“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 plump Jack, and banish all the world!”

Henry IV, Part One

Act Two, Part One

By Dennis Abrams

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Act Two:  After Falstaff and his crew rob a group of travelers, Hal and Points ambush their friends and steal what they themselves had stolen.  They are already in Eastcheap by the time Falstaff returns, and pretend to believe his account of his heroism under attack, before exposing the truth.  Falstaff is recovering from the embarrassment (but is Falstaff ever truly embarrassed?) when Hotspur’s rebellion is announced.  Recalled to court and convinced that the King will take the opportunity to condemn his behavior, Hal briefly plays out the scene of his father’s wrath with Falstaff, playing both himself and his father, before they are forced to hide from the sheriff and his men who are hot on Falstaff’s trail.

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I am really enjoying my reading of this play.  For the plot, of course, for Falstaff and Hal and Hotspur, and perhaps most of all, for the sheer gloriousness of the writing, both the prose (Falstaff of course, and Hal when he’s in the tavern with the “downstairs people,” and the poetry of Hal (when he’s in full prince-mode, and of his father, and of Hotspur (more on him in my next post), which demonstrates, I think, Shakespeare’s overwhelming power as a writer in both verse and prose…it’s just a great reading experience.  And it’s actually funny, not “scholarly word-play, historically funny” but…funny.

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From Tanner:

“Act II is effectively dominated by Falstaff, though I note that it opens with carriers and ostlers talking about horses.  Horses are often referred to in the play, understandably enough since it is almost seething with people on the move – messengers, traders, merchants, highwaymen, pilgrims, whole armies either advancing or scattering in retreat.  (We tend to forget how crucial horses were in those days:  when Vernon is trying to dissuade Hotspur from a premature attack, his reason is that the horses are tired – ‘not a horse is half the half of himself.’  Horses are also, of course, essential to chivalric deportment.  Falstaff roars ‘Give me my horse’ after Poins and the Prince have ‘removed it’ (he may or may not be echoing Richard III’s famous line) since it is undignified for a knight to go on foot; later, the Prince extends the, rather cruel, joke by arranging for Falstaff to lead a ‘charge of foot’ (‘I would it had been of horse’, says Falstaff, rather plaintively.)  Quite apart from suffering lose of status, anyone less suited to the ambulet mode of travel than Falstaff would be hard to imagine.  When Vernon describes Harry ‘vaulting’ so perfectly on to his horse, it is as though Hal has transformed himself into a true prince.  Vernon’s description inflames Hotspur for combat.  ‘I am on fire,’ he says, and then:

Come, let me taste my horse,

Who is to bear me like a thunderbolt

Against the bosom of the Prince of Wales.

Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse,

Meet…

Hotspur clearly has more ‘taste’ for his horse than his wife (see II, iii, 75-105), and one can sense his almost erotic excitement at the prospect of meeting ‘hot horse to horse.’  This is very much a man’s world.

The double robbery at Gad’s Hill provides an occasion for plenty of ironies.  The well-named Gadshill sets the tone when he boasts that he does not rob with vagabond trash, but with those ‘who do the profession some grace.’  There is a fair amount of punning fun with that last word:  ‘I am joined with…nobility and tranquility’ – he means Sir John, and that last word is a nice collective noun for the idle and privileged who live life very easily and unpainstakingly – ‘they pray continually to their saint, the commonwealth, or rather, not pray to her, but prey on her, for they ride up and down on her and make her their boots.’  We have already seen Falstaff shift from ‘praying to purse-taking’ in a trice; and there is much in the play to suggest that, more generally, there is barely a letter’s worth of difference between ‘praying’ and ‘preying’ among most of the main players, the tranquil and the untranquil alike, so that, in effect, it doesn’t take much rhetorical adroitness to mask or cover the latter with the former.  They all ride up and down on the commonwealth – when they can find their horses.

