William Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 3

— 2.3 —

Hotspur stood in a room in his home, Warkworth Castle in Northumberland, as he read a letter out loud.

Hotspur read, “For my part, my lord, I would be happy to be there because of the respect that I have for your family.”

He said, “Then why won’t you be there and be a part of our rebellion? He writes that he would be happy to be there, and yet he will not be there. This letter shows that he loves his own barn more than he loves the House of the Percys. Let me read some more.”

Hotspur read, “The purpose you undertake is dangerous.”

He said, “That is true: A rebellion against a King is dangerous. It can also be dangerous to catch a cold. People can die from that, and they can die in their sleep or while eating and drinking. If you were here, my lord fool, I would tell you that out of this nettle called danger, we will pluck a flower called safety.”

Hotspur read, “The purpose you undertake is dangerous. The friends you have named are unreliable, the timing is poor, and your forces too light to defeat so great an opposition.”

He said, “Do you really think so? If you were here, I would call you a shallow, cowardly menial servant, and I would tell you that you lie. What a lack-brain you are! By the Lord, our plot is as good a plot as ever was laid, and our friends are true and constant. We have a good plot and good friends, and we are full of expectations for victory. Yes, we have an excellent plot and very good friends. What a frosty-spirited rogue is this writer! Why, the Archbishop of York commends the plot and the general course of action. If I were now by the rascally writer of this letter, I could dash out his brains by merely hitting him with his lady’s fan! Is there not my father, my uncle, and myself all joined together in this rebellion? And Lord Edmund Mortimer, the Archbishop of York, and Owen Glendower? Don’t we also have on our side the Earl of Douglas? Haven’t I received letters from all of them to meet me with their armies by the ninth of the next month? Haven’t some of them already started their marches? This letter-writer has no faith! He is a pagan rascal! He is an infidel! Ha! Now he — fearful and with a cold heart — will go to the King and tell him about our rebellion. I could split myself in two and kick myself because I contacted this dish of skim milk and tried to get him to join our honorable rebellion! Hang him! Let him tell the King! We are prepared. I will set out tonight to meet Glendower.”

Hotspur’s wife, Kate, entered the room. She was worried about her husband and her marriage.

Hotspur said to her, “How are you, Kate! I must leave you within the next two hours.”

Kate replied, “My husband, why do you insist on being alone? For what offence have I for the past two weeks been banished from your bed? Tell me, Hotspur, what is it that is troubling you and takes from you your appetite, your pleasure, and your golden sleep? Why do you stare at the ground and why are you so easily startled when you sit by yourself? Why have you lost the ruddiness in your cheeks? Why have you ignored me and not had sex with me? You have not enjoyed my body and you have not allowed me to enjoy your body — a right I have as your wife. Why instead have you been staring at nothing and brooding? While you have slept — lightly, not deeply — I have crept to your bed and have listened to you talk in your sleep. You have murmured tales of iron wars. You have given your bounding steed orders. You have cried ‘Courage’ and ‘To the battlefield!’ And you have talked of sallies and retreats, of trenches and tents, of palisades made of stakes and of parapets made of stone and of other fortifications, of big and small cannon, of prisoners ransomed and of soldiers slain, and of all the occurrences of a violent fight. Your spirit has been so at war that you have thus fought battles in your sleep, and beads of sweat have stood upon your forehead like bubbles in a recently disturbed stream. And in your face strange expressions have appeared such as we see when men stop breathing when they hear suddenly a command of great importance. What portents are these? You are considering some serious business, and you must tell me what it is, or else I will know that you do not love me.”

A servant entered the room and Hotspur asked him, “Has Gilliams departed with the packet of letters?”

“He has been gone for an hour,” the servant replied.

“Has Butler brought those horses from the shire Sheriff?”

“He has just now brought one horse.”

“Which horse? Was it a roan with cropped ears?”

“It is, my lord.”

“That roan shall by my throne,” Hotspur said. “Well, I will ride him immediately. The Percy family motto is ‘Esperance!’ or ‘Hope!’ and that is what I have now. Tell Butler to take the roan into the park.”

The servant departed.

Kate said, “Now listen here, husband.”

“What have you got to say, wife?” Hotspur replied.

“What is it that carries you away?”

“Why, my horse, my love, my horse.”

“Stop joking, you mad-headed ape!” Kate said. “Even a weasel is less annoying than you are right now. I swear that I will know your business, husband — that I will! I fear that my brother Mortimer is making a move to become King of England, and he wants you to fight on his behalf and strengthen his armies, but if you go —”

Hotspur joked, “So far afoot, I shall be weary, love.”

Kate said, “Come, come, you parrot, give me the real answer to my question.”

She grabbed the little finger of one of her husband’s hands and threatened, charmingly, “I promise that I’ll break your little finger, Harry, unless you tell me everything I want to know.”

“Away, you trifler!” Hotspur said, not unkindly. “You talked of love. Love! I do not love you, Kate. This is no world to play with dolls and to duel with lips. We must have bloody noses and cracked crowns. That is the currency of our age. Now I must go to my horse!”

Kate grabbed onto Hotspur and did not let go.

Hotspur asked, “What’s wrong, Kate?”

Hotspur had been joking when he had said that he did not love his wife, but for Kate this was serious business.

Upset, she said, “Do you not love me? Do you not, indeed? Is that true? If you do not love me, I will not love myself. Don’t you love me? Tell me whether or not you were joking.”

Hotspur replied, “Will you come with me and see me mount my horse? Once I am on horseback, I will swear to you that I love you always and forever. But, Kate, you must not ask me where I am going or what is the reason for my journey. I must go where I must go, and this evening, gentle Kate, I must leave you. I know that you are wise, but yet you are a wife. I know that you are loyal, but yet you are a woman. As for keeping a secret, no lady is more closed-mouthed than you — because I believe that you will not tell what you do not know. This is as far as I will trust you, Kate.”

“Only that far?” a disappointed Kate said.

“And no further,” Hotspur said. “But, Kate, I promise that you will go where I am going. Today, I will set out on the journey. Tomorrow, you will set out. Will that satisfy you, Kate?”

“It will have to.”

They went to the park, where the roan horse was waiting.



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