Henry IV Part 1 Act 4, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis
New! Understand every line of Henry IV Part 1.Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Hotspur, Worcester, and Douglas converse at the rebel camp near Shrewsbury. Hotspur and Douglas flatter one another for being brave, honorable warriors. A messenger enters delivering letters from Northumberland that say he has gotten very sick and can’t join forces with Hotspur and the rest of the rebels as planned. Still, he cheers on their cause and reminds them there’s no backing out now because King Henry has gotten wind of the treason plot. Worcester is worried about fighting without Northumberland’s help and forces and fears King Henry’s side will suspect Northumberland defected because the rebels are disorganized and fractious.
The treason plot Worcester so carefully strategized is falling apart. Without Northumberland’s forces, the rebels’ army is much weaker than it would have been and will have a harder time facing the King’s troops on the battlefield. Further, the failure of Northumberland to come makes the rebels also look bad, effective morale and their ability to attract allies. Appearance is important to armies, too, not just to individuals.
Hotspur dismisses Worcester’s fears, insisting that fighting without Northumberland gives them a chance to win even greater honor and glory for themselves, since their victory will be that much more impressive. Douglas affirms Hotspur’s point, saying “there is not such a word spoke in Scotland as this term of fear.”
Hotspur is, as usual, unwilling to think of war in practical terms of strategy and safety and can only focus on further opportunities to enhance his honor in battle.
Sir Richard Vernon enters and informs them that Westmoreland and Prince John’s are marching towards them with seven thousand troops, and that King Henry and Prince Hal will come with even more. Vernon describes Prince Hal as “feather’d Mercury,” magnificently outfitted for battle. Hotspur balks at Vernon’s praise of Hal and declares that all King Henry’s troops “come like sacrifices in their trim.” He is eager to fight Prince Hal and calls for his horse to “bear me, like a thunderbolt, against the bosom of the Prince of Wales.” He hotly anticipates the fight of “Harry and Harry,” and is confident he’ll emerge victorious.
Vernon’s metaphor for Prince Hal compares him to a god—the Roman god “Mercury.” Hotspur, unwilling to entertain the image of Prince Hal as godly, retorts that the prince and his troops are nothing but sacrifices and implies a comparison between himself and the Roman god Jupiter, whose weapon was a thunderbolt. Hotspur is competitive even in being compared to gods, choosing one even more powerful than the one compared to Hal.
Vernon explains that Glendower, who has been due to arrive shortly, will not to be able to organize his troops in time. Douglas and Worcester are dismayed by this news. The rebels will now have to take on King Henry’s thirty thousand troops at a great numerical disadvantage. Hotspur, though, remains optimistic and keen to charge into battle, calling the others to ride into the fighting with him. All exit.
Without Glendower, Worcester’s battle strategy frays even further. Yet Hotspur remains unperturbed by the grim facts and focuses exclusively on his dreams of glory and self-confidence in his physical abilities.