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MonkeyNotes-Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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Act V, Scene 2

Summary

At the rebel camp, Worcester tells Vernon not to convey the message of peace and pardon, as the king cannot be trusted. Hotspur, who is young and rash, may indeed by forgiven, but the king will blame Northumberland and Worcester and at some point seek revenge. Vernon is hesitant to comply but does so.

Hotspur and Douglas enter and Worcester informs them that the king offers only battle. Hotspur orders that Westmoreland, who has been held as hostage to guarantee the safe return of Vernon and Worcester, be sent back with a defiant reply. Douglas leaves momentarily to send off Westmoreland and Worcester continues to spin his tale.

Worcester instigates Hotspur further, saying that Prince Hal had challenged him to a duel. When Hotspur asks if the challenge was contemptuous, Vernon intervenes on Hal's behalf, saying that the prince had praised Hotspur highly and spoken nobly. Hotspur refuses to be impressed, however.

A messenger comes in with some letters, which Hotspur is too busy to read. Hotspur calls upon his men to march towards the battlefield. A second messenger announces that the king’s army is moving in. Hotspur speaks encouragingly to his troops as the rebels prepare to battle.


Notes

In this scene, Worcester fully emerges as the villain of the play. Nothing else could be expected of him. Thinking only of himself, he maliciously deprives Hotspur and the rebels of the possibility of peace. History’s pages are written by such men. It is disappointing that Vernon agrees to Worcester’s plans. He cheats the very thread of trust that binds a messenger with the sender and the receiver. His sin of omission is unforgivable and cannot be justified.

Shakespeare cleverly evokes pity in the audience's hearts for Hotspur. Hotspur is not evil, merely hotheaded and overprotective of his honor. He is willing to fight Henry, even against overwhelming odds. However, he does so not out of a desire to rebel but to redress wrongs. Of all the Percies, he is the one with the most legitimate and honest grievance - Henry refused to ransom his brother-in-law Mortimer. He has further been influenced by his craftier uncle. When Douglas leaves momentarily to send off Westmoreland, Hotspur says to his uncle "Did you beg any? God forbid! (38). For Hotspur, death would be preferable to the dishonor of begging. But his asking suggests that, inwardly, he may hope for a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, the audience never gets the chance to know what Hotspur's reaction to the king's offer would have been, as he never gets to hear it. His uncle's and Vernon's duplicity will cost him his life.

Hotspur contrasts himself to Hal in this scene by declaring himself to be a man of action, not words. To Vernon's lauding of Hal, he says that he will answer Hal's challenge where it matters - on the battlefield. He further tells his troops to start thinking about the battle in earnest, as he has "not the gift of tongue / Can lift [their] blood up with persuasion" (81-2). When the news comes that King Henry's army is approaching, he thanks the messenger for giving him a reason to shut up and allow him to do what he knows how to do - fight:

“I thank him that he cuts me from my tale, For I profess not talking. Only this: Let each man do his best. And here draw I a sword, Whose temper I intend to stain With the best blood that I can meet withal In the adventure of this perilous day.” (94-9)

Of course, this is Shakespeare, and Hotspur's profession of his own lack of eloquence is eloquently and inspiringly rendered. Unlike his uncle and King Henry, for whom words are tools to manipulate the minds and hearts of men, Hotspur, almost without realizing it, wins hearts through his sincere speech and actions.

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