‘What is in that word honour? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died oâ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. Is it insensible then? Yea to the deadâŠ’ 1
This speech from Henry IV Part 1 uttered by Shakespeareâs much loved character Falstaff should hopefully amuse even the most novice of Shakespeare lovers. As a pillar of self-interest with cowardly tendencies and no regard for honour, Falstaffâs antihero qualities have been enjoyed by audiences past and present. It seems that no act of ignominy or debasement fazes him!
Falstaff first appears as a character in Henry VI part 1, one of Shakespeareâs earliest plays.Â His creation was in fact based on the real knight, Sir John Fastolf. Yet the Falstaff of Shakespeareâs plays was a character embellished and developed in his own right for the purpose of entertaining audiences. He bore little resemblance to what we understand of the real soldier.
There are few cases in history where a soldierâs reputation has been so badly tarnished through chapter and verse.Â We observe this in a letter written nearly 60 years after Shakespeareâs death, held within the State Paper records, from the Secretary of the Northern Department Henry Coventry to a Lieutenant Colonel Villiers. In the letter he begs Lieutenant-Colonel Villiers not to bring a ragged regiment of recruits to muster in preparation for service in the third Anglo-Dutch war ‘lest you be taken for a resurrection of Sir John Falstaffâs which would be a sad caseâŠ’ Continue reading »
- 1.Â Henry IV Part I, Act V, Scene i lines 133-138 ^