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.
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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