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

— 3.1 —

At Owen Glendower’s castle in Wales, Hotspur, Worcester, Mortimer, and Glendower were holding a meeting.

Mortimer said, “The promises that we have made to each other are fair, the parties in our rebellion are sure, and the beginning of this, our rebellion, is full of promise and hope.”

Hotspur said, “Lord Mortimer, and friend Glendower, will you sit down? And you, too, uncle Worcester.”

By saying that, Hotspur was breaking a rule of etiquette. The castle belonged to Glendower, so Glendower — the host — should have been the one to invite the others to sit down.

Hotspur then said, “A plague upon it! I have forgotten the map!”

Glendower was better prepared than Hotspur. He said, “No, here it is. Sit, Earl of Worcester; sit, good Hotspur.”

He paid Hotspur a compliment, “Whenever King Henry IV, the former Duke of Lancaster, says the name Hotspur, his cheek looks pale and with a heavy sigh he wishes that you were dead and in Heaven. The King of England is afraid of you.”

Hotspur returned the compliment: “And whenever the King hears your name, he wishes that you were in Hell.”

Glendower, who believed that he had been born to do great things, replied, “I cannot blame him. When I was born, the sky was full of the fiery shapes of burning meteors, and earthquakes made the foundation of the Earth shake like a coward.”

Hotspur, who lacked the skills of diplomacy as well as the skills of etiquette, was unimpressed: “Why, so the Earth would have done at the same time, if your mother’s cat had but given birth to kittens, even though you yourself had never been born.”

Glendower was angry: “I say the Earth did shake when I was born.”

“And I say the Earth was not of my mind, if you suppose that the Earth shook because it feared you,” Hotspur replied.

“The Heavens were all on fire, and the Earth did tremble,” Glendower said.

“In that case, the Earth trembled because the Heavens were all on fire, and not in fear of your birth,” Hotspur said. “Nature can become ill; that illness is expressed in earthquakes. The Earth sometimes gets gas trapped inside it, and when it releases the gas it shakes so hard that steeples and moss-grown towers fall down. When you were born, the Earth let out a massive fart.”

Glendower said, “Hotspur, I do not bear such insults from many men. Let me tell you again that when I was born the sky was full of fiery shapes, the goats ran from the mountains, and herds of cattle bellowed with fright in the fields. These signs have marked me out as extraordinary, and all the events of my life do show that I am not in the roll of common men. No man in England, Scotland, and Wales has ever taught me anything or had me as a pupil. No man is my master. And show me anyone who knows as much about magic as I do or can keep pace with me in my occult experiments.”

Hotspur said to Mortimer and Worcester, “I think there’s no man who speaks better Welsh than Glendower. No man speaks better nonsense. I think I’ll go and eat dinner.”

Mortimer said, “Please, brother-in-law Hotspur, don’t make Glendower angry.”

Too late. Glendower was angry.

Glendower said, “I can call spirits from the vast and deep underworld.”

“Why, so can I, and so can any man,” Hotspur said, “but will they come when you call them?”

“Why, I can teach you, Hotspur, to command the Devil.”

“And I can teach you, Glendower, to shame the Devil by telling the truth. If you tell the truth, you will shame the Devil. So, if you have the power to raise the Devil, bring him here. I swear that I have the power to shame him and make him leave. Oh, while you live, tell the truth and shame the Devil!”

Mortimer said, “Stop! Let’s have no more of these argumentative words.”

Glendower continued to speak: “Three times has Henry Bolingbroke — King Henry IV — raised an army to fight against me and my army. Three times from the banks of the River Wye and the sandy-bottomed River Severn have I sent him home and weather-beaten back. It is bootless for him to try to fight me.”

“Weather-beaten and bootless?” Hotspur said. “I wonder how the King managed to avoid catching a cold.”

Glendower stopped arguing and said, “Here’s the map. Let’s look at it and make sure that we agree with the way that England has been divided into three parts: one-third for me, one-third for Mortimer, and one-third for Hotspur.”

Mortimer said, “The Archdeacon of Bangor has divided it into three parts very equally. England, south and east from the River Trent and the River Severn, is my portion. Beyond the River Severn westward to Wales, and all the fertile land in that territory, goes to Owen Glendower. And, Hotspur, to you goes the territory north of the River Trent. Our three-part agreement has been drawn up. Let’s review it and then have copies made so we can sign them tonight. Tomorrow, Hotspur, you and I and my good Lord of Worcester will set forth to meet your father and the Scottish army, as we agreed, at Shrewsbury. My father-in-law Glendower is not ready yet, but we will not need his help for fourteen days.”

To Glendower, he said, “In that fourteen days, you will have time to assemble your army from the farmers working your land, your friends, and your neighboring allies.”

“I intend to be ready sooner than that,” Glendower said. “When I come to you, Hotspur and Mortimer, with my army, I will also bring your wives to you. Perhaps you should sneak away from them tonight without saying goodbye because they will shed a world of tears when you leave them.”

