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Shakespeare & Beyond

Lady Percy and Lady Mortimer in Henry IV, Part 1

Lady Percy and Hotspur
Lady Percy and Hotspur
Lady Percy and Hotspur

Maribel Martinez (Lady Percy) and Tyler Fauntleroy (Hotspur) in 1 Henry IV, Folger Theatre, 2019. C. Stanley Photography.

“This is a play which all men admire, and which most women dislike,” wrote actress and writer Elizabeth Inchbald in her diary in 1807 about Henry IV, Part 1. She objects to “many revolting expressions in the comic parts,” and thinks that a female audience would rather see Prince Hal as a lady killer, than an associate of the “traitor” Percy. The diary says nothing about Lady Percy (whom Inchbald portrayed onstage) or the other female characters in the play, except to comment that Percy pays more attention to his horse than to his wife.

But though the play’s action focuses on the male characters and the build-up to their confrontations on the battlefield, the noblewomen affected by their husbands’ actions stake their own claims to the audience’s attention: feisty Lady Percy gives as good as she gets from her husband, and Lady Mortimer, who was silently cut from performances for hundreds of years, has been revived in modern productions. Shakespeare created these heroines out of the fragments of history, giving them voices that appeal freshly to us today.

Although Lady Percy’s husband Henry Percy or “Hotspur” calls her “Kate,” she was actually Elizabeth, the sister of Edmund Mortimer. She and Lady Mortimer are barely footnotes in Holinshed’s Chronicle, Shakespeare’s major source for the story of Henry IV. Nevertheless, Shakespeare created from imagination the sort of woman he thought could match the impetuous character of Hotspur the warrior.


Thank you! The production at the Folger was fantastic. Lady Mortimer seemed to be speaking fluent Welsh, and her singing was beautiful. My late Welsh friend Gareth Howell would have known if this was actual Welsh. Do you know, Georgianna?

Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. — October 2, 2019