Summary: Act 3, Scene 1

In Wales, at the castle of Owen Glendower, the leaders of the rebel armies have gathered to discuss strategy. The two most important members of the Percy family, Hotspur and Worcester, are there, along with Lord Mortimer (Hotspur’s brother-in-law, referred to in the play as his cousin). Their host, Glendower, is Mortimer’s father-in-law and the leader of the Welsh rebels. He believes strongly in the ancient Welsh pagan traditions of prophecies, omens, magic, and demons. He claims to be able to call spirits from hell, and he says that at his birth the earth shook and the sky was full of fire. Hotspur makes fun of the Welsh leader’s claims of magical power. Despite his best efforts, Mortimer cannot get his tactless brother-in-law to be quiet. By the time the four get down to discussing strategy, Glendower is none too pleased with his youngest guest.

The men take out a large map of Britain and divide it up as they have earlier discussed: after they defeat King Henry, Glendower will get the western part of Britain, which encompasses western England and all of Wales; Mortimer will get the southeast part of England, including London; and Hotspur will get the northern part, home to his family. Hotspur begins to complain because he does not like the way that a river curves through his land, and he says that he will have the river straightened out. Irritated, Glendower tells Hotspur that he must not do so, and the two bicker again, although Glendower ends the dispute this time by giving in.

After Glendower leaves the room, Mortimer chides Hotspur for bothering Glendower. Hotspur says he is bored and annoyed with Glendower’s endless talk of prophecies and magic. Mortimer reminds him that Glendower is a powerful, courageous, and well-read man, and also possibly a dangerous magician. He points out that Glendower has been very tolerant of Hotspur’s youthful obnoxiousness. Anyone else, he warns, would have felt the force of Glendower’s anger already. Worcester agrees and urges Hotspur to mind his manners and show respect. Hotspur claims unconvincingly that he has learned his lesson.

Glendower brings in Mortimer’s and Hotspur’s wives; the four must say goodbye, for the men must ride off to meet their allies that very night. Lady Mortimer, Glendower’s daughter, cannot speak English, and Mortimer knows no Welsh. Lady Mortimer weeps for her husband, who speaks lovingly to her, and Glendower translates between them. Mortimer lays his head in her lap, and she sings the company a song in Welsh. Meanwhile, Hotspur and his wife, Lady Percy, bid each other farewell in manner as quarrelsome as affectionate.

By the time Lady Mortimer’s song is over, the formal contracts of agreement among the rebel leaders have been drawn up. The men sign them, and Mortimer, Hotspur, and Worcester then set forth. They are heading to Shrewsbury, near the English border with Wales, to meet the Earl of Northumberland (Hotspur’s father) and his ally, the Earl of Douglas, who will bring a thousand soldiers with him from Scotland. Glendower, meanwhile, will gather his army, which he plans to lead into England within two weeks.

Read a translation of Act 3, Scene 1

Analysis: Act 3, Scene 1

Hotspur’s quick temper and insolence flare up once again in this scene. With a few rude words, he alienates the extremely powerful Owen Glendower, one of his family’s most important allies. By this point, Hotspur’s immaturity and political ineptitude is readily apparent, and it stands in contrast to his otherwise sharp military instincts. As Worcester insightfully notes, Hotspur’s greatest asset—his boldness and quick temper—is also his worst flaw; he is valiant in battle but cannot manipulate or work with people behind the scenes. This flaw will eventually prove a deadly weakness for Hotspur, since manipulation and diplomacy are among the greatest strengths of Prince Harry, his archrival. This tension reveals the play’s emphasis on understanding the qualities of true leadership.

This scene also provides us with a strong taste of Welsh culture and tradition, which Glendower embodies. The English regarded the ancient Welsh customs and supernatural traditions with simultaneous disdain and unease. On the one hand, they felt that a more advanced civilization (as they considered themselves) should have no fear of ancient superstitions. On the other hand, however, no one could be sure that the Welsh were not really magicians. This scene recalls the horror with which Westmoreland speaks, in act 1, scene 1, about the ritualistic mutilations that the Welsh women performed upon the English dead.

Glendower himself is a fascinating mix of the Welsh and English worlds. As he rather sternly reminds the insolent Hotspur, he was “trained up in the English court” and speaks fluent English as well as his native Welsh (3.1.127). As Mortimer further notes, he is “exceedingly well read”—a quality associated with gentlemanliness and urban sophistication (3.1.171). But Glendower’s claims to be a magician able to summon demons, along with his insistence on the significance of the omens that he believes filled the sky and earth on the day of his birth, reflects his strong commitment to his pagan heritage. Even Mortimer implies that he believes in Glendower’s magic arts, testifying that Glendower is “profited / In strange concealments,” or supernatural skills (3.1.171–72).

Mortimer’s inability to communicate with his own wife is a further manifestation of the cultural barriers between the English and the Welsh. Unlike Hotspur, however, Mortimer at least shows himself to be aware of the value of understanding other cultures and tongues, despairing, “O, I am ignorance itself in this!” when he cannot understand his wife (3.1.219). The presumably exotic song that Shakespeare has Lady Mortimer sing in Welsh would probably have established a sense of the foreign and the mysterious for an Elizabethan audience—a taste of the “irregular and wild” world that lay just beyond the bounds of late medieval and Renaissance English civilization (1.1.40).