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Food for Words: Hotspur and the Discourse of Honor

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Harry Berger, Jr., University of California, Santa Cruz

In Richard II, Thomas Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk, having been accused of grievous crimes and challenged to judicial combat by Henry Bolingbroke, addresses the following piece of ceremonial bluster to the throne:

However God or Fortune cast my lot, There lives or dies true to King Richard's throne, A loyal, just, and upright gentleman. Never did captive with a freer heart Cast off his chains of bondage and embrace His golden uncontroll'd enfranchisement, More than my dancing soul doth celebrate This feast of battle with mine adversary. Most mighty liege, and my companion peers, Take from my mouth the wish of happy years; As gentle and as jocund as to jest Go I to fight: truth hath a quiet breast.


Such ritual self-representation has the obvious purpose of turning the speaker as completely as possible into a conventional icon, of emptying out his particularity so that he may fully embody and signify the discourse of honor. It is insurance against potential detraction should he be defeated. Its value is commemorative: in what may be his last performance the speaker designs his own death mask, speaks his own epitaph, tries to preempt the honor-giving function by stamping his ritualized idea on the future. The speech concludes not with one but with two rhymed couplets—double insurance. The message Mowbray intends is that he has already been enfranchised, that he is inwardly untouched by the "chains" of falsehood and corruption that bind him, and therefore that his truth, his probity, can't be affected by the outcome. Everything in this speech, however, strains against this message, qualifies it, contradicts it.

The initial strain is felt in the parallelism of the first two lines: his lot will be cast by God if he lives but by Fortune if he dies. This distinction may serve the rhetorical purposes of his message, but it is, to say the least, theologically difficult, and it is an evasive modification of the juridical logic that governs trial by combat, in which to lose is to be judged guilty by God. Another strain is suggested by Mowbray's insistence that he is true to "King Richard's throne"; his effort in I.I discreetly to distance himself from complicity with Richard insinuates a distinction into this phrase: truth to the throne may not be identical with truth to Richard. Mowbray is implicated in the Gloucester murder as well as in other unpalatable Ricardian projects. After he deflects blame for the murder from himself to Richard he goes on gratuitously to mention his participation in another failed ambush directed at John of Gaunt (1.1.133-41). Since nothing more is said about this episode we are left to wonder whether that was another Ricardian project, and the speculation only increases our sense of the snarled factional networks, the deep divisions, papered over by the ritual formulas that shape the language and actions of these public scenes.

Given the conventional demands of ceremonial speech, Mowbray's assertion of complacent conscience need not be belied by the catachrestic violence of his wild figurai dance. Such a dance is expected to fulfill the pastoral function of ritual without succumbing to the deadly iterability of the clichés of self-praise. The function is pastoral because it is a simplified and artificial procedure that conspicuously excludes and therefore alludes to the complicated network of motives, purposes, and interests to which it responds. Yet because of his unhappy relation to this network Mowbray's defense of his probity and freedom from guilt is compromised from the start. He is not only placed in a false position;...

(This entire section contains 16947 words.)

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he is also in a no-win situation. He would be disgraced if Bolingbroke were to defeat him, but were he to win he would uphold the disgraced regime that taints him by association, and he would validate the king he had all but accused of murder (1.1.132-34). Furthermore, it seems clear to everyone involved that both Richard and Bolingbroke are using him as a factor, an expendable decoy, to further their own designs. For all these reasons the very assertion of truth, autonomy, and quiet conscience must be assumed to jeopardize the self-esteem of any speaker whom we imagine to cherish those values, and the phrase "truth hath a quiet breast" takes on ominous vibrations: given the situation Mowbray finds himself in, there can be no truth in words. He thus welcomes the feast of battle as a liberation from the silenced truth of the network in which he is hopelessly entangled. He throws himself into it as an escape from the effeminizing—because (in his case) castrating—battle of words, "the trial of a woman's war" (1.1.48), in which he has been forced to defend his honor in terms that can only further compromise it. There is no escape from this bondage except in the enfranchisement his language orgiastically solicits and anticipates: death. "Take from my mouth the wish of happy years": not only "I wish you many happy years" but also "let me not wish for happy years"; "let me die now." Mowbray's dilemma is a harbinger, a proleptic epitome, of the dilemma that faces Hotspur in1 Henry IV1

The discourse of honor lurches like a sick horse toward the field it pastures and sickens on—the field beneath which problems of gender, speech, and gift exchange twist along in rhizomes whose bad fodder crops up everywhere. Harry Percy alias Hotspur rides into the field on that same horse, but misperceives the poor critter as his roan, his throne, and foolishly—or dashingly—disregards one of the symptoms of what ails it: it is, he says, "a crop-ear" (2.3.70). My topic in this essay is Hotspur's crop-eared dash toward death. More specifically, I am interested in Hotspur's talk and in things mucking about among the rhizomes of his language that the speaker seems not to hear, or not to want to hear. But before following Hotspur into the field, I want to set the stage for his entry by describing the field itself.

One of the many fine moves Pierre Bourdieu makes in Outline of a Theory of Practice is to map the discourse of honor onto Mauss's famous account of the discourse of the gift. In that account, Mauss writes that to give "is to show one's superiority, to show that one is something more and higher, that one is magister. . . . To accept without returning or repaying more is to face subordination, to become subservient, a client, a debtor," for "charity wounds him who receives, and our whole moral effort is directed toward suppressing the unconsciously harmful patronage of the rich alms-giver"—the patronage, for example, of such figures as the Christian Father and the Jewish Mother, both of whom, taking a page from King Lear's book, continually remind their children that "I gave you all."2 In the course of sketching out what may be called a "gift-act theory," Bourdieu chooses for his first example the game of honor and goes on to offer a conspectus of its strategies and misfires, which, he claims, conform to "a logic of challenge and riposte."3

This move is interesting because the dialectic of honor is more than a casual example of the dialectic of the gift. To superimpose challenge-and-riposte on giftand-return is to bring out the ambivalence in each (the aggressiveness of giving, the generosity of the challenge) and in fact to suggest that the two form a reversible fabric, each side the inner lining of the other. Bourdieu insists that the logic of honor is inherent in the more general practices of gift exchange: just as a gift "is a challenge which honors the man to whom it is addressed, at the same time putting his point of honor . . . to the test," so a challenge is a gift because it credits its recipient "with the dignity of a man of honor."4 This general view of the relationship, however, fails to engage the particular difference that distinguishes the special discourse of honor from the contribution its logic makes to the ambivalence of gift exchange. For gift-giving as Mauss discusses it may be aggressive and challenging, but it needn't be discussed by anyone but the anthropologist. The semiotics of gift exchange can operate with only nonlinguistic signs; the periodic deposit and removal of material objects (mineral, vegetable, animal, human) could conceivably take place in total silence. Not so the discourse of honor, which entails a linguistic component because it is not a closed or circular interaction but always subtends the arbitration and authority of a third party.

If two men meet in the forest, draw their swords over a point of honor, and one falls, but nobody hears him, has the other won honor? Not unless he returns to tell the tale, and the tale is accredited, and it reaches the right ears. Percipi est esse—and therein hangs a problem. Aristotle noted that while many think honor to be the telos of the political life, it is too superficial to be the final good because "it appears to depend on those who confer it more than on him who receives it."5 According to Bourdieu's account, when the claimant to honor challenges others to recognize his claim, he may be said to confer honor on them because the challenge credits them with the capability of "playing the game of honor" and obligates them to respond. But since the challenge is a request, it also confers power on them. Even if the honor-seeker feels he deserves the gift, it remains a gift for which he incurs an obligation. Thus the struggle between honor-seekers and honor-givers generates the need on both sides for strategies that control the flow of power and indebtedness.

The coupling of honor and gift exchange goes back at least as far as Aristotle, who says that "a gift is at once a giving of a possession and a token of honor." This remark may be coupled with another in which he indicates that honor itself is a gift, and with still another in which he notes of the "great-souled man"—who above all others prizes and deserves honor—that he "is fond of conferring benefits, but ashamed to receive them, because the former is a mark of superiority and the latter of inferiority." This suggests a problem, because if honor is a benefit conferred, shouldn't the great-souled lover of honor be ashamed to receive it, especially since he knows himself to be superior and "is justified in despising other people"?6 Aristotle secures the great-souled man from this dilemma by arguing that he will be justified in feeling he receives "only what belongs to him, or even less, for no honor can be adequate to the merits of perfect virtue, yet all the same he will deign to accept their honors, because they have no greater tribute to offer him."7 His gift to them will be to honor them with the opportunity to signify, however inadequately, what he already possesses. This helps him go on despising them, which is as it should be.

A similar view appears in Leviathan, where, characteristically, Hobbes bares its fangs:

To have received from one, to whom we think ourselves equal, greater benefits than there is hope to requite, disposeth to counterfeit love; but really secret hatred For benefits oblige, and obligation is thraldom; and unrequitable obligation perpetual thraldom; which is to one's equal, hateful. But to have received benefits from one, whom we acknowledge for superior, inclines to love; because the obligation is no new depression: and cheerful acceptation, which men call gratitude, is such an honor done to the obliger, as is taken generally for retribution.8

Hobbes seems to assume that hierarchy preconditions the different responses of equals and unequals, but if his language doesn't actually destabilize the assumption, it lends it a certain bite. Retribution, for example, is a strong term for the gratitude that is the honor done to the obliger; it is a power word, and he uses it again in chapter 15 in a punitive sense to denote justified revenge. Is the donee's repayment, his discharging of the debt, a form of requital? "The obligation is no new depression": the donee is already depressed, pressed down; this inferiority is what valorizes his gratitude; he isn't expected to make a more substantial repayment; the donation reaffirms his need and inferiority, as does the honor his cheerful acceptation pays the donor. Perhaps, then, generosity is the donor's revenge. But why should this be?

Hobbes suggests why this should be in his discussion of honor: "The value, or WORTH of a man, is . . . his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power: and therefore is not absolute; but a thing dependent on the need and judgment of another. . . . And as in other things, so in men, not the seller, but the buyer determines the price. For let a man, as most men do, rate themselves at the highest value they can; yet their true value is no more than it is esteemed by others" (1.10). This is the theme that, as D. J. Gordon has shown, is central to Coriolanus.9 If obeying and honoring confer power, those who obey and honor have power, which they both exercise and alienate when they obey and honor. It may be that in the terms of this master-slave dialectic, the more depressed they are, the more gratitude and honor they pay out, the more power they alienate, the more power they have. But what is the value of the honor one receives from those he considers his inferiors, those he relies on to reaffirm his superiority? It may be that in the overall scheme of Leviathan this dialectic promotes anxiety in the natural person who becomes the preeminent artificial person when authorized by his subjects to represent them as their sovereign.

