Falstaff's conscience and protestant thought in Shakespeare's second Henriad.
One of the chief interpretive difficulties regarding the Henriad relates to the problem of irony. Michael Davies and David Womersley demonstrate quite persuasively that Henry V is officially glorified in language specifically rooted in Protestant doctrine. The problem, however, as Maurice Hunt points out in a dissenting interpretation, is that this external sanctioning seems to be undermined by the Prince's cynically calculated "reformation," planned from the beginning of 1 Henry IV, and his aiding and abetting of Falstaff's thievery (24-25). The problematic nature of Henry V's "reformation" then potentially calls into question its theological underpinnings as well. Readings, I would argue, that insist on seeing Henry V at either extreme pole, unqualified hero or scheming Machiavel, inevitably suffer from impoverishment. Shakespeare's art often steers us on a middle course such that opposing truths are simultaneously held in tension. The same is true of Falstaff, of course, who has enjoyed perhaps an even more extreme range of critical response than the prince who ultimately rejects him. (3) More to the point, Shakespeare's sensitivity to human experience certainly would allow him to envision and represent the human difficulties posed by religious doctrines, even if those doctrines are not formally rejected. For Luther, the Roman sacramental system was a formidable terror to the individual soul, as it placed upon it impossible burdens. For Erasmus, a humanistic Church loyalist, Luther's paradoxical theology was distressing, in that human beings were deprived of any power over their final destinies. Shakespeare's genius was to depict with clarity the needs felt by such opposed sensibilities. I will argue in this study that Falstaff's personality, however, in terms of this duality, is Erasmian rather than Lutheran.
One of Falstaff's earliest quips in 1 Henry IV is his ironic defense of purse taking as a Christian duty: "Why, Hal, 'tis my vocation, Hal. 'Tis no sin for a man to labor in his vocation" (1.2.102-03). (4) As Michael Davies points out, the moral necessity of "laboring in one's vocation" was a stock Protestant concept (355). Falstaff's jocular use of theological terminology continues as he sermonizes on his companion Poins: "Oh, if men were to be saved by merit, what hole in hell were hot enough for him?" (1.2.105-06). Falstaff's rhetorical question, as many commentators have noted, implies an assent to the Reformed doctrine of salvation by faith alone. The subsequent assertion of sola fide functions, albeit of course ironically, as a natural clarification of the earlier remark. Laboring in one's vocation, while a necessary duty toward God and other people, cannot in any way confer saving merit. The exhortation to earnest labor would necessarily be accompanied, in a Protestant context, with an admonition on this point, lest the encouragement to perform one's duties be misinterpreted. The proximity of the two stock Protestant concepts therefore parodies the progression of a sermon. Furthermore, the conversation immediately thereafter turns in a thematically related direction. The discussion enters into the practicalities of robbing "pilgrims going to Canterbury with rich offerings and traders riding to London with fat purses" (1.2.123-25). The mention of pilgrims en route to Canterbury recalls Bolingbroke's avowal in the first scene of the play to undertake a pilgrimage in order to atone for his sins. The re-introduction of pilgrimage at this point, just after Falstaff's official assertion of sola fide, casts an interesting light upon his claim that his commissions of thievery are, properly understood, acts of labor "in his vocation." His ironic pose as devout practitioner of the Protestant faith is consistent with an assault upon such misguided travelers who seek divine approval for their pains. The mention of wealth, including the accompanying "rich traders," is redolent of the corruption typically associated with such sacramental practices, from the Protestant point of view. Falstaff's intended thievery, symbolically understood, amounts to an assault upon a corrupted religion, and therefore a mock validation of his divinely appointed vocation. The old knight's first recorded escapade therefore invites the reader or viewer into a particular dialectic which will continue to be developed. (5)
IT is, of course, difficult to deduce from these scenes serious spiritual yearning, in Falstaff, since the only obvious inclinations are mockery of religious earnestness and the general enjoyment found in bad behavior. Later in the play, however, some of his comments are more suggestive. Towards the end of the third act, just after the Gadshill incident, Falstaff remarks to his chief drinking companion:
