Henry IV Part 1
How we cite our quotes:
In faith, I'll break thy little finger (2.3.5)
Hmm. It seems like Lady Percy is always playfully threatening to maim Hotspur's genitals. Later in the play she threatens to break his "head" (3.1.3). What's the deal? Well, one the one hand, we could chalk it up to harmless and meaningless banter. Or, we could point out that Kate seems to know exactly how to push her husband's buttons. Given Hotspur's insistence that any contact with his wife will make him soft and weak, Kate's teasing threat is quite meaningful. We also recall that this isn't the only instance where the play portrays a castrating woman (lighthearted or otherwise). Kate's threats recall the Welshwomen in Act 1, Scene 1 (see above) who literally do maim the genitals of English soldiers. Even though Kate is a very likable and sympathetic figure, it's fair to say that the play dramatizes a major concern about the threat posed by emasculating women. On the other hand, we could also say that Shakespeare is poking fun at men like Hotspur who think women are icky and dangerous. You decide, and be sure to check out "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for more on this.)
Weep not, sweet queen; for trickling tears are vain. (2.4.42)
When Mistress Quickly plays the role of the queen in the outrageous skit performed at the Boar's Head tavern, we're reminded that we never actually see or hear from the queen (Hal's mother) in the play. What's up with that?
In fact, there are only three women characters in Henry IV Part 1 and they're all pretty marginal figures. Even though we do see husband and wife relationships, it's rather clear the play is primarily interested in men and male relationships (fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, etc.) The world of Henry IV Part 1, we're reminded, is dominated by a concern with primogeniture – the system by which eldest sons inherit their fathers' wealth, titles, lands, power, debt, etc. The play, after all, is about a young prince who will inherit the crown from his father, the king, which is why Hal's mother seems so irrelevant in this play. (Note: Shakespeare is very interested in maternal figures in other plays like King Lear, Macbeth, A Winter's Tale, etc.)
She bids you on the wanton rushes lay you down
And rest your gentle head upon her lap,
And she will sing the song that pleaseth you
And on your eyelids crown the god of sleep.
Charming your blood with pleasing heaviness,
Making such difference 'twixt wake and sleep
As is the difference betwixt day and night
The hour before the heavenly-harness'd team
Begins his golden progress in the east. (3.1.21)
There's a lot to say about this passage, but the point we want to make here is this: in the play, the world of the Welsh Glendower and his daughter is portrayed as being very sensual and seductive. Here, Glendower urges his son-in-law, Mortimer, to relax and allow his daughter to sing a "charming" or bewitching kind of lullaby that promises to leave Mortimer "heavy" with sleep and pleasure.
Sounds kind of nice, right? The problem is (according to the play) that Mortimer's supposed to be going off to war soon and, after reading this passage, it's no surprise to us that he never actually makes it to the battle at Shrewsbury. The idea is that his relationship with his Welsh wife has made him soft, as we see here when he luxuriates in Lady Mortimer's "lap." Lady Mortimer sounds a lot like the seductive "Sirens" in classic literature, don't you think? (We should also remember that Mortimer was earlier captured by the Welsh, but was apparently "seduced" into joining their forces after Henry refused to ransom him.) This image of Mortimer with his head in his wife's lap seems to dramatize everything that horrifies the hyper-masculine Hotspur, who insists on the separation of women and war and says he has no time to be intimate with his wife, especially before he heads to battle. Check out "Warfare" for more on this.