Honour in Shakespeares Henry Iv Part I


Define Honour. You cannot, and I do not believe there is a universal definition of honour. The dictionary does not seem to know what honour is. Wikipedia states there are multiple issues in its webpage explaining honour. This is because it differs from person to person, from circumstance to circumstance. Is honour something we all know? That we have all had at one stage? Honour is not clear-cut or black and white. Those who steal, for example, or those who kill another person, are they forever lost to honour? To Judge is so easy. What if stealing is the last resort to be able to feed starving children, or what about the soldier who kills his wounded companion to prevent his capture and torture? Many would still say that is not an honourable thing to do, that stealing is wrong and under no circumstance should you kill another human being, whereas I would say otherwise. This is because each individual has an Honour code, an opinion of what honour is which may be completely different to anyone else’s.

Shakespeare deals with Honour in the majority, if not all of his 37 plays. In Henry IV Part 1, Henry Percy, better known as Hotspur, is said to be “the theme of Honour’s tongue” (1.1.83) and is committed to Honour. It seems Hotspur is completely obsessed with pursuing honour and that is what motivates him. Hotspur believes he is upholding honour because of his desire to lead a rebellion against the King who he believes is disgraceful. This is clear to us in his speech when he says:
“By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap
To pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon,
Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where fathom line could never touch the ground,
And pluck up drownèd honor by the locks,
So he that doth redeem her thence might wear
Without corrival all her dignities.” Hotspur (1.3.200)
In other words, this extract from Hotspur’s speech means that he feels as though honour has been disgraced by the king and his rule and he wants to resurrect...