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The contrasting characters of Hal and Hotspur in King Henry IV Essay

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Examine closely the contrasting characters of Hal and Hotspur in King Henry IV, Part One, showing how the play is built around their actions and different destinies, and how this contrast is reflected in the language associated with them.

This play is showing the point of history when Henry IV (Bolingbroke) disposesses Richard II from the throne in 1399. It shows the problems Henry faces after he has changed and tampered with the divine rights of kings and then dishoned all the people who helped him overthrow Richard II.

This creates a great main point to the story which shows a contrast between two characters, one being Hal, the king’s son, and the other being Hotspur a honourable warrior.

A contrast between Hal and Hotspur is established very early on in the play. Hotspur is portrayed as a great warrior who is brave and honourable, loyal to the king and an accomplished leader. Hal on the other hand is shown as someone who should be helping the king as he is his son but is not.

He insteed is being dishourable and is showing the negative qualitites of being foolish and cowardly.

In the king’s speech in Act 1, Scene 1, the king says that he wishes Hotspur was his son and that Hal was not. This is a very strong and very important part of the play as this shows just how much higher Hotspur is than Hal in the king’s eyes that he would want to trade his son. He describes Hotspur as “theme of honours’ tongue” and as “the straightest plant” which shows how important and how much respect the king has for Hotspur in using this personification.

The word ‘theme’ shows that Hotspur is a main part of the word honour and without Hotspur and all his honour there is not much honour left as Hotspur holds a great deal of it. He is described as: ‘the straightest plant’; by the king as the word straighest shows that hotspur is in his prime and that he is the strongest, most full and most wanted. The word ‘plant’ is also significant as plants and trees are needed for the survival of humanity as they take in the carbon dioxide that humans exhale which is useless to humans and exchange it for oxygen which is a much needed and essential ingredient to human life and with him being the ‘straighest’ and most full he is the main source of the world’s oxygen along with his fellow friends. This shows that without him the rest of the world would not be the same as it is now and the world of honour could well be lost if it wasn’t for him.

In this same speech of the king, Hal is described as “riot and dishour stain the brow” which shows the complete opposite of Hotspur and says that Hal is looked down upon and a disgrace to his family name.

This contrast is shown clearly with the alternating scenes’ having every scene being set on either Hal in Eastcheap and then the next with Hotspur in a knightly place. This helps with the development and change of the two characters as you can see clearly the rise of Hal throughout the play and then the opposite decline of Hotspur in parallel. This helps to show the clear crossover of Hal and Hotspur in terms of honour in the midpoint of the play, Act 3.

Straight away you can tell that Hotspur is going to be a great warrior and a well respected man through his name. The ‘Hot’ part makes him seem as though he is fired up and ready for anything which could come along. It also shows he could be hot-headed and a slight brute in battle leaving no-one with any honour but himself. The ‘spur’ part makes him seem as though he lives in the past like a cowboy. It also as was the point of cowboy’s makes him seem as though his main gol in life was to get as much honour and respect and the only way to do this would be as the cowboy’s would put it “the quickest shooter in the west”. Hotspur has many other positive traits which are shown towards the beginning of the play to signal how much of a strong and honourable character he is. He is portrayed as being a great warrior and a leader who would be great in battle; “all praised knight”. This shows how honourable he is and how everyone acnologise this fact.

This is a good contrast between Hal as people don’t see Hal as a warrior with honour but as a devious politician who can’t seem to ever gain honour though his current lifestyle. Hotspur being honourable is one of his main strengths’ as this shows that he can always be counted on and being a good warrior aswell means he’s the first choice for a man in battle: “to pluck bright honour from the pale faced moon”.

The words used in this quote are very significant as it is short and to the point, compact into one strong and effect sentence which enables it to stick in your mind and be remembered. The words ‘pale-faced moon’ make it seem as though the honour is very high and almost unreachable to any human being but not Hotspur as the words ‘pale-faced’ and ‘pluck’ make it seem as if getting the honour for Hotspur was very easy and even the moon was shocked and pale. Also the word bright makes it seem as if it is heaven like, holy and above any normal human being but again nothing is too hard for Hotspur.

Hal however has a very dishonourable lifestyle and rejects his royal duties and instead drinks, whores and robs people of their money. The way Hal’s scenes are written in prose with alot of common tongue and swearing shows he is not acting like that of a prince, heir to the throne. The king has already right at the start of the play in the first scene told that Hal has “Stain the brow” of the royal family and the word ‘stain’ makes it seems as though it is permenant and so can never been got out or redeemed.