Aristotle is no less political than Hobbes in his approach to honor, but Hobbes is more sensitive to the abstract and mediated forces of commodity exchange embedded in (but in his time much closer to the surface of) the concrete exchange systems of what may be called logocentric hierarchy. As C. B. Macpherson paraphrases Hobbes's view, honor, "regarded subjectively by the recipient, is the difference between his own estimate and the market estimate of his value. But honor, regarded objectively, corresponds to the market estimate that both establishes his actual power and is established by his actual or apparent power."10 One buys power or protection by paying out honor, and, as Hobbes asserts, the problem for the hero is that it is a buyer's market. This is because honor can't be taken or stolen or produced for self-consumption. It has to be borrowed, sold, or won; lent, bought, or ceded. As Ulysses puts it in Troilus and Cressida, the honorseeker "Cannot make boast to have that which he hath, / Nor feels not what he owes but by reflection," and the pun on owes has real bite to it.

Early in Part One of Henry IV, the king calls Hotspur "the theme of honor's tongue, / Amongst the grove the very straightest plant, / Who is sweet Fortune's minion and her pride" (1.1.80-82). All the dilemmas of Hotspur's version of the discourse of honor are inscribed in these words. Honor is the theme of Hotspur's tongue, but since the honor-seeker's discourse is necessarily incomplete and solicits others' tongues, Hotspur is perforce the theme of honor's tongue. This chiasmic predicament is complicated by the fact that there has always been a troubled relation between the honorseeker's tongue and his valor. It was so in warlike Sparta, from which we get the word and concept laconic. It was so in the wild American West, whose soft-spoken six-shooting heroes enjoyed actions louder than words. Enshrined in the films of the 1930s in such oversized, tight-lipped, woolly-mouthed fantasies as Gary Cooper and Randolph Scott, they asserted their special virtue by responding to the demands of civil life and civil or uncivil women with the antirhetoric of awshucksism. Who can fail to imagine John Wayne nasally twanging out Mowbray's

'Tis not the trial of a woman's war, The bitter clamor of two eager tongues, Can arbitrate this cause betwixt us twain . . . ?

He would have warmed to this, but the eighteen lines of eager tonguework Mowbray follows it with would have made him nervously toe the hoof-imprinted dirt. Our heroes show themselves aware of the ancient tradition of the miles gloriosus. The counterfeit warrior is the one who talks too much; the real one proves his courage by letting his gun and other people do his talking for him.

Paul Jorgensen's study of "the theme of the misplaced soldier" in Shakespeare and his contemporaries throws a certain amount of light on the man of valor's chief problem: "it is only on the battlefield that he is thoroughly at ease."11 So, if Hotspur says, "I profess not talking," and if Coriolanus says, "When blows have made me stay, I fled from words," Jorgensen thinks this must be because they lack the polish needed to cope with a wordy world run by courtly and lawyerlike operators. But this explanation fails to account for the copiousness of speech with which Hotspur professes not talking, and for the rhetorical power of Coriolanus's wordy flight from words. The story has to change as soon as we recognize that these warrior heroes run away, not from what they do poorly, but from what they do too well—and in Hotspur's case, from what he does so enthusiastically that, when he encounters someone like Glendower who reflects back to him an inflated version of his own bombast, he becomes irritable and embarrassed.

I would argue against Jorgensen, then, that Hotspur's courage (and, in a different way, Coriolanus's) is inseparable from his weakness, and that it is more than battle courage. It is the ability to endure situations of verbal encounter that continually threaten him with disclosure of the weakness he fears. The language that speaks through him is a minefield, because it represents him as both rhetorically self-indulgent and disdainful of rhetorical self-indulgence. He deserves the honor he wants if only for his courage in traveling over linguistic terrain he doesn't control or trust. That terrain is "overcharg'd with double cracks," so it's a good thing he is devoted to his horse. Deep fears and defenses wound the language that represents Hotspur. His speech both dramatizes and problematizes his cardinal virtue by treating it as the transformation of a latent desire of flight, and fear of weakness, into warlike valor and aggressiveness.

The outlines of the problem can be more firmly set by noting that in the tradition which made Aristotle's ethics influential, the sphere of action allocated to the virtue of courage is narrowly circumscribed, and circumscribed in such a way as to create difficulties for its representation in Shakespeare's version of theatrical drama. From a Shakespearean standpoint, Aristotle begins well when, after defining courage as the virtue that observes "the mean in respect of fear and confidence," he states that "the things we fear are . . . broadly speaking, evil things." But the notion of evil is then simplified by the following line of argument: courage is displayed in response to fearful things; the courageous man willingly faces the most fearful things; "the most terrible thing of all is death"; not every kind of death gives an opportunity for courage—drowning and disease, for example, don't qualify as appropriate occasions; the noblest test for courage is the noblest form of death, that is, death in battle. "And this conclusion is borne out by the principle on which honors are bestowed in republics and under monarchies." Hence, the courageous man "will be he who fearlessly confronts a noble death, or some sudden peril that threatens death; and the perils of war answer this description most fully."12

Aristotle's subsequent discussion of courage is entirely confined to warfare. Were Shakespeare interested in dramatizing this version of courage he would confront the obvious difficulty that battles are not the easiest things to stage, and that audiences would tend to be diverted from the hero's display of martial courage to the actor's display of acrobatic dexterity, thus from warfare to choreography. Jorgensen addresses this problem in the first chapter of Shakespeare 's Military World, mounting an astute defense of what had previously been judged a dramaturgical weakness, Shakespeare's "physical staging of warfare." He argues that if Shakespeare differed from some of his contemporaries in his greater scorn of "stage realism" and his more "restricted battle display," it was from choice rather than from the limited "martial resources of the stage" (2-3). Shakespeare chose to appeal to the auditory rather than visual imagination "either through actual sound or through a stylized, connotative rendering of it in dialogue" (3). "With his actual military music" of drums, trumpets, and alarms as well as with his "rhetorical 'music,'" he sought to transport

his audience from the immediate experience of battle—in which sounds, cannon, and blows have a precise, uncolored meaning—to a superior level of imaginative participation. On this level, not the mind's eye but the mind's ear is appealed to principally as a substitute for a full display of warfare. Remoteness . . . is an essential quality of both the martial discourse and the martial music. And the ear, more susceptible than the eye to the suggestiveness of distant and imminent events, is impressed both by the "sad harmony" of rhetoric and by a skillfully connotative use of drum and trumpet. (34)

The evidence Jorgensen adduces suggests a different and to my mind better generalization than the one his first sentence articulates. For example, he shows how the "persistent 'Low alarums'" in the last scenes of Julius Caesar underscore "Caesar's Nemesis-like pursuit of Brutus—but with an ultimate clarification in terms of military function" when "the identity of the Nemesis becomes prosaically clear with the arrival of the victorious enemy, whose presence on stage is far less impressive than the suggestiveness of their distant drums" (32-33). Similarly, Jorgensen remarks the increasing tension produced in the last scenes of Macbeth "by the cumulative effect of drums . . . and . . . alarums," and observes that "Macduff, like Octavius Caesar, may be a prosaic instrument of Nemesis, but not so the relentless music with which—in a more than military sense—he encompasses his victim" (33-34). What both these examples suggest is that Shakespeare first elicited "a superior level of imaginary participation" by appealing to the ear, and that the subsequent stage appearance of the victors seemed anticlimactic by contrast. And this is a significant pattern, evident in many plays, including the Henriad: the visualization onstage of battles and other external moments of conflict resolution is represented as unsatisfactory, as the reductive displacement of inner self-division to outward circumstances.

From Jorgensen's discussion, then, I force this hypothesis: Shakespeare uses the power of auditory effects to arouse a sense of foreboding and premonition that makes the stage realization the effects anticipate seem inadequate as "objective correlatives." We could say, in fact, that "objective" in Eliot's phrase means "inadequate" in the value system of Shakespearean dramaturgy. This isn't only because in "the immediate experience of [staged] battle . . . sounds, cannon, and blows have a precise, uncolored meaning," whereas in "martial discourse" they are more distanced and suggestive—more seductive, as Othello and Desdemona found: "She'd come again, and with a greedy ear / Devour up my discourse" (1.3.149-50). The "precise, uncolored meaning" is itself a meaning. It signifies that insufficient and premature closure has been imposed on latent meaning ("some other grief) by the process of displacement that allows theatrical ending to coincide with dramatic judgment. The effect is not to dispel but, on the contrary, to intensify our bewilderment, skepticism, foreboding, sadness, or terror.

"The music at the close" only reanimates the fearful and mysterious power of Shakespearean speech so that Desdemona's tremulous question remains the auditor's: "what does your speech import? / I understand a fury in your words, / But not the words" (4.2.31-33). And this is the perplexity that Shakespearean language continually inscribes in the speakers it represents: "what does my speech import? / I understand a fury in my words, / But not the words." When the fury is channeled outward in physical violence, the perplexity continues to vibrate. Shakespeare's final Exeunts order us out of the theater because the unfinished business they leave us with cannot be transacted here. It is as if, after all the buildup, physical battle au fond tests nothing more significant than skill in fencing and counterfeiting; as if the represented violence is no more "serious" an expression of the "inward wars" than the choreography that mimes it. That is not where Shakespeare's heroes kill and die. They kill and die in their language, and we have to follow the lethal traces down into its burrows and rhizomes.

What stage death offers the hero is an escape from this verbal dying into the rest that is silence. What it offers the audience is something like a critique of this commitment to stageable closure as an escape from meaning. When the hero finally faces the test of battle and arrives at the wished-for haven where he can find judgment and prove his truth; when he is on the verge of escaping from his bondage to words, woman, civil life, and perhaps life itself, his drive toward transcendence may be betrayed, diminished, by the very convention of theatrical closure to which he has committed himself. Having displaced his inward wars to swordplay, he becomes vulnerable to a critique that may have arisen accidentally, as a by-product of theatrical constraints, but that offers thematic possibilities to a writer who wants to raise questions about such a displacement. The critique occurs when presentation overpowers and interprets representation, that is, when the agility of actors putting on a fencing exhibition preempts the mind's eye and occludes the symbolic valency of the fictional conflict.

