Honor in Prince Hal Essay

Honor in Prince Hal Essay

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Honor in Prince Hal


Prince Hal’s destiny is shaped for him by many forces: his association with the ne'er-do-well Falstaff, the expectations of his father, King Henry IV, and the constant comparison between himself and Hotspur. All three of these forces create in Hal a sense of honor that is an integral part of his education as the ideal king, and throughout the action of Henry IV, Part I, Hal is gaining a knowledge of honor that will shape him into the King that he will become. However, it seems that Hal ultimately chooses one form on honor over the other, although he must compare the honor of Falstaff and the conceptual honor of a chivalric hero before he comes to a final conclusion.

The first influence that Shakespeare illustrates over Prince Hal is that of Falstaff, a fat old man who seems to spend his life in seedy taverns accruing massive amounts of debt. From his devious scheme to rob unknowing travelers at the beginning of the story to his diatribe on what honor is not, it is clear that Falstaff has a very distinct notion of his own personal honor, and he seems to be trying to project that same notion onto Hal; however, as Hal becomes closer to his father, Falstaff's honor becomes less appealing. Falstaff treats Hal and King Henry IV to his own personal code of honor-or lack thereof:

"Well, 'tis no matter; honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I come on? How then? Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word 'honour'? What is that 'honour'? Air. A trim reckoning. Who hath it? He that died o'Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. 'Tis ins...


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...cing his role as the Prince and defeating Hotspur when no one in the kingdom believed he had the gumption or the courage to do so. Hal's plea to the King to "salve the long-grown wounds of my intemperance" and subsequent promise to "die a hundred thousand deaths ere break the smallest parcel of this vow" are the final turning points in the story that lead to Prince Hal being educated as to what it means to be an ideal and true King (3.2.155-159). However, there is still time for Hal's perspectives and values to be shaped and re-shaped by his father, the ghost of Hotspur, and the excesses of Falstaff, as well as by characters who have not yet been introduced, and in order to fully understand the transformation of Prince Hal, the reader must continue to King Henry IV, Part II and King Henry V to learn if Hal truly becomes an effective and charismatic ruler of England.

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