the complexity of human nature-- perceiving the attractiveness of falstaff in henry iv

By Marie Long,2014-11-11 10:34
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the complexity of human nature-- perceiving the attractiveness of falstaff in henry iv

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    Dear Reader:

     In my essay, " The Complexity Of Human Nature In 'Henry IV'", I argue that the humorous approach to life, as seen in Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part I ", is to reveal the complexity of human nature. Initially, my intention is to construct a argument that the Prince Hal's complicated character in terms of his kingliness nature and gracelessness he behaves when he is with Falstaff. However, while doing the construction, I realized something more interesting-- Price Hal and a bunch of other characters are serious in this play, they have righteous values of life; they act like knights, fighting for honor and glory-- though Hal seems to be a "riot and dishonor stain"(6)at first -- they show the readers a orthodox and time-honored approach to life. Falstaff, however, gives us a totally different experience. His philosophy is quite direct and simple-- to be alive is the crucial mission, and all the other things(grace, honor, glory, chivalry, fame) is meaningless to him. Yet he is humorous and hilarious. There is something appealing to him that makes him adorable. Therefore, I attempt to inspect the fact that Falstaff exposes the real concrete truth of what means being alive while reading "Henry IV", and try to perceive the deeper feelings in characters' subconscious in order to expose a more complicated human nature.

     Perceiving characters' subconscious and exposing a hidden human nature are the most proud part of my essay. I believe literature can brings us more than greatness and beauty. While reading "Henry IV", I did realize Prince Hal, Hotspur and so many other people convey a grand and great sense of honor, still I can' t help but notice that my heart inclining to this ugly, fat bastard, Falstaff. I kind of envy his humorous approach to life, since most people don't have the guts to be so detached to social norms. That's when I start to dig deeper to the character of seriousness. I think I succeed in revealing hidden side of human nature.

     The area of this essay in which I struggled the most was definitely in analyzing the mechanism of humorous approach to life, by which I mean it's hard for me to organize a logical construction from how humor breaks the social norms to how it reveals the complexity of human nature. I think in my third essay, I should keep working on illustrating my claims in a more logical way.


    April Fan

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    The Complexity Of Human Nature: Perceiving the attractiveness of

    Falstaff as a humorous character In "Henry IV"

     When we are reading Henry IV, Falstaff is a really unique character among all the serious ones in this play. We know he is a notorious villain who is a liar, a thief, a "whoreson round man"(43), a "fat paunch"(43), a "bolting hutch of beastliness"(53). Falstaff is shameless, his lies are like "their father that begets them-- gross as a mountain, open, palpable"(46). His behaviors are beyond filthy. However, Just like

    as a what Falstaff says "Banish plump Jack, and Banish all the world!"(54), Falstaff, character is really lovable; there is something appealing about him that makes him adorable. His own ridiculous philosophy of life-- sack and sugar shall not be a fault; old and merry shall not be a sin; hedonism is everything that matters-- partially represents our own points of view about what it matters to be alive, as well as Shakespeare's. Within "Henry IV", Falstaff's humorous approach to life reveals the complexity of human nature-- everyone wants to be a respectable person, a honored man/woman, still everyone has a rebellious spirit of breaking the social norms and challenges the greatness and goodness.

     When it comes to honor, we think of Hal and Hotspur. The affair of honor is a foremost climax of "Henry IV, part I". The theme of it is pretty explicit-- honor means everything; glory proves kingliness. It shows a typical chivalry spirit in that age. Price Hal firmly states that "I am the Prince of Wales"(111), not you! "A very valiant rebel of the name"(111), Harry Percy! He will no longer tolerate Hotspur's sharing with his

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    glory! Then he makes a metaphor, suggesting that Hal and Hotspur "are Two stars

    keep not their motion in one sphere"(111), just like England cannot be ruled by two reigns. Hal proclaims that his glory can no longer be shared, which it used to be taken by Hotspur. His honor can no longer be violated, because he is the only reign in England. Hal claims that his reputation will be greater by the time they part. And he will take away "all the building honors on thy chest" (112) and turn them into a garland for his head. His fame and glory are all Hal is fighting for.

     Hotspur, the "king of honor"(81), strives for glory to the extent that when he gets stabbed, still he struggles to say all the long last words, whose core idea is that Hal kills him, takes away his life and youth, which he can afford. But the "proud titles thou hast won of me"(112) is the only thing that he cares. The robbery of his honor wounds his thoughts way more than Hal's sword wounds his flesh! Basically, in Hotspur 's opinion, honor is more important than his youth or his life.

