Act 3 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1972

Act III, Scene 1

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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.”

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Latest answer posted September 23, 2020, 9:58 am (UTC)

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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 council and that Hal has alienated himself from the court. Furthermore, Henry informs Hal that he is ruining his chances of becoming king. Henry uses his own experiences to remind Hal that if he had been loose in his behavior, his own reputation would not have been so good. By likening Hal’s behavior to that of Richard II, Henry points out to Hal how unbefitting to a prince his behavior has become. Consequently, Hal promises to change his behavior to suit his regal position, and Henry tells Hal about the seriousness of the Percy Rebellion. As a result, Hal vows to prove himself.

Sir Walter Blunt enters with news that the rebels have met at Shrewsbury. Henry tells Blunt that he has already dispatched the Earl of Westmoreland and Lord John of Lancaster, his younger son. Next, he directs Hal to march next Wednesday so as to meet him at Bridgenorth the following Thursday.

This crucial meeting between father and son has been foreshadowed by the “play extempore”; however, there is no comedy as Henry expresses his disappointment in Hal’s behavior and the company he keeps. Henry’s question to Hal concerns “such poor, such bare, such lewd, such mean attempts, / Such barren pleasure, such rude society” with which he associates himself. Hal admits to his father that he wishes he could clear himself of all of the charges directed at him. On the other hand, for those he does admit to, he judges them as errors of his youth. Henry forgives Hal for the offenses and explains to Hal the consequences of his actions. First, Prince John, Hal’s younger brother, has taken Hal’s “place in the council.” Next, Hal has become “alien to the hearts / Of all the court.” As a result, Hal’s place as future king of England is in jeopardy. Since Hal is the older son, the throne would naturally go to him, but because of his actions, he is losing the right. Henry advises Hal to keep a low profile and to not be “so common-hackneyed in the eyes of men, / So stale and cheap to vulgar company” so that he may gain public favor when he becomes king.

The next part of Henry’s speech to Hal presents the image of Richard II as one who “grew a companion to the common streets” and, as a result, lost his credibility because he was “heard—not regarded.” By telling Hal about Richard’s errant behavior, Henry hopes to let Hal see that he is following the same path and has already lost his “princely privilege / With vile participation” because of the company he keeps. Hal recognizes what his father says as truth and promises to act as he should. Finally, Henry acknowledges that the situation which exists in England is as it was when Henry seized power from Richard II. His analogy suggests that if nothing is done, Hotspur will seize power sooner than Hal will inherit the crown. After this, Henry gives Hal a detailed description of Hotspur’s militant actions and refers to him as “Mars in swathling clothes / This infant warrior.” Henry cleverly holds up the warlike image of Hotspur to Hal in order to motivate Hal to action. Consequently, Henry is successful. Hal responds that he “will redeem all this on Percy’s head.” The word redeem, which was significant to Hotspur in reclaiming his family honor, becomes the motivating force for Hal to maintain his family’s reputation. As he rises to the occasion, Hal vows to “make this northern youth exchange / His glorious deeds for my indignities.” The scene ends on a note of unity as Henry bestows “charge and soveriegn trust” on his son and explains the strategy for attack.

Act III, Scene 3

In the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, Falstaff and Bardolph make an absurd deal in which Falstaff will change his life if Bardolph will change his face. Mistress Quickly enters, and Falstaff asks her if she inquired about who picked his pockets. The hostess is insulted by Falstaff’s suggestion that she has thieves for clients, so she calls him to account for the debts he owes.

At this point, the Prince and Poins enter marching, and Falstaff meets them, playing on a large stick as if it were a fife. Falstaff brings up the issue of his being pickpocketed, and after some bantering among them, Hal tells Falstaff that he picked Falstaff’s pocket after the sheriff left the inn. Hal also says that the money that Falstaff had stolen from the travelers was paid back and that he has procured for Falstaff a charge of foot soldiers for the ensuing battle. Hal tells Bardolph to deliver a letter to Lord John of Lancaster, Peto to get a horse, and Falstaff to meet him the next day to receive his charge and equipment.

Once again, comic relief is used to bridge the gap between dramatic events. This episode at the inn is the last time Hal is seen with his comrades in the common setting, thus implying that Hal’s reformation will create a rift in their relationship. Falstaff complains that his “skin hangs about [him] like an old lady’s loose gown,” suggesting that the incident at Gad’s Hill has left its mark on his size. He blames the “company, villainous company” for his transformation. Falstaff says he “swore little, diced not above seven times a week, went to a bawdy house…and paid money…borrowed three or four times,” living “virtuous enough.” However, he is now “all out of order, out of compass.” The pun on the word compass emphasizes Falstaff’s wit and prompts Bardolph to joke about Falstaff being “out of all reasonable compass”—in other words, immeasurably fat. With a clever response, Falstaff calls attention to a prominent physical feature of Bardolph’s, his nose. Falstaff calls Bardolph “The Knight of the Burning Lamp” and makes a speech in mocking praise of Bardolph’s nose. In typical Falstaff fashion, he exaggerates a situation to command an audience of listeners.

Falstaff’s suggestion that the clientele of the inn consists of thieves and pickpockets insults Mistress Quickly, so she calls Falstaff to account for all the debts he has incurred at the inn. Falstaff is annoyed at this and says that he had “a seal ring…worth forty marks” pickpocketed, to which the hostess says that she heard Hal say it was only made out of copper. As soon as Falstaff has to account for his actions, he resorts to more humor by teasingly calling Hal a knave.

At this point, Hal and Poins come marching in, and Falstaff joins the merriment by pretending to play a fife. When Falstaff mentions the pickpocketing incident, Hal asks him what was stolen. Again Falstaff exaggerates the worth of what he lost, and Hal points out the true value of the ring. What follows is a name calling match between Falstaff and the hostess, with Hal playing Mistress Quickly’s part. As the coup de grâce to this scene, Hal says that Falstaff’s pockets contained “tavern reckonings, memorandums of bawdy houses, and one poor penny-worth of sugar.” Falstaff is forced to apologize to Mistress Quickly, and Hal tells Falstaff that the stolen “money is paid back again.” Falstaff’s accounts have been squared away, and he receives “a charge of foot”—that is, he has been given command of an infantry of men to aid in the battle with the Percys.

This scene is the last one set at the inn, and it signals Hal’s break from the tavern world as he, too, is called to account and must accept responsibility for his actions.

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