Honor is a fundamental idea explored throughout the play. Each major character has his own thoughts on what honor actually is and its worth. In act V, scene I, we are given insight into King Henry’s, Falstaff’s and Hal’s contrasting opinions of this abstract concept. The scene begins with messengers coming to address the King.
The messenger goes on at length revealing the rebels” discontent with the King. The King proceeds to dismiss these accusations at which point Hal suggests an alternate solution: he proposes a single duel with Hotspur to end the rebellion.I am content that he shall take the odds Of his great name and estimation, And will, to save the blood on either side, Try fortune with him in a single fight. (5,1,98-101) Up to this point Hal seemed content with stealing, cheating and lying. He was not bothered by these actions because he believed that honor could be attained at a whim. Although he predicted that he would redeem himself, he only showed proof of this in this scene.
It is interesting how Hal holds Hotspur in such high esteem.To a great extent Hal admires the qualities that Hotspur possesses and ultimately knows that he must try to become more like Hotspur. Like most people, Hal thinks that there lies much honor in Hotspur: The Prince of Whales doth join with all the world In praise of Henry Percy (5,1,87-88) I do not think a braver gentleman, More active valiant, [ ] is now alive (5,1,91-92) Hal realizes that as of late he has been lacking honor, “For my part, I may speak it to my shame / I have a truant been to chivalry” (5,1,94-95), and believes that by defeating Hotspur, Hotspur’s honor will become his own.After all the other characters, including Hal, have gone, Falstaff presents a monologue which gives much insight into his character and views of honor.
Falstaff drinks, eats, lies, cheats, and steals for the enjoyment of it. Honor does Falstaff no good. He musses that, in fact, honor does no good at all except to give good names to the dead and decorate coffins, “Honor is a mere scutcheon” (5,1,141). Honor pricks me on, Yea, but how if honor prick me off when I come on? How then? Can honor set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No.
Honor hath no skill in surgery, then? (5,1,131-134) He says that those who are driven by honor can/will ultimately die as a result of it, and then honor obviously does them no good. Honor brings them little tangible benefits while they live, but they are willing to risk their lives in the name of a mere “word” that can never truly be linked to their names until they sleep in their coffins. King Henry had honor even after he usurped the throne. It was only after he turned on those that put him in power (the Percy family), “violation of all faith and troth” (5,1,71), that he lost what honor he had.
King Henry became tangled in his own power and began to place his position as king above all else, honor aside. It is for this reason that his comrades turned on him. He felt a need to crush this resistance at all cost, to regain some of his lost honor: “Both he and they and you, yea, every man / Shall be my friend again, and I”ll be his.
“(5,1,108-109). Although Hotspur is not seen in this scene, it is important to note that Hotspur is obsessed with the idea of chivalrous honor: taking up arms and risking his life at every affront to his good name, as mentioned by Hal.On one end of the scale, we have Hotspur. He is led blindly by honor, which would ultimately be his undoing since he cannot win every battle. On the other end we have Falstaff, who does not belief in the concept of honor.
He can never truly amount to anything since his lack of honor leads him to back down from every challenge. Somewhere in-between these two characters lies Hal and King Henry. They both recognize the importance placed on honor (regardless of whether or not they believe it deserves this importance) but also realize that they must think before they act; that words carry weight as well.They know that to be successful it must appear to others that they posses the virtue of honor, while keeping a level head at all times. Hal and King Henry seem to be on nearly equal footing when it comes to their view of honor.
The difference is that the King was still haunted by the fact that he illegitimately took the throne, and he always felt a certain fear and a need to establish his kingship. Hal came from the streets and taverns and had nothing to lose. He knew that his reputation was lost, but it could be regained twofold if he managed to defeat Hotspur. Hal gambled and won, he won Hotspur’s honor.