Bardolph, am I not fallen away vilely since this last action? Do I not bate? Do I not dwindle? Why, my skin hangs about me like an old lady's loose gown; I am withered like an old applejohn. Well, I'll repent, and that suddenly, while I am in some liking. I shall be out of heart shortly, and then I shall have no strength to repent. An I have not forgotten what the inside of a church is made of, I am a peppercorn, a brewer's horse. The inside of a church! Company, villainous company, hath been the spoil of me. (3.3.1-10)
Falstaff's comment that he will repent in due time is intriguingly ambiguous. As the note in David Bevington's edition indicates, his need to be in "some liking" as a precondition of repentance could either indicate "good bodily condition" or "inclination." Either he is choosing not to, but hopes to choose before it is too late, or he is unable to choose now and hopes to gain the capacity for choice at a future date. (6) At the same time, he acknowledges a potential future when such a possibility will be closed off to him permanently. (7) Whatever Falstaff's precise meaning, the possibility and consequent fear of a will without power, which is to say without freedom, looms. (8)
It is a point of critical contention as to what extent Falstaff is ever intended to be taken seriously. (9) Obviously, his earlier remarks citing his thievery as pious duty were in jest, as is the opening of this speech in which he complains of his supposed loss of weight. Yet the horrors of his rejection and eventual death, recounted in Henry V, reveal the fullness of the old knight's character. Far from being simply a figure for arousing merriment, he also invites in these later scenes our human sympathies. (10) It is plausible to suppose that Falstaff's irony would be intermixed with self-revelatory statements indicative of genuine need. If we accept this hypothesis, we can see a Falstaff who understands himself as outside of grace and yet hopeful to make amends in good time. If he is a reprobate, then he is, of course, helpless to make such amends. But it is telling to see how Falstaff imagines his potential salvation. After insisting that he has not forgotten "what the inside of a church is made of" (3.3.8-9), a phrase which he emphatically repeats, he goes on to blame "company" for his "spoil." Shortly thereafter, he then launches upon an extraordinary declamation in which he likens Bardolph's alcoholically reddened nose to a "memento mori" which will serve to remind Falstaff of Hell in salutary fashion, specifically the damned Dives in Christ's parable from the Gospel of Luke (3.3.30). (11) At the end of his harangue, Falstaff remarks, "I have maintained that salamander of yours with fire any this time this two-and-thirty years, God reward me for it!" (3.3.46-48).
The dominant imagery in Falstaff's ironic plan for salvation bears out a telling pattern. His opening remark about not having "forgotten" the inside of a church represents a recollection of external action, as opposed to strictly internal piety. From a Reformed point of view, church attendance as such could hardly be considered an efficacious means to salvation, although it could be a sign of election. By contrast, the traditional Medieval outlook would understand church attendance, with the consequent reception of the sacraments, as intrinsically salutary for divine favor, assuming sincerity in the congregant. Falstaff's subsequent blame of "company" for his predicament also recalls a Medieval notion of friendship as critical to either damnation or salvation, an idea in tension with Reformed development which generally stressed the individual's responsibility for introspection. (12) The mock-panegyric upon Bardolph's glowing face is reminiscent of traditional sacramental practice which utilized the role of images in, ideally, directing the imagination aright. By contrast, the Reformed approach tended to de-emphasize the use of art and other imagery, in favor of a stress upon doctrine and teaching of a more literal kind. 13 Here, Falstaff references the theme of memento mori, the Medieval idea that one must always be aware of one's eventual death. Falstaff's claim that he has "maintained" the memento mori of Bardolph's nose, via his financial support of their drinking bouts, calls to mind the rich pilgrims en route to Canterbury and the suggestion of corrupt external religion. Falstaff's exclamation "God reward me for it!" directly upon his protestation of patronage completes the allusion to the types of practices so excoriated by the Reformers (3.3.48).
Falstaff, if we believe his comments about repentance to be in any way self-revelatory, however, naturally wonders whether he will be rewarded. One might follow the logic far enough to suggest that maintaining his memento mori, if the admonitory sign is properly heeded, could end well for his soul. The next exchange of dialogue furthers this inquiry:
Bardolph: 'Sblood, I would my face were in your belly! Falstaff: God-a-mercy! So should I be sure to be heartburned (3.3.49-51).
