Harry Percy is an accomplished young military leader, though he’s also got a quick temper that has earned him the nickname “Hotspur.” Hotspur’s prowess as a soldier has won him the respect of King Henry and placed him in opposition to his namesake, Prince Harry. Whereas Harry has idled away his youth among common thieves and mountebanks, Hotspur has dedicated himself to the pursuit of honor through his actions on the field of battle. Indeed, so beloved is Hotspur for his ability to protect the realm that Henry fantasizes about having him as a son instead of Harry. But Hotspur’s relationship with the king collapses very early in the play, when Henry refuses to pay the ransom to retrieve Hotspur’s brother-in-law, Mortimer, from captivity in Wales. Taking this as a sign of Henry breaking his oath to the entire Percy family, which had played a crucial role in his ascent to the throne, Hotspur turns on the king and joins the rebellion against him.

Despite his reputation as a soldier and his gift for eloquent speech, it becomes increasingly clear over the course of the play that Hotspur is a poor politician. He has an intemperate nature that offends his co-conspirators, frustrates his family, and gets him into trouble. When he openly mocks Owen Glendower’s belief in magic, his uncle accuses him of being “too willful-blame” (3.1.182)—which is to say, he’s blameworthy for being too unyielding. And indeed, his unyielding nature contributes to his ultimate downfall. On the eve of battle, when news arrives that neither Northumberland nor Glendower have brought their promised troops, Hotspur dismisses the matter as a minor setback. He pressures his collaborators to engage in battle as soon as possible, which amplifies existing tensions and hurtles the rebels toward a battle they cannot win. Ultimately, then, Hotspur proves too fixed on his ideals of honor and revenge. As Worcester puts it: “He apprehends a world of figures here, / But not the form of what he should attend” (1.3.214–15).