Act Three: Unions and Reunions

As Act Three of The First Part of Henry the Fourth begins, we move from the tavern and the Prince of Wales, Hal, to the Welsh rebel leader, Glendower’s estate, where he meets with the Percies and Mortimer. Glendower (“irregular and wild” [I.i.40], he’s called by Westmoreland) more than lives up to his billing, claiming that the earth quaked “like a coward” (III.i.17) when he was born. The blunt Hotspur takes every opportunity to debunk his claims, even to the point where his host warns Hotspur that the Welshman doesn’t “bear those crossings” “of many men” (III.i.36 and 35). But Hotspur doesn’t take the hint well, and when Glendower claims to be able to “call spirits from the vasty deep” (III.i.55), Hotspur responds that “so can (he), or so can any man; // But will they come when you do call for them?” (III.i.56-57). While comic for the audience, the situation grows uncomfortable for the rebel alliance, and when Glendower excuses himself to call the wives into the room for dinner, Hotspur’s uncle and brother in law take him to task for his impolitic speech.

While they claim Glendower “curbs himself” (III.i.169) in response to Hotspur, the Northern Youth is “too willful-blame” (III.i.175), and they warn that while that can “sometimes … show greatness, courage” (III.i.179), it can just easily be seen as “Defect of manners, want of government, // Pride, haughtiness, opinion and disdain” (III.i.182-183) that can “loseth men’s hearts” (III.i.185). Hotspur claims to have been “schooled” (III.i.186), but we cannot be sure as the scene ends.

Act Three, Scene Two takes us to the palace for the reunion between father and son, Henry the Fourth and Prince Hal. Hal was pretty close when he put played the part of his father to Falstaff’s Hal: the king immediately attacks him for the “rude society” (III.ii.14) with whom he has been associating. He tells his son that he has lost his “place in council” (III.ii.32). It’s an brutal and relentless verbal attack, at the end of which Hal can only promise to “be more (him)self” (III.ii.93).

The king, however, is not sure being himself will be enough, as he begins to compare Hal with “this Hotspur, Mars in swaddling clothes” (III.ii.112). Henry sees Hal as a rebel himself, but one so low as to “dog (Hotspur’s) heels and curtsy at his frowns, // To show how much (Hal is) degenerate” (III.ii.127-128).  Hal’s response is: “Do not think so. You shall not find it so” (III.ii.129), and he goes on to tell how how he will defeat Hotspur in the field, and if he doesn’t live up to his word, he will “die a hundred thousand deaths” (III.ii.158). The king says that “a hundred thousand rebels die in this” (III.ii.160), and gives Hal a command in the field.

interesting that the king says that if Hal lives up to his word, 100,000 rebels will die, but Hal will die the same number of deaths if he doesn’t live up to the word… either way, rebels die…

As the conflict heads toward its conclusion at “Shrewsbury” (III.ii.166), Act Three, Scene Three takes us back to the tavern. Falstaff and Bardolph comically insult each other, and when the hostess arrives, Falstaff complains that his pocket was picked. It really was, by Hal at the end of the last tavern scene (when Falstaff was drunk and passed out), but the hostess knows nothing of it. The prince arrives to set everything right: he pays back Falstaff, he tells Falstaff that the old fat man has nothing to worry about from the Sheriff as Hal’s also paid back the robbed travelers, and that he’s secured for Falstaff “a charge of foot” (III.iii.186).

And we head into Act Four…

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