Love and Marriage, Part Two

Yesterday , we talked a little about Hotspur’s marriage. Today, let’s expand the conversation to one and a half other relationships in The First Part of Henry the Fourth.

We get to compare two marriages side-by-side in Act Three, Scene One: Hotspur and Kate, and Mortimer and the otherwise nameless Lady Mortimer, the daughter of Owen Glendower.

of course, we also saw it in A Midsummer Night’s Dream… who knows, maybe Glendower is Puck

We get our first clue to the relationship of the Mortimers when Glendower exits to retrieve the wives, and says, “I am afraid my daughter will run mad, // So much she doteth on her Mortimer” (III.i.143-144). The lady so “love(s) to excess” (Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM [v. 4.0]), that her own father questions her sanity. I think we’ve seen this kind of passion before in Romeo and Juliet… and that didn’t end so well.

When the wives are brought in, we learn something else about the Mortimer marriage (beyond their passion), as Mortimer says, “This is the deadly spite that angers me– // My wife can speak no English, I no Welsh.” (III.i.190-191). They live in a language-less marriage. Their only communication is either non-verbal (a honeymooner’s favorite kind!) or through her father (not as good). Glendower tells Mortimer,

My daughter weeps: she will not part with you;
She'll be a soldier too, she'll to the wars
She is desperate here; a peevish self-wind harlotry,
One that no persuasion can do good upon.

— III.i.192-193

Mortimer’s wife doesn’t just want to be with her husband (as Kate Percy does), but she is willing to fight, too.

Glendower’s statement of his daughter’s “desperat(tion)” here is quite chilling given some information we’re given earlier in the play… when we hear of how the Welsh army had treated Mortimer’s captured army, Westmoreland says,

A thousand of his people butchered;
Upon whose dead corpse there was such misuse,
Such beastly shameless transformation,
By those Welshwomen done as may not be
Without much shame retold or spoken of.

— I.i.42-46

In this case, “transformation” means “mutilation” (OED). According to historical accounts (which, granted, may have been overblown), the Welsh women not only castrated the enemy bodies, but also put the severed genitalia in the corpses’s mouths. And Lady Mortimer wants back onto the field. Insert emasculation joke here. But I digress…

When Mortimer speaks to his wife (meaningless to her), he says,

I understand thy looks: that pretty Welsh
Which thou pour'st down from these swelling heavens
I am too perfect in; and, but for shame,
In such a parley should I answer thee.
I understand thy kisses and thou mine,
And that's a feeling disputation:
But I will never be a truant, love,
Till I have learned thy language; for thy tongue
Makes Welsh as sweet as ditties highly penned,
Sung by a fair queen in a summer's bower,
With ravishing division, to her lute.

— III.i.198-208

If he cannot understand her words, he understands her “looks” and “her kisses,” and that, he says is an emotional “discourse” (OED). And while now her voice is like music, carrying little meaning in and of itself, he vows to learn her language. It’s quite the statement of love, doting as it may be.

When this “conversation” is done, and Lady Mortimer begins to sing (for real, and not just metaphorically), the audience’s attention turns to Hotspur and Kate. And we pick up pretty much where we left off, with the couple’s casual, flirting bawdiness:

Come, Kate, thou art perfect in lying down: come, quick, quick, that I may lay my head in thy lap.

Go, ye giddy goose.

— III.i.225-227

Their conversation is not filled with great thoughts or lofty ideals of love (as we might imagine that of the Mortimers), it’s the stuff of regular people. It’s obvious that Kate’s presence relaxes Hotspur: where he had been surly and “willful-blame” (III.i.175) earlier in the scene, now he is joking and teasing (even calling into playful question her use of overly genteel oaths). When she denies him a song, he tells her to apprentice to tailors (a traditionally singing profession) or birds. As he leaves her, he–playing almost the role of a coy mistress–says, “An the indentures be drawn, I’ll away within these two hours; and so, come in when ye will” (III.i.25-260). He tells her that he’s leaving in the next two hours, but if she’s willing to “sing” for him, he’ll have her. While Glendower mistakes this for Hotspur being “on fire to go” (III.i.262) to war, we’ve seen enough of the Percies to know that they stoke a different flame.

OK, so we’ve seen two marriages, both filled with love. But I’ve alluded to another quasi-marriage. It’s not King Henry: historically, he was widowed (and would not re-marry for another year or so), and any wife, either current or anachronistic, is absent from the play.

Who, then?

Why, Mistress Quickly and Falstaff, of course. If the Percies and Mortimers have a tender kind of love, then the tavern version is cruder, ruder… think of the Percies as When Harry Met Sally, and the tavern couple as Married…With Children. Their relationship is filled with insults and accusations, recriminations and epithets. It’s not a loving relationship, neither between the hostess and Falstaff, or even the hostess and Shakespeare: even her name is a dirty joke–Quick Lay.

It’s almost as if Shakespeare was saying that it’s fine for Hal to be hanging out in the tavern as a boy, but when he is a man, he’ll need to find his in his marriage partner, a peer, an equal is status.

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