The Character of Prince Hal and Hotspur In Dramatic Contrast In Henry IV Part 1

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As we look at the play we see that this contrast is the pivotal axis of the play. We see that from the very opening scene until the last scene of the play, that prince Hal and Hotspur are constantly contrasted. Shakespeare uses Prince Hal and Hotspur's characters to show how much more superior Prince Hal is as a leader of men than Hotspur is. Shakespeare portrays Hotspur as somewhat of a one-dimensional character, whereas he portrays Prince Hal in a different way, but as a complex, multi-dimensional leader.

Falstaff is presented in the sub-plot as a counterpoint to this heroic contrast between the Prince and Hotspur. Shakespeare uses Falstaff mainly for comedic effect. The play mixes history and comedy, moving from engaging scenes involving Kings and battles to scenes involving Kings and battles to scenes involving tavern life. In Henry IV there are several plots that intersect, including the tension between Prince Hal and his Father, the rebellion of the Percy family and the prince's tavern life.

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All three of these elements are drawn together in the final battle scene in Act 5.

We see in Act 1, Scene 1 that Hotspur is portrayed as a direct contrast to Prince Hal, as Hotspur is called the "gallant Hotspur" and has helped defeat the Scots and won a great national victory. Whereas Prince Hal, who is actually the Prince of Wales is not concerned with his royal duties and seems to be oblivious to the proper behaviour of a prince.

We see almost instantly from Act 1 Scene 1 that Prince Hal is a great disappointment to King Henry, The King even admits to being envious of Lord Northumberland's son Hotspur.

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He describes Hotspur as being

"A son who is the theme of honour's tongue,

Amongst a grove the very straightest plant,

Who is sweet fortune's minion and her pride,

Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,

See riot and dishonour stain the brow

Of my young Harry"

The King says somewhat unconvincingly that maybe Prince Hal and Hotspur were swapped as Baby's "by a night tripping fairy."

We see some justification in Act 1, Scene 2 of why Prince Hal is such a disappointment to the King. In Act 1, Scene 1 King Henry spoke of his Son's 'riot and dishonour.' We see this in action in Scene 2 as Prince Hal and his friend Falstaff are joking and poking fun about when the Prince shall become King.

We see in this sense that Prince Hal knows of Falstaff's thieving ways yet doesn't have a problem with it. We also see a case of Prince Hal's "dishonour" as he uses his royal status to obtain goods on credit

"So far as my coin would stretch, and where it would not I have used my credit"

At the end of Act 1 Scene 2 as Prince Hal is planning with Poins on stealing the 'booty' of Falstaff's band of robbers Prince Hal is left on his own at the end of this scene and we hear his first soliloquy.

"So when this loose behaviour I throw off

And pay the debt I never promised,


My reformation, glittering o'er my fault


Redeeming time when men think least I will"

In this soliloquy we hear Prince Hal, alone on stage speaking his thoughts aloud. We see that he fully realises that his own behaviour attracts criticism and says he will reform when he feels it's timely and will be praised and admired for his reformation. The soliloquy shows a different Prince Hal to the character in the rest of the scene.

In Act 1, Scene 3 Hotspur tries to explain to the enraged King why he hasn't surrendered the prisoners. Towards the end of the interview the King says there will be consequences if Hotspur doesn't return the prisoners to him. After the king leaves, we see Hotspur is so enraged that he even refers to King Henry's predecessor as 'that sweet lovely rose.'

Shakespeare uses this passionate outburst to show Hotspur's unstable temperament. We see that Hotspur has decided to take a stand against the King even though he knows it will have dire consequences. But he does it because he believes in it and is passionate about it.

"I will ease my heart, albeit make

A hazard of my head."

Looking back at Act 1 we see that Shakespeare is presenting the characters of Hotspur and Prince Hal in complete contrast as we see Hotspur presented as a gallant warrior who triumphs in battle, a man who fears little and also as a man with a fiery passion and Prince Hal as an irresponsible good for nothing.

