The First Part of King Henry IV


Shakespeare impressed me with a soliloquy by the fat, vile Falstaff. It struck me because the seemingly disgusting Falstaff says something quite true about honor:

‘Tis not due yet – I would be loath to pay him before his day. What need I be so forward with him that calls not on me [Prince Hal]? 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 a’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. Why? Detraction not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon – and so ends my catechism.

Falstaff exposes the futility of honor – or at least the idolatry of honor. Honor is not a bad thing in and of itself. Paul says in his first letter to Timothy:

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 ESV)

This honor in Paul’s epistle is good because the Lord deserves it. In the case of man, he does not deserve honor; and yet, man drools at the thought of honor; man idolizes honor and sets it where God should be. But honor will not fix our leg or arm. Honor will not take away pain. Falstaff may be mistaken in certain ways. However, he is right to question man’s desire for honor (in that man’s desire for honor is a disordered desire), and what men do in order to obtain it.

  • Act I
    • Scene 1: News of Holmedon
    • Scene 2: An “Adventure” Planned
    • Scene 3: The Council
  • Act II
    • Scene 1: The Thieves’ Council
    • Scene 2: The “Adventure”
    • Scene 3: Hotspur and Kate
    • Scene 4: Post-Robbery
  • Act III
    • Scene 1: The Tripartite Deal
    • Scene 2: Henry and Hal
    • Scene 3: Who’s the Pickpocket?
  • Act IV
    • Scene 1: Bad Prospects
    • Scene 2: An Army of Prodigals
    • Scene 3: Hotspur’s Griefs
    • Scene 4: News of Both Sides
  • Act V
    • Scene 1: What is Honor?
    • Scene 2: Call to War
    • Scene 3: A Counterfeit King
    • Scene 4: The Death of Hotspur and Falstaff’s Lie
    • Scene 5: To Quench Rebellion

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