Is Northumberland as portrayed in Act one scene one, a sympathetic character or not
Act one, scene one takes place in the Duke of Northumberland’s Warkworth castle, and he is the father of Harry Monmouth who, as Rumour informs the audience during the prologue, is dead. As shown in this quotation: “My office is To noise abroad that Harry Monmouth fell Under the wrath of noble Hotspur’s sword” Rumours only proof of this death is from hearsay, and the fact that this allegorical figure is the embodiment of (as his name gives connotations of) all the rumours that the people of England have heard and spread during the battle between anarchists and royalty, shows that he may in fact be a very unreliable source.
During Act one scene one the rumour of Harry Monmouth’s death is confirmed after quite a lot of banter between Lord Bardolph, Northumberland and Travers. During their discussion it becomes uncertain of whether Harry has actually fallen during the Battle of Shrewsbury because Lord Bardolph tells the rebel Northumberland that his son is alive and has fought courageously and successfully through the war, but just moment’s later Travers enters the scene only to confuse him by contradicting this and exclaiming that Harry Monmouth is in fact dead.
However, both Travers and Lord Bardolph are unreliable because neither has a first hand account of the events. Morton then enters the scene to confirm that what Rumours and Lord Bardolph have been saying is indeed accurate. Morton is by far the most accurate witness since he actually observed it all happening: “That which I would to God I had not seen, But these mine eyes saw him in a bloody state,
Rendering faint quittance, wearied and out-breathed” Morton states that he watched Harry Monmouth struggle to breath and bloodied up, and the audience may believe that this image has taunted him for the reason that he declares he wished to God that he ‘had no seen’ it. As Morton is only an acquaintance of Harry’s but it still obviously finding his death a difficult time it makes the audience feel even more sympathetic to his fathers ordeal.
Through all of this pulling at Northumberland’s ‘heart strings’ from two different directions and emotions, hope and sorrow, the audience would feel very compassionate towards his loss, confusion, and prolonging of factual news about Harry’s existence, delivered by Lord Bardolph and Travers’s misinformation at the beginning of the scene. The fact that a father-son bond has been broken, and this father will now have to bury his son, the audience may feel sympathetic towards the character. In terms of Northumberland’s reaction at the time of being told his son is dead, the conclusion could be drawn that he is compassionate.
During a long soliloquy by Northumberland he shows his anger that the grief of has awful news has brought upon him “Now let not Nature’s hand Keep the wild flood confined, let Order die” Although Northumberland’s reaction is that of anger and the words ‘compassion’ and ‘sympathy’ have connotations of a calm, kind nature, grief is a very powerful emotion and his need for revenge is one that anyone who’s lost someone close to them could empathise with, and therefore, it shows that he is compassionate in terms of his love for his son, and he gains sympathy from the audience at the pain he must be feeling at this point.
On the other hand, Northumberland wants everything to be destroyed by nature, it suggests that he wants all other to suffer just has he is, and this shows that he isn’t a sympathetic character because after feeling the pain himself he now wants to force it on to others, which a sympathetic would tend not to do. However, the part where he says that Order must die could be perceived another way as he is already an anarchist and so this is what he wanted before Harry’s death and so may not be a product of his grief but he is using his son’s death as another motive to aim at his goals.
Northumberland objected to Richard II and helped to overthrow him, but now he wants to rebel against Bolingbrook (Henry IV), who he once supported, but now believes him to be too devious, and this shows how involved he is in his anarchist behaviour, as well as how unpredictable his actions tend to be and so this gives support to the latter idea that his grief serves as a positive to his ambitions. Also, his son was very well liked in the kingdom as he was very charismatic and energetic, which are traits many would have been fond of.
And so, Northumberland may have reacted the way in which he thought others thought he should react and therefore, this reaction is a mask of how those in the kingdom believed he should conduct himself. The introduction of Northumberland’s character is in the prologue, when Rumours tells the audience that he is playing ‘crafty sick’, he implies that he didn’t go to the battle where his son was defeated and instead pretended to be ill.
However, Rumours’s character is once again not reliable as he only represents what others think about Northumberland, not factual evidence, but the damage to him is done when this is suggested and so the idea that he faked an illness in order to get out of a battle which he condones and leads, may make the audience feel that he is a very unsympathetic character, they may hold the view that he sent his son to the slaughter while he skived at home.
However, others may feel that he was too frightened of risking his life, and this emotion may provoke sympathy as it is an identifiable emotion, most people have had something which they were too afraid to do and so understanding may arise in those in the audience. More likely, the audience thought that this fear should have been overcome because this is his war and he is just behaving like a coward and getting others to do the dirty work, if it is indeed true that Northumberland is ‘crafty sick’ and not actually in poor health.
The first time the audience meet Northumberland is in a homely setting of the Orchard. “His worship is walked in the Orchard, Please it your honour knock but at the gate, And he himself will answer” An Orchard has connotations of new life, peacefulness, and comfort. The porter tells Lord Bardolph will answer the gate himself, it is unclear as to whether he is just desperate for the news of his son and brothers situation or whether his service believe he is lying and so know that he is competent to do the wait upon himself.
This introduction and the reality of Northumberland’s situation, being at home with his service makes him seem a very unsympathetic character; he has waged war on the monarchy and then leaves it up to others to do his duty. Also, in order to continue this point the idea that someone is too sick to go to war but still able to walk around by himself may make those watching the play feel even more strongly that he is in fact a liar. The setting is too cosy for anyone to feel much sympathy for the rebel.
In conclusion, any sympathy that is drawn from Northumberland’s loss is destroyed when his reasons are analysed, and his illness is proposed to be fake it is quite clear that he is mostly not a sympathetic character. However, it is impossible to prove this because it is only a rumour that he is playing ‘crafty sick’, he may really be unwell but he did send his family to be killed when he is in a homely environment and this may make the audience believe him to definitely be an unsympathetic character.