This critique speaks to the ethical limits of such notions as Aristotle's circumscribed concept of courage, the courage that thinks to prove itself by facing death in battle as "the most terrible thing of all." What that notion fails to consider may be suggested by glancing at the following qualification, in which Aristotle limits the range of the term according to the doctrine of the mean: "to seek death in order to escape from poverty, or the pangs of love, or from pain or sorrow, is not the act of a courageous man, but rather of a coward; for it is weakness to fly from troubles, and the suicide does not endure death because it is noble to do so, but to escape evil."13 But the interest, pathos, and poignancy of Shakespeare's warrior-heroes is produced by ignoring this distinction.

In the language of 1 Henry IV the politics of honor, the politics of speech, and the politics of gender are closely interrelated. To begin with some textualized representations of woman, consider the passage in which Gadshill boasts that he is the accomplice of those who

pray continually to their saint the commonwealth, or rather not pray to her, but prey on her, for they ride up and down on her, and make her their boots.

Cham. What, the commonwealth their boots? Will she hold out water in foul way?

Gads. She will, she will, justice hath liquored her: we steal as in a castle, cock-sure: we have the receipt of fern-seed, we walk invisible. (2.1.79-86)

In this pathologically overstated piece of irreverence, the thrills of political, legal, and religious violation are reduced to that of sexual violation. The commonwealth is feminized and canonized in the mode of Petrarchan parody—as the idealized object of erotic worship who is simultaneously the source, enemy, and target of sexual desire. Manly power and risk-taking are exaggerated in a phallic fantasy the rhetoric of which centers on the victimization of a woman and on the idea of preying on one's very source of protection. Gadshill's idyllic society of thieves is held together homosocially by what is imaged as a gang rape. The victim is not only violated but also "liquored"—corrupted either by bribery or by drink—and thus easier to penetrate.

An earlier analogue to this passage appears in Falstaff s famous play on body/bawdy/beauty/booty:

Marry then sweet wag, when thou art king let not us that are squires of the night's body be called thieves of the day's beauty: let us be Diana's foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon; and let men say we be men of good government, being governed as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal. (1.2.23-29)

The paradox in the last phrase is that those who steal under Diana's sylvan authority also steal under her face; they are thieves as well as squires of the night's body, beauty, and booty.14 Manhood and male bonding are defined in terms of the conventional strategy, first idealizing and then violating the power, authority, or body of woman. Falstaff s idealization is itself motivated by the Prince's equally one-sided derogation: "clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-colored taffeta" (1.2.8-10). When Falstaff replies, "we that take purses go by the moon" (13-14), he is not exactly changing the subject from prostitution to robbery, since purse-taking is an image that accommodates robbery to the metaphor of sexual violation. The point of Harry's insult to Falstaff is his susceptibility to the lusts of the flesh that make him an easy mark for women. Falstaff gets the point, and parries it a few speeches later: "is not my hostess of the tavern a most sweet wench?" (39-40). But his Diana speech is also a riposte: "when you are king, let my immersion in the life of sack, whores, and thievery to which you (so righteously) consign me be romantically mystified as a form of service to the goddess to whose chaste countenance these very things are anathema. And let you be that goddess."

This is "pretty daring" talk, as Dover Wilson observes, because it glances at the Virgin Queen.15 The speech is also daring because Falstaff offers Harry the role of Diana. And it is even more daring because of the double pun in the last phrase: (1) "we steal (a) under her authority but also (b) right under her nose"; (2) "we go stealthily not only (a) under her authority but also (b) under her face." Meaning 2b is the most outrageous because it is sexual, and because it places Falstaff in the position of Actaeon. If Diana's foresters are men, they must be hunters of as well as for the goddess.16 As Falstaff s five repetitions of "when thou art king" in this scene indicate, he is dogging his Diana now: laying bare the real project behind Harry's madcap role and goading Harry into exposing it himself, but also—and more compellingly—daring Harry to turn the verbal dogs back on their fat master.

The Actaeon myth figures explicitly and importantly in Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Leonard Barkan has shown how Merry Wives articulates the comic aspects of the theme: the attempt to overmaster woman results in being mastered by woman; phallic aggression produces emasculation.17 In this direct form, the Actaeon theme does not enter into the concerns of 1 Henry IV. Its comic and farcical reduction in Merry Wives is a consequence of full detextualization, which transfers the dispersed nodes of textual meaning to the dramatic and theatrical surface, where the dangers are explicit and controlled. In 1 Henry IV, however, the traces of the myth produce a more sinister network of resonances. From his first words to his final rejection, Falstaff knowingly presents himself to Harry as a target, persistently probes beneath the madcap role to lay bare aggressive motives that Harry tries to conceal even from himself. In doing this, of course, he is asking for punishment and eliciting the gestures of negation or rebuttal that will add up to the ultimate rejection.

By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap To pluck bright honor from the pale-fac'd moon . . .


With these lines Hotspur declares his candidacy for membership in Falstaff s Actaeon Club. The assault on the moon draws some of its energy not only from its echo of Falstaff s passage but also from a hunting image Hotspur has just unleashed:

O, the blood more stirs To rouse a lion than to start a hare!North. Imagination of some great exploit Drives him beyond the bounds of patience.


Some light on Hotspur's heroic frenzy and its Actaeonic implications is thrown by Barkan's comments on Gl' Eroici Furori:

From the dedication to Sir Philip Sidney to all Bruno's sonnets which his dialogues analyze, it becomes clear that the conventional behavior and attitudes of the romantic lover are requisite for the visionary experience, even if the true enthusiast must purge the purely sexual aspect of his love. The enthusiast is first a lover, and Bruno builds his visionary structure upon the foundation of Neoplatonic amorous furor.18

It is the repression and displacement indicated by the italicized phrases that strike me as relevant to the Hotspurian discourse of honor. Erotic desire for woman is transformed into aggressive desire for honor. The linking term, purge, encodes a process in which the source of the "sexual aspect" is displaced outward to woman, and woman is violated either by the hero's direct assault or by his flight. The return and triumph of the repressed, which is inscribed in the fate of Actaeon, is also inscribed in Hotspur's language, and the consequent anxiety this language betrays is evident in his very first speech.

Henry's curt dismissal of Worcester at the beginning of 1.3, and his unbending attitude about Hotspur's prisoners, could not but be calculated to incense the Percys. The end of the play's first scene makes it clear that he looks forward to this confrontation, and that he had arranged it before his crusade speech. If he assumes that Hotspur is already infected by "his uncle's teaching," as Westmoreland claims (1.1.95), what he does in 1.3 can only be expected to aggravate the infection and strengthen Worcester's hand. We judge Henry's contribution to be even greater when we realize, early in 1.3, that Hotspur is not yet infected, and that although Worcester has clearly been up to something, Hotspur hears for the first time that Richard had proclaimed his brother-in-law, Mortimer, heir to the throne.

Against this background the emphasis in Hotspur's long speech explaining his denial of prisoners becomes more interesting for what it reveals about the speaker's basic motivation. He is chiefly concerned to document the source of his irritation in the behavior of the foppish messenger sent by the king. His caricature of a supercilious court butterfly conflates effeminacy with squeamishness, as in "neat and trimly dress'd, / Fresh as a bride-groom," "perfumed like a milliner," "With many holiday and lady terms," "a popinjay," "talk so like a waiting gentlewoman" (1.3.32-54). G. R. Hibbard sums it up thus: "Scorn and impatience ring through the entire passage. The images are precise, reductive, and, some of them, admirably designed to bring out the womanish qualities the soldier sees in the courtier. . . . Brusque, impetuous, impatient, direct, and courageous, Hotspur makes all this side of his nature evident in his first speech."19 The italicized phrase betrays a certain diffuseness of reference that is no doubt occasioned by Hibbard's titular theme, the making of Shakespeare's dramatic poetry. Presumably the praise is directed toward the author rather than his character. But what if we ask whether the images are designed for the stated purpose by Hotspur: is he to be admired along with Shakespeare? Why? Hibbard's general objective often leads him to ignore crucial issues of motivation that would lend his judgments more weight.

Paul Jorgensen comes closer to the problem when he notes that Henry's accusation places Hotspur "in the defensive position habitual to the Elizabethan soldier," and that his apology reflects stereotypical features of the debate between the soldier and the courtier.20 Hotspur is indeed apologetic, but not quite in the sense intended by Jorgensen. His speech is no less finicky than the finickiness he contemns. Judging by the extravagance of his rhetoric, the dandy whose "womanish qualities" irritated him on the battlefield continues to irritate him now. It is as if he is still compelled to decontaminate himself by a speech act that aims primarily at contrastive self-definition. Hence I think the verb in Hibbard's last clause should be taken more forcefully than he apparently intends it: "Hotspur makes all this side of his nature evident," that is, with selfdramatizing emphasis.

There are specific reasons for this emphasis. Hotspur enters the play already on the defense. His utterance is a response to Henry's demand for the prisoners taken at Holmedon, but far from being an aggressive refusal, it is conciliatory, even apologetic. "My liege, I did deny no prisoners," Hotspur begins, and then goes into a long diatribe against the messenger who carried the king's demand to the battlefield. His "bald unjointed chat" so irritated Hotspur that he answered inattentively ("I answer'd indirectly"), and he begs the king not to let the messenger's "report / come current for an accusation / Betwixt my love and your high majesty" (1.3.64-68). This conciliatory tone is not at all what we had been led to expect at the end of 1.1, where Henry and Westmoreland complained of "young Percy's pride" and of Worcester's bad influence, which makes Hotspur "prune himself, and bristle up / The crest of youth against your dignity" (91, 97-98). Hotspur's response is even more surprising in view of the law of arms mentioned in editorial footnotes, which is that Hotspur was entitled to keep all the prisoners he took except those of royal blood. If we suppose this is something Shakespeare not only knew but expected his audience to know, it is still not clear whether it is something they are expected to take note of as a motivational factor. There seems to have been no law that gives the king the right to the prisoners, so even if we ignored the other convention and the question remained moot, we could still see Henry's demand as an aggressive act, and perhaps as a challenge to Hotspur's honor. Why, then, shouldn't Hotspur treat it as such? A closer glance at the circumstances preceding and surrounding his speech will bring out the difficulty of his position.

