Henry IV Part 1
How we cite our quotes:
We must have bloody noses and crack'd crowns,
And pass them current too. God's me, my horse!
What say'st thou, Kate? what would'st thou
have with me? (2.3.9)
In the previous passage we saw that Hotspur associates love-making with effeminacy – he prefers "tilting" with weapons to "tilting with lips." Here, he makes explicit his preference for the violence of war over domestic tranquility when he calls for "bloody noses" and "crack'd crowns." As always, Hotspur's specific use of language is fascinating and there's a disturbing sexual meaning implied in Hotspur's remark. "Nose" is a common Elizabethan slang for penis and a "cracked crown" is Elizabethan slang for a deflowered woman. In the context of Hotspur's call for arms, the language conjures a rather violent and brutal image of rape. The violence of Hotspur's imagery also recalls his earlier reference to kissing his wife as "tilting [with] lips." Hotspur's language seems to turn the bedroom into a battlefield.
There's also another meaning implied in the passage. "Crowns," as we know, are a kind of coin, so, in one sense, Hotspur is alluding to the circulation of counterfeit ("crack'd") coins to upset the country's economy, which (like rape), was a common wartime tactic associated with the mayhem and chaos of war.
My daughter weeps: she will not part with you;
She'll be a soldier too, she'll to the wars. (3.1.18)
When Glendower tells his son-on-law, Mortimer, that his daughter is upset about Mortimer leaving for battle against the king's soldiers, his comments remind us that, in the world of the play, warfare is exclusively a man's game. There's no way Lady Mortimer would be allowed anywhere near the battlefield.
It's interesting to note that Mortimer, an Englishman who literary critics describe as having "gone native" by marrying a Welsh woman and joining the Welsh rebel forces, never actually makes it to the battle at Shrewsbury. This suggests that his relationship with his Welsh wife has made him weak and effeminate. (Mortimer, unlike Hotspur, displays genuine affection toward his wife and enjoys her company.) For more on this and the relationship between women and war in the play, check out "Quotes" for "Gender."
We also want to say that Lady Mortimer's desire to "be a soldier too" in order to avoid separation from her spouse reminds us of Desdemona's desire to go to war with her husband in Act 1, Scene 3 of Othello.
If I be not ashamed of my soldiers, I am a soused
gurnet. I have misused the king's press damnably.
I have got, in exchange of a hundred and fifty
soldiers, three hundred and odd pounds. I press me
none but good house-holders, yeoman's sons; inquire
me out contracted bachelors […]
and they have bought out
their services; and now my whole charge consists of
ancients, corporals, lieutenants, gentlemen of
companies, slaves as ragged as Lazarus in the
painted cloth […]
for indeed I had the most of them out of
Here we learn that Falstaff has abused his powers as the captain of a troop of foot soldiers. Not only has taken bribes from able bodied soldiers, "yeoman's sons" whose families could afford to buy their way out of service, he's also amassed a group of "ragged" troops, many of whom are fresh "out of prison."
Critic John Dover Wilson notes that Falstaff's actions here make reference to the Elizabethan military recruitment of prisoners. In 1596 (around the time Shakespeare wrote Henry IV Part 1), Queen Elizabeth's Privy Council mandated the release of inmates from London prisons in order to supply troops for England's Cadiz Expedition, a failed raid on the Spanish fort at Cadiz in 1596.
What? Hungry for another history snack? After the Cadiz Expedition in 1596, writer Richard Hakluyt described the same kind of corruption we see in Falstaff's enlistment practices. In his account of "The Voyage of Cadiz" (1597), Hakluyt writes that a "certain Lieutenant was degraded and cashiered [fined] for the taking of money by the way of corruption of certain pressed soldiers [soldiers forced to enlist] in the country, and for placing of others in their rooms [places] more unfit for service, and of less sufficiency and ability." Translation: A certain lieutenant got busted and fined for taking bribes from men who had been recruited to fight and for replacing those able-bodied men with soldiers who were "unfit" for service.