Student Question

By the end of Act 4, Scene 2 in Henry IV, Part II, what has happened to the rules of chivalry, particularly regarding John of Lancaster?

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In act 4, scene 2, of Henry IV, Part II, it is clear that the traditional rules of chivalry no longer apply. Prince John of Lancaster makes the following speech to the Archbishop of York and the other rebels, offering a truce:

My lord, these griefs shall be with speed redress'd;
Upon my soul, they shall. If this may please you,
Discharge your powers unto their several counties,
As we will ours: and here between the armies
Let's drink together friendly and embrace,
That all their eyes may bear those tokens home
Of our restored love and amity.

The Archbishop takes him at his word, and the rebel armies disperse, whereupon the prince promptly has Westmoreland arrested and imprisons the Archbishop and the other rebel leaders, Hastings and Mowbray, for high treason. The rebels are outraged by this and ask whether it is honorable for the prince to break his word to them in this way.

Prince John shows his loyalty to the king, but at the same time, he abandons the rules of chivalry that require him to keep his oaths, to behave honorably to his opponents, and not to engage in trickery. Throughout the play, Falstaff, who is a knight, shows that he has no honor and is quite content to lie and cheat in order to achieve his objectives. Prince John's actions show that Falstaff is no mere aberration: his abandonment of the chivalrous moral code is echoed at the highest level.

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