Taking note of the law-of-arms convention about prisoners sharpens our sense of what motivates Henry's aggression. It reinforces a particular reading of the strategies he pursues in the first and third scenes of the play. His sending a messenger to Holmedon to make an issue of the prisoners; his setting up and eagerly awaiting the confrontation that, as the end of the first scene makes clear, he had arranged well before making his crusade speech (so that his frustration at having to call the crusade off is patently a pretense); his dismissal of Worcester and his angry deportment thereafter—these moves seem intended to provoke the Percys into an uprising that he can later be in the position to blame them for, as at the end of 1.1 when he implies that Hotspur is responsible for his having to cancel the crusade that he proposed primarily in order to be able to blame the cancellation on Hotspur. In all this he is deploying the tactics of the language game—the victim's discourse—various forms of which dominate the Henriad: stirring up trouble, disclaiming responsibility for it, targeting oneself as its victim.21

Hotspur does not make an issue of the denial of prisoners. But why does he downplay it? The reason is suggested at 1.3.76-79, when Henry accuses him of having at some point denied his prisoners,

But with proviso and exception, That we at our own charge shall ransom straight His brother-in-law, the foolish Mortimer.

Since Hotspur never disputes this allegation, it suggests that he has come into the scene aware of several things that may well be disquieting to the theme of honor's tongue, especially if one assumes (as I do) that Hotspur is genuinely devoted to this theme.

First, Hotspur could not deny prisoners unless they had previously been demanded, and Henry's aggressiveness by itself constitutes a challenge that must be met. But the possibility of a clean and honorable response has already been severely jeopardized. For, second, even if his initial words in the play ("My liege I did deny no prisoners") are true, at some moment between his encounter with the messenger and the uttering of those words he decided to deny prisoners. Hence the utterance is evasive, and the narrative that follows it may be felt as a diversionary tactic. Third, since that encounter took place he acquired a not fully determinable amount of information about what happened to Mortimer, and we can imagine that this affected his decision. That is, it may not have been on principle that he decided to withhold prisoners but in order to have some leverage in forcing Mortimer's ransom. Fourth, however much or little he knows about Mortimer's defeat, the information he gets from Henry is enough to suggest that it has already weakened Hotspur's position. For he's come to his meeting with Henry prepared to do something he may consider shameful in order to save his wife's brother. To say "I did deny no prisoners" in this situation could be construed as an anticipatory gesture of placation by someone preparing to breach the code—yield up prisoners that were his by right—in order to bargain for his brother-in-law's release.

This helps us contextualize the gender-coded weakness he displaces to the messenger. I read it as representing the sense of weakness aroused in the speaker himself by the utterance of this speech. Isn't there the slightest taint of cowardice and courtly sycophancy in his willingness to appease the king and prepare for the exchange? Doesn't the very function of this speech—what motivates it—subvert its rhetorical emphasis and reawaken the apprehension of moral and political impotence it fends off?

From this standpoint, the figure of the messenger becomes the locus at which two opposed yet cooperating vectors of symbolic power collide: he represents the king's aggressive attempt to insult Hotspur, but he also represents Hotspur's repressed acknowledgment that—in making this elaborate apology—he may be insulting and compromising himself. All this renders more important and problematical Hotspur's relation to the shadowy figure of Mortimer. Having engaged his honor in Mortimer's behalf, he has ceded partial control of it to someone on whose behavior his reputation now depends. And the apparent reason for this commitment can only increase his vulnerability: he is bound to Mortimer through Lady Percy. I shall return to this dilemma after considering one more feature of Hotspur's first speech.

The messenger offends Hotspur not only by his appearance and style, his disdainful comments, and his demand for prisoners, but also by something else. Hotspur complains that as he listened "Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword" (31), the messenger rattled on about "guns, and drums, and wounds," and finally about what a pity it was that

This villainous saltpeter should be digg'd Out of the bowels of the harmless earth, Which many a good tall fellow had destroy'd So cowardly, and but for these vile guns He would himself have been a soldier. This bald unjointed chat of his, my lord, I answer'd indirectly . . .


Why should this complaint disturb Hotspur? Shouldn't we expect him to agree with the messenger about "these vile guns" that might well diminish the military value of the sword he leans on?

The messenger's point, Kittredge writes, "was that warfare is no longer a glorious thing, as it was in the old days of hand-to-hand fighting before gunpowder was invented."22 There are enough references to guns in the play (pistols, calivers, heavy-ordnance, powder) to remind us of the wishful archaism of Hotspur's attachment to the golden age of chivalry prior to the violation of mother earth. The clean heroics of single encounter is by no means obsolete, for example, the possibility that "Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse, / meet and ne'er part till one drop down a corse" (4.1.122-23). But it is circumscribed by the presence of more effective and less personal forms of warfare and instruments of death. Perhaps Hotspur's sympathy with the messenger's complaint is another reason for his irritation and decontamination. He never speaks of guns in his waking hours—only in his dreams (2.3.64).

The issue I am raising here is not, however, the familiar historical topic of the influence of technological change on sociopolitical change. I am not directly concerned with the way the decline of chivalry, the crisis of the aristocracy, may be represented in the portrayal of Hotspur's commitment to a threatened discourse of honor. Rather my emphasis is on another theme intrinsic to that discourse and to the ideal of manhood it expresses: the hero's need to have power over and to die his own death; to invent or choose it, to aim all his actions toward that consummation; to meet and stage his death in a public ritual that will inscribe it on the future and thus triumph over it.

Against this ideal, the play opposes two ignominious forms of death that are, appropriately, most often mentioned by Falstaff: the scaffold and "molten lead." In their different ways, both are threats to manhood. The fear of hanging, the image of an elevated body that suddenly drops toward mother earth (sometimes from a horse) and goes limp, gives focus to the pervasive anxiety that nourishes the villain's bravado. Hanging, in addition, suggests emasculation in a pointedly ironic form, since it produces—as an exception to the limpness of the rest of the corpse—an erect penis, which, like the supplementarity of a Priapean dildo, symbolizes the power it wants. The erection represents the power of another. To be hanged is to lose one's power over one's death, to be made the helpless site and spectacle of another's power. The other ignominious death is produced by a similar shift of phallic potency from the manly hero and his sword: death by firepower—basilisk, cannon, or culverin—is the wholesale anonymous death that is the fate of "pitiful rascals . . . good enough to toss, food for powder . . . they'll fill a pit as well as better" (4.2.64-66).

Although Hotspur does not mention guns again, there is a passage in 3.1 that testifies by its hyperbolic distortion to his abiding respect for the destructive force imprisoned in earth's bowels. It's true that in the following speech he is only chiding Glendower by attributing the shaking of the earth not to fear of the Welsh blowhard but to a bad case of gas. Nevertheless, his retort is itself shaken by fascination for the constrained violence that erupts from the image:

O, then the earth shook to see the heavens on fire, And not in fear of your nativity. Diseased nature oftentimes breaks forth In strange eruptions, oft the teeming earth Is with a kind of colic pinch'd and vex'd By the imprisoning of unruly wind Within her womb, which for enlargement striving Shakes the old beldam earth, and topples down Steeples and moss-grown towers.


The energy with which Hotspur depicts the grotesque body is carnivaiesque. I imagine these lines fired off with the tart and testy exhilaration of a speaker who enjoys sending up the seismic flatulence of his interlocutor's rhetoric. But the caricature, like everything else about Hotspur, is overcharged with double cracks. Glendower embarrasses him because, however inflated his rhetoric and however absurd his pretensions, they caricature Hotspur 's, as in a distorting mirror. He combines the excesses of the miles gloriosus with the musico-magical aspirations of a comic Prospero in so bizarre a fantasy of power as to betray the lack of selfmastery that makes him an easy mark. Yet the flatus Hotspur criticizes is a flatus that shakes his own language. The speech is itself a scapegoating violation of the maternal principle, to which it displaces vulnerability and impotence, incontinence and imminent rupture, the threat of having one's body possessed, concussed, by aliens that blow it apart—all the dangers that produce the fears that make the courage worthy of the honor the hero desires.

Glendower is good for laughs, but his role in the play's economy of honor gives him a special kind of power, the power of weakness. The most seductive appeal to erotic desire as well as the most direct gesture of emasculation both come from Wales. The seduction is conveyed in a form that accentuates its alienation from and by the rigid, self-protective warrior ethos: it is uttered in a foreign tongue by Glendower's daughter. As a doting father, he fears her grief and at first wants the warriors to sneak away to battle in order to avoid "a world of water shed" (3.1.90). But he then submits to her desire and translates her invitation in lilting cadences:

She bids you on the wanton rushes lay you down, And rest your gentle head upon her lap, And she will sing the song that pleaseth you, And on your eyelids crown the god of sleep, Charming your blood with pleasing heaviness.


A truly Spenserian enticement, evoking the helpless Cymochles in Phaedria's lap, the helpless Verdant in Acrasia's, and also Shakespeare's more skittish Adonis with Venus. Glendower mobilizes cosmic harmonies and heavenly steeds in the service of a languor the dangerous allure of which even Hotspur grudgingly acknowledges, and resists with awkward jokes. It is entirely consistent with the uncompromising claims made by the Welsh other that, as Westmoreland reported in 1.1, after Glendower captured Mortimer and "butchered" a thousand of his soldiers, the Welshwomen mutilated the soldiers' corpses in "beastly shameless transformation" (44). Seductive enervation and violent dismemberment: these Cymochlean and Pyrochlean extremes represent the twin threats to manly autonomy inscribed in the male fantasy of feminine power. The reported maenadic explosion suggests not only an externalization of the male nightmare but also a futile gesture of revenge on the worse "part of valor" by those who momentarily overcame their discretion, those whom the homoerotic flight to the battlefield has marginalized and dispossessed. In this warrior community Welsh is "the discourse of the other." The extremes over which Glendower presides—the extremes that he himself exemplifies in his grotesque doubleness as a cosmic braggadocio and his daughter's pliable advocate—have the same symbolic force. They speak to fears that male fantasy tries to dispel by blaming them on the power of the frailty named Woman. And that frailty sometimes tries to strike back. Westmoreland's report can serve as a brief reminder that war between men is a form of war against woman. It is a perverse and futile expression of the desire, the lack, attending the more permanent state of bereavement of which Hotspur's banished wife complains in 2.3.

Hotspur's problematic relation to firepower is suggested in the first mention of his name, when Westmoreland describes his fight with the Douglas:

On Holy-rood day, the gallant Hotspur there, Young Harry Percy, and brave Archibald, That ever valiant and approved Scot, At Holmedon met, where they did spend A sad and bloody hour; As by discharge of their artillery, And shape of likelihood, the news was told.


