Honour in Henry IV
Honor is one of those concepts that is seldom defined. One’s reputation is based on his or her honor, integrity, honesty, and purity. William Shakespeare’s Henry IV is a one of his many plays that deal with the varying ideas of honor, as well as issues of courage, loyalty, and ambition, interposing examples of dishonor, weakness, and the deceitful plots among both the drunkards and noblemen. Shakespeare utilizes suggestive metaphors to create illusions, imagery, and to reinforce the different views of the major issues people were faced with in his time and in ours. His plays often focus on the imagery, either on some obvious important symbol, or some image pattern that recurs throughout the work. Readers are then pushed and pulled through different conceptions and actions of the word, so much so, it gets to the point where it becomes clear that one of the key motifs of the play is an ironic exploration of what that word really means. Falstaff begs explanation, “What is honor? A word. What is in that word “honor”?”, just as the readers do during the course of the play (5.1.133-134).
King Henry IV begins the play with a speech of how worn out he is from fighting. The King is relieved that the “civil butchery” has come to an end and he can now sit comfortably in his role as the defender of Christendom and of England, “Forthwith a power of English shall we levy, Whose arms were molded in their mother’s womb To chase these pagans in those holy fields Over whose acres walked those blessèd feet Which fourteen hundred years ago were nailed. For our advantage on the bitter cross”(1.1.22-27).
Although he’s ceremonial in his presentation of himself, liable to stand on formalities, he is a bit naïve to think he has established order. Thinking himself above the cruel manipulations utilized to remove Richard II, he now must confront a growing rebellion that is made-up of his, once, allies and henchmen. King Henry IV must also contend with his son, Prince Hal, who’s not the honorable prince he had hoped him to be. He feels it is “an honorable spoil” not to have “a son who is the theme of honor’s tongue,” when he learns of Northumberland’s son Hotspur’s victories, which, should be “a conquest for a prince to boast of” (1.1.74,80, & 76). Pangs of jealousy strike Henry’s heart caused by the differences between his son and Northumberland’s. So much so, he wishes “it could be proved that” someone, or something, “had exchanged in cradle clothes, their sons at birth” (1.1.85-87).
Act one, scene one, stresses the motif of honor in war, in characters, and, most importantly, in offspring. However, while Henry sees “riot and dishonor” in his son, Hal sees a father who has stolen his title by disgracing a king (1.1.84). Shakespeare wouldn’t dream of imposing his personal beliefs of who is honorable or who is dishonorable for the simple fact that it is obvious honor is perceived differently by each...