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Act IV, Scene 1
Shifting from the tavern scene in the previous act, the fourth act begins in an open field - the rebels' camp at Shrewsbury. As Hotspur and Douglas exchange civilities, a messenger arrives. He carries news that Northumberland, Hotspur's father, is ill and will not be able to join them.
The party is at first disappointed, especially Hotspur, who fears that the news bodes ill for them. However, he manages to turn this piece of bad news into good news. He declares that it is good that the Earl's forces will be saved for another day and that, furthermore, if the rebels win with reduced forces, it will increase their glory. Douglas agrees with Hotspur, but the cautious Worcester fears that Northumberland's conspicuous absence will make it seem like there is division and weakness amongst the rebel forces.
Sir Richard Vernon, a supporter of the Percies, arrives and announces the approach of the loyalist armies. Westmoreland and Prince John are on their way with seven thousand men and the king is also due to arrive with a large force. Hotspur asks about the "madcap" Hal and is outraged to hear that the prince is leading an army and looks magnificent and "full of spirit" (107). He vows to meet and conquer him.
Vernon then informs the rebels that Glendower has been delayed in gathering his forces. Douglas and Worcester are discouraged by this news, but Hotspur is defiant. When told by Vernon that King Henry's forces may number as many as 30,000 men, he says "forty let it be" (138); the more they are outnumbered, the greater their glory shall be. Douglas responds with brave words of his own.
The situation is clearly hopeless for the rebels. Even before the impending battle has begun, their forces are beginning to fall apart. First Northumberland is unable to join them. Hotspur speaks with more prescience than he knows when he declares "This sickness doth infect / The very lifeblood of our enterprise" (30-1), for their rebellion itself is a sickness that infects the state. Glendower's failure to join them is another indication of their division. Hal's change of character is another blow. Hotspur, who had mockingly
referred to Hal as one who "daffed the world aside / And bid it pass" (101-2), is amazed to learn that the prince is now leading an army. Worse, Vernon praises Hal at length, which infuriates Hotspur. "This praise doth nourish agues" (117) - chills and fevers - he says. Not only the action but the language of the scene suggests ill-omens, illness, and disaster.
Hotspur continues to display his fateful combination of bravery and shortsightedness. While his wily uncle expresses fear and concern at the turn of events, Hotspur refuses to accept the dangers. There is weakness in his armor, however, for he is momentarily stunned by the news of his father's illness and Hal's approach. However, Hotspur is committed to his struggle against the King of England, no matter what the odds or potential cost. The very purpose of fighting is a clash of honors, and Hotspur would rather appease his ego than surrender.
The scene further serves to develop the conflict between Hotspur and Hal. Hal has previously vowed to redeem himself on Hotspur's head, and now Hotspur promises to fight Hal to the death. Hotspur has previously been praised by the king, and now Hal is praised at length by one of Hotspur's men. Vernon is generous in describing the princeís rich attire and heavy armor. He also talks about Halís noteworthy horsemanship and bold spirits. For the first time, Hal appears through another's eye with the manner of a prince, and it is clear that he is not an opponent to be taken lightly.