Shakespeare Solved ®


Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Shakespeare & Falstaff Strong


Do you ever feel like Shakespeare is a waste of time?

Do you sometimes feel that Shakespeare is too hard to understand, or is too boring, too old-fashioned -- or just isn’t important to your life?

Shakespeare had an answer for you, to allay your fears, and overcome your objections.

His answer is Falstaff.

Falstaff, by Eduard von Grützner
Wikimedia Commons

Falstaff — the fat, drunken, scheming, and lovably dishonorable knight — is Shakespeare’s greatest character.

And Shakespeare wrote him for you — for anyone who would rather take a good nap than read his plays and poems, anyone who thinks that his plays were only written for college professors, anyone who would rather pour hot water over their head than read or watch a play of his, etcetera.

Shakespeare probably knew that he had to create a great character who would catch the eye, get the attention of his audience, and force them to pay attention to what he was writing.

Maybe that’s why Falstaff is so big and fat. 

Watching one of his plays, you wouldn’t miss him. With a dozen actors on stage, you can’t mistake Falstaff for anyone else. And he is too big to overlook.

Falstaff with big wine jar and cup
by Grützner
Wikimedia Commons

You might say Hamlet was the greatest character, or King Lear. Both Romeo and Juliet are truly great characters.

But the more you read Shakespeare and watch his plays, there is no more important character in all of his works than Falstaff.

Why? 

Because Falstaff was so flawed.

All of Shakespeare’s characters have fatal flaws.

Hamlet’s indecision stopped him from stopping the violence and the scheming that was destroying the royal court of Denmark. Had he taken action, real decisive action, he might have saved many lives, including his own.

King Lear’s blindness caused him to see two truly evil women as loving daughters, and caused him to see his one true and loving daughter as his enemy. The whole kingdom suffers for his blindness, and many people die.

Romeo and Juliet both believe in true love, an understandable and noble but flawed belief that they can love each other without consequences. However, the real world doesn’t work like that, and many people die because of their innocent and naive belief in true love.

Each and every major character in Shakespeare’s plays is terribly flawed — each with at least one flaw that can be a source of great constructive and positive power, but can also be a source of destructive and negative power.

Macbeth is a great example. His ambition drives him to achieve greatness, and he distinguishes himself with his monarch, King Duncan. But then that same ambition drives him insane, to the point of murdering King Duncan, and others.

Henry IV part 2 act II scene 4
by Henry Fuseli
Wikimedia Commons

Falstaff is unlike all of the other characters Shakespeare ever wrote — he is a whole heaping stew of flaws, a whole laundry list of dirty and smelly bad habits and weaknesses.

There is not one thing that is bad about Falstaff — there are too many to count!

Why did Shakespeare create this character, who stumbles in and out of trouble, who cheats and steals, and lies, who has a heart of gold, and is drunk almost all of the time?

Because Shakespeare knew that Falstaff’s unrivaled multitude of weaknesses makes him great, despite all of his flaws — and because of his flaws.

But perhaps most importantly, because Falstaff was not blind to his faults. He embraced his human weakness, and did not try to act like anyone other than himself. He wants more than he has, and he wants to be more than he is, but don’t we all?

We relate to him more than any other character because we want to see ourselves through him and his faults. Since he has so many faults, he attracts more of us to him.

Falstaff was so great that he even educated the future King Henry IV of England.

Henry IV part 1 act II scene 4
by Robert Smirke
Wikimedia Commons

How many men do you think young Prince Hal trusted about anything? Not many. For all his many faults, Falstaff educated the Prince about how the world works, how it really works.

Put another way, without Falstaff’s education, Prince Hal might never have become King Henry IV.

Shakespeare wants you to know that it is not your weaknesses that define you — it is your spirit, your will, your hopes and your dreams that makes you who you are.

But Falstaff also teaches us that we must learn how to operate in the real world, in order not only to survive but even to thrive!

You might not become the King of England, but you might become the kind of person a king most trusts, and from whom the king most learns.

Falstaff and Hal at the Boar's Tavern
unknown artist
Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare also asks a very shrewd question with Falstaff — if Falstaff was Hal’s greatest teacher and mentor, then who is the real King of England?

Is it possible that Falstaff is even wiser, and is even worthier to be king, than the man who became the King?

Was Shakespeare also suggesting that Falstaff was actually more worthy of being the king — since he was so much more worldly-wise, and confident in himself, in spite of flaws which he knew he had?

When Prince Hal is crowned King Henry IV, he infamously rejects Falstaff, and banishes him from his courtly universe, as if Falstaff is beneath him and below his consideration.

In that moment, you have to ask yourself — is Hal/Henry a good man?

In that moment, it is difficult to wonder who is the better man — King Henry or Falstaff?

Put another way, would you rather have a king who acts high and mighty and holier-than-thou, or a king who is all-too-human and down-to-earth?

Pistol announcing to Falstaff the death of the King
by John Cawse
Wikimedia Commons

What does all of this mean for you? What was Shakespeare’s message to you?

That your weakness can be strength.

And perhaps the more weaknesses you possess, the stronger you can become.

Shakespeare wanted to invite you to watch his plays and study his works by creating the character Falstaff.

Shakespeare didn’t hate people for our ignorance, our weakness, our wickedness, our sin, our faults — he welcomed us all, he loved us all.

He invited people into the theatre, which was inviting them into his home, for a celebration of life.

He wanted to celebrate with us — he wanted us to glory in the fact that we are human beings, and if we acknowledge what makes us great, and what makes us human, what makes us laugh and cry, what makes us pity and fear — then our revels can be a revelation of how we can be even greater.

Roger Allam as Falstaff
Shakespeare Globe Theatre

Shakespeare could never hate you, because he loved Falstaff.

So, the next time someone says that Shakespeare is stuffy or boring or just a dead white male or snooty or not worth reading or watching — I encourage you to respond with one word — Falstaff.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer


P.S. I highly recommend the Shakespeare’s Globe productions of Henry IV part 1 and part 2, starring Roger Allam as Falstaff, and Jamie Parker as Hal/Henry. It is a lot of fun to watch. 

I highly DO NOT recommend the Hollow Crown version — Tom Hiddleston makes a great Hal/Henry, but the depiction of Falstaff is too serious and not light-hearted enough.