An Analysis of the Theme of Honor in Henry IV, Part One
In his play Henry IV, Part One, Shakespeare conveys the various themes by a stylistic method involving alternatively depicting the two extremes of society. The nobility is compared to the commoners, and the effect is one of two distinct classes operating at parallel levels but contrasting each other all the same. The disparity is specifically apparent in the theme of honor. Honor is a broad word that encompasses various definitions and varies from person to person. Thus, it is no surprise that the main characters also perceive honor in their own specific ways. However, the key aspect of the variability lies within the aforementioned distinction of class. The concept of honor for the nobility contrasts deeply with that of the common folk and it is this contrast that needs to be explored in order to understand more fully the broader themes of the play.
At the aristocratic level, honor has a particularly large influence on the views, behaviors, and actions of the noblemen. It is evident that the leaders of high society, the king and his peers, consider honor to be necessary to maintain the status they have or to achieve a status that they desire. An appropriate example of this necessity for honor can be observed in the thoughts and behaviors of the title character, King Henry IV. For the king, honor has to do with the well-being of the nation and the legitimacy of the ruler. In the very opening of the play, the king’s drive to appear more honorable in the eyes of his fellow men and subjects as well as to establish himself as a worthy ruler is apparent. The play begins with the king’s bold call for a crusade:
Those opposed eyes, which, like the meteors of a troubled heaven, all of one nature, of one substance bred, did lately meet in the intestine shock and furious close of civil butchery, shall now, in mutual well-beseeming ranks, march all one way and be no more opposed a...