Today we’re going to take a look at Lady Percy’s Monologue from Act 2, Scene 3 of Williams Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1. In this monologue we see Lady Percy question her Husband, Hotspur, pleading for answers. This is a great monologue for exploring emotional highs and lows with great imagery and language. Let’s take a look…
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.
At the beginning of the play, The King is angry with Hotspur for refusing him the prisoners taken in a recent battle against Scotland. Hotspur tries to negotiate but is shot down by the King, and as Michael Jordan would say: he took that personally. They decide to side against the King and join forces with the Welsh and the Scots.
Meanwhile, Prince Hal and chums are playing pranks on old Falstaff by disguising themselves and robbing them after they’ve robbed someone. You know, as friends do. It does end happily though when upon hearing Falstaff’s tall tales about it later, Hal returns the stolen money to him. And after this lighthearted romp in the forest we come back to the Hotspurs. Hotspur is reading a letter about the rebellion when Lady Percy presses him for answers.
O my good lord, why are you thus alone?
For what offence have I this fortnight been
A banished woman from my Harry’s bed?
Tell me, sweet lord, what is it that takes from thee
Thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep?
Why dost thou bend thine eyes upon the earth,
And start so often when thou sittest alone?
Why hast thou lost the fresh blood in thy cheeks,
And given my treasures and my rights of thee
To thick-eyed musing, and curst melancholy?
In thy faint slumbers I by thee have watched
And heard thee murmur tales of iron wars,
Speak terms of manage to thy bounding steed,
Cry ‘Courage! To the field!’ And thou hast talked
Of sallies, and retires, of trenches, tents,
Of palisadoes, frontiers, parapets,
Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin,
Of prisoners’ ransom, and of soldiers slain,
And all the currents of a heady fight.
Thy spirit within thee hath been so at war
And thus hath so bestirred thee in thy sleep,
That beads of sweat have stood upon thy brow
Like bubbles in a late-disturbed stream,
And in thy face strange motions have appeared,
Such as we see when men restrain their breath
On some great sudden hest. O, what portents are these?
Some heavy business hath my lord in hand,
And I must know it, else he loves me not.
Bend Thine Eyes: Look towards/Stare
Start: Jump in fright
Treasure: Marital intimacy/Love/Affection
Parapets: Defensive Walls
Basilisks, Cannon, Culverin: Different Canons
Heavy Business: Serious
Oh my good Lord, why are you always alone?
What have I done wrong to be not allowed into our bed these past two weeks?
Tell me my sweet lord what’s taken away your appetite, your desires and your sleep?
Why do you stare at the ground and jump in fright so often when you’re sitting alone?
Why have you lost the colour in your cheeks and given away the intimacy of our marriage, which is my right as your wife to some deep, dark, melancholy?
I’ve watched you sleep and heard you murmur tales of war.
I’ve heard you command your horse.
Scream out: “Courage!”, “To the field!” and you’ve talked about advances, retreats, trenches, tents, barricades, ramparts and walls. You’ve talked about different types canons, prisoners of war, soldiers who’ve been killed, and all the ups and downs of a battle.
Your soul has been at war so much and because of that you’ve slept so badly that beads of sweat have come onto your forehead like bubbles in disturbed water.
You’ve made strange expressions like a man who’s been given some sudden request.
What are these signs of?
You’ve got something serious in your hands and you must tell me it or you don’t love me.
Notes on Performance
Objective is key here. Lady Percy is trying desperately to get some answers out of her husband so use that to your advantage. Chase your objective and let it drive you through the speech.
High emotional content means digging deep! So don’t be afraid to dive in but always do it safely. However this is a great opportunity to explore those heightened emotions and stakes that Shakespeare always offers.
Lastly, try to flesh out in your mind what this relationship really is between these two. It is a history play so there are certain things to take into account. How often do they see each other, was this marriage arranged, and is there a lot of love and affection usually in this relationship.
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