Henry IV: Thieves and Faeries Shakespeare’s Puck, the mischievous household sprite Robin Goodfellow, resembles a more benign sketch of Sir John Falstaff and the other motley thieves in Henry IV, Part One. Both Robin and the thieves tend to go by night, use disguises and magic, and act as jesters to their respective royalty. Falstaff declares, “. . . we that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars, and not by Phoebus. . .” [I.ii.13-15] and adds, “Let us be Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon. . . under whose countenance we steal.” [I.ii. 25-30] The action in A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place by moonlight as well; in fact, Robin worries aloud to Oberon that he may not be quick enough to undo the love-spell’s damage by dawn, when his powers are presumably diminished. Robin often travels invisibly or in disguise, as when he imitates in turn the voices of Lysander and Demetrius, or eavesdrops on the rude mechanicals without being espied. Poins, for his part, produces vizards for all on the evening of the planned robbery. Gadshill says that he has “the receipt of fernseed, we walk invisible.” [II.i.89] And just as Robin and Oberon put stars in the lover’s eyes with an enchanted pansy, Falstaff declares that Poins must have given him “medicines to make [Falstaff] love him.” [II.ii.18] Falstaff clearly occupies a privileged position as a sort of court jester, his constant jabs at Hal and the crown itself accepted without punishment — save Hal’s verbal parries at Falstaff’s slovenliness. Robin explains to a passing faerie that his purpose is to “jest to Oberon and make him smile.” [II.i.45] Poins and Robin (and his master Oberon) take great pleasure in tormenting foolish humans through clever trickery, not out of malice but simple jocularity. Even Prince Hal, admiring Poins’ skillful plan to dupe Falstaff, comments gleefully, “Now could thou and I rob the thieves and go merrily to London, it would be argument for a week, laughter for a month, and a good jest forever.” [II.ii.93ff] Poins promises that the results will make them “As merry as crickets, my lad.” [II.iv.90] He and Hal additionally torment Francis, seemingly unwitting of the distress their baiting causes the poor tapster. The fairy that Robin meets in the forest nails the Puck’s purpose: he is a “shrewd and knavish sprite” whose goal is to “mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm.” [II.i.33ff] And mislead them he does. On a whim, he gives the witless Bottom an ass’s head, relating the news of Titania’s humiliating infatuation to Oberon in mirthful terms. Although Robin feigns ignorance at mixing up Demetrius and Lysander, he enjoys the spectacle of the wandering, competitive lovers to no end: “Those things do best please me / That befal preposterously.” [III.ii.120-21] He feels no shame for being the cause of so much agony. Oberon suspects him of deliberately engineering it: “This is thy negligence: still thou mistakest, / Or else committ’st thy knaveries willfully.” Puck pleads innocence but appends: “And so far I am glad it so did sort / As this their jangling I esteem a sport.” [III.ii.45ff] Falstaff’s manipulation is of a different, more sinister, nature. He lies outright, sends beggars into the army as cannon-fodder, and desecrates Hotspur’s corpse, not for amusement, but out of greed and cowardice. Sir John lives through flattery and skullduggery, disavowing honor because it gets in the way of his fun. Although many of his faults seem not just faults but grievous sins, critics inevitably forgive him in everything, and in him we find something to appreciate, just as Robin’s impish behavior fails to incite our fury despite its disastrous consequences. What is this that assures us of the central goodness of Falstaff and Puck? Their sneakiness, vagrancy and hypocrisy are pardonable, in part, because of the speeches they make on their own behalves. They both swear to be nothing more than fun-loving free spirits, Falstaff in his famous tavern speech [II.iv.464ff] and Robin in his winking final monologue at the close of Act V. Falstaff reveals himself as merely an aging overweight drunkard, essentially harmless, who would be greatly hurt to find himself cast out of Hal’s life. Robin instructs us to think of him only as a figment of our collective imagination, politely asks our applause, and requests that we refrain from reprehension of him and his roguish company. No true villain in history has begged forgiveness for his own villainy. Neither are there respective statures those that we associate with real malefactors. Falstaff is too lumbering under his own weight to cause much trouble; Puck is diminutive enough that his comrades can hide in acorn-shells. Oberon, Robin’s master, shows an interest in undoing the mischief he has done, and Robin complies with Oberon’s orders to gather the young lovers so that things can be set right: “The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well.” [III.ii.463] Even when they try to portray evil, Falstaff and Robin do such a lousy job of it that we are assured of their relative innocuousness. Puck brags, “I am fear’d in field and town,” [III.ii.398] but given his previous recital of his pastimes [II.i.43-56] we can’t possibly take this contention seriously. What have we to fear from one who merely makes an old woman spill her ale, or impersonates a three-legged stool? And who in his right mind would believe that the corpulent Falstaff battled an ever-increasing number of buckskinned warriors and later singlehandedly finished Harry Hotspur? Robin cannot be wicked and Falstaff cannot be cunning, and the really malevolent must exhibit both properties.
The Devil as Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello
The Devil as Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello
One question that has often been debated amongst literary scholars is what could have motivated Iago to set off such a chain of events which accumulated in the horrific amount of death and tragic consequences that occur in William Shakespeare’s play Othello. On the surface, one could artificially assume that Iago was spurred by two reasons to carry out such a malicious and inhumane plan. His anger of being passed over for lieutenantship by Othello in favor of Cassio, coupled with his inclinations that his wife has slept with Othello, drives Iago to partake in dangerous and seemingly insurmountable actions in order to climb up the social ladder and exact revenge on Othello. Chief proponents of this belief that Iago was solely motivated by these two factors would argue that he was simply a Machiavellian-inspired villain who took action only in the devised betterment of himself and his current status. However, when one delves into Iago’s unholy actions and intentions on a deeper level, it is clear that a metaphysical element exists in his character that when revealed is utterly haunting and truly horrific. A more penetrating analysis of Iago shows that he is not only the embodiment of evil but that he is in fact the Devil himself, who is set on destroying everything that is good in the lives of Othello’s characters.
A main underlying theme that resides in Othello is Shakespeare’s constant usage of outward appearance as opposed to reality. It is Iago, who in the opening act of the play, makes this clearly obvious to the audience stating “I am not what I am”(1.1.65). Although it is not yet revealed to the audience who Iago really is (i.e. the Devil), this statement is a direct rev…
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