Who is the more admirable character, Hal or Hotspur?
In the play's opening scene, King Henry IV speaks of Hotspur as "a son who is the theme of honor's tongue" and wishes that he could exchange his own "Harry," the prince Hal for Hotspur given the dissolute lifestyle that Hal has pursued. Nevertheless, while Hotspur's star as an English hero has risen sharply, it is also highly incandescent. Right after he makes his wish, the King learns that Hotspur refuses to turn over prisoners of war to the king. In due course we find that Hotspur is literally a hot-head who always wants to force the issue at hand, insisting that he and the other rebels fight at Shrewsbury even though they are outnumbered by the King's loyal troops and even before any reinforcements can arrive to bolster the rebel cause. Hal, on the other hand, has a much longer term outlook and moves at a deliberate pace. In the second scene of the play, he announces his plans to eventually abandon his tavern cronies saying of them in a soliloquy that , "I know you all, and will awhile uphold/The unyok'd humor of your idleness" (I, ii., ll.190-191). In that speech, Hal also indicates that he has remained among the denizens of Eastcheap so that his transformation into a noble king will be all the more wondered at by his people. Hal accurately predicts to his father that "the time will come" when he will vanquish his rival Hotspur (III, ii., l.144). Hotspur is the hero of the day; Hal is a hero for the ages. In the short term, Hotspur's courage captures our attention, but in the long run, Hal's heroism comes to the fore.