At the beginning of the play it seems that the chief rebel, Hotspur, is in dispute with the King but as the play progresses we find that the main contest is between Hotspur and Hal, the King's son. At first thought, Hotspur seems to be the easy winner, for all Hal does is spend his time with his friends gallivanting around, stealing and drinking.
Hotspur, on the other hand, has returned from a battle in which he defeated the Scots led by Glendower. He has taken many prisoners including the Earl of Douglas, a Scottish warlord. Hotspur is a very valiant warrior who has won a great reputation for himself on the battlefield. He is young and impetuous as his name suggests.
Henry IV has more admiration for Hotspur than his own son Hal, and is envious of Northumberland for having such a son:
'a son who is the theme of honours tongue'.
' in envy that my Lord Northumberland should
be father to so blest a son'.
The King feels that Hotspur reminds him of himself, when he challenged Richard for the throne. Hotspur is brave and valiant and has a good reputation with the people, whereas Hal compared with Richard does not care for the welfare of the country and spends his time entertaining himself with poor company.
Hotspur has nothing but disrespect for Hal. During the play he calls him:
'the madcap Prince of Wales'.
He thinks of Hal as an unworthy opponent. From Hotspur's point of view the only real opponent is King Henry, and yet it is Hal, 'the madcap of Wales', who vanquishes him in the end, much to his surprise and dismay. We are neither surprised nor dismayed by Hal's triumph because we know Hal better than Hotspur does, and we know what is going to happen.
In the first few scenes of the play we feel that Hal is exactly as Hotspur describes him, a madcap Prince, but as the play progresses we see that Hal intends to shine when he becomes King. He says that when the time comes he will ' throw off'...