Yea, there thou mak’st me sad and mak’st me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son—
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue,
Amongst a grove the very straightest plant,
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride—
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him
See riot and dishonor stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O, that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle clothes our children where they lay,
And called mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
These lines, which King Henry speaks in the first scene of the play, set the stage for the conflict between Prince Harry and Hotspur. Henry describes the fame and fortune of young Hotspur (the son of “my Lord Northumberland”), calling him “the theme of honour’s tongue”; in comparison, he says, Prince Harry (“my young Harry”) has been sullied by “riot and dishonour.” He then refers to an old English folk superstition—one of the many references to folk culture and magic in the play—about fairies who switched young children at birth. Henry wishes that a fairy had switched Harry and Hotspur at birth, so that Hotspur were really his son and Harry the son of Northumberland. This quote is important for a number of reasons. It foreshadows the rivalry of Harry and Hotspur, and it helps establish Henry’s careworn, worried condition. Furthermore, it lets the audience know that Harry is generally considered a disappointment, and, by presenting both Harry and Hotspur as potential son figures for Henry, it inaugurates the motif of doubles in the play.