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William Shakespeare's Henry Iv Essay

2057 words - 8 pages

William Shakespeare's Henry IV

In Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2, the brilliant playwright introduces us to several complex and intricate themes, clever language, and a fascinating cast of multifaceted characters, including the thief Jack Falstaff, who may be as wise as his belly is big, and the young Prince Hal, who conceals his shrewd mind and physical prowess beneath a soiled reputation for “unthrifty” behavior. Perhaps the most dynamic character of the play is Hotspur, or Henry Percy, the idealistic rebel warrior, and Hal’s rival for power, glory, and the throne. Although the public perceives him to be just an intense, hotheaded he-man, Hotspur actually has many different dimensions to his personality. Hotspur shows, particularly in his interactions with his wife, Lady Percy, that his attitude toward the roles of masculinity and femininity differ from the public’s expectations of him, and his expression of certain feminine characteristics proves that he is not solely the manly-man warrior he is thought to be.

The first impressions of Hotspur in the play support his macho reputation well. King Henry himself speaks favorably of Percy, calling him “the theme of honor’s tongue” (I.i.81) and in comparing Hotspur with the King’s own son Hal he expresses his wish that “some night-tripping fairy had exchang’d / In cradle-clothes our children where they lay / And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!” (I.i.86). We learn that Hotspur is valiant, and skillful in war: he has recently captured several important hostages. He is also full of pride, and is not afraid to stand up to the King in requesting the freedom of his brother-in-law, Mortimer.

Conversely, we also see that Hotspur is apt to fall prey to his irrational thoughts, idealistic fantasies, and impatient hastiness. It is possible that these negative characteristics could be altered in a positive light as aspects of Hotspur’s masculinity; he is still young, and these traits may contribute favorably to his success in battle. However, negative qualities such as these were often seen as feminine qualities, and Hotspur’s own father deems them as weaknesses in his son. At the end of Act I, Scene III Hotspur erupts in a fit of rage, making foolish and rampant claims that “All studies here I solemnly defy, / Save how to pinch and gall this Bullingbrook”, and as for Prince Hal “I would have him poisoned with a pot of ale.” (I.iii.228-233). To this Northumberland, Hotspur’s father, replies “Why, what a wasp-stung and impatient fool / Art thou to break into this woman’s mood, / Tying thine ear to no tongue but thine own!”(I.iii.236-238). The content of Hotspur’s raving reflects the masculine preoccupation with battle and revenge, but Hotspur’s father refers to his attitude, his rashness and inability to listen, as “this woman’s mood”. This indicates that Hotspur may not precisely fit the mold of the stereotypical warrior man.

Prince Hal’s opinion of Hotspur, and...

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