William Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 1

— 4.1 —

Hotspur, Worcester, and Douglas were meeting in the rebel camp near Shrewsbury. Hotspur and Douglas, recently become allies, were complimenting each other. Hotspur was taking the advice of Worcester to be more diplomatic.

Hotspur replied to something that the Earl of Douglas, whom Hotspur had defeated in battle three times, had said, “Well said, my noble Scot. If speaking the truth in this fine age were not thought to be flattery, such praise would you, the Earl of Douglas, have that no one who became a soldier in this campaign would have so good a reputation as yours throughout the world. By God, I am incapable of flattery; I hate the tongues of flatterers; but no man has a better place in my heart than you do. If you should ever test my friendship for you, my friendship would prove to be true.”

Douglas replied, “You are the King of Honor. If any man states that you are not, I will fight him.”

“You would do that,” Hotspur said. “Well said.”

A messenger arrived, carrying letters.

Hotspur said, “What letters do you have there?”

The messenger gave Hotspur the letters, and Hotspur said, “Thank you.”

The messenger said, “These letters come from your father, Northumberland.”

“Letters from him!” Hotspur said. “Why hasn’t he come here in person?”

“He cannot come, my lord. He is grievously ill.”

“Damn!” Hotspur said. “How can he have the leisure to be sick in such an exciting and turbulent time? Who leads his army? Who is their general?”

“His letters should tell you that,” the messenger said. “I cannot, my lord.”

Worcester asked, “Is he bedridden?”

“He was unable to get out of bed for the four days before I set forth. At the time of my departure from his castle, his physicians feared that he might die.”

“I wish that this rebellion had been finished before he got sick,” Worcester said. “We have never needed him to be in good health more than now.”

Hotspur read the letters.

“Sick now! Droop now!” Hotspur said. “His sickness infects the very life-blood of our rebellion. His sickness spreads even to our rebel camp. He writes me here that he has some internal sickness … and that his allies could not be assembled in time by anyone he could delegate. Also, he did not think it wise to allow anyone other than himself to perform so dangerous and important a task. But he also advises us to boldly continue with our small army and fight and see if we win because, he writes, we can’t draw back now because King Henry IV is certainly aware of our rebellion. What do you think of this information?”

Worcester said, “Your father’s sickness deeply hurts us. It is a maim to our rebellion.”

Hotspur replied, “It is a perilous gash! It is a limb cut off!”

He paused, and then he said, “And yet, I believe, it is not. The absence of my father and his army seems more serious than we shall find it. Is it wise to stake all of our resources on one battle? Should we bet everything on one throw of the dice? Should everything be risked in one hazardous action when such a rich prize is at stake? No. If we were to risk everything we had, that would mean that we had reached the very end of our hopes and the very limits of our resources.”

“You are right,” Douglas said. “We have forces in reserve. It is as if we are expecting an inheritance. We can boldly spend what we have now, knowing that soon we will have more. We have something to fall back on; that is our comfort.”

Hotspur said, “We have a place to go to. We have a refuge in case the Devil and mischance bring us early defeat in our rebellion.”

“Still, I wish that your father were here,” Worcester said. “We must be united in our rebellion. Some people who do not know the reason for your father’s absence may think that his knowledge and wisdom, loyalty to King Henry IV, and dislike of our rebellion has kept him from joining forces with us. Think how such a perception may affect our more timid supporters and make them wonder about the justness of our cause. We who take the offensive in a rebellion must avoid careful evaluations of our cause. We must make sure the eyes of those who would find fault in our rebellion see nothing. Your father’s absence opens a curtain through which our supporters may find reasons to become frightened and not support us.”

“You worry too much,” Hotspur said. “We can look at my father’s absence as being an advantage. It gives our rebellion a brighter and greater renown because our rebellion is now more daring because my father and his army are not here. People will think that if we can raise an army to challenge the King without my father’s help, then once my father’s army joins us, we shall topple Henry IV’s kingdom and depose him. All is still well; our rebellion is still sound.”

“That’s true,” Douglas said. “In Scotland we don’t know the meaning of the word ‘fear.’”

Sir Richard Vernon walked over to the three leaders of the rebellion.

“Welcome, Vernon,” Hotspur said.

“I hope that my news will be welcome,” Vernon said. “The Earl of Westmoreland, with an army seven thousand strong, is marching here. With him is Prince John.”

“No problem,” Hotspur said. “What other news do you bring?”

“In addition, I have learned that King Henry IV himself in person has either already set forth or will set forth soon and will arrive here with a strong and mighty army.”

“That is also not a problem,” Hotspur said. “Where are his son, the nimble-footed and zany Prince of Wales, and the Prince’s friends, all of whom prefer drinking to anything else in the world?”

“I can report that Prince Hal is with an army, all well-equipped and well-armed. His soldiers are all plumed with ostrich feathers — the emblem of the Prince of Wales — shaking their wings like eagles after a bath, glittering in golden coats of armor like statues, as full of spirit as the month of May, and as gorgeous as the midsummer Sun, as sportive as young goats, and as wild as young bulls. I myself saw young Prince Hal, with his helmet on, his thighs covered with armor, and gallantly furnished with weapons, rise from the ground like the messenger god Mercury with feathered ankles that make him fast. Prince Hal vaulted with such ease into his saddle as if an angel had dropped down from the clouds to ride a fiery Pegasus and bewitch the world with his noble horsemanship.”

“Stop! Stop!” Hotspur said. “This praise is making me sick — it’s like catching a cold with a change of season. Let them come. They come like beasts for sacrifice in their fine armor. All hot and bleeding we will offer them to Bellona, the fire-eyed maiden of smoky war. The god of war, Mars, shall sit on his altar up to his ears in blood. I am on fire, knowing that this rich prize is so near and is not yet ours. Come, let me mount my horse and feel him underneath me. My horse will carry me like a thunderbolt against the Prince of Wales. Harry Hotspur and Prince Harry shall meet — on one hot horse against another hot horse — and never part until one of us is made a corpse.”

Hotspur paused and then said, “I wish that Glendower were here with his army!”

Vernon said, “I have more bad news. I learned in the city of Worcester, as I rode along, that Glendower was not able to assemble his army.”

Douglas said, “That is the worst news that I have heard yet.”

“Yes,” Worcester said. “This is chilling news.”

Hotspur asked, “How many soldiers does King Henry IV have.”

“Approximately thirty thousand.”

“Let it be forty thousand,” Hotspur said. “My father and Glendower and their armies are not here, but our armies may still bring us victory. Let’s quickly gather our troops. Doomsday is near. If we all will die, let us die merrily.”

“Don’t talk about dying,” Douglas said. “I refuse to be afraid of dying for the next six months. Talk of dying is bad for morale.”

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