The Interpretation of Themes and Techniques Used in Honorable Mentions
The characters Prince Hal and King Henry in William Shakespeare’s drama Henry IV portray an unlikely father-son relationship. Shakespeare demonstrates Prince Hal’s fate by associating him with consistent approaches of negative influences. These forces mainly come from his father, King Henry IV, and the friendship with the worthless acquaintance Falstaff. Aside from the extremely high expectations from his father, Prince Hal deals with the constant comparison of himself and the nobleman Hotspur. These three influences shape Hal into an important leader, which essentially is a fundamental part of his training to become an ideal ruler. In the play, the concept of honor presents a pivotal role through the characters; each character perceives the concept differently. Evidently, the uncertain concept leads them to different courses of action. The idea of honor changes between each individual and in this way the theme of honor does not have one specific meaning. Instead, the word contains multiple meanings due to the characters’ different interpretations of it.
These three distinct people, Falstaff, Hotspur, and Prince Hal, all view the concept of honor in unique ways. While Hotspur and Hal ideally perceive recognition as something significant and commendable, Falstaff recognizes courage as just a word that carries on with the dead. Falstaff is a thief, a delinquent, and a deadbeat who misuses his commission as an officer, as well as neglects to pay his dues at the inn. This combination of evidence reflects the fact that he justifies as a character who is not honest. Before war between the king and the enemies, Falstaff continues to make money by taking valuables and cash from men who decide not to fight in combat. Instead, of taking real soldiers to battle, Falstaff takes people who are beggars and prisoners and uses them as his army which is a highly offensive action. Falstaff explains his idea of honor by describing how it cannot “take away the grief of a wound” (5.1.) and as it is not something that can stay with the living. Per Falstaff, honor is a “word…hair. A trim reckoning” (5.1.), which means that Falstaff views honor simplistically and without meaning. Falstaff proves he has no concept of honor when he claims to have killed Hotspur himself, even though he had just seen Prince Hal kill him. While honesty is not important to Falstaff, it is imperative to others who assign it a specific meaning.
King Henry states that Hotspur is the “theme of Honor’s tongue” to set him as the perfect example of an honorable man, (1.1.). Hotspur’s idea of honor is mainly about redeeming and protecting his reputation as the perfect honorable man. Readers reveal this revenge via the dethroning of King Henry in the battlefield. Through this way of promising a spot as royalty, Hotspur seems to base honor on a respectful scale and believes recognition through defeating one through battle was gained. Before the fight, Hotspur learns that his father is not going to join them in battle, resulting in a delay for Glendower and his forces. Ultimately, Hotspur views the absence of his allies as a challenge; if he can defeat the king’s army, he will receive a reward of high honor. Also, even dying in battle is seen as a way for Hotspur to gain honor, “For let it be, My father and Glendower both being away, The powers of us may serve so great a day / Doomsday is near. Die all, die merrily” (4.2.) Hotspur bases his honor on respectfulness, in which he believes it can be regained through battling and defeating the one who has taken that connection away.
Although readers view Hotspur and Falstaff in their own element which makes it easy to define their views on honor, the audience sees Hal’s in a different perspective due to his acquaintances. King Henry exclaims that he would much rather have an honorable man, like Hotspur, as a son than Hal. It is then evident that King Henry believes that his child is very dishonorable. Prince Hal explains how he wants to change and regain honor by repaying those he has done wrong, “So when this loose behavior I will throw off / And pay the debt I never promised /Redeeming time when men think least I will” (1.2.). Hal is planning to surprise everybody who shunned him for his past actions. Mostly, Hal wants his father to be proud after his exchange of shame for honor. By protecting his father in battle and defeating Hotspur, Hal shows that he was indeed a nobleman. Therefore, Hal’s plan to become an honorable man to his father, and to the nation unraveled perfectly.
Falstaff, Hotspur, and Prince Hal are three extremely different characters who perceive honor in their unique ways. In Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part I, courage demonstrated through battle, love, and in some cases, nothing. Hotspur and Hal accumulate similar ideas of honor throughout the drama; honor is a concept of bravery that can only be regained through battle resulting in a victory. Unlike Hotspur and Hal, Falstaff fails to express any interest in one word: honor. Thus, it has no significant meaning to him. Throughout the play, the idea of an honorable mention has commonly prospected in redeeming oneself in battle. Shakespeare demonstrates that honor has no precise definition for one person.
Shakespeare, William. “Henry IV, Part 1: Entire Play.” Henry IV, Part 1: Entire Play. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
“Introduction to Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I – Honour in King Henry IV.” Introduction to Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I – Honour in King Henry IV. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
“Henry IV Part 1: Theme Analysis.” Novelguide. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
“William Shakespeare, Dramatist–Not Statesman, Not Philosopher.” George Anastaplo’s Blog. N.p., 29 July 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
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