Hal while with Falstaff and the rest of the ‘lads’ down Eastcheap is very lazy, careless and dishonourable and seems to not care at all for anything except from sleeping with prostitutes and drinking beer which he gets the money from through robbing others for their money which is shown in Act 2, Scene 2 where Hal and the rest of the ‘gang’ at Eastcheap plan to rob tax men. This robbing scene though also shows more traits of Hal’s as Hal plans with Poins to not rob the tax men but to wait until Falstaff does it and then rob the stolen money off of Falstaff. This shows that he is a planner and has a political and cunning mind as he then says that robbing a robber isn’t a crime and so he is only acting and playing a robber and is not actually a true lowlife. Robbing from Falstaff is also significant as it shows Hal cares little of Falstaff and is showing that Falstaff means nothing to him nd that this life may also be an act and not be true of Hal.

Although Hotspur is expressed as an honourable warrior who is not at fault for anything and is on top of the world he also has his weak traits which on close analysis indicate a downfall of him at the time of the rebellion. Many of the sentences which are used when Hotspur is speaking are simple, short and exclamatary which shows he is hotheaded and has a bad temper: ‘Hang him!’; which would also lead to him being rude and unable to accept people different from his great warrior type which will end up to him losing allies unlike that of Hal who can get on with anyone: ‘And you in hell, as oft as he hears Owen Glendower spoke of’. But his main weaknesses are his lack of planning which will have great effect on the rebellon he is running: “I forgot the map!” and also the way he allienates his allies which will also lead to the same downfall and failure to the rebellion. A lack of planning shows a old trait of a warrior and not that of a politician which as shown by Hal is a new and effective way to shape life

and succeed in life. The way he allienates his allies also shows how egolistic he is as he thinks he doesn’t need anyone else as he on his own can do anything he wants and succeed in anything in life no matter what the chances of failure are: ‘We’ll fight tonight’; Act IV, Scene III, where the other members of the rebellion say to fight tomorrow when they have more men and a greater chance but Hotspur is not interested in numbers and planning but only himself and fighting.

All the time Hotspur is on the downfall coming up to the rebellion Hal is on the rise thanks to his calculating and futuristic mind which he uses to plan the future to his advantage. This political and machievellian side shows his planning ability which will help him to defend his father, king Henry, in the rebellion and rescue him from a complete dishonourable life. The machievellian side indicates how good he is at acting and indicates tht he is actually acting to be part of the rough lowlife community when actually he is using it to his advantage as when he becomes honourable and a good king the contrast between the two different Hal and Prince Harry sides will be so drastic that everyone will see him as a much better king than he actually is: ‘I will redeem all this on Percy’s head’, which is said in Act 3, Scene 2 which shows his Machievellian side and how all of his life has been an act which is outlined in the soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2.

Hal’s calculating side is shown clearly as the further the play goes on the more financial and mathematical language is used; “the debt I never promised”; from the soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2. This describes Hal as a prince which he sees as a debt as it wasn’t up to him to be a prince he was just born into it. Also Hal pays Falstaff’s tavern debt which gives the indication that he pays all debts and so will most probably pay the debt of being a good prince and finally king.

In Act 3, Scene 2 Hal has a speech with the king which opens up the change of Hal. This is noticeable from the very start of the act as it is written in verse as that of the royals and not in prose like he used to talk in Eastcheap. In the speech the king starts by saying that God is punishing him for the way he overthrowed Richard II by giving him a lazy and ignorant son. Hal responds to this by accepting his faults but by aso saying that much of the news heard by the king was exagerated as Hal is prince. Bolingbroke then lies to his son and says that he himself kept out of the limelight unlike Richard and Hal and this is why he is king at the moment. But in Richard II, Bolingbroke is shown to be very much in the limelight unlike he has said and this this maybe suggests that Hal has got his skill of a politician from his father Bolingbroke. Then the king goes on to say what great qualities Hotspur has and how he is a warrior and a leader unlike Hal. He then goes on to say that he thinks his son is so

dishonourable that if the rebels paid him he would fight for them against his father: ‘to fight against me under Percy’s pay’. This comment get’s to Hal and so he reveals to his father, Bolingbroke, his plan of using Percy to gain all the glory and honour for him, which shows he is political and that of a Machievellian mind: ‘Percy is but my factor’. He then goes on to say that once Percy has gained the honour he will kill Hotspur and take all the Honour of Hotspur which will rid him of his bad life and allow him to make a good, princely new start: ‘Stain my favours in a bloody mask/which, wash’d away, shall scour my shame…’.

