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Falstaff + Hotspur = Prince Hal: Their Actions on the Battlefield

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 12:23 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 64.5 
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Sir John Falstaff has a number of functions in 1 Henry IV, the most obvious as a clownish figure providing comic relief.   His many lies and exaggerations entertain because of the wit and cleverness he employs to save himself from paying debts and answering for crimes.   He in many ways represents an everyman--a sinner with little shame or honor, who nonetheless maintains at least an outward concern for honor and appearances.   "If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked!   If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damn'd. . . . [Banish the others] but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff   . . . banish plump Jack, and banish all the world." (II.iv)   Clearly, Falstaff hopes to exculpate himself by arguing that his sins are no worse than everyone else's.

And it is this aspect of Falstaff, that he is like the others, that is perhaps the most intriguing--Is Falstaff a foil or mirror of the other characters, notably Hotspur and Prince Hal?   We see Shakespeare setting up parallel situations that reveal how we should read the characters.   For example, many critics see a kind of teacher/student or even father/son relationship in Falstaff and Hal's relationship.   This relationship is not filled with mutual respect however.   Falstaff no doubt hopes that his fraternizing with the young Prince will mean a pay-off in titles, money, and prestige when Hal comes into power.   Falstaff asks the Prince, "Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief" (I.ii); thieving is after all Falstaff's "vocation," so he shows here that he is already thinking of how to gain an advantage of the future king's influence.   As for Hal, he calls Falstaff every insult in the world, and far from not meaning it, unveils at Falstaff's "death" his true feelings for Falstaff:   "O, I should have a heavy miss of thee/If I were much in love with vanity!/Death hath not strook so...


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