Henry IV Part 1
Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
I know you wise, but yet no farther wise
Than Harry Percy's wife: constant you are,
But yet a woman: and for secrecy,
No lady closer; for I well believe
Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know;
And so far will I trust thee, gentle Kate. (2.3.10)
Here, Hotspur claims that women are loose-tongued and can't keep secrets, which is why he won't share vital information about the rebel uprising with his wife, Kate. The truth is, however, that Hotspur's the one with the big mouth. In the previous passage, we saw Hotspur's father, Northumberland, chide his son for not knowing when to pipe down.
Sirrah, I am sworn brother
to a leash of drawers; and can call them all by
their christen names, as Tom, Dick, and Francis.
They take it already upon their salvation, that
though I be but the prince of Wales, yet I am king
of courtesy; and tell me flatly I am no proud Jack,
like Falstaff, but a Corinthian, a lad of mettle, a
good boy, by the Lord, so they call me, and when I
am king of England, I shall command all the good
lads in Eastcheap. They call drinking deep, dyeing
scarlet; and when you breathe in your watering, they
cry 'hem!' and bid you play it off. To conclude, I
am so good a proficient in one quarter of an hour,
that I can drink with any tinker in his own language
during my life. (2.4.2)
This passage is important insofar as it reveals Hal's capacity for language acquisition. When he brags to his pal that he can "drink with any tinker in his own language," we're reminded that Hal really can speak to anyone. In fact, Hal is the only character in the play that slips in and out of the "low" language spoken by the commoners and Falstaff and the "high" language spoken by nobles at court and on the battlefield. Ever notice the way Hal speaks prose (how we talk everyday) when he's with his Eastcheap pals and poetry when he's alone and with the other nobles? Hal's mastery of language may suggest that he will be a good ruler because he understands and can relate to all the different kinds of people that make up England – tinkers, barmaids, noblemen, and so on. Hotspur, on the other hand, is frequently taken to task for his inability to control language. Even Hotspur's uncle Worcester notes his tendency to alienate his colleagues or, "loseth men's hearts" with his crass and insulting language (3.1.2).
I can speak English, lord, as well as you;
For I was train'd up in the English court;
Where, being but young, I framed to the harp
Many an English ditty lovely well
And gave the tongue a helpful ornament,
A virtue that was never seen in you.
And I am glad of it with all my heart:
I had rather be a kitten and cry mew
Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers;
I had rather hear a brazen canstick turn'd,
Or a dry wheel grate on the axle-tree;
And that would set my teeth nothing on edge,
Nothing so much as mincing poetry:
'Tis like the forced gait of a shuffling nag. (3.1.15)
Man, Hotspur is totally out of control. Here, he insults the Welsh Glendower, who has pointed out that he (Glendower) can speak and sing both English and Welsh, unlike Hotspur, who only speaks English. Hotspur's response? He insults Glendower, singers ("metre ballad-mongers"), and "mincing" poetry in one fell swoop. While theater-goers might find themselves snickering behind their hands (we're sure Shakespeare had some fun writing these nasty lines), it also seems pretty clear that Hotspur's aversion to the art of language (Shakespeare's profession) is a major character flaw.