Shakespeare deliberately presents Prince Hal firstly as a playboy type figure who is a reprobate, who prefers alcohol and as a man who takes little if any responsibility for his actions. Then suddenly at the end of Act 1 Scene 2, Prince Hal delivers his soliloquy, which makes the audience wonder if Prince Hal would rather have his playboy image or if he has even bigger aspirations as he intends to turn his public image on it's head to reform.

The first two scenes in Act 2 deal with the Gad's hill robbery and how Prince Hal and Poins are playing a joke on Falstaff. In Act 2 Scene 3 the story returns to the main plot, when we see Hotspur reading a letter. It's clear that there are problems as the writer of the letter, who's identity we never learn is refusing to join Hotspur's rebellion and now Hotspur knows for sure that the author of the letter will tell the king of the rebellion. The unknown writer of the letter tries to persuade Hotspur not to do it as it's dangerous but Hotspur laughs this off. We see that Hotspur is anxious and distressed as he hasn't ate right or slept right and has no sexual appetite as Kate (his wife) has been.

"A banished woman from Harry's bed."

Kate obviously loves Hotspur, she pleads with him to share with her what he's planning but Hotspur refuses,

We see how Shakespeare develops Hotspur's character in Act 2 Scene 3 he reveals the flaws in his character. In the first Act we hear how he was regarded as brave and courageous and a great warrior, but in this Act 2 Scene 2 when Hotspur reads the letter aloud Shakespeare shows the audience that the rebellion is ill prepared and not likely to be successful.

"Hang him, let him tell the king! We are prepared"

Says Hotspur rashly when it is clear that he has foolishly revealed his plot to someone who is not loyal to him.

We see Prince Hal is worried in Act 2 Scene 4 that the robbery is not the sort of thing a future King should be involved in. For most of this scene we see Prince Hal and Poins make fun at the expense of Falstaff. This is interrupted by the Kings messenger who tells the Prince that war has been declared and that he has been summoned to an interview with his father. They all then make fun of the situation by doing a mock interview between the Prince and his Father. During this "play within a play" when Prince Hal is playing the King and Falstaff is acting the Prince, the dialogue turns from comic dialogue to very serious exchange as we see Shakespeare show Prince Hal's ruthless side when Falstaff says:

"Banish plump Jack, and banish the world"

To which the Prince replies

"I do, I will"

We see that Shakespeare has used this comic scene suddenly to let us know that Prince Hal is very serious about becoming future King and no matter how dear a person is to him, if he stands in his way or causes damage to his reputation he will be gotten rid of.

In this tavern scene we the see various ways in which Shakespeare develops and deepens the contrast between Prince Hal and Hotspur. We see it done somewhat comically when the Prince pokes fun at Hotspur's heroic image and popular reputation as an "enfant terrible"

"He that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at

Breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife.

Fie upon this quiet life, I want work."

Whereas we see Prince Hal being ruthless in contrast to the Joker he is known as.

In Act 3 we see how Hotspur and Glendower plan to divide up the country and we see Prince Hal apologising to the King for his behaviour. But the King says even Hotspur would be better heir to the throne than Prince Hal himself.

"He hath more worthy interest to the state

Than thou the shadow of succession"

Shakespeare uses this to show Prince Hal's hurt. At the end of this scene we see Prince Hal is ready to do what he promised to do at the end of Act 1 Scene 2, and that is too throw off his "loose behaviour."

We see in this scene (Act 3, Scene 2) that Prince Hal is going to throw his "loose behaviour", Shakespeare uses this scene to show that Prince Hal is determined to redeem himself, and will do so at Hotspur's expense.

"I will redeem all this on Percy's head

And in the closing of some glorious day

Be bold enough to tell you that I'm your son"

We also see great flaws in Hotspur's character in Act 3 Scene 1 as we see he is very argumentative, within minutes of Hotspur and Owen Of Glendower, who was helping with the rebellion, meeting each other Hotspur argues over Glendower's supposedly magic powers.

"If thou have power to raise him, bring him hither"

We see that Hotspur and Glendower then have arguments about the division of the land as well.

