Essay, Research Paper: Dramatic Character Of Falstaff


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In Maurice Morgan’s “The Dramatic Character of Falstaff”, he gives us a
critical interpretation of the Shakespearian character, Sir John Falstaff,
looking at him from every point of view but a Layman’s one. He summarizes
Falstaff incompletely, including quotes from Henry IV, Part Two and not as much
from Henry IV, Part One, which gives more information about “Old John’s”
character (in the first scene with Falstaff’s character) from the beginning,
but rather stays focused on what leads to his tragic fate. Morgan starts by
giving us his thesis statement, which is questioning of whether Falstaff was a
coward or if he was a courageous character. This is what I thought the article
would be mainly explaining; I was wrong. Morgan seems to go off on tangents,
placing Falstaff’s character in weird positions by comparing and making
relations between other characters in Shakespeare’s historical plays. He makes
an odd point by telling the reader to look at every man as two characters,
rebuttaling what his goal for the essay is to be. “Every man we may observe,
has two characters; that is, every man may be seen externally, and from
without;- or a section may be made of him, and he may be illuminated within”
(Morgan 88). There were good points too, like when he defines what courage and
cowardice were in Shakespeare’s time, which I thought was very educational:
“Personal courage may be derived, especially after having acknowledged that he
seemed to have deserted those points of honour, which are more peculiarly the
accompaniments of rank. But it may be observed that in Feudal ages rank and
wealth were not only connected with the point of honour, but with personal
strength and natural courage”(Morgan 88). I have to say, Morgan does do a
wonderful job of concluding Falstaff’s actions with his witty personality and
need for attention but as soon as he tries to get back to the subject of
“coward or courageous”, he then changes to another topic. This was very
frustrating since Morgan made some excellent points but seemed to have his ideas
disorganized. In the end of his essay, I was holding out to read if Morgan’s
evaluation had a good ending decision of Falstaff’s “coward or courageous”
character; it didn’t. I was very disappointed since I had read all of his
points and was waiting for the finale. Morgan concluded his essay with a
confusing whimper and not an answering bang. Morgan writes, “…on which the
reader is left to bestow what character he pleases” (Morgan 93). In my
opinion, this is slightly rude since Morgan faced us with a question and did not
even have the “courage” to answer it himself. All in all, I believe Morgan
has an excellent grasp on Falstaff’s character in the later plays, but missed
Prince Hal’s great description in Henry IV, Part One making me question his
expertise on the subject matter. By the end of reading this interpretation, I
felt like I had just gone through an intellectualized mess of words that I was
left to organize for review. Someone should tell Maurice Morgan that most of his
readers are students and not super-intellectuals. As for Falstaff, I thought he
was a very concentrated character whom, like any real person, has many sides to
them. This is why, to me, Shakespeare was a great writer; he knew the human
spirit’s goods’ and evils’ and how these things are what makes us thrive
and gives us dimensions. These dimensions are what Falstaff has plenty of (no
pun intended) in his characterization. I would hate to say that Falstaff is a
coward. By the end of Henry IV, Part One, he is the man/character that makes the
people laugh the most and so they make a personal connection with him. Because
of this, it is hard for any audience to label him with a shameful name since he
has given them a few instances of happiness. Also, I have questioned if
Shakespeare wrote Falstaff to only be a comedic character, releasing him from
being a tragic or hero, since most valiant people that he portrays sound a lot
healthier than Falstaff. In conclusion, I believe that Morgan has written a good
work but not great. For student’s information, I would only use this essay for
a few references of Falstaff’s character but not for a complete reference and
not for a critical review (only if you are into self abuse).BibliographyMorgan, Maurice. “The Dramatic Character of Falstaff”. Ed. Bloom, Harold.
Falstaff: A Critical Interpretation Chelsea Publishing House, 1992
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