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Essay on Falstaff in Henry IV Part I

The Character of Falstaff in Henry IV Part I

In Henry IV Part I, Shakespeare presents a collection of traditional heroes. Hotspur’s laudable valor, King Henry’s militaristic reign, and Hal’s princely transformation echo the socially extolled values of the Elizabethean male. Molding themselves after societal standards, these flat characters contrast Sir John Falstaff’s round, spirited personality. Through Falstaff’s unorthodox behavior and flagrant disregard for cultural traditions, Shakespeare advocates one’s personal values above society’s.

Extolled as the “essence of Shakespeare’s dramatic art” (Bloom 299) and ridiculed as the symbol of self-indulgence and vice, the character of Sir John Falstaff, a loquacious knight, elicits a dichotomy within the Shakespearean critical community. This controversy originates in the rendition of Shakespeare’s intention in creating Sir John Falstaff. Literary critics such as John Dover Wilson and Edgar Stoll espouse that Shakespeare created Falstaff to serve as Hal’s “attendant spirit…typifying Vanity in every sense of the word” (Wilson 17). These anti-Falstaff carpers claim that the theme of Henry IV Part I, being a morality play, is the “growing-up of a madcap prince into the ideal king” (Wilson 22). If this were the case then Falstaff, “a besotted and disgusting old wretch” (Shaw qtd. in Goddard 71), represents an obstacle that Hal must overcome to tranform into a regal king. Asserting that Hal “associates Falstaff…with the devil” (Wilson 20), being the antithesis of heroism and virtue, Falstaff “symbolizes…the feasting and good cheer for which Eastcheap stood, and reflects…the shifts, subterfuges, and shady tricks that decayed gentleman and soldiers were put to if they wi…

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…is rivals; Hal gives up any personal freedom he might have displayed in order to follow in his father’s footsteps. Falstaff survives, not only years, but through centuries as well. Lauded, ridiculed, and analyzed Falstaff surpasses death by continuously published literary criticism and interpretation. No other Shakespearean character is as studied, examined, or investigated. Fascinating to spectators, Falstaff is a “character that will follow [the audience] out of the theatre.”

Works Cited

Hazlitt, William. Hazlitt’s Works. 8 vols. Ed. W. Carew Hazlitt. London: George Bell, 1905.

Hazlitt, William. Hazlitt’s Criticism of Shakespeare: A Selection. Ed. R. S.White. New York: Edwin Mellen, 1996


Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998








A Comparison of Love in Annabel Lee and La Belle Dame sans Merci

Love in Poe’s Annabel Lee and Keats’s La Belle Dame sans Merci

Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and Keats’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci” depict the destructive effects that women exercise upon men. In both poems, women, by death and deception, harm their adoring lovers. In “Annabel Lee,” Annabel dies and leaves the speaker in isolation; in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” the fairy, “La Belle Dame,” captures the speaker’s heart, and then deserts him. The common theme of both poems, that love generates harmful effects, is a reflection of both poets’ upsetting and harmful childhood experiences.

Poetry, Keats purports, “comes from the ferment of an unhappy childhood working through a noble imagination” (Keats 16). The “lesson of [Keat’s] boyhood” was that “the intensity of the beauty, the joy, the pleasure, and the bitterness of their loss” is “necessary for a poem” (Keats 17). The deaths of [Poe’s] parents, foster mother, and wife develop a similar intensity in the form of a “lingering pity and sorrow for the dead” (Whitman 61). The implied malevolence in “Annabel Lee” and “La Belle Dame sans Merci” echoes these poets’ pasts; the poems’ speakers are unable to live sanely or comfortably after experiencing and then losing the objects of their exquisite affection. Furthermore, the speaker’s names are concealed, stressing the importance of the women over the speakers.

While both poets believe that love creates destructive situations, they differ about most damaging kind of love. Poe believed that an innocent and sexless love hurt the greatest: his speaker went insane from “love that was more than love,” while he and his lover were “child[ren].” Poe’s “aesthetic religion” was a “worship of the beautiful…in all noble thoughts, in all ho…

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…a Belle Dame sans Merci” through their “fascination with the doomed nature of love” (De Reyes 107).

Works Cited

Allen, Hervey. Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Holt, 1934

De Reyes, Mary. “John Keats.” Poetry Reviews. 3 vols. 1913

Keats, John. “La Belle Dame sans Merci.” The Poetical Works of John Keats. London: Macmillan, 1884.

Moise, Edwin. “Keats’s ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’.” The Explicator. Washington DC: Heldref, 1992

Poe, Edgar. “Annabel Lee.” 15 Aug. 1997. Stefan Gmoser Online. Online. America Online. 12 Jan. 1998

Saintsbury, George. “Edgar Allan Poe.” Prefaces and Essays. Virginia: Macmillan, 1933

Whitman, Sarah. Edgar Poe and His Critics. New York: Haskell House, 1972

Wilbur, Richard. “Poe and the Art of Suggestion.” Critical Essays on Edgar Allan Poe. New York: G. K. Hall, 1987

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