We see from the exchanges between Hotspur and Glendower that Hotspur doesn't have a cool head as he shows he is angered easily

"Sometimes he (Glendower) angers me"

The Fourth Act is an act of preparation, were we witness the different characters making their plans for war. In Act 4 Scene 1, we see different sides of Hotspur again as we see how angry he gets when he hears by letter that his father cannot join in the fighting. Although he's angered at first he foolishly and rashly feels he can use this serious disadvantage to his advantage, he is extremely unrealistic.

"I rather of his absence make use

It lends a lustre and more great opinion

A large dare to our great enterprise."

We clearly see his overconfidence, as we hear the Kings army is approaching, with vastly superior forces.

We see in Act 4 Scene 1 that Prince Hal is getting under Hotspur's skin as Hotspur talks scornfully and even talks as if Prince Hal is beneath him.

"The nimble footed madcap Prince Of Wales

And his comrades that daff'd the world aside

And bid it pass?"

In this Act it is Prince Hal who is described as the warrior as when Hotspur asks Vernon where Hal appeared , Vernon describes a new, reformed Prince of Wales, Shakespeare uses the way Vernon describes Hal, to make him seem like some young God of war rather than a mere human being.

"I saw young Harry with his beaver on,

His cushes on his thighs, gallantly armed

Rise from the ground like feather'd Mercury"

Although Hotspur is concerned about what he's heard he tries not to show it as he says that he and Prince Hal will meet and fight to the end.

"Who is to bear me like a thunderbolt

Against the bosom of the Prince of Wales

Harry to Harry shall, hot to horse to horse."

Towards the end of Act 4, Scene 1 we see that Hotspur is all but defeated. At the end of the scene Hotspur tries to urge his supporters to fight but it's inevitable that the rebellion will fail, although Hotspur knows this he vows with obvious fatalism.

"Doomsday is near, die all, die merrily."

Even though it may be wiser to retreat, his stubborn character won't let him choose "the wiser part of valour" as Falstaff later describes it.

When Douglas tells him to 'talk not of dying', Hotspur hasn't the usual brave speech and hopeful attitude, he falls silent.

The next scene is a comedic interlude of sorts as Falstaff brings his troops of misfits along to the battle.

We see a return to the rebel camp in Act 4 Scene 3. In this scene the king offers peace for the final time. The outcome of which is to withdraw for a while but fighting will commence in the morning.

In Act 5, Scene 1, in the hope of avoiding war Prince Hal is an act of compassion for men to spare many deaths. It was also a momentously brave act; he offered to end the battle by challenging Hotspur a one on one dual.

"To save the blood on either side,

Try fortune with him in a single fight."

We see how much respect Prince Hal has gained and how mature he now is as he gives plaudits to Hotspur.

"I do not think a braver gentlemen

More active valiant or more bold, is now alive

To grace this latter age with noble deeds."

We see that this is the sort of person Prince Hal was supposed to be as he shows modesty and nobility. We also see another example of Prince Hal's growing modesty as he says.

"I have been a truant been to chivalry"

The scene is ended by another appearance from Falstaff where he ponders bravery and Honour.

In Act 5, Scene 2 we see that Hotspur has been told of Hotspur's one on one challenge, we see in this scene that Worcester is aware of Hotspur's short fuse and when telling him of Prince Hal's offer he even tries to make him more angry as we see Hotspur ask bitterly

"How show'd his asking? Seemed it in contempt"

The way in which Vernon answers this question further shows Prince Hal's noble greatness and his qualities to be a successful King.

"I never in my life

Did I hear a challenge urg'd more modestly"

Although Vernon describes Prince Hal in this way Hotspur doesn't seem to be worried by this, and we see his over confident maybe even cocky side, which Prince Hal had earlier on in the play but has now shed for nobility, as Hotspur says he will kill him and doesn't even question if the Prince will put up a fight.

"I will embrace him with a soldier's arm

That he shall shrink under my courtesy"

We see at the end of Act 5, Scene 2, just before Hotspur's battle speech that Hotspur is still holding on to what little hope he has for the rebellion to succeed.

"And if we live, we live to tread on Kings"

In Act 5, Scene 3 we see all the war and death. We see glimpses of his chivalry and nobility as he recognises and praises the fallen Knight, Sir Walter Blunt.