Falstaff's reply, while on a surface level merely literalizing Bardolph's clich6 to comic effect, is also theologically suggestive. In effect, his claim has been that Bardolph's nose functions for him in a sacramental capacity, as a visible reminder of a spiritual reality. Luther's objection to the sacramental system was that it placed too much faith in externals, when all that matters is internal reality. Even, however, from the Roman Catholic point of view, the sacrament's efficacy still depends on whether its meaning has been sincerely internalized by the receiver's volitional act. Falstaff's plea for God's mercy prior to his comment of heartburn carries purgatorial overtones, and could be read as a fear of the pain associated with penance. Is he truly in a position to receive a healing sacrament with its attendant fiery pain? Earlier in the exchange, however, Falstaff had told Bardolph, "If thou wert any way given to virtue, I would swear by thy face; my oath should be 'By this fire, that's God's angel.' But thou art altogether given over, and wert indeed, but for the light in thy face, the son of utter darkness" (3.3.35-37). Falstaff's appraisal of Bardolph's spiritual condition possibly reveals his own crisis as suggested by his earlier expressed yearnings for repentance. The language used of Bardolph, as one "given over" and a "son of utter darkness," is clearly that of the classic reprobate. The only hope is the light in his face, a light which Falstaff imagines iconically. The old knight probably wonders, of course, whether he is the reprobate, but also whether the light in Bardolph's face is truly efficacious or only a devilish illusion. Shortly thereafter, Falstaff identifies the glowing nose as an "ignis fatuus," literally a foolish fire (3.3.39). His disquiet is not just with his own inadequate will but with the icon itself, whose deceptive promises may lead to infernal, rather than merely purgatorial, flames. (14)
Falstaff's unease at this point perhaps reflects the disquiet of Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, who, doubting the possibility of his own repentance, is arguably as paralyzed by that realization as he is by the Almighty. (15) In the sacramental model, Falstaff could seize upon the equivalent of Bardolph's nose, using it as motivation to repentance. In the Reformed model, however, he may not have any power of will to choose, and the icon itself may be nothing but a humanly constructed idol. Falstaff, in his jocular ruminations on the serious, seems keenly aware of all such possibilities. The secondhand account of his death from Henry V clarifies the ultimate seriousness which likely underlies Falstaff's joking in this scene. The Hostess recounts, without awareness of the fact's implications, that Falstaff had "talked of the Whore of Babylon" (2.3.37-38). The boy then comments that a flea on Bardolph's nose is identified by a visibly distressed Falstaff as a "black soul burning in hell" (2.3.40-41). Bardolph's oblivious response directly echoes Falstaff's earlier quip to him: "Well, the fuel is gone that maintained that fire. That's all the riches I got in his service" (2.3.42-43). The allusion to anti-Romanist polemic via the Whore of Babylon recalls Falstaff's earlier allusion to purchased sacraments. The nose, which Falstaff earlier had elevated to a memento mori, is now in his mind clarified as the ignisfatuus which he had feared it to be.
