In the article by Best (2019) in the scene “play extempore” of Henry IV part I, the author, Shakespeare through deconstruction makes obesity fat. Shakespeare in the play put a crippled character to assume the role of a fat person. In the scene, “play extempore,” Prince Henry is supposed to be practicing the answer he would give to his father, King Henry IV. However, he stumbles to Falstaff and instead tries to interpret his obesity. The discussion of Falstaff’s fat body then takes the stage and as the character is displayed to the theatrical readers, Falstaff is known as the “old fat knight.” The article illustrates why and how a reader would tell that Shakespeare deconstructed obesity to fat.
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In other plays featuring Falstaff’s character, Shakespeare does not mention or portray him as fat. It is until in Henry IV part I that the character is described to be fat, lazy, manipulative, and selfish among other characters that define his personality. According to Best (2019), Shakespeare needed to employ careful use of rhetoric and performance to turn an obese character into fat. He also needed to turn the Falstaff character into the unlikeable character to cover the role whose Hal use for his political gain.
Hal first begins by setting up Falstaff followed by rejecting him and later overthrowing him for political gain. The play often ignores the fact that Shakespeare connects the personality and obesity of Falstaff. Consequently, the story implicates that Falstaff being rejected should act as a warning against increased appetite in society. It means that being fat significantly influences how people treat each other and those fat people are likely to experience rejection than thin ones.
A close examination of how the play depicts obesity reveals existing interest in disability studies. The theory of prosthesis in literature provides that an obese body is deemed as lacking, inappropriately functional, or dysfunctional. The consequences of how obese body is reflected in the play Henry IV can be related to aesthetic nervousness or narrative prosthesis. In real life, encountering disability could attract self-reflection, and people with abled bodies, are faced with a moral dilemma about how to interact with the crippled. In the play, Hal is put in the exact position and is forced to self-reflect. Considering that Hal’s lifestyle is similar to that of Falstaff, he is forced to wonder whether he will also burn fat. Therefore, Best (2019) argues that Shakespeare is making obese fat intended to demonstrate how people struggle to interact with the disabled without undermining or judging them.
Falstaff’s Baffled “Rabbit Sucker” and “Poulter’s Hare” in 1 Henry IV
The article by Quarmby (2020) argues that when Falstaff mentioned rabbit sucker and poulter’s hare, he was reflecting on England society. In Henry IV Part I, Prince Hal orders Falstaff to quite the role of kingship thus leaving it to him as the true sole heir. Falstaff is angry and without power argues that if Hal could play the role of a king better than him should be hung on the heels like a “rabbit sucker” or “poulter’s hare”. The action of hanging by the heels considering Falstaff’s weight indicates condemnation of his upside-down dramatic critics. Indeed, it would be shameful for Falstaff to be hung like a rabbit or hare. However, a deeper meaning of these words shows the ambiguity in the commercial activities of marketable animals.
Falstaff relates his defeat to the circumstances of London’s societal trade. The use of the word “Poulter” is associated with the name “London’s guild of master poulters” where London traders sold hares and rabbits. Falstaff, therefore, relates his uncomfortably envisioned display of hanging by the heels as the condition of the poultry trade. Shakespeare’s use of the words “rabbit sucker” and “poulter’s hare” represent the traditional license for London traders which permitted them to sell poultry. A direct interpretation of Falstaff’s description of dead animals’ bodies represents the knight’s punishment. It also reflects Shakespeare’s culturally rural upbringing which allows such narrations of animal lives. Therefore, the author provides that the seemingly simple words by Falstaff have a way deeper meaning.
Shakespeare employed sexual concepts to the character of Falstaff regarding his mammalian trade. Amongst the animals’ poulters of London were allowed to trade were conies. The rich traders were allowed to breed conies with rabbits especially when they were newborns. Shakespeare used the word cony to refer to Falstaff which relates to the sexual concept of breeding. The sexual nuance is relative to John Lyly’s Endymion’s play, Children of Paul where the study tells about sexual preferences.
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Old males are shown to chase after young females and by Shakespeare referring to Falstaff as cony shows his appetite for women. The article concludes that the use of “rabbit sucker” and “poulter’s hare” by Falstaff represents the culture and social relations especially in the world of Shakespeare at the moment of writing. Therefore, the Falstaff character is given more meaning than just his controversial personality.
Best, R. (2019). Making obesity fat: Crip estrangement in Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 1. Disability Studies Quarterly, 39(4). 1-5. Web.
Quarmby, K. A. (2020). Falstaff’s baffled “rabbit sucker” and “poulter’s hare” in 1 Henry IV. Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare, (38). 1-17. Web.