Henry IV, Part I Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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How can I write an 8 page essay about "honor" in Henry IV, Part I?

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Henry IV, Part I, is, in part, an examination of honor through the characters of Hotspur, Falstaff, and Prince Hal, so you ought to be able to write eight pages comparing and contrasting these three characters, especially supporting what you have to say with quotes from the play.

In simple terms (though Shakespeare adds far more nuance), the three characters named above are like the three bears in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." Hotspur is too 'hard' when it comes to issues of honor, Falstaff is too 'soft,' and Prince Hal, despite his father's serious doubts about him as the play opens, works out to be 'just right.' This shows Hal to be an exemplary ruler, and the contrasts between how he understands honor versus how Hotspur and Falstaff do is instructive.

Hotspur is far too rigid on the issue of honor, he despises people who are not warriors, therefore depriving himself of good advice, and he acts too rashly, leading to his death. However, as the play opens, King Henry IV states he envies Hotspur and wishes he were his son, rather than the one he has, who he describes as stained with "riot and dishonor." The king says of Hotspur:

In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of Honor's tongue

Falstaff, who lives to eat, drink, and be merry, is Hotspur's opposite. He has no interest in honor or dying on the battlefield. He wants to stay alive to see another day, and therefore, pretends he's been killed rather than doing his part in the battle. He dismisses honor as useless in the following passage:

Can honor set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of awound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery, then?
No. What is honor? A word. What is in that word 'honor'? What is that 'honor'? Air.

Henry does not have Hotspur's obsession with honor, but when push comes to shove, he rises to the occasion and behaves both prudently and honorably, winning the battle with Hotspur, killing Hotspur, and saving the throne. As he says in Act I (when we have no reason to believe him, although his words are true), he is simply playacting at being a degenerate party animal. When the time comes, he will :

show more goodly and attract more eyes / Than that which hath no foil to set it off

In other words, he will look all the better for having convinced everyone he is worthless—and he does.

By comparing and contrasting both the words and behavior of these three men, you ought to be able to draw some conclusions about honor as Shakespeare understood it.

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