William Shakespeare's Henry IV Essay

William Shakespeare's Henry IV Essay

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Identify and discuss the two issues with which you feel William Shakespeare is asking his audience to wrestle with most in Henry IV, Part I. As you develop this response, comment on Shakespeare’s refusal to match any of his questions with essay answers. Comment also on the immediate relevance of these issues to those of our own day.
One of the great issues of Henry IV, Part I is summed up, but hardly concluded, by Sir John Falstaff at the end of the first scene in Act V. Falstaff, fearful of the coming battle, has just asked the prince to find him on the battlefield, to which Prince Henry replies, “Why, thou owest God a death” (V.i.126). Falstaff takes this opportunity to expound on the nature of honor. He repeatedly wonders what honor is good for: It doesn’t bandage wounds or perform as a surgery; it means nothing to a dead man. This runs contrary to Hotspur’s views on the matter, as the young man esteems honor as a virtue, and something to be earned on a battlefield or retained in the face of insult (perceived, implied, or otherwise). Furthermore, at the end of the second scene of the play, Prince Henry reflects on the façade he makes of his behavior to hide his intentions: He intends to become a great and honorable ruler, and surprise everyone by being so.
The difference in views on honor and the difference in ages between the characters is no accident. Hotspur and Henry are young; they believe that war is an answer. Falstaff is old and has seen the way the world works; he sees honor as an empty word given to a grieving widow or a fatherless child, or a meaningless incentive to go to war. Honor has become less of a widely discussed issue in our modern day setting, although it still holds some weight; more prevalent in discuss...

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...s father’s ire the next day. Falstaff is, characteristically, going on about his many (non-existent) virtues while role-playing as the Princ, while at the same time indirectly telling Prince Henry that he is his friend, and will always be so. It’s a scene in which Shakespeare employs wit in order to cover up the emotional undertones of the script. At the end of his speech, Falstaff says, “…old Jack Falstaff, as he is, banish not him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s company, banish plump Jack, and banish all the world!” to which Prince Henry, in the character of his father, replies, “I do, I will” (II.iv.478-81). This is a well-known section of Henry the IV, not only because of the quick wit or hidden sincerity of Falstaff’s character, but also the foreshadowing of Prince Henry’s cold reply: In Henry the IV, Part II, Henry does banish his old friend.

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