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Sir John Falstaff: Dependable or Deplorable?

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Kalia Lay

on 5 December 2013

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Transcript of Sir John Falstaff: Dependable or Deplorable?

Sir John Falstaff: Dependable or Deplorable?
-Though Falstaff is a knight, a noble profession of the Elizabethan era, his ideals hardly line up with those of other (read: better) knights of his time
-The robbery he commits with his and Prince Hal's band of thieves (act II, scene ii) is, to him, done not only for the money, but for the entertainment value

"Strike! Down with them! Cut the villains' throats! Ah, whoreson caterpillars, bacon-fed knaves, they hate us youth. Down with them! Fleece them!"
- Falstaff (II, ii, 73-76)

-Falstaff is also a heavy drinker, with Prince Hal constantly chastising him for his over-consumption and his tendency to nap constantly

"Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know."
- Prince Henry (I, ii, 2-6)

-Falstaff is also quite guilty of trash-talking and gossiping about others, as evidenced by the play he and Prince Hal put on in their tavern in Eastcheap, explicitly mocking King Henry, among others
-Not to mention, Falstaff is quite the fan of non-moral humor

"For God's sake, lords, convey my tristful queen, for tears do stop the floodgates of her eyes."
Falstaff (II, iv, 346-347)

*see video: the play-within-a-play (Act II scene iv)
Falstaff as the Antithesis of Honor
-It isn't merely that Falstaff has distinctly un-noble mannerisms for a so-called "chivalrous" knight
-He is a rebel to the traditions of his order
-Perhaps Falstaff's most famous onstage moment occurs in Act V, scene i. His "Honor Soliloquy", as many call it.
-In this monologue, he undermines the very idea of honor itself, stating that the word is meaningless in the face of humanity's brutality. He remarks that honor means nothing, especially when one is dead and bloodied,

"Honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honor prick me off when I come on? How then? Can honor set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? 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."
- Falstaff (V, i, 129-137)
Falstaff as a Father Figure
-The majority of Falstaff and Prince Hal's scenes feature the other; this is no coincidence
-Hal often insults Falstaff

"That trunk of humors, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloakbag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that reverend Vice, that gray iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years."
- Prince Henry (II, iv, 394-401)

-Promises to banish him once he's king (Act II, scene iv)
-Falstaff has mentored Prince Hal in a life of debauchery
-One of his primary goals is to diminish the value of heroic manhood, the internalized goal of the Prince (to impress his father, King Henry)
-As shown in the Honor Soliloquy

*see video: Roger Allam as Falstaff, Globe Theatre, 2010
Falstaff as a Coward
-Falstaff does quite poorly at the Battle of Shrewsbury, assembling what can only be described as a rag-tag team of soldiers to fight what is easily one of the most significant battles of his and his King's life

"I would 'twere bedtime, Hal, and all well."
- Falstaff (V, i, 125)

-By the end of the battle, Falstaff is playing dead, lying on the ground, too afraid to face even the very possibility of death

"'Sblood, 'twas time to counterfeit, or that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and lot too."
- Falstaff (V, iv, 112-114)

-To make his case even worse, he stabs the dead body of Hotspur after he has already been killed by Prince Hal, and drapes him over his shoulder to present as his trophy

*see video: Falstaff after the battle
Who Is Falstaff?
-One of Shakespeare's most popular comic characters, featured in
Henry IV Part I
Henry IV Part II
, and
The Merry Wives of Windsor
-A disgraced knight under the rule of King Henry IV
-A thief, in "cahoots" with Prince Hal, Poins, Peto, Bardolph, and Harry
-A hedonist, always (and only) looking for a good (drunken) time
-A father figure to Prince Hal
-The personification of the Antithesis of Honor
-As you can see, a pretty multifaceted character!
Falstaff as a Hedonist: Drinking Through Life
Henry IV Part I
Kalia Lay
Roger Allam as Falstaff, The Globe Theatre, 2010
The Play
The Honor Soliloquy - Roger Allam
Globe Theatre, 2010
Falstaff - After the Battle
Full transcript