March 1, 2012
Falstaff comes into "Henry the Fourth" because Shakespeare needed him, but he soon became larger than Shakespeare could handle. Falstaff may be all guts and girth but he is the person to prepare the Prince for Kingship. Hal needs a Dionysian mentor like Falstaff. He comes into a kingdom that has fallen into chaos, Dionysus's chaos, and so only the said God can train him through it all.
Hal is engaged in battles of wit and hilarity ensues making the scenes seem only comical at best. But through the insults and mudslinging Falstaff is amplifying Hal's language and ability to speak on a dime in situations of high stress. He is also grooming Hal for a king's royal barring requirement as they battle it out in prose. A king needs to be about to speak as well as act and in the few lines King Henry speaks it is in verse. The King showed obvious capacity for royal action but he lacks in diplomacy.
In Act 1 scene 2, it take Hal 12 lines to partially insult Falstaff though the words are hilarious. Falstaff is but pricked and says easily, “indeed, you come near me now, Hal, for we/ that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars,/and not by Phoebus, “he, that wandering knight so/ fair.” And I prithee, sweet wag, when thou art King,/ as God save Thy Grace—Majesty I should say, for/ grace though wilt have none--.” Ouch! Falstaff cuts down Hals pitiful words with a simple line challenging Hal's place as King and declaring his own allegiance to the free-flowing attitudes of thievery. Phoebus/Apollo is Dionysus's opposite. He represents order and structure whereas Falstaff/Dionysus represents chaos and expression. The moon is Apollo's opposite since he governs the sun and the number seven probably has some significance though I do not know what it is yet. Thieves are governed by chaos not be rules. They are free spirits who do as they please and have no higher authority than that of Dionysus who urges them forward.
Falstaff then makes a pun on Hal's grace commenting that he hasn't enough, “as will serve to prologue to an egg and butter” (1.2). A king must have grace as part of his royal barring and Falstaff claims Hal certainly doesn't have enough for he can't even say grace before a simple meal. Falstaff is slowly easing Hal into King-hood through his lax personality and cunning words. He doesn't have any fear of authority because Dionysus lives outside of rules. He creates his own reality. Apollo would stick Hal to his father's side and made him go to court meetings and sign papers like his dad. Apollo would keep Hal under tight restraints and keep his nose to the grindstone. Whereas with Dionysus the opposite is happening and that proves the most successful path. Hal is a thief hanging with the common people in pubs. Falstaff calls the Prince “sweet wag” all the time! Today, who would call the President a joker and have him take it as a fun jest? No one because there are rules against such language and mannerisms. The government keeps under tight Apollonian control but humans were not made to be confined. We are too complex to all fit neatly in their ice cube trays. Let me melt and flow like Falstaff!
He isn't ashamed of who he is as a person. He relishes his life of eating what he wants, living where he wants and doing what he wants while still maintaining the status of Knight (which is comical but it puts him closer to Hal). He openly states that thievery is his, “vocation...'Tis no sin for a man to labor in his vocation” (1.2). Why should he be afraid to do what he enjoys? People care too much about how others receive their actions. So what if the Prince is hanging with his future subjects? So what if he's stealing his own families money? It's ironic when one looks at it in this light because there really is nothing wrong with it! Falstaff knows that and he wants Hal to realize that too. The townspeople probably don't even remember what Bolingbroke looks like for lack of seeing him. Prince Hal is more known to them and they can relate to him. That is a crucial part of being King.
In Act 2 scene 4 Falstaff pulls a clever act on Hal by letting him win! I have done this before where I will let someone win against me because I want to give them confidence, make them happy or, in Falstaff's perspective, I won because I lost. I successfully made my opponent believe they had won and so I won. Hal believes he has successfully tricked his mentor and feels pretty damn good about it. The only clue we have to Falstaff's true intentions is when the Prince says, “Pray God you have not murdered some of them.” Falstaff, “Nay, that's past praying for. I have peppered two of them. Two I am sure I have paid, two rogues in buckram suits” (2.4). This is the only time he mentions the number two before going off on the extravagant numbers and descriptions again. While saying he didn't kill anyone, which is obviously true since Hal and Poins are alive, and stating he “peppered” two of them, by fooling them with believing he was tricked, he is actually quite keen on what is going on and is telling the truth. If one misses that small comment than the whole joke passes right over your head as it did mine the first time I read this scene. What father doesn't want his son to surpass him one day?
Falstaff is slowly building up to this father and son bonding time. But there is still some time to go. The time comes when it becomes blatantly clear that Falstaff is preparing Hal for the place as King. If I missed the other hints in the play then I would at least catch it at the end of Act 2 scene 4 when Falstaff and Hal role-play. This is a very important scene because Falstaff places Hal in the role of his father and he must act with the royal barring he has learned from Falstaff. But before he is King he must represent Falstaff against his father making him relate to his father. Father and son are one and Hal role-playing both sides drives this point home and at the end of their scene Hal says a prophecy that will come to pass later in his life. Falstaff exclaims that if Hal “banish plump Jack, [he will] banish all the world.” In which Hal retorts, “I do, I will.” Why do people exile their friends? Falstaff has successfully made Hal ready to be King as Hal says presently that he does something and in future tense that he will do something when he is King I.e. when he takes his father's place and becomes his father. However, he will banish poor Falstaff and take on Apollonian tastes because to exile Dionysus's is to invite Apollo.
Jumping ahead to the end of Act 5 scene 1 is Falstaff's speech on honor. While it differs greatly from anything I have ever heard it makes me nod in agreement. Why should people fight for honor in wars or in the army when they must die to obtain it? Honor doesn't restore a leg or arm. “Honor hath no skill in surgery, then?” Falstaff questions and the answer is no. There is no honor in fighting a battle unless you die and then you are dead and can't even enjoy the honorable title! What is the point of that? Falstaff ponders this thinking he would rather live with no honor than be dead with honor. I must agree on this completely. He sets his own reality and doesn't let the doings of others determine his fate. This is why Dionysus is chaotic because he doesn't follow rules or norms. A King needs this kind of mentor to make him see all sides and beyond in different tints of color and Falstaff gave that to Hal.