Henry IV, Part I Act 3 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 3 Summary and Analysis

Act III, Scene 1

New Characters
Lord Mortimer: Edmund, Earl of March

Lady Mortimer: wife to Mortimer; daughter to Glendower

Owen Glendower: Welsh rebel; father to Lady Mortimer

In Wales, the Percys meet to plan their rebellion and divide the kingdom that they hope to win. Glendower takes this opportunity to talk about how the strange phenomena which occurred at this birth support his claim to magical powers. Hotspur is quick to dismiss these happenings as mere coincidence. The rebels then divide the kingdom, and Hotspur objects that his portion is not equal to the rest. Mortimer and Glendower try to convince Hotspur that his portion is equal, but Hotspur insists he is right. Glendower leaves to inform the men’s wives of their departure. When Mortimer asks Hotspur why he is so quick to anger at Glendower, Hotspur says that he is tired of hearing about Glendower’s magic. Nevertheless, Worcester instructs Hotspur that he should curb his quick temper. Hotspur brushes Worcester off, and Glendower returns with Lady Mortimer and Lady Percy.

As they say their good-byes, Glendower acts as translator between Lord and Lady Mortimer, since she speaks no English, and Mortimer, no Welsh. Lady Mortimer sings a Welsh song as they all relax before the men leave for battle.

The rebels’ plot begins to crystalize as Worcester, Hotspur, Glendower, and Mortimer meet to divide the kingdom, yet they show division among themselves. One weakness among them is Hotspur’s attitude toward Glendower, who says that at his “birth / The frame and huge foundation of the earth / Shaked like a coward.” Glendower’s insistence that supernatural phenomena occurred at his birth finally causes Hotspur to dismiss Glendower as “tedious / As a tired horse.” With respect to the division of the kingdom, Hotspur is quick to point out that his share “in quantity equals not” the others’ shares, and he disputes with Glendower that the map should be altered. At this point, the seriousness of the rebels’ purpose is reduced to a trifling, almost childish, argument in which Glendower insists the map will not be changed and Hotspur insists that he will “cavil on the ninth part of a hair” if he has to in order to make his point. As was evident in a previous scene in which Hotspur could not drop the issue of being silenced about Mortimer, Hotspur does not drop the issue of the size of his portion of the kingdom until he speaks the last word. Worcester points out Hotspur’s quickness to assert his willfulness as a fault which he “must needs learn to amend.”

As Shakespeare often assigns names to characters that suggest their personality, Hotspur’s name suits his character, in that he is like a hot spur which, if jabbed into a horse’s side, would cause the horse to take off aimlessly. When he is off in his own direction, Hotspur is not easily led back by those who may be more knowledgeable than he. Even Lady Percy remarks, although in a lighter vein, that Hotspur is “altogether governed by humors,” recognizing that he often acts without thinking. The reference to Hotspur’s humor points out the Elizabethan belief that four humors or body fluids, yellow bile, black bile, blood, and phlegm, determine a person’s temperament. According to the theory, when all of the body fluids are in equilibrium, a person exhibits balanced behavior. However, if one fluid or a combination dominates, a person exhibits a variety of temperaments and is classified as choleric, melancholy, sanguine, or phlegmatic. Hotspur is indeed motivated by emotions rather than by rational thought.

Act III, Scene 2

King Henry meets with his son Hal at the palace in London to discuss Hal’s friends and the type of behavior he exhibits among them. Hal admits that he acts the way he does because of his youth, and the King lets Hal know that his friends are not the kind among whom he should be seen. He adds that Hal’s younger brother, Prince John, has replaced Hal in...

(The entire section is 1,972 words.)