     Serious characters like Hotspur and Hal are constricted by the moral standards, regulations, laws and values that descended from the history. Therefore the values in this play are so clear and so compatible with the social norms back then. Hotspur's obsession with honor and Prince Hal's schemes for power and glory are justified and exalted. We tend to approve of the good side-- the side that is praised by the social and moral norms-- of human nature. For instance, we will approve of a fight for reputation instead of money; we will praise a war for peace and democracy instead of crude oil or gasoline. Within "Henry IV", Shakespeare offers a series moral icons that

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    can be considered as the positive protagonists or heroic images.

     However, human nature is not all about the goodness and greatness. Deeper in the minds of all the human beings, a desire of breaking the social norms is always hidden in the subconscious. Hence in "Henry IV", as every serious character is so honorable and graceful, Shakespeare creates a Falstaff, someone who couldn't care less about the norms and live with his own rules; Shakespeare uses his humorous approach to life to break the social norms: Falstaff delivers his opinion on such abstract ideals as honor, grace, glory, etc. that honor "pricks me on"(101)to the battle field; "but how if honor prick me off when I come on?"(101) Then he casts a series of questions: whether honor can fix a broken leg or a broken arm? Can honor make a wound stop hurting? Can honor perform surgery? The answer to all the questions is no! What is honor? A word. What is in that word "honor"? Air! "Who hath it? He that died a Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No."(101) Falstaff proclaims that "Honor is a mere scutcheon", an ornament on a grave stone. He wants none of it. The same honor that both the Hal and the "theme of honor's tongue"(6), Hotspur are willing to lay down their lives for; the same honor that other characters adhere to, Falstaff reduces it into "air"-- nothing.

     Breaking norms is such a pleasure for Falstaff, he constantly claims that being alive is to drink every cup of wine, suck every "tongues of bawds"(7). In Falstaff's philosophy, being alive is not to strive for perfect ideals, but to be frank with his true feelings; being alive means to live to the most extent of joy and fun; being alive

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    means to live at present and seize everything that can stimulate senses-- having sex, drinking alcohol, doing drugs.etc. Falstaff's being honest to his desire and humorous approach to life make him unique in this play, which is also the source of his attractiveness, while Hal's counterfeiting his true kingly nature and Hotspur's struggle for his inviolable honor make them less easy to get close to.

     The fact that Falstaff's pleasure in breaking social norms suggests that defiance of norms is everyone has a rebellious spirit of breaking the attractive more generally and

    social norms. Since in reality we cannot ignore what people are going to say or do if we actually break norms, while in literal world, Falstaff's hedonistic lifestyle tempts us into challenging the commonly accepted values-- to fight for abstract ideals like power, honor, fame, reputation, etc. In terms of challenging the moral values, Prince Hal shall know the best: He loses his kingliness inherited from royal blood while with Falstaff. He has "not so much as will serve to be prologue to an egg and butter" of grace(8); he sleeps with the hostess of the tavern; he robs people and steals the money from Falstaff to joke around. Falstaff's way of living allures Hal to release the dark side of challenging the nobility, and exposes a more complicated human nature in himself.

     Furthermore, the attractiveness of Falstaff as a character demonstrates the allure of ugliness over higher ideals like honor and glory. The serious approach to life usually induces majesty and nobility, which is compatible with people's common esthetic. When Prince Hal's kingly and graceful intrinsic qualities and Hotspur's

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    inviolable sense of honor and glory makes us all saturated with overwhelming beauty and greatness, Falstaff's absurd behaviors, vulgar words and hideous appearance suddenly become a hit. The allure of ugliness over higher ideals like honor and glory can be embodied in the part that as he counterfeit his death while fighting with Douglas, Hal mocks him "I should have a heavy miss of thee If I were much in love with vanity"(113), then Falstaff delivers another speech that emphasizes his privilege life over all else. Falstaff says "The better part of valor is discretion, in which the better part I have saved my life"(113). Falstaff doesn't speak in defense of his counterfeiting death, but simply twist "counterfeit" into a concept of "man who hath not the life of man"(113)--an inanimate object with a human shell. He frankly admits that "I am afraid of this gunpowder, Percy"(113). Compared to the righteous icons--Hal or Hotspur, Falstaff is even more lovable and appealing because he is so forthright and loyal to his weakness and desire. His approach to life places a spell on another potential human nature-- the detachment from normal esthetics and inclination to ugliness.

     In "Henry IV part I", Shakespeare accomplishes a very serious play-- Prince Hal redeems himself and eradicates the rebel camp. Yet he adds a humorous character-- Falstaff into the play. By constructing such a unexpected character, Shakespeare succeeds in opening out a complexity of human nature by exposing the fact that a rebellious spirit of breaking the social norms and aesthetics toward ugliness can be hidden in human nature, which makes "Henry IV" eternally classic and touching.

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Work Cited

William, Shakespeare. Henry IV Part I. Edited by Claire McEachern. Penguin Books.

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