Hotspur had been looking at the map; he was unhappy.

He said, “I think that my share of the land, north from the town of Burton here, in quantity equals not one of yours. You, Mortimer, and you, Glendower, have received more land than I have. See how this river comes winding into my territory and cuts from the best of all my land a huge half-Moon — a monstrous piece — out. I’ll have the river dammed up here so that the smooth and silver River Trent shall run in a straight course in a new channel. It shall not wind with such a deep indent and rob me of so rich a valley here.”

“You don’t want the river to run there?” Glendower said. “It shall; it must; you can see that it does.”

Mortimer said to Hotspur, “The river does flow into the valley but look here. It flows into a valley in my territory as much as it flows into the valley in your territory. It takes away from me and gives to you as much it takes away from you and gives to me.”

Worcester was not averse to Hotspur, his nephew, getting more land. He said, “With a little expense, we can move the river into a new course that will add some land to the north of the river and then the river will run straight and evenly.”

“That’s what I will do,” Hotspur said. “It will cost only a little money.”

Glendower, who wanted Mortimer, his son-in-law, to get all the land that was coming to him, said, “I will not allow the course of the river to be altered.”

“Oh, won’t you?” Hotspur said.

“No, I won’t allow you to alter the course of the river.”

“Who will stop me?”

“I will.”

“I prefer not to understand you, so say it to me in Welsh,” Hotspur said.

Glendower replied, “I can speak English, Hotspur, as well as you; for I was brought up in the English court, where, when I was young, I wrote song lyrics and set them to the music of the harp, thus giving the English beautiful poetry. This is something that I doubt that you have ever done.”

You are right,” Hotspur said, “and I am glad of it. I would prefer to be a kitten and cry ‘meow’ than to be one of these ballad-singers. I would prefer to hear the screech of a bronze candlestick being turned on a lathe that is normally used to make wooden candlesticks. I would prefer to hear a dry wheel grate and squeak on an axle. Would these things set my teeth on edge? Yes, but not as badly as would the sound of affected, high-falutin’ poetry — it is like the hobbled gait of a shuffling nag.”

Glendower gave in: “If you want to change the course of the River Trent, do so.”

“No,” Hotspur said. “I really don’t care about the land. I’ll give three times as much land to any well-deserving friend; but when it comes to making a bargain, understand me well, I’ll argue about the ninth part of a hair.”

He added, “Are the three copies of our agreement drawn up? Shall we sign them and leave?”

“The Moon shines brightly,” Glendower said. “You may travel this night. I will go to the copyist and bid him to hurry. I will also tell your wives that you are leaving tonight. I am afraid my daughter will run mad because she loves her Mortimer so much.”

Glendower departed.

Mortimer said, “Hotspur, you have a talent for making Glendower, my father-in-law, angry.”

“I can’t help it,” Hotspur said. “Sometimes he makes me angry by telling me about a mole and an ant, about the magician Merlin and his prophecies, about a dragon and a finless fish, about a half-lion and half-eagle griffin with its wings clipped and a raven that has shed its feathers, about a lion resting on its legs and raising its head and a cat rearing up on its hind legs to attack. I think that the terms he used were a ‘couching lion’ and a ‘ramping cat.’ The Percy crest is the lion, the Glendower crest is the dragon, and the Mortimer crest is the wolf, and Glendower says that Henry IV is a mole and that the lion, the dragon, and the wolf will divvy up the mole’s country. He says such things with such a massive amount of mumbo-jumbo and skimble-skamble stuff that he makes me lose my faith in him. I tell you, he bored me last night at least nine hours in reckoning up the names of the many Devils that are his lackeys. I said ‘oh’ and ‘is that so?’ but I did not listen to even a single word he said. Glendower is as tedious as a tired horse or a nagging wife. Glendower is worse than a smoky house. I would much prefer to live on cheese and garlic and live in a windmill than to eat delicacies and have him talk to me in any summer-house in the Christian part of the world.”

Mortimer replied, “Actually, he is a worthy gentleman. He is very well read, and he is proficient in strange and occult arts. He is as valiant as a lion, and he is wondrously charming and as generous as the mines of India. Let me tell you that he holds you in high respect and he restrains his anger when you do or say something that makes him angry. I tell you that no other man could have done and said the things you do and say and not have been hurt in body or criticized with words. But avoid challenging him in the future, I beg you.”

Worcester said to his nephew, “Truly, you are too hot-headed. Ever since you have come here, you have done and said many things to make Glendower angry. You need to learn to fix this fault of yours. Sometimes, plain-speaking can show greatness, courage, and spirit — and yes, you have those positive qualities — but sometimes, it serves only to antagonize others. Plain-speaking can show oneself to be full of harsh rage, to lack etiquette, to display loss of self-control, to be full of pride, haughtiness, and self-conceit, and to have a low opinion of other people. A nobleman who has any of these bad qualities will lose the friendship of other people. Possession of any of these bad qualities stains the person’s good qualities and makes those good qualities difficult to be noticed and praised.”