Falstaff's error, at least as he imagines it, was in supposing that he could "purchase" his way to salvation, an idea playfully imagined as buying with literal money a nose figured as a salvific icon. This problem of exchange clarifies the full meaning of an overlooked line in 2 Henry IV, when Falstaff boasts of having "bought" Bardolph at St. Paul's Cathedral (1.2.51). The reference to Paul, whose Epistle to the Romans was so central to Reformed theology, sharpens the irony of the boast. Moreover, just prior to asking for Bardolph's whereabouts, Falstaff rails against a reluctant creditor, charging him with cuckoldry via an elaborate figure: "And yet he cannot see, though he have his own lantern to light him" (1.2.4748). The quip, which places a horned image on the creditor Dommelton, also speaks directly to Falstaff's potential situation in Reformed language. The idea that human reason, by its own light, lacks the capacity to penetrate divine mystery was central to the systems of both Luther and Calvin. Both thinkers insisted on the impossibility of understanding the nature of God with the unaided reason, hence the necessity of a dominant reliance on primary revelation. In fact, Falstaff's tirade against Dommelton more broadly echoes a Reformed emphasis. In his complaint that the shopkeeper should uncritically accept the old knight's security, Falstaff sardonically responds, "Well, he may sleep in security, for he hath the horn of abundance, and the lightness of his wife shines through it" (1.2.45-47). The shopkeeper, whom Falstaff had just connected with the aforementioned Dives from Christ's parable, is now imagined as the presumptuous soul with an unwarranted faith in appearances. Calvin stressed the point that no one, regardless of their external religious perfornmnces, could be cocksure of election. Falstaff's jocularity damns both Bardolph and Dommelton in accordance with these Refbrmed themes upon the supreme significance of the internal and the unreliability of natural perception. It seems likely, given the undeniable terror of the deathbed scene, that these jests function as outlets for Falstaff's self-concerns which only become explicit in his final moments. At the end of 1 Henry IV, Falstaff declares of Prince Hal: "I'll follow, as they say, for reward. He that rewards me, God reward him! If I do grow great, I'll grow less; for I'll purge, and leave sack, and live cleanly as a nobleman should do" (5.4.160-63). These lines, which indicate an intent of repentance, also speak to the notion of reward in return for a good deed, here represented as the act of "following." His rejection by the newly crowned King in accordance with Reformed categories paves the way for his perception of divine rejection on his deathbed. (16)
ONE of the most disturbing scenes in the Henriad is Falstaff's unabashedly cynical use of his power of military impressment. As he acknowledges, he pockets "three hundred and odd pounds" (1 Henry IV 4.2.14) by accepting money from men who want to avoid the conscription and can afford the bribe. The result, as he admits, is that his retinue is now made up only of the most hapless sort:
Now my whole charge consists of ancients, corporals, lieutenants, gentlemen of companies--slaves as ragged as Lazarus in the painted cloth, where the glutton's dog licked his sores, and such as indeed were never soldiers, but discarded unjust servingmen, younger sons to younger brothers, revolted tapsters, and hostlers trade-fallen, the cankers of a calm world and a long peace, ten times more dishonorable-ragged than an old feazed ancient. (1 Henry, IV 4.2.23-31)
As the old knight further remarks, "No eye hath seen such scarecrows" (1 Henry IV 4.2.37). His callousness to their condition, as he identifies them carelessly as "food for powder" (1 Henry IV 4.2.65), is accompanied by a shifting of the blame to the larger societal conditions: "Faith, for their poverty, I know not where they had that, and for their bareness, I am sure they never learned that of me" (1 Henry IV 4.2.69-71). Most likely, as W. Gordon Zeeveld argues, Shakespeare utilizes Sir John to point out these very corruptions in the Elizabethan world (253). In fact, a contemporary audience would also have known that commanders frequently pocketed the wages of their dead conscripts, a point that adds a more sinister texture both to the social critique and to Falstaff's character (419). (17) Considering the matter in this light, one can see that the old knight's technique of drafting "pitiful rascals" (1 Henry IV 4.2.63), rather than simply being a neutral accident of bribe-taking, also maximizes his revenue. The very frailty of the soldiers, who have already been described as "dead bodies" (1 Henry IV 4.2.37), brings financial benefit to their selector. The men in Falstaff's retinue have been chosen, in a sense, for the precise purpose of being destroyed.
