John Falstaff, a common character in Shakespeare’s literary work perhaps by far bonds with the readers than any character. Falstaff’s ability to make us laugh at him and with him, his self observance, his frankness even in dishonesty, his lack of loyalty , his sense of determination and his enduring and entertaining character connects us affectionately to him. Falstaff is portrayed as a coward character in Shakespeare’s play like Henry VI part I. He plays protagonist in Henry IV and all the activities in the play revolve around him. He has been featured in Henry IV part I and Henry IV part II and in the Merry Wives of Windsor.
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Falstaff, even as the name sounds creates humor. He has been described to be a fun maker who leaves the audience filled with humor. He has been rated the most successful of all the characters created by Shakespeare. Falstaff assumes his role so perfectly that most critiques who have written on him have termed him as being real and natural. In fact some people have written his biographies of this non existed man. The way he handles issues at hand with ease leaves everyone amazed. He explores his wit in running away from payment of debts. Falstaff is exposed as being so cunning from the way he handles issues.
This makes him a very comical character that will rob you of your sorrow at his first exposure to you. However, he does not lose his respect for the aged neither does he despise people as a result of their physical appearance. In Henry IV he maintains that, “If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked! If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damn’d….” Kristen Poole in her essay, Facing Puritanism: Falstaff, Martin Mar prelate and the Grotesque Puritan associate the Shakespearean Falstaff with the martyr of Lollard Sir John Oldcastle. Kristen Poole acknowledge that John who “had become a prominent cultural figure or even a cultural icon in Elizabethan England, as his trials and death was recounted in Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, Holinshed’ s Chronicles and elsewhere“ (p. 97).
This is also confirmed when Hal tells Falstaff that you are “my old lad of the castle” in part II of act I. This therefore confirms the existence of a relationship between the historical Oldcastle and the Shakespearean Falstaff originally named as Oldcastle. However the character of the Shakespearean Falstaff is directly the opposite of the lollards character. This denies the fact that Shakespeare had created the Lollard in Falstaff.
This therefore leaves him as Shakespeare’s own creation of character. This factor therefore changes the approach and point of view from which most people treat the character ranging from negative to positive effects. As such, those who still viewed him as a comic representation of Oldcastle developed a negative approach whilst those who saw him as a creation of Shakespeare’s characters developed a positive outlook on the character.
He is definitely a very courageous character. This is vividly brought out in the way he openly admits his crimes. He does not seem to show any loyalty to his master to get favours in return. He gives his account of the double robbery at Gadshilll where he openly says it without any alteration. Though he appears cowardly the knight says it with a lot of innocence that leaves every word of it stuck in the ears of the old judge and the audience.
This however depicts him as being so daring and determined to drive his point home whatsoever the situation. He does not seem to consider the repercussions that might come with it. Neither does he seem to understand the danger in which he was putting prince Hal. All he does is take guts and say the whole truth point-blank. Even when he is threatened by Pistol he does not worry, the boastful Falstaff does not give him the money he has demanded for. Pistol goes ahead and threatens to use his sword to force people to give him a penny. This still does not move the old fat knight.
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He is so comic a character right from his name. The manner in which he handles issues is so funny that he makes most characters admire him. His humour is so developed that he does not struggle to make you laugh. When asked about the time by prince Hal for instance he tells him,
What the devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? “Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-colored taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day. (Falstaff 1.2;6-12)”
This is just but an example of his so comic speech. He does not seem to accord the seriousness that the matter carries. When Doctor Caius confronts him with a complaint about his servants, Bardolph and Pistol, that had given him beer and stolen from him, he asks his servants and when they deny, he says that the claims were baseless. However when the doctor had just left, he turns to them and tells them that they should have done it “with style and proper timing”. This indeed is a show of wit.
Nonetheless Falstaff is completely brought out differently from the way he has been depicted in Henry IV in Merry Wives of Windsor. In the book he is just mentioned in passing and his cowardice is vividly brought out. His character has changed from being reckless to being thoughtless. Despite this however, there is that connection in the character of Falstaff that cuts across the three texts. The character across the three plays is maintained as being ignorant of what goes on in court. He exposes this foolishness to the audience in all the three texts.
The character of Falstaff is thus depicted as the most enduring and thus he is used to bring out the relationship between organization and confusion in the society. He goes through hell when he is a friend to prince Hal but he is at the same sacked when prince Hal becomes king. Despite this however, he endures through and does not seem to give up in life. He also makes good use of his character to entertain and make people laugh. His comics are well calculated which bonds well with the part he plays.
Chodorov, Stephan. Falstaff, in Shakespeare and Verdi. New York city: USA, 1964.
Wilson, John Dover. The Fortunes of Falstaff. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1943.