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“He lived somewhat insolently, insomuch that whilst his father lived, being accompanied with some of his young lords and gentlemen, he would wait in disguised array for his own receivers, and distress them of their money. And sometimes at such enterprises both he and his company were sorely beaten. And when their receivers made their complaint to him, how they were robbed in coming unto him, he would give them discharge of so much money as they had lost. And besides that, they should not depart without great rewards for their trouble and vexation; especially they should be rewarded that best had resisted him and his company, and of whom he had received the greatest and most strokes.”*
All this is very bad, but there is nothing here to justify the poet in connecting Henry with professed highwaymen.
I have had some doubt whether Shakspeare intended to represent the companions of the Prince as persons originally in low life.f. My doubt is partly grounded upon the names which he has selected, (for they are all his own), being mostly the names of good families of the time. I shall not enter into the controversy concerning Falstaff.: except to observe that the name, whether of Falstaff, Fastolffe, or Oldcastle, was certainly the name
of a gentleman. Bardolph was a noble name, as we learn from the second part of this very play, Poins* also belonged to gentle blood. Still, considering the situations and demeanour which Shakspeare assigns to such of these men as appeared in the French wars, I cannot but conclude that, though these good names occurred to him, and though he wrote one passage applicable only to gentlemen, he intended to draw professional thieves.
Perhaps a distinction is to be made as to Poins, whom the poet makes the especial favourite of the Prince, and possibly intended us to regard him as, like the Prince, an amateur robber. Though the frolic of “robbing the thieves"Fis not precisely that which Stow describes, it is sufficiently near to it; and Stow is followed as to the repayment:
“Prince. O, my sweet beef, I must still be good angel to thee; the money is paid back again.
“Falstaff. O, I do not like that paying back; 'tis a double labour.”
But Stow could only write from tradition, or some older authority; and Mr. Luders; has shown clearly that there is not contemporary authority for the story, in either of its shapes. Those writers who could have witnessed, or have learned from
* I know not whether the Poyntzes of Sussex claim to
be descended from the Poins who flourished about this time. See Banks, i. 401. + Act ii. Sc. 2. f P. 98.
recent information, the practices of the Prince, convey to us the notion that Henry was deeply stained with all the vices of his years, and was led into the excesses which unrestrained youth is apt to fall into: but, it is added, that it was only in the interval allowed by his martial duties that he indulged in them:* and this indeed was apparently Shakspeare's impression. Other writers only testify by inference; they tell us of the Prince's subsequent reformation, (to which the second part of this play will lead us,) and from this we are to collect that there was much to reform. According to Shakspeare, indeed, this intended reformation was always in the mind of the Prince, who tells us, in an artificial soliloquy, that, like the sun, whose splendour is more admired when he breaks through a mist, “So, when this loose behaviour I throw off, And pay the debt I never promised, By how much better than my word I am, By so much shall I falsify men's hopes; And, like bright metal on a sullen ground, My reformation, glittering o'er my fault, Shall show more goodly, and attract more eyes, Than that which hath no foil to set it off.”t Shakspeare certainly wished his hearers to contemplate Henry from the beginning as not irre
* Elmham, p. 12, quoted by Luders, p. 7. Elmham follows, with some modification, the writer whom we call Titus Livius. + Act i. Sc. 2.
trievably lost; for we have seen * that even his father, when at the height of his displeasure, looked forward to an amendment.
But the most popular and striking of the heroes of this play is to be found among the Percies, whom the third scene of the first act places in angry conference with the King, concerning the prisoners of Homildon, and the ransoming of Mortimer.
Shakspeare imputes a peculiar degree of hostility to the Earl of Worcester,t the brother of Northumberland. Referring to Hotspur's disobedience, Westmoreland says,
“This is his uncle's teaching, this is Worcester—
Hardyng says that the three Percies jointly endeavoured to persuade Henry not to assume the crown, and makes no distinction between them. All the three brothers had been employed by Richard, and decorated with the Garter; and both the brothers had received earldoms from him. Shakspeare's authority is Holinshed, who says of Worcester, “Whose study was ever (as some write) to procure malice and set things in a broil;” and calls him “the procurer and setter forth of all the
• P.79. # Thomas Percy. f Act i. Sc. 1. || iii. 22.
§ It is difficult to get at the prime origin of a statement. This is copied from Walsingham, but he only says, “inventor (ut dicitur) totius mali.”—P.369.
The perfumed Lord who was sent by the King to demand Hotspur's prisoners, is the creation of Shakspeare, to set off the character of that rough and impatient soldier. *********
“Hotspur. My liege, I did deny no prisoners.