The first five lines imply single combat, but the sixth line renders that uncertain. Although Humphreys notes that artillery formerly referred to "any missiles in war"—arrows, for example—and was "not confined to gunfire," the messenger's remarks about guns at Holmedon render this gloss gratuitous. The line allows us to wonder whether Westmoreland's previous statement refers literally to single combat or synecdochically to two armies. When we subsequently learn that Douglas has been "discomfited" and that "Ten thousand bold Scots, two and twenty knights" lie "Balk'd in their own blood" (67-69), we may also wonder about the nature of the artillery responsible for such mayhem.23 The issue is somewhat clouded by the earlier reference to the barbaric Glendower's butchery of a thousand of Mortimer's soldiers: butchered (42) could well suggest manual warfare, though it does not have to (mention of Glendower's "rude hands" in the previous line prompts the suggestion), but at any rate the "beastly shameless transformation" wrought by the Welshwomen may comment on the meaning of the wholesale slaughter of anonymous men.

These issues are reawakened when Hotspur, in 1.3, defends Mortimer against Henry's charge that the latter "wilfully betray'd / The lives of those that he did lead to fight" against Glendower, "Whose daughter, as we hear, the Earl of March / Hath lately marry'd" (80-84). Hotspur's response is marked by the same impulse to decontamination that shaped his account of the messenger. The claim that Mortimer was seduced into treason by the offer of marriage—a claim at least partly borne out by subsequent disclosures—touches off another apology, and one that further betrays the speaker's anxiety:

He never did fall off, my sovereign liege, But by the chance of war: to prove that true Needs no more but one tongue for all those wounds, Those mouthed wounds, which valiantly he took, When on the gentle Severn's sedgy bank, In single opposition hand to hand, He did confound the best part of an hour In changing hardiment with great Glendower. Three times they breath'd, and three times did they drink Upon agreement of swift Severn's flood, Who then affrighted with their bloody looks Ran fearfully among the trembling reeds, And hid his crisp head in the hollow bank, Bloodstained with these valiant combatants. Never did bare and rotten policy Color her working with such deadly wounds, Nor never could the noble Mortimer Receive so many, and all willingly: Then let him not be slander'd with revolt.


The speech is extraordinary because Hotspur is describing an encounter he had not seen—and one that may not even have taken place. This fantasy, in which Mortimer becomes the heroic Hotspurian loser, may well be an imaginative replay of Hotspur's own "sad and bloody hour" of battle with Douglas, and if it is, it isolates that conflict by framing it as single encounter and pushing the rest of the fray—the "artillery" and the ten thousand victims—into the background. What prompts this suggestion is the analogy to Hotspur's ignoring the "thousand . . . people butchered" by Glendower. Such conspicuous exclusion renders his account more problematic.

It is already problematic because he uses it to protect himself, along with Mortimer, from the stigma of shameful fear, effeminate cowardice, that Henry tries to mark him with by association. His language continues to be nagged by the rhetoric of decontamination, and the continuity is marked by the echo of the foppish messenger in the figure of the Severn as crispheaded coward. Hotspur sends "him" cringing to the sheltering lap ("hollow bank") of blood-stained mother earth, and goes on to feminize "bare and rotten policy" by way of parrying the charge that Mortimer "fell off for the sake of a woman and succumbed to the base condition of which the messenger's "fresh" appearance had reminded Hotspur: "a bridegroom." Henry's first reference to Mortimer had clearly put Hotspur on the defensive: "His brother-in-law, the foolish Mortimer" (1.3.79). Since it is Hotspur's marriage that links him to Mortimer and exposes him to the vagaries of Mortimer's behavior, Mortimer's purported vulnerability and folly reflect his own.

This is partly why Mortimer's wounds do speak with Hotspur's tongue, and why that odd revision, "those mouthed wounds," is so telling. The wounds are mouthed because they eat—or are penetrated by—the sword and because they would speak of honor if they had tongues. But because honor's tongue is the tongue of another, the hero's wounds are mute and their mouths mutilated. The defeated hero is doubly emasculated, his heroic autonomy twice breached. The implications of the figure are more explicit in Coriolanus and Julius Caesar. The Third Citizen says that if Coriolanus "show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we are to put our tongues into those wounds and speak for them" (2.3.5-8). The metaphor associates stabbing, sexual penetration, licking (to eat or heal), and a surgical probe or tent with the giving of voices/votes that affirms Coriolanus's right to the consular honor. In Julius Caesar, Antony describes Caesar's wounds in a figure that reminds one of Lavinia's—or any well-behaved woman's—mouth: "like dumb mouths, [they] do ope their ruby lips / To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue" (3.1.260-61). Honor's phallic tongue is what wounds, like women, lack and long for.

Hotspur is more comfortable with the idea of eating swords fed by an enemy than with the idea of feeding "on cates" served up by a friend (3.1.157). The friend happens to be Glendower, whom he finds as tedious as "a railing wife" (154), and "cates"—delicacies—happens to echo the name of his wife. Yet the appetite for swords makes the hero dependent on and vulnerable to the enemy who feeds him. If he finds the prospect of violation and dismemberment by the sword nourishing, it is because "the voice and utterance" of honor can be begged only by exposing oneself to the risk of the ultimate emasculation: the loss of life and speech. Thus Hotspur, dying, grieves that Harry has "robb'd" him of his youth and "proud titles," and that "the earthly and cold hand of death" lying on his tongue cuts him off before he can "prophesy"—which means, perhaps, before he can put his own tongue into his wounds (5.4.76-84). The word robb'd briefly discharges into this moment the meanings generated in earlier episodes by the incessant play on threats to manhood—cowardice, victimization, the ignominy of hanging—inscribed in the activities of purse-snatching and pocket-picking. Even the noblest death may be no better than the casual by-product of robbery unless redeemed by honor's tongue. Since winner and loser are equally affected by this logic, Harry redeems both their honors by finishing Hotspur's sentence and letting "my favors hide thy mangled face" (5.4.95). Perhaps it is because he is doing himself a favor that he then somewhat oddly says, "I'll thank myself / For doing these fair rites of tenderness" (96-97).

The discourse of honor allows the hero to enjoy the foretaste and reiterate the promise of whatever may be redeeming in that death. It is a continuous incantation soliciting the tongue that can heal the final wound, and for these reasons the hero loves the talk that defers it. But talk is cheap, incurs debts, and the more the hero talks the greater will be the need to discharge the obligation not by victory but by death. The way of Tamburlaine must be avoided, the way of Sarpedon espoused. Hotspur keeps talking to the end, and at the last moment starts a new sentence that he won't be able to finish in order to leave space in the wound for Harry's tongue. The rationale behind this heroic ars moriendi was inadvertently prefigured in an earlier utterance: "I thank him that he cuts me from my tale, / For I profess not talking" (5.2.90-91). Later, it finds its way into Falstaff s mouth: "The better part of valor is discretion" (5.4.119); one meaning of discretion is "cutting off."24

Returning to the Hotspur / Mortimer relation, we have no information on the basis of which to ascertain what happened (or why it happened) before Mortimer "Was by the rude hands of that Welshman taken" (1.1.41), nor can we ascertain under what conditions he accepted a wife from the same hands. The latter fact is expressed by Henry as hearsay (1.3.83), and since Hotspur doesn't challenge the statement it must be assumed that he is fully aware of it even as he insists that Mortimer "never did fall off... / But by the chance of war," and goes on to elaborate a chivalric fantasy "to prove that true." Yet the links between these two events remain mysterious. We needn't assume that Hotspur knows more about those links than we do and is therefore lying. Much more interesting is the assumption that he doesn't know and that what he says is what he would like to believe. But if that is the case, if he knows only as much as Henry knows, then we are entitled to feel that his chivalric defense against Henry's interpretation may be breached by doubt—and it will be well to remember this later, when Mortimer fails to show up at Shrewsbury. Hotspur's own honor would be threatened if Henry's interpretation were true and Mortimer proved to be a traitor for love. More immediately, the honorableness of his discourse is threatened for the same reason. The defense of Mortimer is a reckless move, and puts Hotspur at a disadvantage. He commits himself with high-rhetorical ardor to an interpretation that may be false. Henry directly challenges his account: "Thou dost belie him, Percy, thou dost belie him, / He never did encounter with Glendower," and thrusts home with "Art thou not asham'd?" (1.3.112-16). After he storms out and Worcester returns, Hotspur's report of the heated interchange is evasive:

He will forsooth have all my prisoners, And when I urg'd the ransom once again Of my wife's brother, then his cheek look'd pale, And on my face he turn'd an eye of death, Trembling even at the name of Mortimer.


This is not at all how the conversation went: Hotspur's account of the battle is deleted and replaced by the second clause above, which reports something he did not explicitly say. The deletion argues a kind of willed forgetfulness of the extravagant claims he made on Mortimer's behalf, claims he is as yet powerless to verify. The extravagance may be read as an anxious reaction to his powerlessness, and his choleric response to Henry's exit speech seems all the more defensive in the light of the evasive report that follows it. "Art thou not asham'd?": perhaps he is, or fears to be; Henry seems to have more success managing Hotspur's sense of shame than he does in his parallel project of managing Harry's. Here he may have opened up a wound.

When Worcester returns, however, he pours balm into that wound by mentioning Mortimer's claim to the crown. We should expect this news to relieve Hotspur because it legitimizes his political and verbal activity on behalf of someone who, it now turns out, defected not only for love but also for reasons of state. And indeed, he seizes this opportunity to regain his equilibrium. Relief pours out in the form of a long speech devoted primarily to heaping shame on "you" who helped the usurper to the throne. Worcester had given him the cue: for Richard's deposition and murder "we in the world's wide mouth / Live scandaliz'd and foully spoken of (151-52)—slander as mastication; the blatant beast; another source of mouthed wounds. Worcester appeals to Hotspur's sense of shame—his we reaches out toward his nephew—but in his long response Hotspur gradually narrows the referential focus of his offsetting you and evades Worcester's reach by himself assuming the role of appellant. The last half of his speech is directed specifically to his father and uncle, as the parenthetical line below (172) makes clear:

O, pardon me, that I descend so low, To show the line and the predicament Wherein you range under this subtle King! Shall it for shame be spoken in these days, Or fill up chronicles in time to come, That men of your nobility and power Did gage them both in an unjust behalf (As both of you, God pardon it, have done) To put down Richard, that sweet lovely rose, And plant this thorn, this canker Bolingbroke? And shall it in more shame be further spoken, That you are fool'd, discarded, and shook off By him for whom these shames ye underwent? No, time yet serves wherein you may redeem Your banish'd honors, and restore yourselves Into the good thoughts of the world again: Revenge the jeering and disdain'd contempt Of this proud King, who studies day and night To answer all the debt he owes to you, Even with the bloody payment of your deaths: Therefore, I say—Wor. Peace, cousin, say no more.


