Falstaff

Falstaff

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Romanticism, as stated in the American Heritage Electronic Dictionary is, "An artistic and intellectual movement originating in Europe in the late 18th century and characterized by a heightened interest in nature, emphasis on the individual's expression of emotion and imagination, departure from the attitudes and forms of classicism, and rebellion against established social rules and conventions." Falstaff is the ideal romantic character. In an article written by Harry T. Baker titled, "The Two Falstaffs" Baker writes against all the critics who claim that the Falstaff from Henry IV parts I and II is a different character then the Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor. He believes that, "although, as the critics declare, Falstaff is not himself, this is due to the [change in] situation, not to the inconsistency of character portrayal."

In Henry IV parts I and II we see Falstaff as the romantic character that is stated in the definition above, defying everything that the Classical character, Prince Hal, stands for and believes.. He refuses to take life seriously. He believes that "War is as much of a joke to him as a drinking bout at the Boar's Head." He uses people solely for his own purposes, either for money or for food and drink. He is rude and crude to all those around him and is one of the best liars who continually gets caught in his lies but makes new ones to cover for the old failed ones. Yet Baker states that, "His presence of mind and quickness of retort are always superb; his impudence is almost sublime. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable, makes himself necessary to the prince that despises him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety. Falstaff creates around his capacious bulk a sort of Utopia which frees us temporarily from the worries and troubles of the actual world. What does it matter that Falstaff ridicules chivalry, honor, truth-telling, and bravery in battle? He is not to be taken seriously...he is a wholly comic character."

At the end of Henry IV part II we can see what happens to Falstaff when he is surrounded by reality, he is caught off guard and is out of place. Baker states that when Falstaff is entangle with the realities of life "he cannot shine." We see this first at the coronation of Hal, once his friend in mischief, when Falstaff is told, quite bluntly by Hal that " I know thee not, old man.

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" Falstaff is instantly lost. This is one tangle he cannot talk his way out of. Hal has decided to join the real world, within which he belongs, and pushes Falstaff and his Utopia life aside as foolish. As Baker states. "A wholly romantic character is helpless in a wholly realistic situation. Even Falstaff is helpless. He is the most romantic figure in Shakespeare; but his romanticism is entirely the romanticism of humor." The setting is now set for the Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

"In the Wives ," Baker continues to say, "Falstaff deliberately descends from his throne of wit, his Utopia nonsense, and sets himself a definite, practical task, that of overcoming the virtue of two bourgeois wives of Windsor...Now, if there is one thing that Falstaff is not is not, it is a romantic lover." That would put him in the real world filled with real emotions, emotions and circumstances he has no idea how to handle. "Falstaff has no peers in his own kingdom of Utopia. It is only when he leaves his specialty, his vocation, that he becomes a butt for middle-class virtue." And a butt he does become. He is thrown into the Thames with a basket full of soiled laundry, he is beat because he is presumed to be a witch, and he is burnt by tapers while children dressed as fairies sing a song which describes him as he really is, in the eyes of the virtuous who dwell in the real world, as a terrible person. And Baker says that this is too be expected. "How can Falstaff remain a supremely humorous character if he seriously assails the bourgeois virtue of Windsor? If he had only pretended to assail it, he could have remained himself; he could have continued to be unapproachable in wit and humor. But he takes his employment seriously. He steps out of his fourth-dimensional world into the real world. And the result is the opposite of the romantic humor of Henry IV. Falstaff is still Falstaff; there are no two Falstaffs. But he has changed his mind. He has been so foolish to attempt to compete with those who take life seriously. It was cruel to Shakespeare to put Falstaff into Vanity Fair, into the real world but at any rate there is no inconsistency in the portrayal of Falstaff."
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