Both – Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and Milton’s Paradise Lost – focus on the moral degradation of medieval society, as well as reluctance to acknowledge the conventionally accepted wisdom of chivalry, honor, and respect. In these literary works, Sir John Falstaff from Henry IV, Part 1 and Satan from Paradise Lost are sophisticated and dynamic characters, playing secondary roles. However, although they are not protagonists of the stories, their popularity is not less enormous due to their charismatic representation and antagonistic nature. Due to the fact that both heroes represent the evil side in the literary pieces, their dynamic, malicious, and eccentric perceptions of the events seduce readers who are not interested in standard interpretation of the plot.
Readers become indifferent to orthodox, plain, and tragic characters who live strictly in accordance with morale and ethics. They are more interested in reading about comic, complicated, and dynamic heroes whose outlook on the described events differs much from actions by the protagonists. Falstaff and Satan act like parody agents. Hence, Shakespeare’s Falstaff is brightly represented through his interaction the Prince Hall who blindly follows’ his antagonists’ corrupted and dissipated lifestyle. Hence, he serves as the trigger of Hall’s actions and behavior. Shakespeare’s Falstaff closely correlates with Minton’s Satan whose function is also confined to mocking at the established principles of morale and at amplifying the importance of protagonists’ transformation.
Presenting Falstaff and Satan as antagonistic characters amplifies the idea of the plot and delivers the necessary contrast between the evil and the good. However, these characters are not perceived as negative heroes; rather, they are considered pioneers in developing a new moral paradigm. Hence, Falstaff’s nature and actual purpose in the play is confined to the following speech: “God help the wicked. If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know damn’d. If to be fat be to be hated, than Pharaon’s lean kine are to be loved” (Shakespeare 342). Similar to Falstaff, Milton’s Satan resorts to inconsistent and irrational behavior, despite his persuasive and reasoned monologues. In the poem, Milton writes, “Of Satan to the self fame place he first lighted from his wing and landed safe from out of Chaos, to the outside bare of his round world” (326). These remarks justify the antagonist’s role in hero’s transformations.
The above references from the text also discover the authors’ attempt to establish opposite images of the evil and the good, as well as the protagonist’s constant transition from one ideological viewpoint to another. Hence, both Falstaff and Satan represent the original sin because all their actions are performed against the virtue, which leads to either to the fall or to realization of previous deeds (Bloom 125). By withdrawing all moral virtues and accepted norms, Falstaff undermines the rules and makes Hall confront the choice between vanity and honor.
In conclusion, Falstaff and Satan’s charisma, their remarkable and unconventional narrations, and constant interaction with the protagonists make these characters memorable and recognized among the readers. In particular, both characters serve as parody agents who satirize on the existing moral and ethical values. Such notions as chivalry, honor, and morale become too conventional and insignificant to the society that is more interested in antagonistic representations. By introducing monologue of these characters, the authors create the images of smart leaders who are not afraid of disobeying the norms accepted in society of Shakespeare and Milton’s epochs.
Bloom, Harold. The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life. US: Yale University Press, 2011. Print.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. US: John Baskerville, 1759. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Henry IV. In The Plays of William Shakespeare in Ten Volume: With Corrections and Illustrations of Various Commentators. William Shakespeare. US: Bathurst, 1778. 252-612. Print.