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Life at the Globe

Life at the Globe

9 March 2019

9:00 AM

9 March 2019

9:00 AM

 
 
IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON
Merian Global Investors

Last time in this space we were talking about Harry Hotspur’s role as a shadow-self for Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part One. But nor, of course, can we ignore the other pole around which the play swings: the sack-swilling anti-Santa Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff is one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations — some, among them Orson Welles, who played the fat knight in The Chimes at Midnight, have said the greatest — and, perhaps even more than Romeo, Prospero and Hamlet, has escaped the play to take on the quality of a mythological figure.

Henry IV, Part One — on from April 23 at the Globe — sees Sir John in his pomp. He is not (yet) pitiable. He is a life-force: ‘not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men.’ He is a madcap philosopher. And he encapsulates a quality of drama in general and Shakespeare in particular: that dramatic energy trumps moral character when it comes to our sympathies. Falstaff chews the scenery, and it doesn’t matter that he’s a cheat, a thief, a liar, a coward and an alcoholic: we love him.


So does the young Hal – for whom the drunken company of Falstaff and his cronies in the Boar’s Head Tavern counterpoints the stiff formalities of court. He’s not a shadow-self for Hal; rather, a surrogate father. But in the course of the play we see Hal sliding in the odd barb. A key scene in Act Two has them role-playing: Falstaff and then Hal take turns pretending to be the king reproving Hal for his low company. A jocular exercise turns, covertly, earnest:
 

No, my good lord; banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins: but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

Hal responds with deadly simplicity, suddenly in propria persona: ‘I do, I will.’

That is a promise he makes good on, devastatingly, in Part Two.

 
 
IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON
Merian Global Investors


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