The play opens with Henry IV wishing openly that his son were Harry Percy, or Hotspur, who within an act will be in open rebellion towards him:
Oh, that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And called mine "Percy," his "Plantagenet,"
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.
And yet, what strikes me is that from his very first appearance, Hal appears to have no qualms about leaving his life in the taverns behind in order to become more like Hotspur:
I know you all and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
Both Hal and his father have a nasty streak of uncharitableness; Henry's toward his son and Hal toward his friends. In particular I find Hal's insistence that he is better than his surroundings to be both ignorant and distasteful, as if his entire life he were merely "slumming it," waiting for an opportunity to show his true colors. It only makes it worse that Hal's self-assessment is essentially correct, and that he takes to the battlefield with natural ease, because it is unclear that the "true" persona is more valuable or honorable than the counterfeit.
This runs afoul of many readings of Henry IV (and here it seems as good a time as any to mention I have not read Part Two) which depict Hal as struggling to transform himself into the capable ruler of Henry V and Falstaff as his obstacle. But on Hal's part there is no struggle, no inner conflict about leaving his friends. On the other hand, Falstaff seems to overflow with love for Hal. In one scene, Hal and Falstaff are play-acting at being Henry and Hal, respectively, when Hal-Henry upbraids his Falstaff-Hal for the company he keeps. Falstaff's reply--clearly and pathetically not true to Hal's sentiments--becomes an endearing self-defense:
FALSTAFF: But to say I know more harm in him than in myself were to say more than I know. That he is old, the more the pity; his white hairs do witness it. But that he his, saving your reverence, a whoremaster, that I utterly deny. If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked. If to be old and merry a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned. If to be fat be to be hated, then Pharoah's lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins, but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being as he is old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry's company, banish not him thy Harry's company. Banish plump Jack and banish all the world.
HAL: I do; I will.
Hal's banishment of Falstaff is completed in Part Two, and in the course of it he does in a way banish the world, as the pursuit of honor and glory is a lonely one by nature. Hal echoes this when he says to Hotspur before their final battle, "I am the Prince of Wales; and think not, Percy, / To share with me in glory any more. / Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere." Hal banishes his doppelgangers: first Hostpur, then his Eastcheap self.
Falstaff, impressed by Hal into service, is on the same battlefield and fakes his own death to spare his life. Is this cowardly? Soliloquizing, he seizes upon the symbolism of counterfeiting that Hal has long been employing:
Counterfeit? I lie; I am no counterfeit. to die is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man; but to counterfeit dying when a man thereby liveth is to be no counterfeit, but the true and image of life indeed.
This is Falstaff's finest hour, a rejection of Hotspur's glories, which court death. Falstaff is a prophet of life; life is truth, and death a falsehood. In his war poem "Dulce et Decorum est," Wilfred Own would call it "the old lie," that there is value, or goodness, or sweetness in death on the battlefield. Falstaff's vitality is the overflowing of his insistence on life--"Give me life," he says--and he has no respect for the empty vanities of honor:
Can honor set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honor has no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honor? A word. What is in that word "honor"? What is that "honor"? 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? Yes, to the dead.
We feel this deeply because we like Falstaff and want him to exist; for that reason Shakespeare wrote more total lines for him than any other character. Nothing is lost when Hotspur meets his end at Hal's hands, mostly because the two of them have been spent the entire play planning to eradicate each other. Falstaff values life and Hotspur values honor; in Part One at least they reap their rewards. I am suspicious of Bloom's desire to turn Falstaff into some sort of ubermensch, but if there is a choice to be made, I'll take Falstaff's worldview over Hal's.