When Falstaff finds his horse has been stolen, he memorably complains ‘A plague upon it when thieves cannot be true one to another’ – thus, not coincidentally one feels, anticipating an outburst by Hotspur not a hundred lines ahead (there were no scene divisions, remember) when he complains (in a rather Falstaffian tirade) about fellow conspirators who have let him down.  A plague upon it!  After the first robbery (i.e. by Falstaff and his men,) the Prince says to his fellow-plotter Poins:  ‘The thieves have bound the true men.  Now could thou and I rob the thieves and go merrily to London.’  Which is just what they do, the Prince commenting, ‘Got with much ease.  Now merrily to horse.’  Merrily, merrily indeed (it is a Falstaffian word – ‘What, shall we be merry?).  The Prince finds particularly funny the thought that the horseless Falstaff ‘sweats to death and lards the lean earth as he walks along’ – there is rather an edge to his ‘merriment.’  Perhaps more pertinently, we may remember that Hal’s father ‘got’ the crown from the ‘true’ king Richard ‘with much ease’ (in the next play, we will see Hall literally removing his father’s crown, also ‘with much ease,’ though it is a more complex incident).  With thieves robbing thieves at every level, can we be sure that there are any ‘true men’ left?  For Gadshill, as we have heard, when it comes to differentiating ‘a true man’ from a ‘false thief’ it is pretty much six of one and half a dozen of the other.  ‘Go to; ‘homo’ is a common name to all men.’

Act II, scene iv, is Falstaff’s ‘biggest,’ longest (550 lines) scene, and is in many ways the pivotal scene of the play.  Thereafter, the tavern world recedes (apart from one important scene), and we are in the politico-military worlds of the King and the rebels.  All roads lead to war.  But before that – Eastcheap.  It opens with Hall still laughing, still in a ‘merry’ mood, because he has been “with three or four loggerheads amongst three or fourscore hogsheads.  I have sounded the very bass-string of humility.’  He has been drinking and ingratiating himself with the poor, illiterate sots (loggerheads and hogsheads), calling them by their Christian names, with the result – he boasts, ‘I am so good a proficient in one quarter of an hour that I can drink with any tinker in his own language during my life’:  ‘when I am King of England I shall command all the good lads in Eastcheap.’  They call him, he says, ‘the king of courtesy.’  Is this a democratic feeling for the people – or is he ‘slumming?’  King Henry will shortly advise him to follow his own example:

And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,

And I dressed myself in such humility

That I did pluck allegiance from men’s hearts.

Like father, like son.  Hal has anticipated his father’s advice – already ‘stealing’ courtesy, and ‘dressing’ in humility (we will later hear of ‘the garment of rebellion’ – all attitudes and modes of behavior seem available ready-to-wear, so to speak).  And ‘allegiance’, like ‘honor’ is apparently there for the plucking.  The ‘proficient’ Prince (son of an ‘expedient’ father) says to Poins:  ‘I tell thee, Ned, thou hast lost much honor that thou were not with me in this action.’  What kind of ‘honor’ the Prince can ‘pluck’ from the tavern, and just how ironic he is being in the use of the word, is interminable.  Shortly after this speech, he, notoriously, plays his mocking game with ‘my puny drawer’ Francis, who is gratuitously bewildered and made to look and sound like a fool.  It wouldn’t do to get too soft of solemn about a bit of tavern knock-about, but not much ‘honor’ accrues to the Prince from this episode.  Is he demonstrating how easy it is to fool the people, if necessary, with ‘humility’ and ‘courtesy’?  He says of Francis ‘His industry is upstairs and downstairs, his eloquence the parcel of a reckoning.’  Curiously – or perhaps not so curiously in this play of endless echoing ironies – the words, taken at a slant, are self-applicable.  The Prince’s ‘industry’ is both ‘upstairs’ (the court) and ‘downstairs’ (the tavern.)  ‘Parcel of a reckoning’ means adding up bills, and if we gloss that as ‘calculation’ – what’s the profit what’s the loss? – we can say the same of the Prince’s eloquence.

Immediately following this description of Francis, the Prince rather unexpectedly invokes Hotspur to mock his ‘industry’ (killing dozens of Scots at breakfast) and ‘eloquence’ (horsey, and full of martial bravado).  Is this cold-eyed young Prince measuring himself up against both Francis and Hotspur?  Perhaps.  Certainly he goes on say ‘I prithee call in Falstaff.  I’ll play Percy, and that damned brawn shall play Dame Mortimer his wife.’  They do shortly ‘have a play extempore’ – where better than in a tavern where much Elizabethan drama was originally played? – but in the event they don’t play the Percys – they play the Bolingbrokes.  (Of course, Hal will ‘play’ Hotspur in due course – indeed out-play him, at his own game.  But not yet.)  [MY NOTE:  I don’t think I’m giving anything away with that!]

