Falstaff’s ‘Honour’ Speech

May 9, 2006 at 1:14 pm 8 comments

William Shakespeare


(Henry IV Part 1 Act V Scene 1)

Why, thou owest God a death.


‘Tis not due yet; I would be loath to pay him before
his day. What need I be so forward with him that
calls not on me? Well, ’tis no matter; honour pricks
me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I
come on? how then? Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism.

I couldn’t resist this one. This is an amazing speech – a direct and mocking attack of everything that could be considered heroic or honourable, a speech against every war-monger, terrorist and martyr, against anyone who would kill and die for honour.


Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, William Shakespeare.

Hath not a Jew eyes? Epilogue from Midsummer Night’s Dream

8 Comments Add your own

  • […] he will revisit some of Falstaff’s best known speeches, including his exegesis on honor, his paean to the inebriating delights of sack, and the dissembling monologue “A plague of all […]

  • 2. Intro to Poetry « elisebohan  |  July 24, 2012 at 2:16 am

    […] 123, the ‘tomorrow’ soliloquy from Macbeth and Falstaff’s ‘honour’ soliloquy from Henry IV pt1 – William […]

  • 3. The New Vortex understands what matters | The New Vortex  |  January 24, 2014 at 2:19 am

    […] The new vortex abounds with this non-euphemistic euphemism. “What’s on your mind?” it asks imploringly. You and I both know that there is an implacable wall between the neuroses in my head and the text I write as my status, but in the new vortex they are one and the same .  Its language has a tone which carries an existential threat to the physical walls and spaces that delineate our existence. If I look closely on Facebook can I really “see our friendship“? What does it look like? Does it have arms, and legs, a form and features? Can the new vortex really set Falstaff right once and for all, and prove that our emotion and better qualities are not just a mere scutcheon. […]

  • 4. richmonde  |  July 8, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Falstaff was right – “honour” is a word for something that doesn’t exist.

    • 5. JonO  |  February 12, 2015 at 3:08 am

      Only cowards claim that honor does not exist.

      • 6. toot  |  April 17, 2016 at 8:37 pm

        And only those who urge to be conspicuous chase it.

  • 7. waltjrimmer  |  March 7, 2015 at 5:50 am

    The irony of the speech is that Falstaff craves honor but is unwilling to do the work to get it, as is shown when he feignes death during battle and then claims the slaying of Hotspur as his own when the rightful kill belonged to one he claimed as friend, Prince Hal. The speech less mocks honor and more the entire first play shows the different ways people try to get it, be it diplomacy, battle or stealing it while the character it is building up, Hal, earns it a number of times but is willing to share it or give it away.

  • 8. Thaheera  |  November 14, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    I feel that this speech completes him being represented as the antithesis of the knight figure in Renaissance theatre and literature. The knight, as we all know, is associated with the chivalric values of dignity, courage and of course, honour. The medieval romances of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table was all about preserving honour. Falstaff is a knight, but he is far from the expectations of the chivalrous knight we are used to. The fact that he makes this speech about how honour is not so great after all, undermines the very idea of the ‘true’ chivalrous knight, the one who is so willing to die for honour.


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