Act 4 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1478

Act IV, Scene 1

New Characters Archibald: Earl of Douglas; captured by Hotspur; member of the rebel faction

Sir Richard Vernon: member of the Percy Rebellion

Messenger: brings letter from Northumberland to the rebels

Summary Hotspur, Worcester, and Douglas meet in the rebel camp near Shrewsbury, and Hotspur tells Douglas...

(The entire section contains 1478 words.)

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Act IV, Scene 1

New Characters
Archibald: Earl of Douglas; captured by Hotspur; member of the rebel faction

Sir Richard Vernon: member of the Percy Rebellion

Messenger: brings letter from Northumberland to the rebels

Hotspur, Worcester, and Douglas meet in the rebel camp near Shrewsbury, and Hotspur tells Douglas what respect he has for him. At this time, a messenger enters with letters from Northumberland informing the rebels that he is sick and will not be able to join the rebellion. Worcester expresses concern that this will weaken the rebels’ cause, but Hotspur believes his father’s absence will make their plan more daring in the eyes of the opposition. Sir Richard Vernon enters with news that Lord John of Lancaster and the King are marching to Shrewsbury. This news incites Hotspur to battle, and he is eager to meet Hal in a single fight. Vernon adds that Glendower will not be able to join them for another 14 days.

In the rebel camp, we see how Hotspur has, as Henry pointed out to Hal, “Discomfited great Douglas; ta’en him once, / Enlarged him, and made a friend of him,” with Hotspur’s comment to Douglas, “a braver place / In my heart’s love hath no man than yourself.” At this, the rebels receive news that Northumberland, who “is grevious sick,” will not join them. Worcester fears that Northumberland’s “sickness is a maim” to the rebels; however, Hotspur does not perceive it as a weakness. Rather, he is of the opinion that if the rebels’ attempts fail, all of their forces will not be destroyed.

Worcester’s concern grows as he expresses his belief that others might perceive Northumberland’s absence as a sign of his disapproval of the rebels’ cause. Hotspur rejects Worcester’s ideas and claims that Northumberland’s absence “lends a luster and more great opinion, / A larger dare” to their undertaking. This difference of opinion amongst the rebels suggests the dichotomy between Worcester, who is cautious in his approach, and Hotspur, who is quick to act irrationally in spite of many warnings.

Sir Richard Vernon’s news that Westmoreland and Prince John with “seven thousand strong” and “the King himself in person” bodes ill for the rebels’ cause. When Hotspur mockingly asks where “the nimble-footed madcap Prince of Wales” may be, Vernon says he saw Hal “gallantly armed, / Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury.” The mythological allusion to the Roman god parallels Henry’s allusion to Hotspur as “Mars in swathling clothes.” The allusion is then continued in Hotspur’s response that “the mailed Mars shall on his altars sit” as Hotspur prepares the meet “Harry to Harry…hot horse to horse.” The mythological allusions elevate the contest between the rebel forces and the King’s forces to a battle of epic proportions between gods.

A final weakness in the rebel enterprise comes with the news that Glendower will not be ready for another 14 days, to which Hotspur responds with the quixotic, “My father and Glendower being both away / The powers of us may serve so great a day.” There are logical reasons to delay the battle, but Hotspur disregards them.

Act IV, Scene 2

On a road near Coventry, Falstaff discusses with Bardolph the ragtag army of men that remain after others he impressed were able to pay their way out of service. The Prince and Westmoreland enter, and Hal tells Falstaff that the men are a pitiful sight. Falstaff remarks that they are as good as any men to serve and be killed.

In contrast to a battle of the gods as suggested in the previous scene, Falstaff’s army consists of those men who remain after the ones he impressed “bought out their services.” Falstaff is disappointed that the men he has enlisted have turned out to be “such toasts and butter” because they paid their way out of service. He is also disgusted with those who are left, whom he describes as “slaves as ragged as Lazarus…discarded serving men…revolted tapsters …ostlers trade-fall’n; the cankers of a calm world.” The biblical allusion, found in Luke 16:19-31, emphasizes the appalling assortment of men who comprise his army. In that parable, Lazarus, a poor man who would have eaten table scraps, is covered with sores which dogs come to lick. Falstaff adds that his army is composed of “a hundred and fifty tattered prodigals lately come from swine keeping.” The second allusion to Luke 15:15-16 refers to the Prodigal Son who wasted all his inheritance and had to resort to tending swine to earn a living.