This ‘play’ comes after Falstaff’s truly fabulous account of the Gad’s Hill episode, followed by his quite dazzling act of self-extrication when the Prince confronts him with the truth of what happened and his own masked participation (‘By the Lord, I knew ye as well as he that made ye’).  Comment here is quite superfluous.  But the ‘play extempore’ is another matter.  It comes after, and is prompted by, and interruption in the tavern by the court – upstairs reaching downstairs – in the form of a messenger described simply but significantly as ‘an old man’ and ‘gravity.’  He is a ‘nobleman…from your father’ (this to the Prince) – a grave, paternal surrogate sent to call the errant ‘madcap’ children (various) to order.  ‘Villainous news,’ says Falstaff to the Prince, ‘you must to the court in the morning.’  Official history is imperiously beckoning, and will not be denied.  All very disagreeable and frightening, and, as Falstaff says to the Prince, his father, the King, will give him a very hard time.  ‘If thou love me, practice an answer.’  And the ensuing play shows us, indeed, a prince at ‘practice.’

‘Do thou stand for my father.’  Using to-hand appurtenances which are a travesty of the adjuncts of royalty:  ‘this dagger my scepter…this cushion my crown’ – even here one feels a barb, for, at one level, what is kingship if not comfort (cushions) defended by force (daggers)? – Falstaff acts the King and starts arraigning the Prince.  He takes the opportunity to insult the Prince’s appearance and deplore the company he keeps (defiling pitch) with, of course, the exception of one ‘virtuous man’ often in his company – ‘there is virtue in that Falstaff.  Him keep with, the rest banish.’  That’s enough for the Prince, who now wants to change roles.  ‘Do thou stand for me, and I’ll play my father.’  Falstaff playing the King is one sort of joke – we have already gathered that he is, in some unspecifiable sense, a surrogate father, or father-figure for Hall.  But the Prince playing the King – the son playing the father – is a different matter.  ‘Depose me?’ complains King Falstaff, staying with the game; yet it will become at least possible that Hal would like to depose his father in good earnest, just as his father had deposed Richard.  And when he is the king, as he surely will be, will he still be playing the king; how will we ever know if this player-king leaves off ‘playing?’  We are skirting serious matters.  Hal takes his opportunity to subject Falstaff to an unrestrained hail of abuse of such virulence that it begins to sound heart-felt.  Not just a ‘stuffed cloakbag of guts’ (par for the course), but ‘reverence vice,’ ‘gray iniquity,’ ‘abominable misleader of youth,’ ‘father ruffian,’ ‘white-bearded Satan,’ and even, simply, ‘devil.’  James Winny, focusing on ‘father ruffian,’ has suggested that Hal is ‘tacitly denouncing his father’s viciousness,’ and that Falstaff is ‘unwittingly standing in for the man whose moral character he shares.’  This is possible – it might explain the sudden flow of venom if Hal has indeed found a scapegoat for his putative father-hatred; but it is undemonstrable.  You just can’t tell with Hall.  Prince Falstaff of course puts in a spirited defence of the ‘merry’ old man who keeps the Prince company, ending, famously,

No, my good lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Points; 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 plump Jack, and banish all the world!

To which, the King-Prince, as famously, replies:  ‘I do, I will.’

At this point a chill comes over the play – over both plays — which is never quite warmed away.  Partly because one of the effects of the Prince’s response is the feeling you get when someone says something outrageous, or deeply disturbing, to you, at the same time maintaining an absolutely impassive face which tacitly says – I defy you to tell whether I am joking or not.  Is the Prince still ‘playing’ the King; or is the Prince taking the chance to rehearse (‘practice’) what he will do and say when he is king?  Is he still playing at all, or has he stepped out of the game?  Perhaps he stopped acting some time before this:  indeed, did he ever start?  Where did all the ‘merriment’ go?  If this can worry and unsettle us, it must trouble Falstaff a good deal more.  He, understandably, would like the play to go on indefinitely – ‘Play out the play’ – but, as if on cue, after the Prince’s words, a knocking at the door puts an end to the ‘sport,’ and this time it is the Law, in the shape of the Sheriff and the watch, breaking in on the revels.  They are after Falstaff, who characteristically sleeps behind the arras while the Prince, with gracious equivocations, sees off the Law.  But that knock on the door was a loud one, for history really is breaking in on the play-world of the tavern.  As the Prince declares, with all due finality – ‘We must all to the wars.’”