"A gallant Knight he was, his name was Blunt"

During this scene Falstaff adds comedic effect to this scene although it's perhaps the most serious scene in the play.

In Act 5, Scene 4, it is in this scene that Prince Hal shows his true worth as a son, when he rescues his Father, a Knight in his encounter with Hotspur and as a friend in his treatment of Falstaff. In Act 3, Scene 2 the Prince could only use words to express his loyalty but now his sword speaks for him, we see Hal has regained his Father's faith with this act as it's said

"Thou hast redeem'd thy lost opinion"

After this Prince Hal and Hotspur come face to face for the first time in the play, this fight encompasses everything that they want, mastery, honour and the right to rule the land. They both know the importance of this fight as the Price says.

"Nor can one England brook a double reign

Of Harry Percy and the Prince Of Wales"

They start to battle and when Prince Hal wounds him as with the rest of the play we see Hotspur once again regard honour in more esteem than life as just before he dies he says

"I better brook the loss of brittle life

Than those proud titles thou hast won of me

They wound my thoughts worse than the sword

My flesh"

Hotspur shows a lack of self-respect for himself and yet again we see his flaws as he dies.

Prince Hal on the other hand is gracious even though he has won and even shows his tender gentile side as he shows compassion for Hotspur as he covers his dead face with the silks he wears on his helmet. This shows great respect for Hotspur as he says

"But let my favours hide thy mangled face"

He compliments Hotspurs bravery and honour by saying he has a 'great heart', instead of boasting of victory.

Although he talks of Hotspur's great traits and compliments him and seems to regard him in high esteem, he does criticise him for not using common sense, here Hal may be referring to the loss of life of soldiers, when they could have battled on one on one or else he could be on about refusing the King clear the air talks or maybe the fact he didn't retreat even with small numbers.

Hal sees what he thinks is a dead Falstaff and is remorseful and still jokes about him while showing a warmth to his dear friend.

"O, I should have a heavy miss of thee

If I were much in love with vanity!

Death hath not struck so Fat a deer today

Though man dearer, in this bloody fray."

We see Falstaff later rise up, as he was only playing dead. At the end of the scene Falstaff claims he killed Hotspur, and Prince Hal somewhat amused by this lets Falstaff take the credit.

In the final scene of the play, the King sends the captured rebels to death. Even in this final scene we see Prince Hal's reformation as he asks for the freedom of the Earl of Douglas. The play ends on planning to completely defeat the rebellion.

As we look throughout the play as a whole we see that Shakespeare used Prince Hal and Hotspur as the main characters and were the pivotal storyline in the play as Hal was regarded as a waster and too have a lack of gentlemanly traits, whereas Hotspur was a Golden Boy, and showed fierce courage, bravery and honour. As the play progressed however our opinions were changed by Shakespeare who as each play went by we seen Hotspur get weaker and we seen Prince Hal get stronger. Not in physical terms but more the mentality of both characters and their traits, Hotspur from the start always had a huge problem within his many great traits lay a major flaw and that was perhaps that he was too courageous, too brave and too honourable.

We seen this be his ultimate downfall, as he knew that when many of his troops backed out over various reasons he knew that he would and could not win, but instead of pulling back and waiting for reinforcements he was blinded by the good name that he got for Honour and bravery. Other flaws appeared as well such as his temperament, Shakespeare used all these factors to show us that Hotspur wasn't the man whom we had seen in the first scene, that man was like a complete warrior with no flaws but by the end of the play we seen him as quick-tempered and impatient, Hotspur is obsessed with the idea of honour and glory to the exclusion of all other qualities.

Shakespeare portrayed Hal as somewhat of a waster who wasn't really good for much but as the play progressed and Hotspur showed more and more flaws in his character Prince Hal on the other hand showed more and more qualities to his character as he emerges as a heroic young Prince. We see that Hal is quite clearly intelligent and uses his brains a lot more than Hotspur as before they even met we seen that Hal had beat him by using mind games.

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The Character of Prince Hal and Hotspur In Dramatic Contrast In Henry IV Part 1. (2017, Aug 26). Retrieved from

The Character of Prince Hal and Hotspur In Dramatic Contrast In Henry IV Part 1
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