Henry IV Part 1
Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Now I perceive the devil understands Welsh;
And 'tis no marvel he is so humorous.
By'r lady, he is a good musician.
I had rather hear Lady, my brach, howl in Irish. (3.1.20)
Here, Hotspur equates Lady Mortimer's singing with the "devil," who, according to Hotspur, also speaks and "understands" Welsh. He then goes on to insult the Irish when he says he'd rather hear his dog ("brach") "howl in Irish." What's going on here? Why all the bashing?
Part of it has to do with England's position as a colonial power and Elizabethan England's tendency to view anything non-English as completely foreign and "other." Even though Wales had been incorporated into England in the 1530s, it was still viewed as alien and strange, which is partly responsible for the play's representation of Welsh characters (Glendower, Lady Mortimer, and the Welshwomen who are reported to have castrated 1,000 English soldiers in Act one, scene one.) We talk more about this in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" and "Gender."
Also, even though the play doesn't dramatize any conflict between England and Ireland, at the time Shakespeare wrote Henry IV Part 1 (c. 1597), the Earl of Tyrone's Irish rebellion (1595) was fresh in the minds of the audience, who surely would have recognized parallels between King Henry's problems with the Welsh (and the English Percy family) and Queen Elizabeth's problem with the Irish rebellion. Hence, Hotspur's obnoxious crack about Welsh and Irish languages in this part of the play.
We also want to point out that Hotspur's aversion to any language that's not English doesn't seem to bode well for a guy who wants to govern Britain.
Well said, my noble Scot: if speaking truth
In this fine age were not thought flattery,
Such attribution should the Douglas have,
As not a soldier of this season's stamp
Should go so general current through the world.
By God, I cannot flatter; I do defy
The tongues of soothers; (4.1.1)
So far, we've said a lot about why Hotspur's relationship to language seems to make him unfit to govern. Here, we want to take a slightly different position. In this passage, Hotspur admits that it's hard for him to pay the courageous Douglas a compliment because he believes that "flattery" is disingenuous. While the play as a whole seems to value characters for their linguistic chops and rhetorical skill, it also seems to acknowledge Hotspur's point. Flattery can be incredibly deceptive and manipulative, and Hotspur's defiance of the "the tongues of soothers" is sort of admirable, don't you think?
No, by my soul; I never in my life
Did hear a challenge urged more modestly,
Unless a brother should a brother dare
To gentle exercise and proof of arms.
He gave you all the duties of a man;
Trimm'd up your praises with a princely tongue,
Spoke to your deservings like a chronicle,
Making you ever better than his praise
By still dispraising praise valued in you;
And, which became him like a prince indeed,
He made a blushing cital of himself;
Cousin, I think thou art enamoured
Better consider what you have to do
Than I, that have not well the gift of tongue,
Can lift your blood up with persuasion. (5.2.3)
In the previous passage, we argued that Hotspur's refusal to take part in empty "flattery" seemed kind of admirable. Here, we want to show you some evidence that Hotspur's aversion to "flattery" and "praise" may be misguided. When Vernon reports Prince Hal's challenge to Hotspur, he admires Hal's "princely tongue" and Hal's modest way of complimenting Hotspur. Hotspur, of course, accuses Vernon of having a man crush (being "enamoured") and admits he (Hotspur) hasn't got the "gift of tongue." Could it be that the play values Hal's ability to challenge Hotspur to man-to-man combat in a courteous or flattering way? We can't decide. What do you think?