleep with thee in the grave
But not remembered in the epitaph!”
Here the prince shows maturity, which was not evident earlier.
Throughout the play, there is much talk of desires for honour between both characters. Yet their intentions and definitions of honour are different. Hotspur views honour very highly in a military sense, whereas Hal’s type of honour seems to be more dignified and caring. At this time in history, plays had a theme, a moral issue like divine right, greed or lust. Honour I feel may have been the main theme of this play.
Shakespeare in this play shows a prince maturing, reaching his potential. One of Hal’s main strengths is that he understands people, which Hotspur lacks. Hotspur is a political innocent, and despite his rashness and temper, he is easily manipulated by his father Northumberland and Uncle Worcester. Shakespeare presents the two in a familiar situation. That is, that a situation like this occurred with Hal’s father and Richard II due to his behaviour and actions.
In my opinion, Shakespeare intentionally left the redemption of Hal to the end, for dramatic purposes and although Hotspur was killed, I think Shakespeare wanted him to be viewed as an honourable, likeable character whose own faults met a tragic end.
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