Henry IV, Part 1

by: William Shakespeare

Act III, scene i

Glyndwr 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 (III.i.119); as Mortimer further notes, he is “exceedingly well read”—a quality associated with gentlemanliness and urban sophistication (III.i.162). But Glyndwr’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 Glyndwr’s magic arts, testifying that Glyndwr is “profited / In strange concealments,” or supernatural skills (III.i.162163).

Hotspur rudely trivializes Glyndwr’s claims to magic and justified patriotism. To Glyndwr’s boasts about defeating Henry’s attempted invasions and sending him home “[b]ootless,” Hotspur exclaims in mock surprise, “Home without boots, and in foul weather too!” (III.i.64–65). Given the gravity of the situation, Hotspur’s punning response at Glyndwr’s expense is inappropriate.

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 (III.i.206). 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 (I.i.40).