At the level of social critique, Shakespeare's comment seems sufficiently clear. In envisioning a revenge to be taken on the supposedly upstart Justice Shallow, Falstaff puts it aptly: "If the young dace be a bait for the old pike, I see no reason in the law of nature but I may snap at him" (2 Henry IV 3.2.328-30). In proto-social Darwinian fashion, the old knight declares the natural right of the strong to destroy the weak, a position that absolves him of any wrongdoing regarding his conscripts as well. The text's probable suggestion is that this ethic is too often a matter of practice in the messy quagmire of human politics. Yet the point also is reminiscent of theological questions raised by Reformed Christianity regarding the intelligibility of divine will. For many people, Luther and Calvin acknowledge, God's will seems mysterious, even sinister. In contrast with any humanistic notion that God's purposes could be humanly intelligible, the Reformed approach insists upon the divine will's inscrutability. 18 Toward the end of his famous Bondage of the Will, Luther acknowledges the seeming injustice of God, according to his system which removes all human power from saving action. His response is uncompromising:
If His justice were such as could be adjudged just by human reckoning, it clearly would not be Divine; it would in no way differ from human justice. But inasmuch as He is the one true God, wholly incomprehensible and inaccessible to man's understanding, it is reasonable, indeed inevitable, that His justice also should be incomprehensible. (200)
Calvin similarly warns against those who would inquire into the seeming injustice of predestination: "For it is not fight for man unrestrainedly to search out things that the Lord has willed to be hid in himself' (112).
In the Reformed emphasis, therefore, only the eyes of faith can prevent the practical necessity of worshipping a deity who seems monstrously unjust. No humanly intelligible reason distinguishes God's selections from Falstaff's self-interested selections. For a Falstaff struggling with his faith, therefore, this proto-Darwinian vision constitutes a means of understanding God's actions upon him, as power becomes a right unto itself. Patterns of imagery in his language suggest that his conscription may serve as a meta-narrative for the questions we have already seen to be haunting his mind. As he admits to having "misused the King's press damnably" (1 Henry IV 4.2.12-13, my emphasis), he also repeats his frequent allusion to Christ's parable of Lazarus and the rich glutton, whose resemblance to Falstaff is so striking. (19) His satire in one witty exchange with Shallow is also particularly on point:
Shallow: Sir John, Sir John, do not yourself wrong. They are your likeliest men, and I would have you served with the best. Falstaff: Will you tell me, Master Shallow, how to choose a man? Care I for the limb, the thews, the stature, bulk, and big assemblance of a man? Give me the spirit, Master Shallow. (2 Henry IV 3.2.254-59)
The brilliant parody works as a hilarious foil of Christian sermonizing in general, but especially so for Reformed insistence upon a turn to the primacy of the internal over and against the external. As Calvin insisted that the elect were hidden from human eyes, and that no degree of external good appearances could offer certainty of salvation, and as Luther denounced goods deeds done of the bodily, or external, nature as sins in disguise, so Falstaff's choices also defy external expectations. Falstaff, playing the role of God, facetiously looks upon the heart rather than the outward appearance, just as God does in instructing the prophet Samuel to pass over the physically impressive Eliab for kingship. (20)
It would be inadequate to conclude without a consideration of the historical background to Falstaff's character: the Lollard martyr John Oldcastle. As I have already noted, a wide range of arguments have been made for Shakespeare's theological intent in this connection. It seems more than plausible that the identification functions as a parody of Puritan self-righteousness. In the context of my argument, however, the more pertinent point is how the linkage fits into the larger pattern of Falstaff's responses to Protestant thought. If we recall the old knight's avowed war upon the pilgrims near the opening of 1 Henry IV, his suggestions that Bardolph, and perhaps Dommelton as well, are damned reprobates, and his ridiculous yet cynical posturing as an amoral Calvinistic God, the aforementioned pattern suggests itself. Falstaff repeatedly, and yet obviously satirically, casts himself in the role of enforcer of true Reformed morality. The deep internal struggle provoked by these theological questions manifests itself in a kind of external play-acting that enacts the stern justice he fears for himself. The process that Shakespeare intuits is the same that Freud later explains theoretically via the idea of parapraxis. Falstaff evidently finds some temporary relief, even as he imagines himself as potentially reprobate, in casting that same threat against others, even in jest. That he would be, in obvious parody, identified with a traditional proto-Protestant hero, is perfectly appropriate to this general pattern.