From Bloom:

“Shakespeare gives Sir John such abundant life that even Shakespeare had a very hard (and reluctant) time in ending Falstaff, who never owed Shakespeare a death.  The debt (as Shakespeare knew) was to Falstaff, both for finally emancipating him from Marlowe, and for making him the most successful of Elizabethan dramatists, thus dwarfing Marlowe, Kyd, and all other rivals, Ben Jonson included.  Ralph Richardson, exactly half a century

Ralph Richardson as Falstaff

ago, implicitly understood that Falstaff had absolute presence of mind, and could triumph over every challenger, until the terrible rejection by Hal.  At sixty-seven, I again remember vividly my reactions as a boy of sixteen, educated by Richardson’s Falstaff to a first understanding of Shakespeare.  What Richardson played was the essence of playing, in every sense of playing, and his Falstaff (whether he knew it or not), was the Falstaff of A.C. Bradley [MY NOTE:  Just a taste of Bradley for you, Mahood!], now absurdly deprecated but still the best English critic of Shakespeare since William Hazlitt:

‘The bliss of freedom gained in humour is the essence of Falstaff.  His humour is not directed only or chiefly against obvious absurdities; he is the enemy of everything that would interfere with his ease, and therefore of anything serious, and especially of everything respectable and moral.  For these things impose limits and obligations, and make us the subjects of old father antic the law, and the categorical imperative, and our station and its duties, and conscience, and reputation, and other people’s opinions, and all sorts of nuisances.  I say he is therefore their enemy; but I do him wrong; to say that he is their enemy implied that he regards them as serious and recognizes their power, when in truth he refuses to recognize them at all.  They are to him absurd, and to reduce a thing ad absurdum is to reduce it to nothing and to walk about free and rejoicing.  This is what Falstaff does with all the would-be serious things in life, sometimes only by his words, sometimes by his actions too.  He will make truth appear absurd by solemn statements, which he utters with perfect gravity and which he expects nobody to believe, and honour, by demonstrating that it cannot set a leg, and that neither the living nor the dead can possess it; and law, by evading all the attacks of its highest representative and almost forcing him to laugh at his own defeat, and patriotism, by filling his pockets with the bribes offered by competent soldiers who want to escape service, which he takes in their stead the halt and maimed and gaolbirds; and duty, by showing him he labours in his vocation – of thieving, and courage, alike by mocking at his own capture of Colevile and gravely claiming to have killed Hotspur, and war, by offering the Prince his bottle of sack when he is asked for a sword, and religion, by amusing himself with remorse at odd times when he has nothing else to do, and the fear of death, by maintaining perfectly untouched, in the face of imminent peril and even while he feels the fear of death, the very same power of dissolving it in persiflage that he shows when he sits at ease in his inn.  These are the wonderful achievements which he performs, not with the sourness of a cynic, but with the gaiety of a boy.  And therefore, we praise him, we laud him, for he offends none but the virtuous, and denies that life is real or life is earnest, and delivers us from the oppression of such nightmares, and lifts us into the atmosphere of perfect freedom.’  [MY NOTE:  To me, this sounds exactly right.]

I remember reading this grand paragraph by Bradley a few months after seeing Richardson as Falstaff, and my shock of pleasure at recognizing how well the interpretations of this critic and this actor confirmed each other.  Bradley’s Falstaff is not sentimentalized, the critic knows full well that he would literally not be safe in Falstaff’s company.  But he knows also that Falstaff teaches us not to moralize.  Hal’s belated espousal of courage and honor is one kind of moralizing, and the Lord Chief Justice’s is another; Falstaff wants childlike (not childish) play, which exists in another order than that of morality.  As Bradley says, Falstaff simply refuses to recognize the social institutions of reality; he is neither immoral nor amoral but of another realm, the order of play.  Hal entered that order as Falstaff’s disciple, and sojourned there rather longer than he may have intended.  Despite his presumably long-gathering ambivalence toward Falstaff, Hal struggles all through Henry IV, Part One, against the fascination exercised by the great wit.  It seems just to observe that Falstaff charms the tough and resistant prince for many of the same reasons that Falstaff, properly played, dominates any audience.

