Essay: Falstaff the Bard, William Shakespeare

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[. . .] Falstaff, besides being a damnable coward, is also a wholly corrupt man without any real sense of honor. He would gladly sell property that was not his and thieve his way through life. Besides this, he becomes involved in the selling of positions within the army of the British crown. After being placed in a position of power in the military because of his friendship with Prince Hal, Falstaff accepts bribes from able-bodied men who do not wish to fight for their king. In exchange for money, Falstaff removes the chance that they will die for king and country. Worse than this, Falstaff continues to collect the pay of the soldiers who were not wealthy enough to avoid duty and subsequently have died on the field of battle.

Some critics, such as A.C. Bradley, do not concur with this analysis of Falstaff as a coward. These scholars contend that although Falstaff can behave in cowardly ways, his actions are more complex than to label him by such a term. Bradley sites the facts that Falstaff does indeed fight in the battle against Hotspur, that he is a leader of men, that his name does have a reputation which strikes some fear into the enemy, and that he does not leave the battle, nor does any of the dialogue which he speaks in this period indicate any level of fear (56-78). There is assuredly some truth in this assertion.

Despite Falstaff's long list of flaws, both physical and psychological, he is also at the very base of his character, a good man. This fact is what leads Prince Hal to hold Falstaff's friendship in such high regard. Falstaff has a charm and a charisma and is devoted to his friends, in his own selfish and self-righteous way. Prince Hal is uncommonly embarrassed by his affiliation with Falstaff and yet at the same time, the relationship gives him a great degree of self-confidence (Clark). It is also the charm and the humor of the character which makes him so appealing to the audience. The actions of John Falstaff in the first play alone show the man to be reprehensible and yet Shakespeare has written him in such a way that despite his faults of character, he is never a villainous person. Although a devoted sinner and a person with few if any redeeming qualities, Falstaff is at the heart of things lovable and enjoyable to watch. The man is undeniably one of Shakespeare's most popular creations. "Shakespeare invented Falstaff for this purpose; as a mirth-producer, a sort of superior end-man, plump Jack is a great success; no close connection between his role and the serious portion of the plays is necessary; and there is no need of any farther explanation of the origin of what Morgann calls 'the most perfect comic character that perhaps ever was exhibited'" (Tolman 4). He is a comic masterpiece, someone that no one wants to be but whom every viewer can enjoy spending time with. It is his charm that makes him likable despite his negative characteristics.

Sir John Falstaff is one of the most unique of all William Shakespeare's many literary creations. He is extremely fat and well past his physical prime. The man is well past the light of his youth. A military man with no sense of honor and indeed no care at all that he does not have honor, he sends a large percentage of poor men to their deaths even while he collects their pay. Other, more financially successful men are able to bribe their ways out of military service. Falstaff is the kind of man who would rob a man blind, who would become drunk on any given day and for any given reason, which would lay with loose women and purchase their company for as long as there were funds in his pocket. Yet, in spite of all the things that Falstaff does which are unacceptable and inexcusable, neither the viewer nor Prince Hal find themselves capable of dismissing him or of chastising him too harshly for his behaviors. This forgiveness is only possible because Shakespeare has given him such a charm that all his acts of evil are reevaluated as impish misbehaviors from a robust miscreant.

Works Cited:

Bradley, A.C. "The Rejection of Falstaff." Shakespeare: Henry IV Parts I and II, ed.G.K.

Hunter. Macmillan.1970. 56-78. Print.

Clark, Axel. "The Battle of Shrewsbury." The Critical Review. Melbourne. 15. 1972. 29-

45. Print.

Fisher, Joshua B. "Digesting Falstaff: Food and Nation in Shakespeare's Henry IV Plays." Early

English Studies. 2. 2009. Print.

Kinney, Arthur F. "Shakespeare's Falstaff as Parody." Connotations. 12.2-3. 2003. 105-125.


Shakespeare, William. Henry IV, Part 1: Text Edited from the First Quarto; Contexts and Sources; Criticism. New York [u.a.: Norton, 2003. Print.

Tolman, Albert H. Falstaff and Other Shakespearean Topics. New York, NY: Macmillan. 1925.


Wilson, Robert F. "Falstaff in 1 Henry IV: What's in a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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