Henry IV Part 1
How we cite our quotes:
The Earl of Douglas is discomfited:
Ten thousand bold Scots, two and twenty knights,
Balk'd in their own blood did Sir Walter see
On Holmedon's plains. Of prisoners, Hotspur took
Mordake the Earl of Fife, and eldest son
To beaten Douglas; and the Earl of Athol,
Of Murray, Angus, and Menteith:
And is not this an honourable spoil?
A gallant prize? ha, cousin, is it not? (1.1.3)
The first time we hear the term "honour" in the play, it's associated with young Hotspur's courage on the battlefield. We're particularly interested in the way the phrase "honourable spoil" seems to hold two distinct but related meanings. First, according to King Henry, Hotspur's actions (the courageous defeat and capture of prisoners) are "honourable." Second, the prisoners are an "honourable spoil," or, a "gallant prize" because they're high ranking nobles who will likely bring a hefty ransom. This, in turn, makes Hotspur's actions all the more "honourable."
Why are we making a big deal out of this? In the passages that follow, we'll see how some other characters in the play think of honor as a physical or tangible thing (instead of an abstract concept or idea) that can be literally taken from other men. Honor, we also notice, tends to apply exclusively to men of noble blood.
It is a conquest for a prince to boast of.
KING HENRY IV
Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour's tongue;
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. (1.1.3)
This passage is significant for several reasons. First, when Westmoreland and Henry suggest that Hotspur's martial prowess makes him seem more like a "prince" than the king's own son (who stands to inherit the throne by lineal succession), the play establishes Hotspur as the antithesis of Prince Hal, who spends his time carousing with degenerates while Hotspur makes a name for himself as a war hero. This establishes Hotspur's character as a foil to Prince Hal, which raises the following question: what is it, exactly, that makes one cut out to be a good monarch?
For King Henry, courage and leadership on the battlefield not only make Hotspur the very definition of honor ("the theme of honour's tongue"), but also make the young man fit to rule the country. This is not surprising, especially in light of the fact that Henry, backed by an army in the play Richard II, seized the crown from King Richard (as opposed to inheriting the throne according to English custom). We talk about this more in "Quotes" on "Power."
We also want to point out the way King Henry talks about "dishonour" as though it is a tangible thing. Here, he speaks as though it is a physical "stain" marking the prince's "brow." We'll want to keep an eye on this concept.
Tip: This is a great passage for anyone interested in the theme of "Family."
And shall it in more shame be further spoken,
That you are fool'd, discarded and shook off
By him for whom these shames ye underwent?
No; yet time serves wherein you may redeem
Your banish'd honours and restore yourselves
Into the good thoughts of the world again, (1.3.7)
Here, Hotspur suggests the Percys' rebellion against the king is a matter of family "honour." Hotspur feels his family has been disrespected and deceived by King Henry, who the Percys helped to overthrow King Richard II. It's not clear, however, what matters more to Hotspur – righting a wrong for the sake of doing the right thing or, righting a wrong so his family's reputation might be "restored."