| Quote #7
[…] Well, 'tis no matter; honour pricks
We've already seen that Falstaff's behavior (during the robbery at Gads Hill) is the antithesis of courage. Here, just before he marches into battle, the old knight discusses the concept of "honour" in his famous "catechism" (this just means his speech is delivered in the form of a question and answer session). Falstaff says "honour" is nothing but "air." It can't heal battle wounds ("set to a leg" or perform a "surgery") and those who pay for "honour" with their lives can't even enjoy it because they're dead.
While it's tempting to simply judge Falstaff's cowardice and sometimes disgraceful behavior, we should think about why Shakespeare puts this speech in Falstaff's mouth. Unlike other characters (such as Hotspur, King Henry, and Hal), Falstaff refuses to elevate the concept of honor (which, as we've seen, seems to come out of the violence of warfare) to anything other than a mere "word." So, what are we to make of this? Is he right? Does Falstaff offer a refreshing reality check for anyone caught up in, say, Hotspur's definition of honor? Or, is Falstaff merely making the excuses of a coward? Think about this carefully and then you decide. Go on, Shakespeare wants you to.
| Quote #8
I will redeem all this on Percy's head
After King Henry scolds the prince for his shameful behavior (carousing with commoners, stealing, etc.), Hal promises to redeem himself by defeating Hotspur in battle. Hal's insistence that he'll "wear a garment all of blood" and "stain" his facial features ("favours") in a "bloody mask" is an absolutely stunning and vivid image of a bloodied warrior, isn't it?
What interests us most about this passage is Hal's notion that his "shame" and dishonor will be "scour[ed]" and "wash'd away" along with the blood of battle when all is said and done. We notice that Hal's language seems to echo his father's earlier remarks about the Prince's "dishonour" being like a physical "stain" on the prince's "brow" (see 1.1.3 above.)
Of course, Hal's remarks also make his plans for the redemption of his honor sound a lot like a baptism. Here, water is replaced by blood in what Hal imagines to be a kind of holy rite. By killing Hotspur (and being soaked in his blood), Hal will achieve a kind of spiritual or moral purification or, rebirth. In other words, bloodshed will wash away Hal's dishonor and shame, making the prince a new man.
Want to think about this idea some more? You might compare Hal's notion of redemption to King Henry's belief that waging a holy war in Jerusalem will redeem his past sins. (Check out our discussion of Henry's opening speech in Act 1, Scene 1 in "Quotes" for "Warfare.")
| Quote #9
For every honour sitting on his helm,
Here, Hal acknowledges that Hotspur has gathered up "multitudes" of "honour" in battle, while Hal has accumulated nothing but "shame." But, Hal insists that when he defeats Hotspur in battle, he will take every bit of Hotspur's accrued honor, forcing his enemy to "exchange his glorious deeds" for the prince's "indignities."
Hal's notion that one can take (by force) honor from another man is pretty remarkable. Let's face it, it's not like honor is a physical thing that can be stolen or exchanged, but that's exactly how honor is portrayed by many of the play's noble characters. (Recall our previous discussion of Henry's remarks at 1.1.3, above.) Hal speaks as though it's been his plan all along to let Hotspur do all the work, acting as a kind of agent ("factor") who gathers up and accumulates honor on behalf of the prince. Compare this passage to 5.4.3 below.