Who knew that Shakespeare was the man who penned the first episode of Doctor Who
with his creation of the character Falstaff! Falstaff is a man who can travel all of time and space, visiting anything that ever happened or ever will. Where can we start?
Falstaff makes his first appearance in this play, which takes place around 1402-03, landing in the midst of the historical battles of Humbleton Hill and Shrewsbury. He supposedly stays around, making a further appearance in this play’s sequel, Henry IV, Part II, before once again setting off to meet new adventures. Falstaff makes his final landing in The Merry Wives of Windsor, a play that takes place some 200 years after Henry IV’s reign, circa 1600, looking not a day older than his fifty or so years, acting as sprightly as ever and up to all kinds of mischief and mayhem. It’s wonderful! I just think this is so cool. ;)
Falstaff brings light and levity to a dark subject, a king, Henry IV facing dissent among the ranks—specifically from old friends who had once helped him ascend to the throne. Adding more heartache to the king’s plate is his son, Hal, who keeps company with rogues, the head of the gang: Sir John Falstaff. This section of the play could easily pass for a story in a modern young adult novel: a son’s attempts to rebel from his parentage and destiny. Hal is the rebel prince of Wales, who along with his gang associate with mere commoners, taverns and ladies of the night… his current chief pleasure: arranging his dissolute friends as highwaymen, to rob poor weary travelers of their earnings. Though I should also say another chief pleasure of Hal’s is making Falstaff the butt of his jokes. But Falstaff is not so easily daunted and easily parries Hal’s cutting remarks, always getting the final shot. These verbal duels are priceless. Falstaff’s secret to a successful conclusion: “The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life.”
The baddies—the rebel faction—aren’t exactly portrayed as true villains here. They have an equal amount of presence on stage as our heroes, but like them, the baddies do have moments of comedy interlaced with their plans of sedition. There’s good feeling on both sides, neither of which really want war, but current circumstances preclude any other solution; there’s no turning back. The ending is surely bittersweet, but with the presence of Falstaff, it doesn’t end with sad remembrances of things past. There’s a sense of goodwill and a hopeful future, definitely a good story on which to end the year and begin the new.