Hotspur's last eight lines trigger a vivid recollection of the end of Harry's "I know you all" soliloquy in the previous scene. The effect of superimposing the two passages, and their respective scenarios, is to increase our sense that Hotspur, like Harry, is selectively emphasizing a not fully justifiable line of argument by way of fending off another that is more reprehensible. In other words, he situates his appeal entirely within the discourse of honor and says nothing about the dishonor that would attend another insurrection against a ruler who—however dubiously he won the crown—was formally invested: "that same greatness," as Worcester had said, "which our own hands / Have holp to make so portly" (1.3.12-13). In doing this, Hotspur joins both Henry and Harry in playing the familiar game of disclaiming responsibility and pleading victimization. He unpacks this argument from the hints conspiratorially dropped by Worcester and Northumberland (143-52) and gives it back to them as a justifying spur to rebellious action—a spur, really, to revenge for the shames doubly heaped on them. But at the same time, by insisting that the responsibility and dishonor are theirs, not his, he directs the argument against them.

As my previous discussion has suggested, Hotspur's opposition to the king is rooted in a sense of personal affront which is exacerbated by the suspicion that he may be complicit in compromising his own honor. Here that opposition is inseparably bound to a new one: his competition with his senior kinsmen. He uses this speech event not merely to begin to "redeem" his banished honor, but to do so by dissociating himself from their shame. The force of this move is increased by its reverberation of the more familiar analogue that the verbal echoes of the "I know you all" soliloquy evoke:

Harry's dissociating himself from his father. And as the soliloquy looks forward to the Great Day of his glittering reformation, so Hotspur begins his race along the cursus honoris with the express intention of wearing "Without corrival all her dignities" (205).

On the other side, Worcester and Northumberland are obviously less interested in honor than in power and safety (in the power that will make them safe). Worcester's "Peace, cousin, say no more" is comical in part because he has already laid plans for the redemption of honors, and in part because having deliberately set Hotspur's discourse machine in motion he has a hard time shutting it off. The elder Percys need Hotspur to "face" their uprising, and if we bear this in mind we may be curious about their employment of Mortimer's claim, which had never been mentioned before, either in this play or in Richard II. Whether it is genuine or not—and we may as well assume that it is—is less important than the use they are putting it to as a political appeal to the legitimacy of the cause and a personal appeal to Mortimer's brother-in-law. The conspiratorial manner in which they broach the topic gives it an unpleasant smell, and the question is whether there is any indication that the smell reaches Hotspur's nose. They are using Mortimer to line their own enterprise, and using Hotspur to line Mortimer's. Does his language reveal any awareness of this?

The phrase I just used is borrowed from Lady Percy who, in 2.3, after expressing concern over Hotspur's recent behavior, says, "I fear my brother Mortimer doth stir / About his title, and hath sent for you / To line his enterprise" (82-84). This is hardly a complimentary way to put it: she fears Mortimer has sent for him as for his factor or tailor. In the words Hotspur uses to show his kinsmen their "line and predicament," she fears he is being sent for as one of "the agents, or base second means" (1.3.163). Lady Percy's phrasing expresses a hint of disapproval directed at Mortimer for being the possible cause of Hotspur's anxiety, but if we hear it with Hotspur's ears we may feel that it only increases his anxiety at the position he finds himself in. For it is possible that he is aware of lining his wife's brother's enterprise at some cost to his own chivalric autonomy and self-respect, and his responses to Lady Percy in 2.3, which I discuss below, play back over his performance in 1.3. Mortimer's subsequent behavior, which suggests that uxoriousness (and perhaps cowardice?) may have caused his failure to show up at Shrewsbury, puts the whole of the enterprise in a bad light, and revives the questions that may have disturbed Hotspur in the early part of 1.3.

Taking all this into consideration, one can't but wonder about the variety of dubious circumstances that hedge Hotspur in from the beginning and wound his sense of honor. From the moment he opens his mouth he appears trapped, like Mowbray, in "chains of bondage" to political, psychological, and social circumstances, not to mention the military specter of "vile guns." They jeopardize his honor, his manhood, and his chivalric autonomy. He tries by his speech to silence these truths, defend against them, and preserve the discourse of honor in its purity. But his language, inscribed within truth's "quiet breast," continues to disclose them. Even his castigation of Worcester and Northumberland betrays an attempt to ignore the more reprehensible aspects of the action to which he commits himself, as well as a self-defeating attempt to compete with his allies in the race for honor. During the remainder of the scene, these doubts about his own condition give themselves away both in compensatory outbursts of bravado and in deliberately irritating behavior, which—with a wry and self-mocking awareness—he displays as if asking his kinsmen to rebuke him.

After Hotspur's rhetoric arcs excitedly up toward the moon, it comes back down to earth with a set of figures whose idiomatic vividness has a peculiar effect:

But I will find him when he lies asleep, And in his ear I'll holla "Mortimer!" Nay, I"ll have a starling shall be taught to speak Nothing but "Mortimer" . . . All studies here I solemnly defy, Save how to gall and pinch this Bolingbroke: And that same sword-and-buckler prince of Wales,


I would have him poison'd with a pot of ale!North. 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!Hot. Why, look you, I am whipp'd and scourg'd with rods, Nettled, and stung with pismires, when I hear of this vile politician Bolingbroke.

(1.3.219-22, 225-30, 233-38)

Hotspur at his most winning playfully vents and deflates his anger. There is self-mockery in the kind and level of punishment he devises—in the threat to turn starling teacher and pester Henry like a popinjay (cf. 3.1.253-54 and 1.3.49), and in the tonal drop from "solemnly defy" to "gall and pinch." It is not so much that he is charming as that he is being charming, begging his auditors' indulgence and apologizing for his own so that he can go on indulging himself, can go on savoring his minor grievances and revenges like a small boy who has been shamed and is bent on getting even. Yet his language acknowledges both his low tolerance for such grievances and his high tolerance for the speech they enable. To scale them down to the level of galls, pinches, beatings, and stings is to admit he has been making more of them than he should. But even as he apologizes to his auditors for his performance, and even if it is an enabling apology, he seems willfully, perversely, to give them—and here I borrow Portia's phrase—a vantage to exclaim on him.

In the speech action of this scene, as in the battle action later, Hotspur (like Harry) stacks the odds against himself and maximizes his commitment to the role of underdog. This relation of interlocutory disadvantage dramatizes one of the self-subverting aspects of the discourse of honor. He presents himself to his uncle and father, his paternal "corrivals," as a naughty headstrong boy who in effect resigns to them the responsibility of tolerating him, checking him, and guiding him, just as he leaves it up to them to find the battlefield he longs for and to aim him toward it. His dependence on them, his obligation to them, and his consequent lack of self-sufficiency are immediately present and active in the conversational protocol he establishes. To assume such a position is to enhance the authority of the fathers he intends to surpass in the race for honor. He relies on his corrivals to help him achieve the goal of wearing honor's dignities without corrival. The irony of Northumberland's subsequent defection is that it gives Hotspur what he wants. Does it give Northumberland what he wants?

The question may not be answerable, yet it is reasonable to ask it in a tetralogy centered on a set of fatherson conflicts that reverberate, overlap, and speak to each other. Weak fathers like Gaunt, York, Henry, and Northumberland may be forgiven for flinching from their sons, and from the shame or guilt of small and great betrayals. But of course the plays don't ask us to get into the business of forgiving, as if we had any right to the voyeuristic power of divine judgment. All they ask us to look into is whether the fathers can forgive themselves.

A good case can be made that in Richard II Gaunt's manhood and honor are threatened both by his son's behavior and by his response to it. What about Northumberland? There isn't much to go on. His brief responses to Hotspur reveal only irritation. But if we listen to Hotspur with Northumberland's ears, or lend him ours, we may feel that he is being upstaged, challenged, by the son who speaks of plucking all honor for himself while using his father as a factor. The final replies of father and son to Worcester's instructions poignantly drive home the contrast between them:

North. Farewell, good brother; we shall thrive, I trust.Hot. Uncle, adieu: O, let the hours be short, Till fields, and blows, and groans applaud our sport.


Hotspur looks forward eagerly to the crowds cheering him on the day of the big game. But his father's "I trust," the last words he speaks in the play, hangs weakly and indecisively at the end of a line whose faltering rhythm prepares us for his absence from the future scene of his son's heroics. The father who began the scene interceding for his son, ends it edging away from him.

Until fields and blows and groans applaud his sport, Hotspur finds a substitute outlet in words. His speech drives to an aggressive climax in his violent assault on the moon, a passage that reverbs Falstaff s stealthier attack on "our noble and chaste mistress" and is echoed in Gadshill's attack on Saint Commonwealth. These passages reinforce each other and are all the more significant for being merely incidental to what seems to occupy their speakers' attention. Here, at line 199, is what Hotspur says:

By heaven methinks it were an easy leap To pluck bright honor from the pale-fac'd moon, Or dive into the bottom of the deep, Where fathom-line could never touch the ground, And pluck up drowned honor by the locks, So he that doth redeem her thence might wear Without corrival all her dignities: But out upon this half-fac'd fellowship!

"An oration in Ereles' vein," says the Arden editor: a touch of heroic frenzy. But there is more to it than rant, and it is more than a conventionally hyperbolic expression of chivalric ardors. Several of Hotspur's previous phrases in the scene are echoed: the palecheeked king "high in the air," "the downtrod Mortimer," the redemption of "banish'd honors," and the threat of drowning all converge, and some are transsexualized, in the chaste mistress of the moon who rules the deep. They discharge into that figure the value of the Enemy who threatens and challenges, and who provides honor with its occasion because she withholds it as if to "wear / Without corrival all her dignities."

What the figure virtually says is that to desire and pursue honor is to dishonor a woman and a goddess—to violate her, to cause her to drown, to make her pale with fear and anger. (However irrelevant it may be, an image of the drowned Ophelia crosses briefly over my sense of this passage.) The rude force of "pluck up . . . by the locks" casts a dim light on "redeem," especially since what will be redeemed is a corpse. Honor, the ultimate prey of the desire for honor, is identified with, expressed in, the perpetration of dishonor and shame on its possessor. If to receive honor as a gift from others is to be diminished, emasculated, reduced to a minion, then the gift must be refused so that honor may be taken by force.