…Those who detest Falstaff, in and out of his plays, insist that the fat knight drowns himself in his tidal wave of language.  ‘The question is which is to be master?’ Humpty Dumpty says to Alice, after that imitation Falstaff has boasted:  ‘When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean.’  Falstaff finishes at the head of Humpty Dumpty’s class.  Sir John is the master, as Hamlet and Rosalind are also masters.  The witty knight is hardly the prisoner of his phonemes.  Shakespeare gives Falstaff one of his own greatest gifts:  the florabundant language of Shakespeare’s own youth, not a style of old age.

For Hal, more than ironically, Falstaff is ‘the latter spring…all-hallown summer,’ ageless in his exuberance.  Descending as a highwayman against travelers, Falstaff chants, ‘Ah, whoreson caterpillars, bacon-fed knaves, they hate us youth!’  ‘What, ye knaves!’ he adds, ‘young men must live.’  Outrageously parodistic, Falstaff mocks his own years, and persuasively continues a military career (when he has to) that he both scorns and indulges, primarily as material poetica for further mockery, by others as by himself.  ‘We must all to the wars,’ Hal tells his Eastcheap roisters, and plans fresh exploits for Falstaff:  ‘I’ll procure this fat rogue a charge of foot, and I know his death will be a march of twelve score.’  Informed by the prince, Falstaff will not stop jesting:  ‘Well God be thanked for these rebels, they offend none but the virtuous.  I laud them, I praise them.’  ‘Rebellion lay in his way, and he found it’ is the Falstaffian formulia for civil war.  Since Hal’s kingdom (and his life) is at stake, the prince’s growl of ‘Peace, chewet, peace,’ is hardly excessive.  Falstaff has outlived his function for a prince who means to conquer ‘honour,’ England, and France, in that order.

Yet Falstaff is the poem of Shakespeare’s climate, not an idea of disorder but the essence of Shakespeare’s dramatic art:  the principle of play.  If Falstaff’s nature is subdued at all, it is to the element of play, without which he will die.  This is the most intimate link between playwright and comedic genius:  Falstaff’s high theatricalism is prophetic of Hamlet, of Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure, most darkly of Iago, most gloriously of Cleopatra, Falstaff’s truest child.  Falstaff, always himself, surpasses the self-same in the improvised but elaborate plays-within-the-play that present shadows of the forthcoming confrontation between King Henry IV and the prince.  First, Falstaff portrays the king, while Hal plays himself.  Parodying John Lyly’s Eupheus, of twenty years before, Falstaff leaves little of either father or son, while enjoying a vision of the greatness of Falstaff:

Falstaff:

Harry, I do not only marvel where thou spendest thy time, but also how thou art accompanies.  For though the chamomile, the more it is trodden on the faster it grows, yet youth, the more it is wasted the sooner it wears.  That thou art my son I have partly thy mother’s word, partly my own opinion, but chiefly a villainous trick of thine eye, and a foolish hanging of thy nether lip, that doth warrant me.  If then thou be son to me, here lies the point – why, being son to me, art thou so pointed at?  Shall the blessed sun of heaven prove a micher, and eat blackberries?  A question not to be asked.  Shall the son of England prove a thief, and take purses?  A question to be asked.  There is a thing, Harry, which thou hast often heard of, and it is known to many in our land by the name of pitch.  This pitch (as ancient writers do report) doth defile, so doth the company thou keepest:  for, Harry, now I do not speak to thee in drink, but in tears; not in pleasure, but in passion; not in words only, but in woes also.  And yet there is a virtuous man whom I have often noted in thy company, but I know not his name.

Prince:

What manner of man, and it like your Majesty?

Falstaff:

A good portly man, i’faith, and a corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage; and, as I think, his age some fifty, or, by’r lady, inclining to threescore; and now I remember me, his name is Falstaff.  If that man should be lewdly given, he deceiveth me, for, Harry, I see virtue in his looks.  If then the tree may be known by the fruit, as the fruit by the tree, then peremptorily I speak it, there is virtue in that Falstaff; him keep with, the rest banish.

