Henry IV, Part 1

by: William Shakespeare

Important Quotations Explained

3
When I was dry with rage and extreme toil,
. . .
Came there a certain lord, neat and trimly dressed,
Fresh as a bridegroom, and his chin, new-reaped
Showed like a stubble-land at harvest-home.
He was perfumèd like a milliner,
. . .
With many holiday and lady terms
He questioned me; amongst the rest demanded
My prisoners in your majesty’s behalf.
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold —
To be so pestered with a popinjay! —
Out of my grief and my impatience
Answered neglectingly, I know not what —
He should, or should not — for he made me mad
To see him shine so brisk, and smell so sweet,
And talk so like a waiting gentlewoman
. . .
So cowardly, and but for these vile guns
He would himself have been a soldier.
         (I.iii.28–68)

Hotspur gives this speech to Henry to explain why he did not release a group of prisoners when ordered to do so by Henry’s messenger. (The conflict over this group of prisoners is what precipitates the Percys’ break from Henry in Act I.) Hotspur says that this messenger confronted him immediately after a pitched battle and that the man was so simpering and effeminate that it disgusted him. The speech is important because of the early insight it offers into Hotspur’s character. He is a soldier through and through and has no patience for weakness, fashion, cowardice, manners, or the niceties of courtly behavior. It is highly ironic that Hotspur’s speech about the messenger is so long and elaborate, because Hotspur takes such pains to portray himself as a man of action rather than words. Hotspur’s description of his encounter with this man, on the other hand, is remarkably vivid and eloquent. Shakespeare achieves much through Hotspur’s detailed account of the “neat and trimly dressed” courtier, who talks in “holiday and lady terms” and reminds Hotspur of a “popinjay” and a “waiting gentlewoman.” Hotspur’s disgust reaches its height when the courtier says that he too would have become a soldier “but for these vile guns.” Thus, Shakespeare creates an amusing and believable character, the courtier, who never appears onstage, and also firmly establishes Hotspur’s aggressive, masculine nature.