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Hotspur Character Analysis

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Hotspur’s character is so obsessed with the persuit of honor and glory that it blinds him from the real important aspects of his life. Many characters see Hotspur’s role as a bold fighter and leader. His character is very one sided and shallow, and his stubborn nature and short temper send him on the path to destruction in William Shakespeare’s Henry IV.

Hotspur is an proficient leader and a daring warrior, almost fit to be a prince. He is part of the Percy family of the North, which helped give Henry IV the rise to the thrown. King Henry respected Hotspur’s bravery, valor, honor, and determination so much that he envied Northumberland for having such a son. At this moment in the play, King Henry’s own son, Prince Hal, was going through a phase of rebellion. Hal pretends to be a vagrant by hanging out with Falstaff at the Boars Head Tavern. Even though he later transforms into a brave and valiant warrior, the King thought his son was nothing more than a dishonorable delinquent.

Because Hal behaves this way, King Henry wishes a fairy would trade his own son for the son of Northumberland. Hotspur has more prince-like qualities than Prince Hal at this moment in time. Hotspur’s relationship with Prince Hal has always been on a rival basis. In the play, they are relatively the same age and that means Hotspur can be a threat to future thrown that Hal wishes to inherit. Hotspur has experience in the battlefield and other characteristics that make him a worthy candidate for a prince. The king introduces the conflict that exists between the two men by describing how he would rather have Hotspur as a son.

“That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged

In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,

And called mine Percy, his Plantagenet!

Then would I have his Harry, and he mine” (I.i.86-89)

It is also significant that their given name is the same: Harry. This means that they are interchangeable in the eyes of the king.

Prince Hal’s character is unlike Hotspur on a different level. Hal is the protagonist in the play. Hotspur is single-minded because all he can think about is defending his honor. Hal is unpredictable and changeable and this flexibility helps him overcome his enemy in their final duel. Hotspur’s obsession with his pride and passion for battle ultimately lead to his death while Hal has the ability to change and deal with various situations under numerous conditions. The perfect example of this concept is when Hal imitates Hotspur and his wife. This is a sign that Hal has the power to mimic his every move, and therefore will know exactly how to defeat him. Hotspur’s greatest flaw is that he cannot imitate Hal because he cannot think outside the box.

War has become such an important part of Hotspur’s life that it affects his marriage in a very detrimental way. His wife, Lady Percy, believes that he cannot maintain the role of husband if his life revolves around the pursuit and perfection of his own ego. “In thy faint slumber I by thee have watched, And heard thee murmur tales of iron wars” (II.iii.49-50). She knows that his quest for honor has overcome the love that they had once shared. The disease has grown so strong that it “takes from thee/ Thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep” (II.iii.43). Since Hotspur is interested only in himself, it is human nature for Kate to feel unloved. When confronted with the love question, the courageous warrior declares his apathy for the woman and that “this is no world to play with mammets and to tilt with lips. We must have bloody noses and cracked crowns” (II.iii.97-98). This is just another example of Hotspur emphasizing his masculinity to make himself feel overbearing and powerful.

The aggressive masculine nature of Hotspur first challenges the King when he was asked to explain why he did not release a group of prisoners from his victory against the Scots at Holmedon. After disobeying the King’s orders, he blames his reaction on the effeminate messenger that Henry sent to relay the message. Hotspur was so disgusted by his feminity that he refused to obey whatever he had ordered. This man is everything that Hotspur hates; an icon of weakness, cowardice, manners, etc. What drove him over the edge was when the messenger stated that “but for these vile guns/ He would himself have been a soldier” (I.iii.65-66) What makes this speech so ironic is that it is long and intricate, which goes against everything Hotspur believes in. He is a man of action, not one of words. It is also ironic that he is disgusted by this metrosexual, and yet he is so entangled in war that he has no desire to make love to his wife. All words, no action. Here he is going against one of his main principles just to make himself feel more masculine. This gives the reader more insight into Hotspur’s character, and it shows that he is a homophobic blockhead who is married to his own ego.

Hotspur had so much potential in the beginning. He was courageous and bold and King Henry wanted him as a son. But because of his egotism and single-mindedness, he had no room for change. Change is a necessary catalyst for improvement. Prince Hal changed from a nobody into a chivalrous warrior and used his beneficial traits to finally put an end to Hotspur’s quest for glory.

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