Act Four: Bad News, Worse Soldiers, an Offer, and a Plant

Act Four, Scene One of The First Part of Henry the Fourth begins with the meeting of Hotspur and the warrior Scot, Douglas. Warrior to warrior, Hotspur tell his peer that he “cannot flatter” (IV.i.6), and because of it, Douglas says that Hotspur is the “king of honor” (IV.i.10). As the scene progresses, however, Hotspur is more like the king from the last play; like Richard, he is faced with repeated bad news, but unlike Richard, it makes no difference. Hotspur, even when faced with the military absence of his own father (he’s sick) and Glendower (he cannot raise his power for another two weeks), he is confident. Faced even with the prospect of facing the “thirty thousand” (IV.i.130) troops of the king, he is defiant, calling for “forty” (IV.i.130) thousand.

He questions the ability of the “madcap Prince of Wales” (IV.i.95), only to learn from Vernon that since Hal has come on to the military field, he has reformed and now “rise(s) from the ground like feathered Mercury” (IV.i.106). Only this news can cause Hotspur to cry, “No more, no more!” (IV.i.111); his only comfort is in his prediction that “Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse, // Meet and ne’er part till one drop down a corse” (IV.i.122-123).

Act Four, Scene Two takes us on the road with Falstaff and his “soldiers” (IV.ii.11), more “scarecrows” (IV.ii.37) than military men; Falstaff has pressed into service

discarded unjust serving-men, younger sons to younger brothers, revolted tapsters and ostlers trade-fallen, the cankers of a calm world

— IV.ii.27-29

When Prince Hal and Westmoreland come by, they are shocked by the gathering. Falstaff, however, has no qualms, as he knows the soldiers’ purpose: “good enough to toss, food for (gun)powder” (IV.ii.64-65).

Act Four, Scene Three takes us back to Hotspur’s camp, where he wants to attack “tonight” (IV.iii.1), over the objections of his fellows. Sir Walter Blunt comes with “gracious offers from the king” (IV.iii.30). Hotspur laments that Blunt is not fighting for his side. Blunt cannot fight for anyone but the “anointed majesty” (IV.iii.40).

of course, how can a usurping king be “anointed”?

Blunt says that Henry promises that if Hotspur names his griefs, he “shall have (his) desires with interest, // And pardon absolute” (IV.iii.49-50) for him and his followers. Hotspur doesn’t believe the offer, but he says that he will consider the it and give the king their answer tomorrow.

it almost seems that Hotspur is learning, albeit probably too late…

The act’s fourth and final scene is a short one between Richard Scroop Archbishop of York and Sir Michael, supporters of the Percies, though they “fear the power of Percy is too weak // To wage an instant trial with the king” (IV.iv.19-20). The Archbishop realizes that if Hotspur fails, then the king will “visit (them), For (the king) hath heard of their confederacy” (IV.iv.37-38), and so they must “make strong” (IV.iv.39) against Henry.

Sounds like a plant for The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, no?

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