One of the best villains in Shakespeare’s history plays can be found in Hotspur and this speech in particular is one of the highlights of his journey. This character is rich with complexities and almost functions as an antihero of sorts. Let’s take a look at this brilliant Hotspur Monologue.
So the artist formerly known as Henry Bollingbroke, now more commonly referred to as King Henry the IV or “Your Majesty”, has recently usurped King Richard the II and is having a pretty not so chill time as the new King of England. Now this new King thinks that a lot of his troubles could be solved by beginning a new crusade to the Holy Land, otherwise known as a Holy War. However, there are troubles at not one, but two of England’s two total borders which renders this idea ‘not so good’ given they’d have to leave the country, leaving the Kingdom vulnerable. He is also not too popular at the moment with the Percy family who helped him to the throne and Edmund Mortimer (The Earl of March), the guy who was supposed to be King, according to the last King.
He is also at odds with his son and heir apparent, Prince Hal, who’s been making himself look rather silly by constantly getting drunk with his mates, including but not limited to Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff is Hal’s closest friend and companion. And it’s not too clear who’s the worse influence on who at this stage.
So there’s three main crews you need to wrap your head around. The King and his Court, who we’ve met. Then there is the Percy family, which includes a whole bunch of folks, but the ones we’re gonna focus on are Harry Percy or ‘Hotspur’, his Father, the ‘Earl of Northumberland’, and their leader, Hotspurs Uncle, Thomas Percy the ‘Earl of Worcester’. To make things easier lets just call that group ‘The Rebels’ And last but certainly not least, that rag tag bunch of drunks at the pub, Prince Hal, Falstaff and their merry band of friends who are really at the centre of this play.
So in this scene, The King is angry with Hotspur for refusing him the prisoners taken in a recent battle against Scotland. Hotspur tries to negotiate…
My liege, I did deny no prisoners,
But I remember, when the fight was done,
When I was dry with rage and extreme toil,
Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword,
Came there a certain lord, neat and trimly dress’d,
Fresh as a bridegroom, and his chin new reap’d
Show’d like a stubble-land at harvest-home.
He was perfumed like a milliner,
And ’twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet-box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose, and took’t away again —
Who therewith angry, when it next came there,
Took it in snuff— and still he smil’d and talk’d:
And as the soldiers bore dead bodies by,
He called them untaught knaves, unmannerly,
To bring a slovenly unhandsome corse
Betwixt the wind and his nobility.
With many holiday and lady terms
He question’d me, amongst the rest demanded
My prisoners in your majesty’s behalf.
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold,
To be so pester’d with a popinjay,
Out of my grief and impatience
Answer’d neglectingly, I know not what,
He should, or he should not, for he made me mad
To see him shine so brisk, and smell so sweet,
And talk so like a waiting-gentlewoman
Of guns, and drums, and wounds, God save the mark!
And telling me the sovereignest thing on earth
Was parmacity for an inward bruise,
And that it was great pity, so it was,
This villainous saltpetre should be digg’d
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth,
Which many a good tall fellow had destroy’d
So cowardly, and but for these vile guns
He would himself have been a soldier.
This bald unjointed chat of his, my lord,
I answer’d indirectly, as I said,
And I beseech you, let not his report
Come current for an accusation
Betwixt my love and your high Majesty.
Pouncet–Box: Perfume Box
Ever and Anon: Every so often
Parmacity: Fat from the head of a sperm whale
Saltpeter: Key ingredient in gunpowder
My Lord, I didn’t deny any prisoners
But I do remember when I was exhausted and thirsty after the battle, and leaning upon my sword, a certain Lord arrived.
He was neatly dressed, as if it was his wedding day.
And his beard was freshly cut like a wheat field in the harvest.
He was wearing a fancy perfume.
And in between his finger and thumb he held this perfume box, which every so often he would put up to his nose and take it away again.
He did this again and again as he smiled and spoke with me.
As some soldiers came by with a body he called them stupid and rude to bring an ugly and stinking corpse between the wind and his noble self.
He told me in his fancy words that I was to give up the prisoners to His Majesty.
By then I was so annoyed with my wounds and his incessant parrot like squawking that I don’t even remember what I said and I don’t remember whether I told him he could take the prisoners or not.
He did my head in with his talking like a lady in waiting about guns, drums and wounds. For God Sake!
And he told me that the best thing for a bruise is Parmacity and how unfair it was to have to dig up saltpeter from the innocent Earth.
He said that gunpowder had destroyed many good men and if it wasn’t for that he would’ve been a soldier himself.
As I told you, my Lord, I answered this pointless and incoherent chatter as indirectly as I could.
And I bed you, don’t take this report straight away and come between myself and Your Majesty.
Notes on Performance
The most important thing you can do in this speech is focus on trying to convince the King that you’re in the right. If you focus on trying to change the other actor/characters mind your performance will be active and driven.
This is a recount monologue which happens quite a lot in Shakespeare. So try to be specific about the memories Hotspur is retelling and how he feels about them. If you’re vague then the performance will likely be vague.
Decide how your Hotspur feels about the King and keep in mind however you decide to play it that by the end of the scene you need to have gone from negotiation to thoughts of regicide.
For more Male Shakespeare Monologues