William Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 3

— 1.3 —

In the council chamber of Windsor Castle, King Henry IV met with the nobles from the North who had lately been giving him trouble: Hotspur; Hotspur’s father, the Earl of Northumberland; and Hotspur’s uncle, the Earl of Worcester. Also present were the King’s good and loyal friend Sir Walter Blunt and other people. King Henry IV was angry at Hotspur because Hotspur had not sent him the prisoners that he had captured at the Battle of Holmedon on 14 September 1402.

King Henry IV said, “My blood has been too cold and temperate to be quickly angered by your insults to me. Because you have found me to be so lenient and so mild, you have tried my patience. Know that I will from now on be what my position requires me to be, a King who is mighty and to be feared, rather than the temperate and mild person I am by nature. I have been as smooth as oil and as soft as young down plucked from birds, and therefore you have not been giving me the respect that the proud pay only to the powerful.”

Worcester replied, “Our house, my sovereign liege, does not deserve to be so criticized by you. You are using the scourge of greatness on us, but it is our family — the Percys — who helped to make you King of England. We supported you when you deposed King Richard II.”

Northumberland started to speak, “My lord — ”

But King Henry IV knew how to divide and conquer. He interrupted Northumberland and ordered, “Worcester, leave this room immediately. I see defiance and disobedience in your eyes. Your attitude is too bold and imperious. A King does not permit any of his subjects to angrily frown in his presence. You have my permission — and my order — to leave. If we need you or your counsel, we will send for you.”

Although angry, Worcester bowed and left the room.

King Henry IV said to Northumberland, “You were about to speak.”

“Yes, my good lord,” Northumberland said. “Those prisoners that were demanded in your highness’ name after Hotspur had captured them at Holmedon were not, he says, denied with such vehemence as was reported to your majesty. The report erred either because of malice or because of a misunderstanding. My son, Hotspur, is not guilty of what he has been accused.”

Hotspur said, “My King, I did deny you no prisoners. But I remember, after the battle was over, when I was drained after the excitement of battle and extreme toil, when I was breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword, a certain lord came to me. He was neat, clean, and fashionably dressed, as fresh as a bridegroom, and his chin was recently fashionably clipped in a manner not designating a soldier — his chin looked like the stubble left on a field after the harvest. He wore perfume and smelled like a person who makes women’s hats. Between his finger and his thumb, he held a perfume-box, which every so often he held up to his nose and sniffed and then sneezed. He smiled and he talked, but when the soldiers carried dead bodies near him, he became angry and called them uneducated and rude lowlifes because they had brought a foul, disgusting corpse between the wind and himself, thus forcing him to smell it. With many fancy and effeminate words, he questioned me. Among other things, he demanded my prisoners on your Majesty’s behalf. I was in pain because my wounds were cold, and I was irritated because I was pestered with this perfumed parrot. Out of my pain and my impatience, I answered … negligently … I know not what. I said that he should take the prisoners, or I said that he should not take the prisoners. I don’t remember because he made me so mad because he gleamed due to being so clean — and because he smelled so sweet and talked just like a waiting-gentlewoman when he spoke of guns and drums and wounds. Can you believe it? He told me that the best thing on Earth was spermaceti — which he said comes from whales — for an inward bruise. He also said that it was a great pity that villainous salt-petre should be dug out of the bowels of the harmless Earth and used for gunpowder to cowardly destroy so many good brave men. He also said that if it weren’t for these vile guns, he himself would have been a soldier. This silly, incoherent chatter of his, my lord, I answered absent-mindedly, as I said, and I beg you not to let his report cause trouble between me and your Majesty, whom I hold in high respect.”

Sir Walter Blunt, a good friend and advisor to King Henry IV, said to the King, “Considering the circumstances, my good lord, whatever Hotspur said to such a person at such a time and in such a place may reasonably be allowed to die and not discredit Hotspur now or later, provided that he make all things right with you now.”

“But he is not making all things right!” King Henry IV said. “Even now, he will not give me his prisoners except with conditions. He demands that we at our own expense immediately ransom his brother-in-law, the foolish Mortimer, who, I believe, betrayed his men to that great magician, damned Glendower, and got one thousand of them killed by the magician whom he was supposed to fight. We also have learned that Mortimer has recently married Glendower’s daughter. Shall our treasury be emptied so that Mortimer can return home again? Shall we aid a traitor? Shall we bargain with the enemy for the return of a traitor? Should I ransom a poor and defeated general who cowardly surrendered? Let him starve in the barren mountains! No one who asks me for even one penny to ransom the traitor Mortimer and bring him home shall ever be my friend.”

“Mortimer a traitor!” Hotspur exclaimed. “He never faltered, my King, except through the fortunes of war. The proof lies in all those wounds — open like mouths — that he received while courageously fighting on the grassy bank of the Severn River. All alone, man against man, Mortimer battled great Glendower for close to an hour. Three times they stopped to catch their breath and three times, by mutual agreement, they drank from the swiftly flowing river. Their blood dripped into the water, which it discolored. As if frightened by its bloody water, the river carried it away and hid it in the reeds by its bank. Never has base and rotten traitorship disguised its treachery with such deadly wounds. Never could the noble Mortimer receive so many wounds, all of them willingly, if he were a traitor. Therefore, let him not be slandered by the title of traitor.”

