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Henry IV Part 1 Theme of Principles

While "honour" is perhaps the play's most important theme, it's also the most difficult concept to pin down. In the mouths of various characters, the definition of honor ranges from being synonymous with an individual's courage on the battlefield to a mere "word" used in an attempt to elevate the physical horrors of warfare to something more lofty and intangible. From Henry IV Part 1's beginning, Hotspur is praised as the very embodiment of honor, while Prince Hal is marked by the "stain" of "dishonour." This allows the play to consider the kind of behavior that makes one a good leader and a strong king. In this way, honor is closely related to the theme of "Power."

Questions About Principles

  1. Why does the play present so many conflicting ideas about honor? Does Henry IV Part 1 ever settle on one particular concept? Why or why not? What kind of evidence would you use to support your answer?
  2. What does King Henry mean when he says Hotspur is the "theme of honour's tongue"? Why does he think his son, Prince Hal is "dishonourable"?
  3. How does Falstaff define "honour"? How are his ideas different from that of other characters in the play?
  4. How do you define honor? Is it different or similar to any of the ideas in the play? Do you think it's important for political leaders to have honor? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Henry IV Part 1 suggests that "honour" is a noble and necessary attribute for all successful leaders and monarchs.

In Shakespeare's play, "honour" is revealed to be a thin concept that some men use in a fruitless attempt to elevate the gruesome realities of warfare to something noble.

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