Word for Wednesday: Falstaff

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April 23 marks Shakespeare Day in the UK and to celebrate we’ve picked characters from Shakespeare’s plays for this month's Word for Wednesday theme.

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616. Scholars believe his birthday and death day were both April 23. His work—which is still wildly popular today—includes 38 plays and over a hundred poems. Learn more about how Shakespeare influenced the English language here.

So far we’ve looked at at Romeo from Romeo and Juliet and Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Today’s Shakespearean character is Sir John Falstaff.

The character Falstaff was so popular with audiences that Shakespeare included him in four plays.

In Henry IV Part 1, Falstaff appears as the fat, boastful, and often-drunk companion of the young Prince Hal and provides comedy through his sharp and witty commentary on the events in the play. 

In Henry IV Part 2, Prince Hal becomes the King Henry V and publicly rejects Falstaff:

“I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.
When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
The tutor and the feeder of my riots:
Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.
For competence of life I will allow you,
That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
We will, according to your strengths and qualities,
Give you advancement. Be it your charge, my lord,
To see perform'd the tenor of our word. Set on.”
[Act 5, Scene 5]

While Falstaff doesn’t appear as a character in Henry V, he is remembered after his death by his friends: 

“Nay, sure, he's not in hell: he's in Arthur's
bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom. A' made
a finer end and went away an it had been any
christom child; a' parted even just between twelve
and one, even at the turning o' the tide: for after
I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with
flowers and smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew
there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as
a pen, and a' babbled of green fields. 'How now,
sir John!' quoth I 'what, man! be o' good
cheer.' So a' cried out 'God, God, God!' three or
four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him a'
should not think of God; I hoped there was no need
to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So
a' bade me lay more clothes on his feet: I put my
hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as
cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and
they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and
upward, and all was as cold as any stone.”
[Act 2, Scene 3]

Finally, Falstaff appears as the main character in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Tradition speculates that Queen Elizabeth enjoyed Falstaff so much that she requested that Shakespeare wrote a play about the knight falling in love. In this play, he appears as the vulgar suitor of two wealthy women. 

Today, the word Falstaffian is used to describe someone who is fat, buffoonish, vulgar, and funny. 


21 Apr 2021
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