He Was the Mark and Glass, Copy and Book

Henry IV: Part Two, Act II

The title comes from a speech by Lady Percy, Hotspur’s widow, who speaks as boldly and as bluntly to her father-in-law as Hotspur might himself were he alive.

She has GRIEVANCE, since it was Northumberland and Glendower’s pussyfooting that contributed directly to her love’s defeat.  Hotspur might have withdrawn – or at least waited for reinforcements – but everyone knows that wasn’t his way.  The real question is why his father chose to hold back (it seems doubtful that he in fact was sick, since he fails to mention it now when any plausible excuse might come in handy).

I find it most revealing that Lady Percy takes umbrage at Northumberland’s specific reference of the word “honor” – a crucial word for this play and certainly for Hotspur.  It demonstrates that the idealism which ran through the son runs equally through his wife, if indeed it has run aground in the father.

She wonders why he’s all fired up now to take to the field after the horses have fled the barn.  Honor? she says.  You care about honor among strangers, when it didn’t bother you to abandon your own son at his most desperate hour?

Feisty girl, speaking to her father-in-law this way.  But I love that about her, just like I loved the same characteristic in her husband.  They stand for principles in a world run amok with royal flimflammery, baronial machinations, pompous egos and lowbrow buffoonery.

If we assumed that by killing Hotspur, Prince Hal would rise to the occasion and embody a regal bearing for the throne, we assumed wrong.  Not only does he continue to fart around with Falstaff, but he begins preening about his royal place and such, whether it’s uncouth to be seen among the common folk.  Cry about his ailing father?  But how would that look in front of his future subjects?

Blah blah blah.  The kid ain’t ready for prime time.  Falstaff is…Falstaff.  The rebellion is in disarray.  And now Northumberland has been convinced by his wife and daughter-in-law to wait this round out – again? – to see how the chips will fall.

Hotspur may have had his faults, but I sure do miss him now.


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