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Henry IV, Part 1

William Shakespeare

Act II, scene iv

Summary Act II, scene iv

For her part, Lady Percy has few options: she can only accept whatever confidence her husband chooses to give her. For instance, when Hotspur asks whether his plan to let her follow him the next day will content her, she answers bitterly, “It must, of force” (II.iv.109). Here and throughout the Shakespearean tetralogy that deals with the English House of Lancaster, women generally have very little power. Both the dynamics of emotional attachment and the reshufflings of power occur solely among the male characters.

Though Hotspur’s marriage is not really important to the overall plot of the play, Shakespeare still moves the plot forward considerably during this look into domestic life. By opening the scene with Hotspur reading the letter and concluding it with Hotspur preparing to leave for the rebellion, Shakespeare takes the civil war from its planning phase to the verge of actuality. Furthermore, by intertwining Lady Percy’s complaints with observations about Hotspur’s sleeplessness and preoccupation with war, we see not only Hotspur’s treatment of his wife but also the extent of his obsession with the rebellion. Thus, in an extremely short scene, Shakespeare offers us a much deeper insight into Hotspur’s character and also conveys the sense that the rebellion has undergone extensive planning and preparation. In this way, Shakespeare keeps the action moving forward without sacrificing the developing character studies at the heart of the play.