Falstaff, who has been absorbing much abuse from Hal, triumphantly betters the scoffing, though in a far finer tone than the prince’s murderous aggressivity.  Royal father and holidaying son are rendered charmingly foolish, while Falstaff’s Falstaff is beheld in the light of Swinburne’s ‘possible moral elevation.’  All this is play in its sweetest and purest sense, an exercise that heals and restores.  Very different is Hal’s thunderous version after he commands that he is to play his own father, while Falstaff stands in for the prince:

Prince:

Now, Harry, whence come you?

Falstaff:

My noble lord, from Eastcheap

Prince:

The complaints I hear of thee are grevious.

Falstaff:

‘Sblood, my lord, they are false:  nay, I’ll tickle ye for a young prince, i’faith.

Prince:

Swearest thou, ungracious boy?  Henceforth ne’er look on me.  Thou art violently carried away from grace, there is a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an old fat man, a tun of man is thy companion.  Why dost thou converse with that trunk of humours, that bolting-bunch of beastliness, that swoll’n parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Maningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years?  Wherein is he good, but to taste sack and drink it?wherein cunning, but in craft? wherein crafty, but in villainy? wherein villainous, but in all things? wherein worthy, but in nothing?

Falstaff:

I would your Grace would take me with you:  whom means your Grace?

Prince:

That villainous abominable misleader of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan.

Falstaff:

My lord, the man I know.

Prince:

I know thou dost.

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 to witness it, but that he is, saving your reverence, a whore-master, that I utterly deny.  If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked!  If to be old and merry is a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned:  if to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine are to be loved.  No, my good lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins – but not 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 plump Jack, and banish all the world.

This is the glowing center of Henry IV, Part One, intense with Falstaff’s poignant wit and Hal’s cold fury.  Ambivalence explodes into positive hatred in Hal’s final summation:  ‘That villainous abominable misleader of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan.’  The Prince is not acting [MY NOTE:  Note Tanner’s remark that one can never be sure about Hal.]  How are we to account for this unjustified malevolence, this exorcism that transcends rejection?  Whom do we credit, Hal’s ‘old white-bearded Satan’ or ‘sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being as he is old Jack Falstaff?’  Hal is so extreme that surely we have no choice.  Always Falstaff’s student, he has one insult worthy of the old professor:  ‘that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly,’ but that is hardly in a class with ‘if to be fat be to be  hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine are to be loved.’  No scholarly detractor of Falstaff, old-or new-style, is so disgusted by Sir John as Hal reveals himself to be.  I have mentioned Honigmann’s assertion that Shakespeare does not allow us to unravel the psychological perplexities of the Falstaff-Hal relationship, but while a puzzling matter, it is not beyond all conjecture.  Hal has fallen out of love.  Iris Murdoch remarks that this is one of the great human experiences, in which you see the world with newly awakened eyes.  ‘But being awak’d I do despise my dream,’ the newly crowned Henry V virtuously assures us.  Alas, he has been awake as long as we have known him, since the start of Henry IV, Part One, where he manifests three ambitions of equal magnitude:  wait for Henry IV to die (as quickly as possible), kill Hotspur and appropriate his ‘honour,’ have Falstaff hanged.  He very nearly does place Falstaff in the hangman’s hands, but forbears, reasoning that is more appropriate to kill the aged reprobate by a forced march, or even (honorably) in battle.  Some residue of former affection for Falstaff could be argued, though I myself doubt it.  Sir John has outlived his educational function, but he is annoyingly indestructible, as the marvelous Battle of Shrewsbury, so much livelier than the Falstaffless Agincourt, will demonstrate.”

So what do you think so far?  What’s your take on Falstaff?  On Hal?  On their relationship?  Share with the group!

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My next post:  Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning – one more take on the pivotal Act Two of Henry IV, Part One.

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2 Responses to “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 plump Jack, and banish all the world!”

  1. Eddie Chism says:

    Trying to get caught up, still reading Act II. I don’t see you making mention of the bit at the Eastcheap Tavern where Henry is talking to the drawer while Poins shouts “Francis!” I feel like an idiot, but I don’t understand at all what is going on here.

    • Eddie:

      Understandable. Francis is, as you know the drawer. Hal and Poins are playing with him — Hal keeping him busy in the private room while Poins is in the other room calling his name for more beer, dividing him between his service to the Prince and his job pouring beer.

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