Hotspur's imagined violation is also a self-violation. There is a suggestion of transvestism in the image of honor's redeemer wearing her dignities. It is as if his language refuses to let him defeminize himself, as if the woman who withholds honor stubbornly resists his violence. Honor as the lunar goddess is the ultimate figure of danger in the romance sense—the Spenserian daunger. Like Belphoebe, she protects the rights of women against the assaults of their male corrivals. Hotspur clearly means corrival to refer to his male peers, but in the figure, corrival refers to "her." "Halffac'd" echoes "pale-fac'd" and can describe the figure of the moon, which, whether half or full, is flat, like the image stamped on a coin. So long as Hotspur shares honor with "her," so long as her pale face is partnered to his half-face, he remains impure, incomplete, merely half a man. To castigate and destroy the "noble and chaste mistress" within is the precondition for surpassing other males in honor.

Act 2, scene 3, is a short scene, running to only about 120 lines. It begins with a prose soliloquy in which Hotspur testily responds aloud to the letter of an anonymous correspondent who writes that he is going to pass up the invitation to join the uprising against the king. Hotspur's wife then walks in and spends 27 lines of blank verse complaining about how she has been ignored by her husband and worrying about the obsession with warfare that makes him talk in his sleep. The remaining interchanges between them feature his affectionate but nervous diffidence and her frustrated demands for more love and information. I conclude with some comments on this scene because in it is distilled the essential warfare between the claims of honor and those of gender within Hotspur's language.

The opening soliloquy reads so like a dialogue carried on by the speaker with himself as well as with his correspondent that it has been interpreted by Robert Merrix and Arthur Palacas as an unsuccessful effort at self-reassurance. They attribute the "signs of inner conflict" revealed by his language to his "doubts about the rebellion," doubts which they think he silences "with a combination of argument, exhausting wordiness, and irrational tirade. Even in the face of the possibility that the letter's author will 'to the King and lay open all our proceedings,' Hotspur finally concludes, 'Hang him, let him to the King! we are prepared. I will set forward tonight.'"25 But is this his only fear, or doesn't he also worry that the rebels' enterprise may succeed? Recall his impatience with "half-fac'd fellowship" in 1.3 and the irritability projected from his expressions of concern for honor. The impatience extended to the details of plotting, which he had wanted to leave up to his elders; they would work out the logistics and he would then ride off and reap the rewards:

Hot. I smell it. Upon my life it will do well!North. Before the game is afoot thou still let'st slip.Hot. Why, it cannot choose but be a noble plot;


In faith it is exceedingly well aim'd.


He is now aware that he may have proved his father right by "letting slip" when he exposed the plot to the correspondent whose "fear and cold heart" might lead him to turn informer. What is interesting about this is that although he blames himself for his folly, his words hardly betray any depth of guilt: "O, I could divide myself, and go to buffets, for moving such a dish of skim milk with so honorable an action" (2.3.32-34). The self-accusation is lightheartedly irritable, and it is implicitly affirmative insofar as his own discretion proceeds from a rash willingness to take chances (in divulging the plot to potential allies—or informers?) that is more honorable than the correspondent's cautious scruples. The same pattern of contrastive definition is at work here as was evident in his fulminations against the effeminate courtier. If, as Merrix and Palacas observe, the very anonymity of the correspondent "demonstrates dramatically that Hotspur's ravings and defenses are . . . the unsolicited product of his own turmoil,"26 then the charge of effeminate cowardice may conceivably displace the fear—the fear of fear—inscribed in the discourse that speaks through him.

It is thus questionable that Hotspur's anxiety is to be attributed solely to his "doubts about the rebellion," or that those doubts are silenced by the end of the soliloquy. Yet he anticipates new danger in an oddly positive tone of conviction: "You shall see now in the very sincerity of fear and cold heart will he to the King. . . ." This could be read as the utterance of the naughty "lack-brain" boy who has acted as his father suspected he might, and who expects—not without satisfaction—to get what he deserves. But it could also—if more obscurely—be read as another expression of the wish to be an underdog: to give the secret away will increase the danger and hence the excitement and honorableness of the action. It is as if the soundness of the plot detracts from honor. His anger at the writer's cowardice may well conflict with a touch of fretfulness over the careful plotting that allies him with so many corrivals, and threatens to diminish his share in "so honorable an action."

The impatience of "Hang him, let him to the King, we are prepared: I will set forward tonight" is thus the product of an unresolved clash of motives; it is given a competitive edge by his previous statement that some of his corrivals have "set forward already" (2.3.28-29).

But as a way of concluding the soliloquy it is also another gesture of escape to the enfranchisement of "fields, and blows, and groans"—escape from the tug of conflicting motives and from such logistical nettles or pismires as the precautions of plotting. The situation I analyzed in my reading of 1.3 suggests to me that in addition to the contradictions internal to the discourse of honor, Hotspur's behavior in the circumstances entangling him in Mortimer's affairs could only intensify his uneasiness. Thus I deduce that in the soliloquy he summons up and welcomes the politicomilitary doubts Merrix and Palacas describe—summons them up to provide the trifling galls and pinches with which he diverts himself from other fears. "Enter Hotspur solus, reading a letter": the soliloquy is itself a single encounter against an absent foe whose "craven scruple" reflects those fears in conveniently parodic and displaced form. Having routed the foe in speech he can rush off to the battlefield before being attacked by second thoughts.

Before dwelling with too long a face on Hotspur's uneasiness I think it is important to appreciate the keenness with which the soliloquist enjoys this verbal encounter. The rhythms of the language make it easy for actors performing the soliloquy to move audiences to laugh not merely at the speaker's expense but in sympathetic enjoyment of his rhetorical exuberance. By the very vivacity of his utterance the actor can secure our approval of, for example, the scornful common sense of "'tis dangerous to take a cold, to sleep, to drink," and can induce us to applaud the memorable riposte that counters it, "but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety" (2.3.8-10). The speaker means to distinguish the ultimate risk-taking Danger from quotidian sources of vulnerability, and the gallantry of the sentiment combines with its aphoristic form to elicit our assent. Nevertheless, the language resists this meaning. The syntax confuses the two kinds of danger because "nettle" is another minimizing figure, and "pluck this flower"—which recalls "pluck bright honor"—is a self-defeating image of the fragile, transient safety sought by fleeing from dangers to Danger. This resistance uncovers something deeper and more abiding in Hotspur's language, something engendered not simply by his uncertainty about the rebellion but by a fundamental ambivalence in the discourse of honor to which he commits himself. Merrix and Palacas make good use of the trope of proleptic parody to show how Hotspur's uncertainty is foregrounded by comparison with the prior performance of Gadshill in 1.2: "Whereas Gadshill's defensiveness arises from an attempt to set his challenger [the Chamberlain] straight, Hotspur's much more intense disputations, voiced on a stage empty of everyone but himself, are directed against himself."27 I imagine Hotspur trying to set himself straight but not fully persuading himself—imagine an edge of self-parody in his romantic posturing, a sense of being trapped in, embattled by, the bravery of a discourse he loves but has doubts about. If it is dangerous to sleep and drink, it is also dangerous to speak.

And it is indeed dangerous to sleep, as we learn when Lady Percy enters:

O my good lord, why are you thus alone? For what offence have I this fortnight been A banish'd woman from my Harry's bed? Tell me, sweet lord, what is't that takes from thee Thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep? Why dost thou bend thine eyes upon the earth, And start so often when thou sit'st alone? Why hast thou lost the fresh blood in thy cheeks, And given my treasures and my rights of thee To thick-ey'd musing, and curst melancholy? In thy faint slumbers I by thee have watch'd, And heard thee murmur tales of iron wars, Speak terms of manage to thy bounding steed, Cry "Courage! To the field!" And thou hast talk'd Of sallies, and retires, of trenches, tents, Of palisadoes, frontiers, parapets, Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin, Of prisoners' ransom, and of soldiers slain, And all the currents of a heady fight. Thy spirit within thee hath been so at war, And thus hath so bestirr'd thee in thy sleep, That beads of sweat have stood upon thy brow Like bubbles in a late-disturbed stream, And in thy face strange motions have appear'd, Such as we see when men restrain their breath On some great sudden hest, O, what portents are these? Some heavy business hath my lord in hand, And I must know it, else he loves me not.


The first thing we learn from this is that whatever bothers Hotspur antedates the reception of the letter (unless he is imagined to have spent fifteen days talking back to it), and we can assume that it affected the response expressed in his soliloquy. Perhaps wounded honor is part of the problem: the word banish 'd works like a mnemonic trigger connecting the violation of his wife's rights to the violent effect on him of his concern to "redeem / . . . banish'd honors." When she refigures "beads of sweat" to "bubbles in a late-disturbed stream," the image matches and recalls Hotspur's "drowned honor" (1.3.203), and it also recalls his fantasy of the disturbance that "affrighted" the Severn (1.3.103). These echoes filter back into "currents of a heady fight" and trigger another recall, Worcester's "current roaring loud" along with Hotspur's "If he fall in, good night, or sink, or swim" (1.3.185-94). In this context of recollective allusion, "prisoners' ransom" and "soldiers slain" evoke not only Hotspur's generic martial anticipations but also specific backward references to Henry's demand and to the carnage in Wales for which his wife's brother may have been responsible.

To read Lady Hotspur's speech this way is to go beyond the information available to the speaker, to see that the "portents" are also retrospects, and to place a different construction on "heavy business." At the same time it is also to validate the interpretive intuitions displayed in her two comparisons in lines 59-63. Above all it is to listen with Hotspur's ears, not hers, for she knows less than he does. Doubtless this befits a woman's place, and the very accuracy of her woman's intuition might well motivate him to keep her in it. Her insight may cut too deep, her mirror reflect back to him a true image of the heavy business that he may want not to know as much as she wants to know it. She reveals the intimacy and demands the rights of a second self, and perhaps the demand itself has the force of "some great sudden hest," since to share in half-faced partnership with a wifely corrival could only widen the breach in his honor and manhood. He can't redeem "drowned honor" or pluck honor from the pale-faced king without at the same time banishing—plucking honor from—his wife. Yet this might confront him with another problem.

