Falstaff's Role in Henry IV, Part One Essay

Falstaff's Role in Henry IV, Part One Essay

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Falstaff's Role in Henry IV, Part One

    Henry IV, Part One, has always been one of the most popular of

Shakespeare's plays, maybe because of Falstaff. Much of the early criticism

I found concentrated on Falstaff and so will I. This may begin in the

eighteenth century with Samuel Johnson. For Johnson, the Prince is a "young

man of great abilities and violent passions," and Hotspur is a "rugged

soldier," but "Falstaff, unimitated, unimitable Falstaff, how shall I

describe thee? Thou compound of sense and vice . . . a character loaded

with faults, and with faults which produce contempt . . . a thief, a

glutton, a coward, and a boaster, always ready to cheat the weak and prey

upon the poor; to terrify the timorous and insult the defenceless . . . his

wit is not of the splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy escapes

and sallies of levity [yet] he is stained with no enormous or sanguinary

crimes, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be

borne for his mirth."


     Johnson makes three assumptions in his reading of the play:


     1. That Falstaff is the kind of character who invites a moral judgment

mainly that he can answer to the charge of being a coward.

     2. That you (the reader) can detach Falstaff's frivolity from the play

and it can exist for its own sake apart from the major theme of the drama.

     3. That the play is really about the fate of the kingdom, and that you

(the reader) do not connect Falstaff's scenes with the main action. This

means that the play has no real unity.


     Starting with Johnson's first assumption, I do agree with this. Any

discussion of Fa...

... middle of paper ...

...ributes to Hal's maturing process, and it does.


     In conclusion, every age of man has and will continue to judge

Falstaff's role based on the morals and the thinking of the day. His

frivolity is necessary to make the play amusing and interesting enough to

hold the reader's/viewer's attention. However, that Falstaff's scenes are

needed should go without question leaving the critics and us only to debate

his motivation and his tactics.


Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Henry IV, Part One: Bloom's Notes. New York: Chelsea House, 1996.

Cruttwell,Patrick. Hernry IV. Shakespeare For Students, Vol. II. Detroit: Gale Publishing, 1999.

Kantor, Andrea. Henry IV, Part One. London: Baron's Education Series, Inc, 1984.

Princiss, G.M. Henry IV Criticism. Shakespeare For Students, Vol.II. Detroit: Gale Publishing, 1999.


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