The crucial moment, when it comes, is surprisingly brief and understated. In the midst of his father’s long speech of reproof, Harry gives a reply of a single sentence, saying simply, “I shall hereafter, my thrice-gracious lord, / Be more myself” (III.ii.92–93). Harry’s words imply that the seedy, lazy image he has projected to the public is not his real self and that he has only been playing an elaborate game. Now, it appears, he feels it is time to throw off the pretense and reveal his true, kingly nature.
Harry follows this brief but heartfelt promise with a much longer and more elaborate speech after his father has finished speaking. Here, he makes clear the terms of his commitment to reform and vows to do specific things to prove it: he acknowledges his past faults, begs his father’s forgiveness, swears never to return to those ways again, and promises to prove himself by fighting and defeating Hotspur. Harry finally makes concrete the connection between himself and Hotspur that Shakespeare has hinted at all along—that Hotspur is winning the glory that rightly should belong to Harry. Harry’s belief that Hotspur is merely his “factor,” or stand-in, and that Hotspur’s defeat will prove Harry’s nobility contributes to the sense that a final confrontation between the two young Harrys is inevitable (III.ii.147).
The confrontation between the royal father and son in Act III, scene ii echoes several earlier moments. Shakespeare is fond of symmetries and often repeats scenes, conversations, or even characters. Harry and Hotspur form a symmetrical pair, as do Falstaff and Henry—both are father figures to Harry, but Harry can accept them only alternatingly, one at a time. The scene itself mirrors the role-playing game that Harry and Falstaff stage in the latter half of Act II, scene iv. But it also echoes Harry’s own vow to himself at the end of Act I, scene ii, especially in terms of its use of language and metaphor. Most noticeable is the use of the sun as a symbol of the king and his reign. While Henry alludes to the lack of “sun-like majesty” of the previous king, Richard II (III.ii.79), Harry earlier states that he will “imitate the sun, / . . . / By breaking through the foul and ugly mists” (I.ii.175–180). Since Harry has now cast off his pretense of idleness, he will presumably soon burn through the clouds and begin to shine with the sun’s terrifying radiance.