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Henry IV, Part 1

William Shakespeare

Act V, scenes i–ii

Summary Act V, scenes i–ii

In Act V, scene i, Harry appears onstage manifesting his kingly nature for the first time since his memorable vow of redemption in Act III, scene ii. In both acknowledging his former follies—“I may speak it to my shame, / I have a truant been to chivalry”—and in offering, in highly respectful terms, to meet Hotspur in single combat, Harry demonstrates that he has indeed matured into a man fit to lead (V.i.93–94). It is clear that the “noble deeds” and fine qualities that Harry praises in Hotspur are those that he himself aims to attain (V.i.92).

Falstaff’s monologue on honor at the end of Act V, scene i offers key insight into his character. Falstaff seems to be trying to undermine the very standards that the noble contenders hold so dear: in this famous speech, he weighs the emptiness of the proud word “honor” against the losses its pursuit can bring. He says that “honour pricks me on,” parroting the party line; but he then discredits it, complaining, “[y]ea, but how if honour prick me off [kills me] when I come on? How then?” (V.i.129–130). Honor, he muses, cannot replace or heal a lost or wounded limb. It is of no use to the living, and the dead cannot use it either. He concludes that “Honor is a mere scutcheon”—a heraldic device used at funerals, nothing more than a flimsy decoration for the coffins of the dead (V.i.138). Falstaff’s worldly and philosophical logic throws a harsh light on the values that drive the nobility into a battle certain to leave thousands dead.

In Act V, scene ii, Worcester reveals himself to be quite a -manipulator. His decision to conceal Harry’s and Henry’s offers-from Hotspur in order to protect his own future welfare comes as a -surprise. His reference to his nephew as “hare-brained Hotspur, govern’d by a spleen [a hot temper]” also reveals Worcester’s awareness of Hotspur’s dispositional and intellectual limitations (V.ii.19). He has read Hotspur perfectly, for Hotspur sends a challenge to Henry the moment he hears about the alleged slurs against his family. With his usual haste, Hotspur is taken in by Worcester’s words and, fulfilling the king’s prediction in Act V, scene i, commits his army to a bloody war for which it may not be ready.