Henry IV Part 1

Falstaff’s Facets

Though Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One is ostensibly about the titular character and his son, the future King Henry V, both Henry's are constantly upstaged by Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved and enduring characters for a reason; his character contains pieces of multiple archetypal personalities and stock characters including the Vice, the Picaro, the Fool, the Miles Gloriosus, and the Plautine Parasite. Each of these character types contributes its best, or worst, parts to create an unforgettable whole. Frye points out that, “We know very little about the contemporary reception of Shakespeare’s plays, but one of the things we do know is that Falstaff was exactly the same kind of popular favorite that he is now, and for exactly the same reasons” (271). Shakespeare has used some of these character types in the past, most notably the Vice. In Richard III Shakespeare uses the Vice to great extent in creating his fictional composite of the historical King. The same skill in grafting fictional qualities onto historical characters comes into play again with Falstaff and is the main reason why Falstaff remains such an enduring icon of drama.

The medieval vice character is the descendant of The...

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