Posts from the ‘Henry IV pt 1’ Category

Falstaff Gets a Bad Rap

This is a subject I’ve talked about on the podcast more than once, but I figured I’d lay it out in text.

Falstaff gets a lot of attacks, not just from the people in the two plays that feature him, but those who read and see them. He’s regarded as Hal’s corrupter, but in many ways, he is Hal’s redeemer. Hal is torn between the world of Hotspur and the world of Falstaff, and everyone around him hopes he’s pulled towards the former, starting with his own father:

O that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
(Henry IV pt 1, I.i.86-89)

But would that be a good thing? I don’t think Shakespeare thinks so. I’m willing to grant that Elizabethans valued a great warrior, but Hotspur has too many flaws for it to be worth it. In Henry IV pt 1, Hal stands between the body of Hotspur and Falstaff, who is lying on the ground playing dead. It’s a visual instance of Hal between his two forces. But after Hal leaves, Falstaff stands up. He’s almost Christlike in rising from the “dead.” He’s Hal’s salvation. He makes Hal a better king in the future.

Of course, I don’t deny that Hal’s rejection of Falstaff is a necessity. The new King Henry V can’t actively associate with a thief and a coward. Yet what he learns from Falstaff prevents him from being destroyed by Hotspur’s rage and lack of self-control. Consider two comparisons:

Henry V includes a scene in which Henry discovers a plot against his life (II.i). And he handles it expertly. How would Hotspur deal with this situation? He deals with a similar situation, in which his own relatives lie to him about the king’s offer to resolve grievances (Henry IV pt 1, V.ii). It’s not an identical situation, but Hotspur being Hotspur, he deals with it in a fit of rage and emotion without stopping to consider that he might be being lied to. He’s so consumed by anger that he never stops to think or act rationally.

The second instance I want to draw attention to IV.i of Henry V, in which Hal goes into his camp of soldiers to talk to them at their level. Shakespeare does a marvelous thing sometimes: He gives a character the ability to speak in either poetry or prose, depending on the situation. Iago, for example, can talk at either Othello’s level or Roderigo’s level. Hal is another example. He functions at every level.

And who taught him to talk amongst commoners?


This Week’s Podcast: Season 1, Episode 7

Hey everyone. The most recent episode of our podcast is live. This week, Susan and I talk about both parts of Henry IV, in response to KERA’s “Think” podcast (located here).

You can listen to it by subscribing via this RSS feed, clicking the link in the sidebar on the right, or just clicking here. (Give it some time to load; it’s a large file.)

If you have any thoughts on the show or this episode, or anything you’d like us to talk about next week, feel free to leave a comment here on this blog, or write to me at Enjoy!