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MonkeyNotes-Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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Falstaff

The primary purpose of Falstaff's presence in this historical play is to entertain. Knowing that laughter is the best antidote to the travails of life, Shakespeare presents a man with the ability to provoke it. Falstaff possesses a happy spirit, and loves life, laughter, food, and wine. He does not recognize any socially approved values, but rather lives only to drink and spin yarns. Enjoyment is the only motto and measure of his life. Of course his enjoyment is contagious. The reader cannot but fall in love with a man who "fights" a hundred looters alone. The lies he tells are sure to be caught, but Falstaff tells them anyway, knowing they are harmless and enjoying the sheer bluster and wit necessary to defend them. It is his nature to make people laugh, even in adversity. Hence, not even a battlefield can deter his sense of humor, nor can any hatred, villainy, political conflict, or petty viciousness blemish his spirits. In this, he is a complete contrast to Hotspur, who is quick to offend and explode and shows little sense of humor. For Hotspur, honor means everything, while to Falstaff it is an absurd concept.


Falstaff, however, is not unblemished. The very values and traits he mocks are the ones necessary to maintaining the integrity of the kingdom. Indeed, critical judgment of his character has varied greatly. He has been seen as everything from a hero to a subversive foil to Elizabethan values to a corrupt villain, deserving of his later banishment and death. Whatever the reader sees in Falstaff, however, it is certain that Falstaff, above all, understands the brevity of life and the importance of companionship, love, and laughter.

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MonkeyNotes-Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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