Henry IV Character Introduction
From Henry IV, First Part, by the University Society. New York: University Society Press.
It is exceedingly difficult to speak of Hotspur satisfactorily; not indeed because the lines of his character are not bold and prominent enough, but rather because they are so much so. For his frame is greatly disproportioned, which causes him to be all the more distinguishable, and perhaps to seem larger than he really is; and one of his leading excesses manifests itself in a wiry,
close-twisted, red-hot speech, which burns into the mind
such an impression of him as must needs make any commentary seem prosaic and dull. There is no mistaking
him: no character in Shakespeare stands more apart in plenitude of peculiarity; and stupidity itself can hardly
so disguise or disfeature him with criticism, but that he
will still be recognized by any one that has ever seen him.
He is as much a monarch in his sphere as the King and Falstaff are in theirs; only they rule more by power, he
by emphasis and stress: there is something in them
that takes away the will and spirit of resistance ; he
makes everything bend to his arrogant, domineering,
capricious temper. Who that has been with him in the
scenes at the palace and at Bangor, can ever forget his
bounding, sarcastic, overbearing spirit? How he hits
all about him, and makes the feathers fly wherever he
hits! It seems as if his tongue could go through the
world, and strew the road behind it with splinters. And
how steeped his speech everywhere is in the poetry of
the sword! In what compact and sinewy platoons and
squadrons the words march out of his mouth in bristhng
rank and file! as if from his birth he had been cradled
on the iron breast of war. How doubly charged he is,
in short, with the electricity of chivalry! insomuch that
you can touch him nowhere but that he will give you a
shock. . . .
Another consequence, apparently, of Hotspur's having so much of passion in his head, is the singular absence of mind so well described by Prince Henry, and so finely exemplified in the scene with his wife; where, after
she has closed her noble strain of womanly eloquence, he calls in a servant, makes several inquiries about his
horse and orders him to be brought into the park, hears
her reproof, exchanges some questions with her, and
fights a battle in imagination, before he answers her tender remonstrance. Here it is plain that his absence is
not from any lack of strength, but from a certain rapidity and skittishness of mind: he has not the control of
his thinking; the issues of his brain being so conceived in fire as to preclude steadiness of attention and the
pauses of thought: that which strikes his mind last
must pop out first; and, in a word, he is rather possessed
by his thoughts, than possessing them.
The qualities we have remarked must needs in a great
measure unfit Hotspur for a military leader in regular
warfare; the whole working of his nature being too impulsive and heady for the counterpoise of so weighty an
undertaking. Too impetuous and eager for the contest to concert operations, too impatient for the end to await
the adjustment of means; abundantly able to fight battles, but not to scheme them; he is qualified to succeed
only in the hurlyburly of border warfare, where success
comes more by fury of onset than by wisdom of plan.
All which is finely shown just before the battle of
Shrewsbury, where if he be not perversely wrong-headed, he is so headstrong, peremptory, and confident
even to rashness, as to render him quite impracticable:
we see, and his fellow-chieftains see, that there is no
coming to a temper with him; that he will be sure to fall
out and quarrel with whoever stands out from or against
his purposes. Yet he nowhere appears more truly the
noble Hotspur than on this occasion, when amidst the
falling off of friends, the backwardness of allies, and the
thickening of dangers, his ardent and brave spirit turns
his very disadvantages into sources of confidence.
Hudson: The Works of Shakespeare.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare William. Henry IV, First Part. University Society. New York: USP, 1901. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/henryiv/2kh4charactershotspur.html >.
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