Hals change to a full new prince is shown clearly with evidence of this change being, the way he acts courteusly and kindly and doesn’t tell a single lie. He also says that he is friends with his father which shows he has left behind the friends from Eastcheap and is now friends with the royals which he should be. He also pays back debt literally to the landlady in Eastcheap and also pays his royal metaphoric debt by giving commands and taking charge and acting like a prince in public for the first time. Hal’s rise is so great that it is even noticed by Vernon, one of Hotspurs rebels when he tells Hotspur of Hals rise by decsribing him as: ‘gorgeous as sun at midsummer’. The word ‘sun’ is used to symbolise new hope and power from within Prince Harry and ‘midsummer’ is used to tell Hotspur that th Prince is rising and peaking and so stronger than ever. The reference to sun also links to the soliloquy in which the Prince outlines his rise. Vernon also uses the quote:

‘rise from the ground like feathered mercury’ to decsribe Prince Harry. The word ‘rise’ shows that Harry is moving up in the world and ‘Mercury’ to make he seem God-like.

In Act 4, Scene 2, Falstaff sells his footsoldiers so he gets money and then just replaces them with the lowlifes of society and so he ends up with money and footsoldiers. Falstaff has an attitude that it doesn’t matter hat footsoldiers’ you have they are all going to die and so who he has picked means nothing as he sees war as a blood bath which is a dramatic contrast to the idea of war to Hal and Hotspur as they both see it as honourable.

Later on in the play in Act 5, Scene 1, Hal makes an offer to the king of single-handed combat with a Percy as he wants to re-inact what Bolingbroke did after he went from the drain to fame. To this proposal the king denies which shows he is know in the modern, political world and that the old medieval honour age is in the past. Falstaff later on in this scene dismisses honour and war again by saying it is useless and has no purpose as it can’t keep you alive or save you from suffering and so he will have nothing to do with it. This speech by Falstaff signals the downfall of Hotspur as it shows that his whole life chasing honour is worthless as all it is is just a simple word which has no significance to our destinies.

Hotspurs downfall is shown again in the next scene when he replies: ‘Cousin, I think thou art enamoured on his follies’; to Vernon when he praises the Prince and tels of his change. In saying this Hotspur is showing that he can not acept Hal’s change and so when it comes to battle Hotspur will be to arrogant and unestimate Hal which could and does lead to his death.

Hal shows two last and most important traits of a true prince before killing Hotspur by refusing to leave the battlefield despite being wounded and told to by his father and then by saving his father, the King, from Douglas. The King tells of his forgiveness to Hal after he saves his life by saying that Hal has: ‘redeem’d thy lost opinion’. The king uses the financial word of ‘redeem’d’ to show of the change to the new world and to show that Prince Harry is a political hero in the eyes of the king. Also, in saying this the king is forgiving him and allowing him to have a new start at being a Prince. Hal finally replies to the king by closing the soliloquy of that of princely debt by accepting that it was his debt and even if he never pomised it he still had to pay it to be a good Prince: ‘never promiseth but he means to pay’

Hal then finishes his transformation into a Prince by defeating Hotspur in single-compact. But during the time in which Hotspur is finally dying and has lost his honour he relises it means nothing to you once your dead but still can only accept the lose of his life to Prince Harry over the lose of his honour. Once Hotspur is dead the Prince regains the traits of a true prince and pays respect to Hotspur after he dies and then covers his face as a final show of respect: ‘But let my favours, hids thy mangles face’. Hal then refers to himself as the Prince for the first time and this symbolised a complete change: ‘I am the Prince of Wales’.

A truely transformed Prince Harry then backs up a total transformation by releasing and showing remorse on Douglas who fought against him and the king as part of the rebels in the rebellion and then finally rides of to fight Glendower with the king to show him and his father as true political royals side by side as they should be.

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The contrasting characters of Hal and Hotspur in King Henry IV. (2017, Aug 26). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-contrasting-characters-of-hal-and-hotspur-in-king-henry-iv-essay

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