"And I must know it, else he loves me not": that importunate "hest" could be bothersome just because he does love her—there can be no other way to read the playful affection and banter that mark their two scenes together. She speaks to him with the frankness, sympathy, and confidence of one assured in his love and therefore perplexed by his recent transformation. If we respond to this, it complicates our sense of the "heavy business" that besets him. For the business comes to include the demands she makes on him not only generally as his wife but also here and now, in this speech, and this adds a more immediate source to those that keep the spirit within him "so at war." Her questions mingle anxiety for his welfare with anxiety over her own frustrated claims on him, while her description mingles the marks of the distraught lover with the marks of fear. But what love, and what fear? Is it the love and fear of "iron wars" that rob him of his "golden sleep" and her of her "treasures" and "rights"? That bend him "thick-ey'd" toward Henry's "thirsty . . . soil," the man-eating mother (1.1.5-6), or toward the "lean earth" the sweating Falstaff lards (2.2.103-4)? And what does the cry she reports mean? Is it only the leader's cry to his soldiers, or is it self-directed? And if self-directed, does it mean that he has to summon up courage to go to the field, or that going to the field—seeking the solace of "all the currents of a heady fight"—will give him the courage he needs? But courage, then, to defend against what fear if not that of "Thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep," if not that of "my treasures and my rights of thee"? Or is there another fear, another reason why he would feel threatened by the words with which the watcher at his bed anxiously reflects his anxiety back to him?

The first of the "tales of iron wars" she reports fits comfortably within the chivalric paradigm: lines 50-51 suggest the clean heroics of single encounter, of "Harry to Harry, hot horse to horse." But she then goes on to report his tale of the messier warfare "Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin." It is as if, once the dreamer galloped into the field, he was confronted not by another Harry but by the hungry mouths of heavy ordnance and by the ultimate impotence, the prospect of a death he has no power to make his own—more pointedly, the prospect articulated by the fop who so irritated him on the battlefield with talk of "these vile guns" that "many a good tall fellow had destroy'd" (1.3.62-63), and whose connection with Henry and the question of prisoners is marked by Lady Hotspur's linking the sleeper's talk of guns to his talk "Of prisoners' ransom, and of soldiers slain." Behind this veil of references lurks the problematic figure of Mortimer and thus the even more problematic bond to Mortimer through Lady Hotspur, whose subsequent expression of concern ("I fear my brother Mortimer .../.. . hath sent for you / To line his enterprise," 82-84) touches on the network of constraints and accommodations that have compromised Hotspur's honor from the start.

As a bearer of messages from Hotspur's troubled dreamland, this messenger can only add to the anxieties and vulnerabilities her account reflects. We can imagine why he would be eager neither to have her know what he betrays in his sleep nor to have the betrayal mirrored back to him so that he is forced to recognize fears and terrors his waking words never acknowledge. Doesn't all this give a more poignant edge and urgency to the self-defeating impulse to flight inscribed in "out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety"? Poignant, I mean, for both of them, for her as well as for him. His response is powerfully evasive. He says nothing to her in reply but instead turns away and calls a servant:

What ho!   Is Gilliams with the packet gone?Serv. He is, my lord, an hour ago.Hot. Hath Butler brought those horses from the sheriff?Serv. One horse, my lord, he brought even now.Hot. What horse? A roan, a crop-ear is it not?Serv. It is, my lord.Hot.   That roan shall be my throne. Well, I will back him straight. O Esperance! Bid Butler lead him forth into the park.


He has betrayed his fear to his wife in his sleep, he flinches both from her reflecting it back to him and from her claims on him, and he begins to move rapidly away from that surveillance and self-dividing confrontation toward Esperance. The Percy motto, "Esperance ma comforte," seems reducible here to "Horse is my stay," especially the horse that carries him away from his wife. Is there any reason why the text contains that apparently gratuitous epithet, "crop-ear"? Animal ears are cropped as a sign of identification, human ears as a sign of punishment. Hotspur's expression becomes less gratuitous when we situate it in the set of references that include a horse named Cut (2.1.5) and Gadshill's gelding (2.1.33, 94). "Cut" signifies either a curtal or a gelding, a horse that has been symbolically or literally castrated. If horses can represent their masters, then perhaps "Cut" speaks to the sense of powerlessness and apprehensiveness expressed by the Carriers who, in 2.1, utter a version of the victim's discourse, and perhaps Gadshill's gelding comments on what lies underneath and bears up the aggressive machismo of his rhetoric in that scene. Applying the same logic to Hotspur, "crop-ear" may conceivably suggest something about his wounded mode of audition, his diffident response to the articulateness of the claims, the sympathy, the careful observation, that threaten to make his wife his loving corrival. His affection for her is apparent in all their exchanges, hence if the crop-eared horse on which he plans to escape from her is identified as his, it may hint at a motive of self-punishment in his flight. But to admit this symbolism is to trot out a telling inconsistency: why should the equine instrument of his flight from the fear of emasculation itself be marked as a symbol of what he flees from?

"What is it carries you away?" Hotspur's wife asks, and when he answers, "my horse, my love, my horse" (2.3.76-77), it may occur to us that his horse performs the same function as his galloping speech, a perpetually unfinished rush of self-representation interrupted only by the death it dooms him to. If there is an Icarian and also an Actaeonic futility inscribed in Hotspur's speech it is because this scene as a whole reveals that from the moment Hotspur opens his mouth he appears trapped in "chains of bondage" to political, psychological, and social circumstances that jeopardize his honor, his manhood, and his chivalric autonomy. He tries by his speech to silence these truths, defend against them, and preserve the discourse of honor in its Artemisian purity. But his language continues to defeat him. "That roan shall be my throne": his only throne will be his crop-eared roan. There is as much desperation and futility as there is determination in this utterance. He is king over himself only when he rides the horse that carries him away from his wife toward "golden"—or leaden—"uncontroll'd enfranchisement." Although the discourse of honor carries him away from the weakness he fears, it continually reproduces the weakness in the rhetorical transports that seduce his tongue. When he claims "I profess not talking," when he shows uneasiness about poetry, singing, and lovemaking, he is in flight from his own vulnerabilities. Behind this obvious point is a more significant one: the language assigned to Hotspur is shot through with the awareness that the accents of honor are inseparable from those of the weakness and uncontrol that the discourse of honor marks as dishonorable or shameful. The hero loves and fears what Mowbray dismissively calls "the trial of a woman's war" as much as he loves and fears the only fate that will justify it and put an end to it.


1 All quotations from 1 Henry IV in this and subsequent chapters are from The First Part of King Henry IV, ed. A. R. Humphreys, The Arden Shakespeare, 6th ed. (1960; repr. London: Methuen, 1974).

2 Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 4-15; Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. Ian Cunnison (New York: Norton, 1967), 72-73, 63.

3 Bourdieu, Outline, loff.

4 Ibid., 12, 11.

5 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1.5.4 (1095b), trans. H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann, 1945), 14-15.

6 Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.5.9 (1361a), trans. J. H. Freese, in The "Art" of Rhetoric, Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann, 1947), 53; Nichomachean Ethics 4.3.22, 24 (1124b), pp. 221-23.

7Nichomachean Ethics 4.3.17 (1124a), p. 219.

8 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Michael Oakeshott (Oxford: Basic Blackwell, 1960), 65 (1.11).

9 D. J. Gordon, "Name and Fame: Shakespeare's Coriolanus," in The Renaissance Imagination: Essays and Lectures by D. J. Gordon, ed. Stephen J. Orgel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 20319, esp. 210-13.

10 C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), 38.

11 Paul A. Jorgensen, Shakespeare's Military World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956), 240, 296.

12Nichomachean Ethics 3.6.6 (1115a27), p. 155.

13 Ibid., 3.7.13 (1116al3-15), pp. 161-63.

14 The filaments of the Actaeon myth curling about this cluster are too wispy and discontinuous to nurture into a thesis. They nevertheless have a certain interest. At 3.3.155-56, Harry calls Diana's fat forester an "embossed rascal," and this denotes a young lean deer as well as a fat swollen rogue (Arden notes). See also Harry's "Death hath not struck so fat a deer today" at 5.4.106. The first passage is connected with the pocket-picking episode, while the second is shortly followed by Falstaff s stabbing the dead Hotspur in the thigh. Both, then, are connected with castration symbolism. The "rascal" as both rogue and victim, predator and prey, man and deer, puts forth a tenuous trailer toward the chaste mistress of the pale-faced moon when Hotspur's threat to pluck bright honor from that figure places him in Actaeon's position. For a wonderful discussion of the implications of this theme, see Leonard Barkan, "Diana and Actaeon: The Myth as Synthesis," English Literary Renaissance 10 (1980): 317-59, esp. 349ff.

15 J. Dover Wilson, ed., The First Part of the History of Henry IV (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958), 120.

16 That Diana should have men as companions is itself outrageous. Is Diana a man in drag? Are her foresters dressed as women? Is Diana secretly "a fair hot wench"?

17 Barkan, "Diana and Actaeon," 351-52.

18 Ibid., 343; my italics.

19 G. R. Hibbard, The Making of Shakespeare's Dramatic Poetry (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981), 175-76; my italics.

20 Jorgensen, Shakespeare's Military World, 240-41.

21 The game appears frequently in Shakespeare. It is the game played by Prospero and by Lear and Gloucester and by the Duke of Vienna as well as by Richard II, Henry, and Harry.

22The First Part of "King Henry the Fourth, " ed. George Lyman Kittredge (Boston: Ginn, 1940), 117. See also Ullrich Langer, "Gunpowder as Transgressive Invention in Ronsard," in Literary Theory/Renaissance Texts, ed. Patricia Parker and David Quint (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press), 96-114; pp. 104-6 are especially relevant to this discussion.

23 We may also wonder about the disproportion between 10,000 "bold Scots" and 22 knights. Does Henry mean to imply an equitable distribution—22 aristocrats = 10,000 commoners?

24 See Paul A. Jorgensen, "Valor's Better Parts: Backgrounds and Meanings of Shakespeare's Most Difficult Proverb," Shakespeare Studies 9 (1976): 152. Jorgensen comments on the relation of this pun to "the defense of threatened manhood in the passage and in Falstaff s entire career" (153), and one need only add that Falstaff, the source of the pun, is making a similar comment about himself.

25 Robert P. Merrix and Arthur Palacas, "Gadshill, Hotspur, and the Design of Proleptic Parody," Comparative Drama 14 (1980-81): 303.

26 Ibid., 302-3.

27 Ibid., 303.

Source: "Food for Words: Hotspur and the Discourse of Honor," in Making Trifles of Terrors: Redistributing Complicities in Shakespeare, edited by Peter Erickson, Stanford University Press, 1997, pp. 251-87.


Feminist Criticism