‘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 deadâ€¦’ 1
This speech from Henry IV Part 1 uttered by Shakespeareâ€™s 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, Falstaffâ€™s 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 Shakespeareâ€™s earliest plays.Â His creation was in fact based on the real knight, Sir John Fastolf. Yet the Falstaff of Shakespeareâ€™s 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 soldierâ€™s reputation has been so badly tarnished through chapter and verse.Â We observe this in a letter written nearly 60 years after Shakespeareâ€™s 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 Falstaffâ€™s which would be a sad caseâ€¦’ Continue reading »
- 1.Â Henry IV Part I, Act V, Scene i lines 133-138 ^