“You are not telling the truth about Mortimer,” King Henry IV said. “Those are lies. Mortimer never fought Glendower — he would just as soon fight the Devil in single combat as he would Glendower. Aren’t you ashamed to be telling such lies? Boy, from now on let me not hear you talk about Mortimer. And send me your prisoners by the speediest means possible — or else. Lord Northumberland, we order you to return to your Northern home with your son. Hotspur, and send us your prisoners, or you will regret it.”

King Henry IV departed along with Sir Walter Blunt and others.

Hotspur was angry: “If the Devil himself should come and roar for my prisoners, I will not send them to the King. In fact, I will go to the King right now and tell him so. I will feel better after I tell the King what I really think, even if I lose my head by so doing.”

His father, the Earl of Northumberland, said, “Are you drunk with anger? Stay here. Wait awhile. Look, here comes your uncle, the Earl of Worcester.”

Worcester entered the room.

Hotspur was still angry and said, “The King orders me not to speak of Mortimer? I will speak of him, and let my soul lack mercy and not make it to Heaven if I do not join forces with Mortimer and fight on his side. In fighting for Mortimer, I will be willing to empty all my veins and shed my dear blood drop by drop in the dust, but by fighting for Mortimer I will raise the downtrod Mortimer as high in the air as this ungrateful and malignant Henry Bolingbroke, whom people call King Henry IV.”

Northumberland said to Worcester, “Brother, the King has made your nephew mad.”

“What caused this anger after I left?” Worcester asked.

Hotspur replied, “Bolingbroke said that he will indeed have all my prisoners, and when I urged again that he ransom Mortimer, my wife’s brother, then his cheek looked pale, and on my face he turned a fearful look, trembling even at the name of Mortimer.”

Worcester replied, “I cannot blame him for being afraid of the name of Mortimer. Didn’t the late King Richard II proclaim that Mortimer was the heir to the throne?”

“He did,” Northumberland said. “I myself heard the proclamation. Afterward, King Richard II — may God pardon us for our wrongs committed against him when we helped Bolingbroke to overthrow him! — set forth on his Irish expedition, which Richard cut short to return to England, where he was deposed and then murdered.”

“Because of the murder of King Richard II, we Percys are foully spoken of and defamed by the world’s wide mouth. The citizens of England are scandalized by our behavior in helping Bolingbroke and deposing Richard. We are even blamed for the murder of Richard.”

“This news about Mortimer is new to me,” Hotspur said. “Did King Richard II really proclaim Mortimer, my brother-in-law, to be next in line to the throne?”

Northumberland replied, “He did; I myself did hear it.”

Hotspur said, “Then I cannot blame King Henry IV for wanting Mortimer to starve in the barren mountains. But is it right that you who set the crown on the head of Bolingbroke, who forgets the service that you have done for him and for whose sake you have suffered a loss of reputation, should have to suffer a world of curses when you were only the accomplices and means? When a man is hanged, who should be blamed for that man’s death? The rope? The ladder? Or the hangman? Forgive me for using that comparison to show the perilous situation you are in under this cunning King and the low rank that he assigns to you. Are you willing to have bad things spoken about you now at this time and to have bad things written about you in history books that have yet to be written? Do you want to go down in history as noble and powerful men who did such an unjust deed as both of you — may God forgive you! — have done? You deposed King Richard II, that sweet lovely rose, and then you put on the throne this canker-rose — this ulcer — named Bolingbroke. And are you willing to be shamed by its being recorded that this man for whom you have done so much and for whom you have lost your good reputation should, having fooled you, now discard you? No. Time still remains for you to redeem your reputations and show yourselves to be good people. Get revenge for the jeering and disdain and contempt thrown at you by this proud King, who studies day and night to repay all the debt he owes to you — by killing you! Therefore, I say —”

Worcester interrupted Hotspur, “Be quiet, nephew. Say no more. Allow me to now metaphorically open a secret book so that I can read to your righteous anger and sense of grievance matter deep and dangerous, as full of peril and adventure as is a man who unsteadily walks over a loudly roaring current while using a spear as a bridge. Because of your anger, I am sure that you will be quick to understand me.”

Because Hotspur, who was able to tell that his uncle was going to talk of rebelling against the King, was caught up in his hope of gaining glory on a battlefield, he expressed his opinions out loud instead of allowing his father and uncle to talk.

“If the man falls into the river,” Hotspur said, “then it is a loss — and possibly a death — for him, whether he sinks immediately or swims. Let danger and honor meet and fight in the center of a battlefield. The blood moves more quickly when hunting a lion than when hunting a hare.”

Northumberland said, “Imagination of some great exploit is making Hotspur lose his self-control.”

Hotspur added, mostly to himself, “By Heaven, I think it would be an easy leap to jump up and pluck bright honor from the pale-faced Moon or to dive to the bottom of the sea, where a fathom-line could never reach the bottom, and pluck up drowned honor by her wet locks of hair. Let the person who rescues honor wear — without a rival — all her favors. Let the hero have all the honors — let there be no pathetic sharing of honors!”

