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Henry IV Character Introduction

From Henry IV, First Part, by the University Society. New York: University Society Press.

Owen Glendower

Owen Glendower - the "damned Glendower" of the King - the "great Glendower" of Hotspur - "he of Wales," that "swore the devil his true liege-man," of the Prince, was among the most bold and enterprising of the warriors of his age. The immediate cause of his outbreak against the power of Henry IV. was a quarrel with Lord Grey of Ruthyn, on the occasion of which the parliament of Henry seems to have treated Owen with injustice; but there can be no doubt that the great object of his ambition was to restore the independence of Wales. In the guerilla warfare which he waged against Henry, he was eminently successful; and his boast in this drama is historically true, that -
"Three times hath Henry Bolingbroke made head
Against my power: thrice from the banks of Wye,
And sandy-bottom'd Severn, have I sent him,
Bootless home, and weather-beaten back."
Shakespeare has seized, with wonderful exactness, upon all the features of his history and character, and of the popular superstitions connected with him. They all belonged to the region of poetry. Glendower says:
"at my birth.
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes."
The old chroniclers say, "the same night he was born all his father's horses were found to stand in blood up to their bellies." His pretensions as a magician, which Shakespeare has most beautifully connected with his enthusiastic and poetical temperament, made him a greater object of fear than even his undoubted skill and valour. When the king pursued him into his mountains, Owen (as Holinshed relates) "conveyed himself out of the way into his known lurking-places, and, as was thought, through art magic he caused such foul weather of winds, tempest, rain, snow, and hail to be raised for the annoyance of the king's army that the like had not been heard of." His tedious stories to Hotspur -
"of the moldwarp and the ant,
Of the dreamer Merlin and his prophecies;
And of a dragon, and a finless fish,
A clip-wing'd griffin, and a moulten raven,
A couching lion, and a ramping cat" -
were old Welsh prophecies which the people in general, and very likely Glendower himself, devoutly believed. According to Holinshed, it was upon the faith of one of these prophecies in particular that the tripartite indenture of Mortimer, Hotspur, and Glendower was executed. "This was done (as some have said) through a foolish credit given to a vain prophecy, as though King Henry was the moldwarp, cursed of God's own mouth, and they three were the dragon, the lion, and the wolf, which should divide this realm between them." Glendower might probably have
"Believ'd the magic wonders which he sang,"
but he was no vulgar enthusiast. He was "trained up in the English court," as he describes himself, and he was probably "exceedingly well read," as Mortimer describes him, for he had been a barrister of the Middle Temple. When the Parliament, who rudely dismissed his petition against Lord Grey of Ruthyn, refused to listen to "bare-footed blackguards," it can scarcely be wondered that he should raise the standard of rebellion. The Welsh from all parts of England, even the students of Oxford, crowded home to fight under the banners of an independent Prince of Wales. Had Glendower joined the Percies before the battle of Shrewsbury, which he was most probably unable to do, he might for a time have ruled a kingdom, instead of perishing in wretchedness and obscurity, after years of unavailing contest.
Knight: Pictorial Shakespeare.


How to cite this article:

Shakespeare William. Henry IV, First Part. University Society. New York: USP, 1901. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/henryiv/2kh4characterglendower.html >.

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