“Well, you have taught me well,” Hotspur said. “May good manners bring you success.”

Glendower entered the room, bringing with him the wives of Hotspur and Mortimer.

Hotspur said, “Here come our wives. Soon, we will leave them, so let’s say our goodbyes.”

Mortimer said, “What bothers me is that my wife can speak no English, and I can speak no Welsh.”

His marriage to Glendower’s daughter was a political marriage made to seal an alliance. Nevertheless, he and his wife of a short time were happily married.

Glendower said, “My daughter cries. She does not want to be parted from you. She wants to be a soldier and go with you to the war.”

“Father-in-law, please tell her that she and Hotspur’s wife will come with you when you join your army with our armies.”

Glendower spoke to his daughter in Welsh, and she answered him in the same language.

Glendower said to Mortimer, “She is overly anxious to stay with you. She is being a silly girl and is unwilling to listen to reason.”

Mortimer’s wife spoke again, this time to him, in Welsh.

He said, “I understand your looks. Your pretty Welsh tears that pour down from your eyes I understand all too well. Except that I would be ashamed, I would communicate with you in the same way.”

She kissed him and spoke again.

He said, “I understand your kisses and you understand mine. We are able to communicate our emotions. I will study hard and not be a truant until I have learned your language. Your voice makes Welsh as sweet as the most beautifully written lyrics sung by a beautiful Queen in a fine dwelling in summer to a tune played by a lute.”

Glendower said to Mortimer, “Don’t cry. You will only upset her.”

Again, Mortimer’s wife spoke to Mortimer in Welsh.

“Oh, I am completely ignorant when it comes to Welsh!” he said.

Glendower translated the content of what she had said: “She wants you to lie on the soft floor covering and to lay your head in her lap, and she will sing to you a song to please you and make you half-asleep and relaxed. You will be midway between waking and sleeping, just like twilight is midway between day and night during the hour before the Sun rises.”

Mortimer replied, “With all my heart I will lie here and hear her sing. By the time she is finished, I think, the copies of our agreement will be completed.”

“Enjoy,” Glendower said. “Musicians shall play to you. Now they float in the air a thousand leagues from here, but immediately they shall arrive here. Lie down, and listen.”

Hotspur said to Kate, his wife, “You are perfect at lying down.”

She smiled, knowing the kind of lying down he meant.

Hotspur continued, “Sit down, so that I may rest my head in your lap.”

“Stop it, you giddy goose,” she said, aware that the words “head in your lap” have a sexual meaning, as well as an innocent meaning.

But she sat down and Hotspur non-sexually rested his head in her lap. He thought about Kate’s threat to break his “little finger” earlier. “Little finger” did not necessarily have to mean a finger of his hand.

Music began to play, and Hotspur said, “Now I know that the Devil understands Welsh. Maybe that is why he is so moody. Still, he is a musician.”

“In that case, you ought to be a good musician because you are so often moody,” Kate said. “Lie still, you thief, and hear the lady sing in Welsh.”

“I had rather hear Lady, my bitch-hound, howl in Irish.”

“Do you want me to break your head?”


“Then be quiet.”

“Never. That is a trait of women.”

“God help you,” Kate said.

Hotspur murmured, “To the Welsh lady’s bed.”

Not quite having heard his words, Kate asked, “What did you say?”

Hotspur replied, “Be quiet. She is singing.”

Mortimer’s wife sang a song in Welsh.

Hotspur said, “You shall sing a song next.”

“No, I won’t, for Heaven’s sake.”

“‘For Heaven’s sake!’” Hotspur said. “Kate, you are swearing like the wife of a candymaker. What will you say next: ‘Darn it’? ‘Gosh’? ‘Golly’? Your swear words are like chiffon. It’s like a preacher has raised you. Swear for me now, Kate, with blood and vigor. Swear the way the wife of Hotspur should swear. Fill your mouth with dirty words. Leave ‘for Heaven’s sake’ and ‘darn it’ and such namby-pamby swearings to those who dress up on Sunday. Sing to me now a mouthful of words spiced with hot peppers.”

“I will not sing,” Kate said.

“Singing a normal song is a good way to become a tailor — tailors are known for singing as they work. It is also a good way to become a teacher of red-breasted songbirds,” Hotspur said, and then he added, “I am going to go and see if the agreements have been copied. If they have been, I will be gone within two hours. Before I leave, come and see me.”

He exited.

Glendower said to Mortimer, “Let’s go now. You are as slow to leave here as Hotspur is on fire to go. By this time, our agreements will have been copied. We will sign them and affix our seals to them, and then we will mount our horses and leave.”

Mortimer said, “I am ready.”

They left to sign the copies of their agreement.

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