Falstaff was and still is one of Shakespeare’s most popular characters, for many reasons. Proof of this can be obtained from the fact that Shakespeare had to write Falstaff his own play, Merry Wives of Windsor, after killing him off in another play. After reading this book and being immediately asked if you agreed with the above statement, you would probably say yes, due to the developments in Falstaff’s character towards the end of the play. However, when one re-reads the book with this in mind you would come to a different conclusion.
The reasons for this belief are shown below and under this are the reasons why these are not justified. From reading the book it is obvious that Falstaff is a jester of sorts, he is always making serious situations light hearted. For example in Act 1, scene 2, Falstaff is speaking to the Chief Justice and the Chief Justice is trying to reprimand Falstaff but is met with witty comebacks and anything he says is reversed by Falstaff and use for his own good. This is one of Falstaff’s qualities that I will discuss later.
Falstaff’s idea that he is a jester persuades him that he amuses the Prince whereas this is not the case. The Prince does not like him much and does not find him amusing, only tolerating him until he is king when he will discard Falstaff. Falstaff throughout the play refuses to act his age and often refers to the fact that he considers himself ageless. This is shown when he says “My Lord, I was born about three of the clock in the afternoon, with a white head, and something a round belly”. This is also a reference to the idea that the characters were only born for the play and that he was born old and fat.
Another part of the above quote is “I am only old in judgement and understanding”, which implies that he acknowledges he is old in some ways but not others. Later on in the play though, he contradicts himself by saying that he is old and diseased, both by himself and those around him. He confesses to the Chief Justice and Doll Tearsheet that he is both old and diseased and it is discussed behind his back several times. In one conversation with Doll Tearsheet, he says, “I am old, I am old”. This is one of the few times he admits weakness to anyone.
He doesn’t say this speech with any wit or humour like the rest of the play, he is being very serious. His friendship with Doll is strange, because she is a prostitute yet the two appear to be close friends and this is why he opens up to her. If Shakespeare had not included at least some scenes like this, the audience would not have liked Falstaff as much, nor would they have understood him. The opening of the book deals with a urine sample of Falstaff’s, which is described as healthy, but “for the party that owed it, he might have moe disease than he knew.
” This is a hint at Falstaff’s unhealthy lifestyle and the lack of concern that Falstaff shows to his body. Falstaff may be considered a fool in the way he thinks Prince Hal views and judges him. This is especially shown when Hal is speaking to his father and his advisors, but most significantly in the last scene when Hal delivers the speech containing “How ill white hairs become a fool and jester”. Another crushing blow to Falstaff from Hal is “I know you not old man”, as this totally ruins Falstaff’s plans to get revenge on the Chief Justice and others who have wronged him.
This speech is important to Falstaff’s public perception, as although Falstaff’s character has taken a turn towards a more evil person, people still feel sorry for him when this blow is dealt. Falstaff is a likeable character as people can associate with him, and therefore this final scene will provoke a response from he audience. In the early part of the book Falstaff also says that he cannot keep the prince away from him, “I cannot rid my hands of him”, again showing how Falstaff wrongly perceives his friendship with the Prince.
The Prince says about Falstaff’s servant “And the boy I gave Falstaff: a had him from me Christian, and look if the fat villain have not transformed him ape. ” This shows how the Prince really feels about Falstaff, and it’s a long way from what Falstaff thinks. Despite all of Falstaff’s apparent shortcomings, he remained very popular with Elizabethan audiences and is still popular today. This is mainly due to Falstaff’s good qualities, which are his intelligence wit and the humour he imparts into the play. His amorality, as opposed to immorality is a key to his popularity as well.
This is because he is neither evil but neither does he obey a strict moral code. He doesn’t conform to the position he is given, and this earns him the respect of the audience but also the contempt of other characters such as the Chief Justice. His amorality and his lack of care enable the audience to identify with how they would like to have lived their lives and he remains likeable even though he is corrupt. They may have like him also out of pity or feeling sorry for the way he feels he ahs been deceived.
Although, as I pointed out above, Falstaff is deceived in his opinion of Hal, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he is quite intelligent and not a fool. This is shown repeatedly through his verbal dexterity and ability to use any words to support his side of the argument. This is first shown in the scene where Falstaff is arguing with the Chief Justice, and The chief Justice says “Well, God send the prince a better companion. ” to which Falstaff replies “God send the companion a better prince.
” His quick wit and clever thinking can also cause trouble though and is part of the reason why he is disliked by the king and his advisors. The words and language used by Falstaff also indicate that he isn’t a fool. Flastaff also says, “I am the man with the great belly and he my dog. ” This implies that he owns the Prince and that he exercises control over him, which essentially contradicts him not being a fool. As the play develops we see how untrue this is and how arrogant Flastaff has been and the trouble this has landed him in.
Falstaff has not become a jester just because he is old, it is in his personality to be amusing and to mock others. Hal implies during his speech that Falstaff is stupid and amuses others unintentionally whereas Falstaff tries to amuse people and mock his enemies to keep them at bay. Hew also uses this to prevent people getting close to him. When he opens up to Doll Tearsheet, he admits he is old and weak yet he would admit this to no one else and he uses mocking and wit to prevent anyone form trying to get close to him.
He has a very high opinion of himself and his wit, “I am not only witty in myself but the cause of wit in others”. This shows that he knows people mock him, but he likes it and sees it as a positive quality. In the end, Falstaff’s greatest mistake is to misjudge his relationship with Prince Hal. In a way this seems like a fair decision, as towards the end he becomes corrupted by the thoughts of power and the ambition of higher office. Falstaff says “I know the young Prince is sick for me.
Let us take any man’s horses-the laws of England are at my commandment”, which combines both his misplaced friendship and his corrupted thoughts which only become apparent in the last act. Stealing horses was an event punishable by death, which shows just how much Falstaff believed he was about to be promoted and also how corrupt he had become. He appears more sinister and less of a likable old man, the sympathy that some may have felt for him is removed by his final character transformation. The friendship of Hal and Falstaff is a source of concern for the King.
When this is expressed and discussed by his advisors, Warwick comes up with the perfect explanation for their relationship. He tells the king that Hal is using his “friendship” with Flastaff and his acquaintances to learn how to communicate with his future subjects and how to deal with them, and he “will in the perfectness of time Cast off his followers, and their memory”. In other words, Hal is using them to be able to be a better king, or at least deal with and understand his subjects better when he takes power. The final scene achieves great poignancy as Falstaff’s continued distastefulness is ended with Hal’s cruel blow.
This would have been a huge shock for the audience at the time, as they would almost all have been completely wrong footed by the plot, helping to make the play a success. During the final scene, Falstaff tries to redeem himself by coming back with a witty comment but Hal says, “Reply not to me with a fool born jest, Presume not that I am the thing I was”. This shows that Hal is tired of Falstaff’s wit and that he has ‘matured’ since when he was a friend with Falstaff and that he wants nothing more to do with him.
In conclusion we can see that Falstaff is in some ways an old fool and jester, but this is not the whole picture. His character dictates that he will always be a figure of wit and source of humour therefore some of the jester is justified. He is a fool, only in his perception of his friendship with Hal, and this is in part due to his arrogance. His age is a more difficult point as he argues that he is ageless, yet he admits to Doll “I am old, I am old”. Falstaff’s character is a very complex and intriguing one, and he still remains popular with audiences today.