Shakespeare's larger point therefore goes beyond a general attack upon Puritan or quasi-Puritan hypocrisy. Nor do I think that Shakespeare's critique would be confined to Protestant attacks upon a traditional theological dispensation, although that happens to be the case in these plays. The great playwright's humanism, I would suggest, would generally sympathize with a human soul troubled by a rigorous deconstruction of comforting beliefs. One can certainly argue, as Michael Davies seems to do, that Shakespeare's imagery, without irony, endorses this Protestant deconstruction. Such a reading casts Henry V as a genuine Protestant hero and Falstaff as a justly damned reprobate. I find, however, such a reading difficult to reconcile with the highly problematic nature of Henry V's calculated "reformation," a point made by Maurice Hunt among others, and the extraordinarily sympathetic, even moving, account of Falstaff's spiritual anguish, especially in the deathbed scene. The myths of human freedom and capacity, supposedly debunked by Protestant doctrinal correction, are, it would seem, longed for by a Falstaff struggling with despair. In this respect, the play represents the needfulness of what is excised, for the sake of theological purity, by a new system.
Thanks to Professor Andrew Moran at the University of Dallas for his helpful critique of an earlier draft of this article.
Batson, Beatrice, ed. Shakespeare's Christianity: The Protestant and Catholic Poetics of Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Waco, Texas: Baylor UP, 2006.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare's Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.
Bradley, A. C. "The Rejection of Falstaff," Oxford Lectures on Poetry. London, 1961. Calvin, John. Calvin's Institutes: Abridged Edition. Ed. Donald K. McKim. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Conley, John. "The Doctrine of Friendship in Everyman.'" Speculum 44.3 (1969): 374-82.
Cox, John D. "Was Shakespeare a Christian, and If So, What Kind of Christian Was He?" Christianity and Literature 55.4 (2006): 539-55.
Davies, Michael. "Falstaff's Lateness: Calvinism and the Protestant Hero in Henry. IV." Review of English Studies 56.225 (2005): 351-78.
--. "Introduction: Shakespeare and Protestantism." Shakespeare 5.1 (2009): 1-17.
Draper, John. "Sir John Falstaff." Review of English Studies 8.32 (1932): 414-24.
Fike, Matthew. "Dives and Lazarus in the Henriad." Renascence 55.4 (2003): 279-91.
Hunt, Maurice. Shakespeare's Religious Allusiveness. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2004.
Hunter, Robert G. Shakespeare: Pattern of Excelling Nature: Shakespeare Criticism in Honor of America's Bicentennial. Eds. David Bevington and Jay L. Hallio. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1978. 125-32.
Kaula, David. "Time and the Timeless in Everyman and Dr. Faustus." College English 22.1 (1960): 9-14.
Luther, Martin. Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings. Ed. John Dillenberger. New York: Anchor Books, 1962.
Milward, Peter. Shakespeare the Papist. Ann Arbor, MI: Sapienta Press, 2005.
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Schwindt, John. "Luther's Paradoxes and Shakespeare's God: The Emergence of the Absurd in Sixteenth-Century Literature." Modern Language Studies 15.4 (1985): 4-12.
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Womersley, David. "Why is Falstaff Fat?" Review of English Studies 47.185 (1996): 1-22.
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(1) John D. Cox offers a survey of some of the major opposing critical positions. For an overview of how scholarship has understood Shakespeare's "Protestantism," also see Michael Davies's 2009 piece in Shakespeare. Beatrice Batson has edited another recent work which offers a fairly typical range of perspectives.
(2) For my approach, I am especially in conversation with treatments by Davies, Matthew Fike, Maurice Hunt, and David Womersley. Davies and Womersley argue that Shakespeare casts Henry V as a Protestant hero over and against a problematic Roman Catholicism. Hunt maintains that the tetralogy holds up the competing theologies against one another, offering a critique of both (19-40). Matthew Fike demonstrates how Falstaff's situation resembles that of the rich glutton Dives in a number of interesting respects, and how the old knight's frequent allusions to the parable reveal his likely awareness of that reality.