“Hotspur is lost in his imagination,” Worcester said to Northumberland. “He is not paying attention to the people who need his attention: you and I, who are in front of him.”

Worcester then said, “Hotspur, please give me your attention.”

“Pardon me,” Hotspur said.

“These noble Scots who are your prisoners —”

Hotspur interrupted, “I’ll keep them all! By God, he shall not have a Scot of them! No, if a Scot would save his soul, he shall not get one from me! I swear that I’ll keep them!”

“You are off and running on your own tangent again and paying no attention to me,” Worcester said. “As I said, you shall keep your prisoners.”

“I certainly will,” Hotspur said. “That’s settled. King Henry IV said that he would not ransom Mortimer. He forbade me to mention Mortimer, but I will go to the King when he is asleep and in his ear I will shout ‘Mortimer!’ I know — I will get a starling and have it taught to speak nothing but the name ‘Mortimer’ and I will give it to the King so that he will be angry whenever the starling speaks!”

“Hotspur, listen to me for a moment,” Worcester said.

Hotspur ignored Worchester and continued his rant: “From this moment I will think about nothing except how to gall and annoy this Bolingbroke and his son the lowlife Prince of Wales. I would kill Prince Hal with a pot of poisoned ale except that I think his father does not love him and would prefer that he meet with an accident or ‘accident’ that would take away his life. And why wouldn’t he, given the company that Prince Hal keeps.”

“Farewell, Hotspur,” Worcester said. “I will talk to you when you are ready to listen to me.”

Northumberland said to Hotspur, “You are acting as if you were stung by wasps. You are an impatient fool who is behaving like a woman who talks continuously and never stops to listen.”

Hotspur replied, “I am angry. It is as if I were whipped and beaten with sticks, stung by nettles, and stung by ants whenever I hear of this vile politician — this deceitful schemer — Bolingbroke. When King Richard II was still alive — what is that place called? Damn! I can’t remember! It is in Gloustershire. There I first bowed my knee to this King of Smiles, this Bolingbroke when, my father, you and he came back from Ravenspurgh. You, my father, had gone to take sides with Bolingbroke and fight for him against King Richard II. Richard’s uncle the madcap Duke of York dwelled there. ”

“You mean Berkeley castle,” Northumberland said.

“Yes, that’s it,” Hotspur said. “What sugary flattery that fawning greyhound fed to me! He said, ‘The promise of his childhood has come to fruition.’ He called me ‘gentle Harry Percy’ and ‘kind cousin.’ May the Devil take such flatterers! Well, forgive me for ranting. Good uncle, tell your tale; I have finished.”

“If you have not yet finished, start raving again,” Worcester said sarcastically to him. “We will wait until you are done.”

“I am done. I swear it,” Hotspur said.

“Once more, let us talk about your Scottish prisoners,” Worcester said. “Release your prisoners immediately without requiring a ransom. Mordake, the son of the Earl of Douglas, is one of your prisoners. Use that fact to raise an army of troops from Scotland. You will be given that army for several reasons that I shall write down in a letter and send to you.”

Worcester said to Northumberland, “While Hotspur, your son, is busily employed in Scotland, you will make an ally of the Archbishop, that well-beloved noble prelate.”

“You mean the Archbishop of York, don’t you?” Northumberland asked.

“Yes,” Worcester said. “He begrudges the death of his brother, the Lord Scroop, whom King Henry IV ordered to be executed at Bristol. The Archbishop has thought about rebellion, plotted rebellion, and decided definitely to rebel against the King. He is waiting for the right time to rebel. I say this not as a guess, but as what I know to be fact.”

“I understand what is going on,” Hotspur said. “It is a good plan. It will succeed.”

“Don’t be too hasty,” Northumberland said. “The plot has not yet been set in motion. You don’t want to let your dogs loose until the hunt begins.”

“This plan is a noble plan that shall succeed,” Hotspur said. “An army from Scotland and an army from York in the North of England will join with Mortimer, who will lead an army from Wales, right?”

Worcester replied, “Yes.”

“This rebellion is well planned,” Hotspur said.

Worcester said, “We have good reason to set this revolt quickly in motion. We can save our heads only by raising armies. No matter how carefully we act and try to please the King, he will always think that he is in our debt because we helped him to become King. He will also continue to think that we are unhappy because he has not sufficiently rewarded us. Therefore, the King will find a way to solve his problem — by killing us. He has already made us a stranger to any signs of his approval.”

“Yes, he has done that,” Hotspur said. “We’ll be revenged on him.”

“Hotspur, farewell,” Worcester said. “Don’t do anything except what I tell you to do in the letters to you that I shall send. When the time is ripe, which it soon will be, I will secretly go to Glendower and Lord Mortimer. You and the Scot Douglas and our united armies will meet together, and we will bear our fortunes on our own strong arms — our fortunes that are at the present time so uncertain.”

Northumberland said to Worcester, “Farewell, good brother. We shall thrive, I trust.”

Hotspur said to Worcester, “Farewell, uncle. Let the hours be short until battlefields and the blows and groans of battle applaud our cause!”

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