Honour in King Henry Iv

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Shakespeare uses the main characters and contrasting worlds of the tavern and the court to explore the concept of honour. Falstaff views honour as a ‘mere scutcheon’ meaning that to him honour has no material value and is like a badge or coat of arms. Hotspur’s obsession with the pursuit of honour results in his death explain highlighting how neither understands the concept and that both these perceptions are too extreme. Shakespeare provides Prince Hal as the medium who reveals after his reformation that he is fit be the future King of England as he understands the true meaning of honour. Initially a ‘truant to chivalry’ Hal ‘reforms’ and demonstrates through his subsequent actions and words that his perception of honour is not seeking glory but instead purely what is best for others. Shakespeare uses the character of Hal to show that honour is not a ‘mere scutcheon’ nor something ‘bright’ to be ‘pluck(ed)’ away and he eventually exemplifies the true characteristics of an honourable man proving he is fit to inherit the throne.

Through the character of Hotspur Shakespeare questions if the perception of chivalric honour is antiquated. Hotspur is deemed by others to be ‘the very straightest plant’ and the ‘theme of honour’s tongue’ leading even King Henry himself to wish he were his son. Hotspur believes that honour can only be found in battle and his impetuous nature is noted by many. Even to his wife he says that he has ‘no time to tilt with lips’ and instead calls for ‘bloody noses’. But despite his desire for ‘honour without corrival’ his father Northumberland and Uncle Worcester realise that his obsession makes him a ‘wasp stung and impatient fool’. ‘Gun powder Percy’ is quick to act as demonstrated when he became too excited discussing the Percy rebellion with Worecter and his father to listen properly. Although a valiant fighter, prepared to instruct others to ‘die all, die merrily’ at Shrewsbury it is thought his rash action and self admitted lack of...
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