(3) Peter Milward and Daniel L. Wright, drawing upon the character's background as the proto-Protestant Lollard martyr John Oldcastle, argue that the character represents typically understood Puritan vices of hypocrisy and irreverence. While Milward contends that the plays support Roman Catholicism (132-33), Wright maintains that they sanction the via media of orthodox Anglicanism (146-51). Hunt, on the other hand, argues that Falstaff embodies vices typically associated with High Church evils by Puritans, including idleness and Scriptural ignorance (21-22). Robert G. Hunter asserts that Falstaff "antiembodies the Protestant ethic" (125), as defined by Max Weber. Kristin Poole and Grace Tiffany offer politically oriented readings. Poole argues that Falstaff represents a parody of Puritanism typically consistent with contemporary depictions. Tiffany, while in agreement with Poole, also contends that the anti-Puritan parody ironically furthers a Puritan project of political "destabilization" (260).
(4) All Shakespeare quotations are taken from David Bevington's 2009 anthology.
(5) Hunt notices this pattern as well and offers the provocative suggestion that these robberies constitute "a criticism of the Reformation Protestants' rape of a sainted Catholic commonwealth" (20). If Hunt's reading is correct, Falstaff may be questioning Protestant assumptions via his mock-pious language.
(6) Davies, citing A Golden Chaine by William Perkins, explains how the reprobate would repeatedly promise and move in the direction of repentance, but always without completing the necessary stages, thereby creating what Davies calls "a soterial game of snakes and ladders" ("Lateness," 357).
(7) One is reminded of Macbeth's remark on how continued sin destroys the will's resistance to evil: "I am in blood / Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er" (3.4.137-39).
(8) Falstaff's casting of his looming danger as lacking the "strength" to repent is reminiscent of the Luther/Erasmus debate regarding free will. Luther took Erasmus to task for the contradiction, in his view, in trying to conceive of a will that was somehow tree but lacking in power. Luther's point was that God's complete power necessarily removes power from all creatures. Following Luther's logic, Falstaff's concern about losing the "strength to repent" is akin to fearing that he will lose his free will.
(9) There is a Romantic school of thought which argues that Falstaff's function is to transcend the limitations of conventional virtue in a Nietzschean sense. Understandably, his ruminations which, on the surface, suggest pangs of conscience tend to be downplayed within this camp. A. C. Bradley and Harold Bloom are two prominent advocates of this position.
(10) Bradley, for example, blames the newly crowned Henry V for callous treatment of his longtime companion during the rejection scene (252-60).
(11) For a fleshing out of the parallels between Falstaff and Dives, see Fike.
(12) The character Fellowship from Everyman is a typical case. John Conley offers a helpful treatment of the Medieval theory of friendship, with its classical and Biblical roots.
(13) Luther, in his Scriptural reading, was far more interested in words than in narrations of deeds, since the latter offered no direct doctrinal instruction. In his Preface to tile New Testament, he rates, on these grounds, the Gospel of John as supreme among the Gospels, and the Epistle of James as "an epistle full of straw" (19) in contrast with some of the other more "evangelical" (19) epistles.
(14) Hunt points out that the flames themselves could be seen by "a godly Protestant auditor" (22) as proof of Bardolph's reprobate status, rather than a qualification of it.
(15) David Kaula points out that if Faustus does not believe that repentance is possible, he will probably not do so. The question of the literal truth of the Calvinistic position, then, becomes practically irrelevant for Faustus, since the possibility so dominates his mind (14).
(16) For a detailed account of how this scene reflects the dramatized Henry V's Protestant orthodoxy, see Davies's treatment of Falstaff's "lateness."
(17) On this point, see John Draper, 419.
(18) John Schwindt states of Luther's perspective, "This God can do whatever he wills. He can reward one person for hating him and punish another for loving him. He can love a sinner more than a person in grace. He can deceive. He can will mortal sin and grace to coexist ... Liberated from the restraints of goodness, justice, mercy, wisdom, and love, this late medieval deity is surely the lord of the absurd" (6). It is important to stress, however, that Luther would say that God only seems unjust to our feeble minds. He clarifies that this transcendence is a matter of limited human perspective rather than actual divine injustice and cites the day of glory when "we shall all clearly see that He both was and is just!" (201).
(19) See Fike on this point.
(20) I Samuel 16:7. I would argue, in fact, that Falstaff's joke is partly an allusion to this famous verse, a particularly choice one for Reformed commentaries.
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|Title Annotation:||John Falstaff|
|Publication:||Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
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