Falstaff + Hotspur = Prince Hal: Their Actions On The Battlefield Essay, Research Paper
Sir John Falstaff has a number of functions in 1 Henry IV, the most obvious as a clownish figure providing comic relief. His many lies and exaggerations entertain because of the wit and cleverness he employs to save himself from paying debts and answering for crimes. He in many ways represents an everyman–a sinner with little shame or honor, who nonetheless maintains at least an outward concern for honor and appearances. "If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked! If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damn’d. . . . [Banish the others] but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff . . . banish plump Jack, and banish all the world." (II.iv) Clearly, Falstaff hopes to exculpate himself by arguing that his sins are no worse than everyone else’s.
And it is this aspect of Falstaff, that he is like the others, that is perhaps the most intriguing–Is Falstaff a foil or mirror of the other characters, notably Hotspur and Prince Hal? We see Shakespeare setting up parallel situations that reveal how we should read the characters. For example, many critics see a kind of teacher/student or even father/son relationship in Falstaff and Hal’s relationship. This relationship is not filled with mutual respect however. Falstaff no doubt hopes that his fraternizing with the young Prince will mean a pay-off in titles, money, and prestige when Hal comes into power. Falstaff asks the Prince, "Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief" (I.ii); thieving is after all Falstaff’s "vocation," so he shows here that he is already thinking of how to gain an advantage of the future king’s influence. As for Hal, he calls Falstaff every insult in the world, and far from not meaning it, unveils at Falstaff’s "death" his true feelings for Falstaff: "O, I should have a heavy miss of thee/If I were much in love with vanity!/Death hath not strook so fat a deer to-day, though many dearer, in this bloody fray." (V.iv) His attitude toward Falstaff is mildly affectionate to be sure, but in the final analysis Hal seems to have a mainly functional relationship to Falstaff–Falstaff and his company were a means to an end if we are to believe Hal in I.ii when he says he will "imitate the sun" and merely play the prodigal son awhile.
Hal and Falstaff’s bantering and wit sparring is mirrored by Hotspur and Glendower in III.i. What the former do in jest; the latter do in earnest. Like Falstaff and his boasting, Glendower holds forth on the mythical portents of his birth and his powers to change the weather. Hotspur suffers the fool far from gladly. They eventually quarrel over their "moi’ty," and Hotspur shows himself to be utterly uncompromising on matters of principle and honor. "But in the way of bargain, mark ye me,/I’ll cavil on the ninth part of a hair." He shows himself an unattractive character; his rigid insistence on points of "honor" is self- centered and self-destructive. (In fact, Shakespeare this paper is plagiarized–to find the original, go to school sucks. com one word on the internet impales all the conspirators by showing them carving up England like a roast–no English audience could be sympathetic.)
In his instance on protecting his rights and honors, while at the same time engaging in the most egregious dishonor of rebelling against his sovereign king, Hotspur shows a hypocrisy and vanity that mirrors Falstaff’s. As personalities of course, Hotspur and Falstaff can be thought of as polar opposites: Falstaff is as venal and craven as Hotspur is proud and unyielding. Falstaff allows himself to be made the butt of endless jesting. One imagines that Hotspur would rather die than be ridiculed. Falstaff survives by yielding–Hotspur dies from never yielding. Yet the two are similar in an important way: they both represent an unattractive extreme–a vain and self-centered extreme, and it falls to Prince Hal to reconcile the two extremes in his own character.
The two opposites meet on the battlefield where their natures are in starkest contrast. Percy fights to the death, regretting less ". . . the loss of brittle life/Than those proud titles thou [Hal] has won of me." A brittle life indeed, Hotspur feels the loss of honor more than the loss of life. He holds unmercifully to a harsh ethic. Falstaff on the other hand seems to have no honor at all except what he himself fabricates, and ironically, his "flexibility" and relative ethics keep him alive. Falstaff shows himself to be a conniving, thieving rogue and not even particularly successful at the low pursuits he attempts. Yet his wit, humor, and joy of life save him as a character. He, unlike Percy, this paper is plagiarized–to find the original, go to schoolsucks.com on the internet dishonorably feigns death in battle and so escapes a fatal wound from the redoubtable Douglas. Shakespeare clearly wanted the audience to see the contrast when the two bodies are laid side by side in V.iv, the climax of the play–one living by a harsh code of honor and dead, the other a lying cheat and very much alive. His craven character is again shown when he stabs Percy’s dead thigh, picks up the already dead body and claims the kill as his own for a reward from the king. "I look to be either earl or duke, I can assure you."
Hal rejects Falstaff when he asks for Falstaff’s help in battle only to receive a bottle of wine. "What, is it a time to jest and dally now?" (V.iii) He throws the bottle at Falstaff, symbolically turning away from the extreme that Falstaff represents. His is not the honor of the bawdy house, of the drunken boast, but true honor that is based in fact and in deed. He can rise to the occasion of besting the best of the foemen. He rejects his false "father" Falstaff and rushes to the aid of his real father, saving him in battle. Yet, he has taken something from Falstaff too, and that is his humor, his flexible mind, his joy of life. He lets stand Falstaff’s absurd claim that he Falstaff has killed Percy. In this, Hal shows modesty and true self-confidence. To that he has blended Hotspur’s valor and honor while avoiding Hotspur’s brittle hair-splitting and unalloyed pride. In Hal, Shakespeare successfully merges the two extremes of Falstaff and Percy into a human and humane whole.