In Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2, the brilliant playwright introduces us to several complex and intricate themes, clever language, and a fascinating cast of multifaceted characters, including the thief Jack Falstaff, who may be as wise as his belly is big, and the young Prince Hal, who conceals his shrewd mind and physical prowess beneath a soiled reputation for “unthrifty” behavior. Perhaps the most dynamic character of the play is Hotspur, or Henry Percy, the idealistic rebel warrior, and Hal’s rival for power, glory, and the throne. Although the public perceives him to be just an intense, hotheaded he-man, Hotspur actually has many different dimensions to his personality. Hotspur shows, particularly in his interactions with his wife, Lady Percy, that his attitude toward the roles of masculinity and femininity differ from the public’s expectations of him, and his expression of certain feminine characteristics proves that he is not solely the manly-man warrior he is thought to be.
The first impressions of Hotspur in the play support his macho reputation well. King Henry himself speaks favorably of Percy, calling him “the theme of honor’s tongue” (I.i.81) and in comparing Hotspur with the King’s own son Hal he expresses his wish that “some night-tripping fairy had exchang’d / In cradle-clothes our children where they lay / And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!” (I.i.86). We learn that Hotspur is valiant, and skillful in war: he has recently captured several important hostages. He is also full of pride, and is not afraid to stand up to the King in requesting the freedom of his brother-in-law, Mortimer.
Conversely, we also see that Hotspur is apt to fall prey to his i...
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...nvied by many, and as Lady Percy says in this play’s sequel, Henry IV Part 2, after his death, “He was indeed the glass / Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves” (Part 2, I.iii.21-22). However, it is clear now that Hotspur is not exactly the ultimate 15th century manly-man: he is prone to “woman’s moods” such as irrational and hurried thoughts, he engages in hissy fits, and his relationship with his wife is one of balanced teasing and tenderness rather than superficiality and traditional male/female inequality. Albeit being a talented soldier and a challenging opponent, Hotspur is capable of exposing his feminine qualities in situations such as those with his wife. Hotspur is one of the most complex characters in this play, and the fact that he can balance his masculine image with typically feminine traits proves that he truly is the most dynamic character.
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