Hotspur, Worcester, Mortimer, and Glendower gather in a room of the Archdeacon’s house in Bangor, Wales. Hotspur attempts to take charge but can’t find his map. Glendower has his map and takes over, telling Hotspur to sit down. He says the fearful King Henry wishes Hotspur were dead, and Hotspur says the king wishes Glendower were dead as well.
Prideful Hotspur wants to be in charge but Glendower takes speaking authority. By telling each other how much King Henry loathes them, Glendower and Hotspur are complimenting one another for being honorably fearsome.
Glendower says it makes sense that King Henry fears him for his birth was marked by fiery celestial portents and a great earthquake, signifying Glendower’s power. Hotspur retorts that such “signs” aren’t signs at all, but just common, natural phenomena that would have occurred whether or not Glendower was born. Glendower insists that the sky was in flames and “the Earth did tremble” in specific announcement of his birth. He elaborates, detailing other portents (such as animals and birds behaving strangely), claiming “these signs have mark’d me extraordinary.” Hotspur continues to scoff at Glendower’s claims and laughs off his uncle’s claims to be able to summon spirits and the Devil, enjoining Glendower to “tell truth, and shame the Devil.”
Glendower’s speech reintroduces the symbol of celestial signs. For Glendower, appearances in nature are significantly connected to the human world and can foreshadow, prophesy, and react to human events. For Hotspur, by contrast, appearances in nature are nothing but appearances: they lack any inner significance and remain unconnected to human history. This first with Hotspur’s belief in honor as an expression of what a man can achieve through action. Nature, for him, doesn’t come into it.
Mortimer breaks up Glendower and Hotspur’s bickering by calling the men to the map. He shows them the three equal portions the archdeacon has divided the land into: one for Mortimer, one for Glendower, and one for Hotspur. He and Glendower proceed to discuss the next step in their plan: meeting up with troops. Hotspur interrupts to complain that his portion of the land is inferior to Glendower’s and Mortimer’s because of a river cutting his territory off from fertile land. He threatens to damn the river and Glendower forbids him from doing so.
Appearances are, of course, subjective and, what appeared a fair division to Glendower, Mortimer, and the archdeacon does not appear fair to Hotspur. Once again, Hotspur proves himself unable to listen to anyone’s words but his own and interjects in other peoples’ conversations.
Hotspur and Glendower argue, and Hotspur insults Glendower’s English (Glendower is Welsh). Insulted, Glendower insists he has spoken perfectly refined English since his upbringing in the English court and that his English is far more elegant than Hotspur’s. Hotspur says he’s glad his English isn’t elegant and that he wants nothing to do with sissified, “mincing poetry.” Hotspur insists again that he won’t back down from his position on the land, then asks whether they should get going. Glendower, who’s going to stay behind to finish preparing his forces, says he’ll go tell Hotspur and Mortimer’s wives that they’re leaving. He fears his daughter, Lady Mortimer, will go crazy, since she loves Mortimer so much. Glendower exits.
Glendower and Hotspur’s argument connects the themes of language and honor. Glendower is offended by Hotspur’s attack on his English since, for him, his language is a point of honor and he takes pride in his refined speech. That said, it’s very possible Glendower speaks English with a Welsh accent, rather than the British accent spoken by the Percys. Hotspur is, predictably, unable to equate honor with anything other than courage and war victories: he thinks refined language is dishonorably effeminate.
Mortimer chastises Hotspur for fighting so much with Glendower. Hotspur says he can’t help it, he gets so angry listening to “tedious” Glendower’s mysticism and faith in portents (what Hotspur calls “skimble-skamble stuff.”) Mortimer protests that Glendower is in fact well-read, brave, kind, and rich, and that, though he’s thus far restrained himself from blowing up at Hotspur, Hotspur should be careful not to try his patience in the future. Worcester chimes in, calling Hotspur “too willful-blunt” and urging him to “amend this fault” for, though it occasionally lends him “greatness” and “courage,” it more often leads him into “harsh rage,” rudeness, poor judgment, “pride, haughtiness….and disdain.” Hotspur pronounces himself “school’d” and announces that they should bid their wives farewell and leave.
Even Hotspur admits that he can’t control his speech. Mortimer tries to make Hotspur see past his narrow-minded value system to appreciate Glendower’s refinement. Worcester’s diagnosis of his nephew is apt: indeed, the very boldness that spurs Hotspur towards brave war victories ends up handicapping him in peacetime. It makes him, as Worcester says, too proud, haughty, and disdainful.
Glendower reenters with Lady Mortimer (crying at the prospect of Mortimer’s departure) and Lady Percy. Mortimer laments that he can’t talk with his wife, since he can’t speak Welsh and his wife can’t speak English. Glendower (Lady Mortimer’s father) translates for them and reiterates his daughter’s adoration for Mortimer and reluctance to see him leave. Mortimer says he understands “that pretty Welsh” of his wife’s looks and that they can understand each other’s kisses, and that her voice makes Welsh sound sweet as music to him. Still, he is frustrated that he can’t understand her words. Glendower translates: Lady Mortimer wants to take Mortimer’s head in her lap and sing him to sleep and Mortimer happily agrees..
Mortimer and Lady Mortimer’s relationship adds an interesting dimension to the theme of language: since they don’t speak the same language, they can’t communicate in words. Yet, even though Mortimer laments his inability to speak with his wife, their behavior around one another shows that their lack of a shared language has not limited their love. They are deeply affectionate and attached to one another and can communicate meaningfully through touch and gestures.
Hotspur remarks that Welsh music is played by the devil and that he’d rather listen to his dog howl. Lady Percy tells him to shut up and listen. Lady Mortimer sings a Welsh song. Hotspur jokes that Lady Percy should sing a song too and, when she refuses, makes fun of her. He announces he’ll be leaving soon and exits. Glendower urges Mortimer to hurry up since he must leave soon too.
Hotspur and Lady Percy’s marriage provides an ironic contrast to the Mortimers’: though they can communicate in a shared language, their relationship is much more tenuous and Hotspur remains hopelessly unable to listen to or understand his wife.