Henry IV: Hotspur vs. Harry

At the beginning of the play it seems that the chief rebel, Hotspur, is in
dispute with the King but as the play progresses we find that the main contest
is between Hotspur and Hal, the King\'s son. At first thought, Hotspur seems to
be the easy winner, for all Hal does is spend his time with his friends
gallivanting around, stealing and drinking.

Hotspur, on the other hand, has returned from a battle in which he defeated the
Scots led by Glendower. He has taken many prisoners including the Earl of
Douglas, a Scottish warlord. Hotspur is a very valiant warrior who has won a
great reputation for himself on the battlefield. He is young and impetuous as
his name suggests.

Henry IV has more admiration for Hotspur than his own son Hal, and is envious of
Northumberland for having such a son:

\'a son who is the theme of honours tongue\'.
\' in envy that my Lord Northumberland should
be father to so blest a son\'.

The King feels that Hotspur reminds him of himself, when he challenged Richard
for the throne. Hotspur is brave and valiant and has a good reputation with the
people, whereas Hal compared with Richard does not care for the welfare of the
country and spends his time entertaining himself with poor company.

Hotspur has nothing but disrespect for Hal. During the play he calls him:

\'the madcap Prince of Wales\'.

He thinks of Hal as an unworthy opponent. From Hotspur\'s point of view the only
real opponent is King Henry, and yet it is Hal, \'the madcap of Wales\', who
vanquishes him in the end, much to his surprise and dismay. We are neither
surprised nor dismayed by Hal\'s triumph because we know Hal better than Hotspur
does, and we know what is going to happen.

In the first few scenes of the play we feel that Hal is exactly as Hotspur
describes him, a madcap Prince, but as the play progresses we see that Hal
intends to shine when he becomes King. He says that when the time comes he will
\' throw off\' his loose behaviour and present himself as the worthy successor to
King Henry.

On the other hand, Henry is of the opinion that Hal is behaving in a similar way
to King Richard, whilst Hotspur is winning the respect and admiration that may
well help him to gain the Crown. After talking to the King, Hal apologizes for
his conduct and promises to reform and live up to his position. The King tells
Hal how much he dislikes his behaviour and says that if he does not change his
attitude towards the throne and country then Hotspur may steal his position as
King. Hal should be in the forefront of state affairs, but spends his time with
unruly characters, more interested in women, alcohol and stealing than in
anything else. In Falstaff\'s opinion they are:

\'Diana\'s forester\'s, gentlemen of the
shade, minions of the moon\'(1.2.25-7).

This wayward behaviour is just a game that Hal is playing, biding his time,
waiting until eventually he can reveal his true self.

Hal is always very conscious that he knows what to do and when to do it. He says
to his father that he may seem unpromising and dull at the moment but when he
becomes King he will shine. He also says, to the Kings delight, that he is using
Hotspur to collect all his great deeds so that when he kills Hotspur they will
all become his and they will atone for all his faults. There are advantages to
the way that Hal lives because while Hotspur wins battles and gets a great
reputation for himself, Hal just sits back and relaxes and waits until the right
moment to step up and benefit from Hotspur\'s good deeds and battle trophies. He
shows his father all the ambition that he has for the future.

Hal shows to his friends that he can be ruthless when Falstaff asks him
whether he will banish him when he becomes king. Hal replies to this with
decisive brevity:

\' I do, I will.\' (2.4.491).

Hal learns much from his low associates about the lives of ordinary people. He
has a sense of fun and releases this when he is with his friends, as this will
not be possible when he is King:

\'I\'ll so offend, to make offense a skill ,
redeeming this when men think least I will\' (1.2.218-219).

Westmoreland informs Henry that Worcester has turned his nephew Hotspur against
the King :