Together, the two allusions create a vivid picture of men who are far removed from the well-trained, well-groomed army of the King. Falstaff’s assessment of his men may, at first, seem to be an exaggeration, since we have seen his bending of the truth in other comic scenes. However, this time his description comes closer to the reality that exists as evinced by Hal’s statement that he “did never see such pitiful rascals.” Furthermore, Worcester’s observation that “they are exceedingly poor and bare, too beggarly,” mirrors Falstaff’s depiction of the men.

Act IV, Scene 3

At the rebel camp in Shrewsbury, Worcester and Vernon advise Hotspur and Douglas not to fight this night, but Hotspur and Douglas, eager to fight, disagree with their judgment. Sir Walter Blunt enters with an offer from King Henry. If the rebels name their grievances, the King will see to it that the grievances are met and that the Percys are pardoned for their rebellion. Hotspur gets incensed by this offer and states how the Percys helped Henry regain his position as Duke of Lancaster and how Henry denounced King Richard’s abuses and then deposed him. In addition, Hotspur states that taxes are as high now as they were under Richard and that Henry makes no attempt to pay the ransom to get Mortimer released from the Welsh rebels. Hotspur responds to the King’s message by telling Blunt that Worcester will come the next day to talk to the King.

Again Hotspur displays his irrational thinking as he says “We’ll fight with him tonight,” despite Worcester’s suggestion to “be advised: stir not tonight.” Hotspur remains adamant in his belief that the rebels should strike tonight regardless of Vernon’s logic that certain forces have not arrived, Worcester’s horses are “with hard labor tame and dull,” and the number of King’s men is greater than the number of rebels. Frustrated because Hotspur will not listen to reason, Worcester admonishes, “For God’s sake, cousin, stay till all come in.”

At this point, Sir Walter Blunt brings an offer from King Henry that if the rebels name their griefs they will have their “desires met with interest / And pardon absolute.” Hotspur responds by recounting the history of how Henry became king and how the Percys helped. Hotspur’s vociferous catalogue of events causes Blunt to sharply reply, “Tut! I came not to hear this.” After a long-winded speech which would seem to end in a flat denial of the King’s offer, Hotspur reverses his position and tells Blunt that word will be sent in the morning and even suggests an acceptance of Henry’s offer. Hotspur’s erratic decision-making process suggests that he is inexperienced in war strategy, visualizes war in idealistic images, and refuses to accept the knowledge and insight of others more experienced then he.

Act IV, Scene 4

New Characters
Archbishop of York: a member of the Percy conspiracy

Sir Michael: the Archbishop of York’s friend

The Archbishop of York and his friend, Sir Michael, discuss the status of the rebel forces on the eve of the Battle of Shrewsbury. He fears that the absence of Northumberland and Glendower will weaken the rebel forces. Sir Michael tries to assure the Archbishop that the rebels still have Douglas, Mortimer, Mordake, Vernon, Lord Harry Percy, Worcester, and many gallant warriors, but the Archbishop tells him that Mortimer is not with them. The Archbishop also says that the King has drawn up a special army consisting of Hal, Lord John of Lancaster, Westmoreland, Blunt, and many others. Finally, the Archbishop speedily dispatches letters to the Lord Marshall and his cousin Scroop.

On the eve of the rebellion, the rebel forces are at a disadvant¬age as the Archbishop of York fears “the power of Percy is too weak / To wage an instant trial with the King.” Even the Archbishop recognizes what Hotspur refuses to accept: that Northumberland’s sickness, Glendower’s absence, and Mortimer’s exclusion severely weaken the rebels’ power and diminish their chances of success despite “a head / Of gallant warriors.” Moreover, the Archbishop expresses the fear that his own duplicity will be discovered by Henry who “hath heard of our confederacy.”

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