Thursday, 26 April 2012

Henry IV Part II by William Shakespeare

As promised, I have returned to The Bard.

Sir John Falstaff is one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. A mucker of young prince Hal in the two Henry IV plays, he is a lecherous, booze-soaked criminal and braggart. He appears in three works in all and was so loved by the audience at the time that Henry IV Part II finishes with a promise that the old beast would be back in Henry V. There, he makes a single off stage appearance when Hal, now king, hears of his demise.

It’s not hard to see how that came about. Falstaff is a man for whom restraint is more than a bad word, it is the fatal weakness in those around him:

I would you had but the wit: ‘twere better than your dukedom. Good faith, this same young sober-blooded boy doth not love me; nor a man cannot make him laugh; but that’s no marvel, he drinks no wine. There’s never none of these demure boys come to any proof; for thin drink doth so over-cool their blood, and making many fish-meals, that they fall into a kind of male green-sickness; and then, when they marry, they get wenches: they are generally fools and cowards; which some of us should be too, but for inflammation. A good sherris-sack hath a two-fold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and crudy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes; which, delivered o'er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood; which, before cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extremes: it illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives warning to all the rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain, the heart, who, great and puffed up with this retinue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour comes of sherris. So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till sack commences it and sets it in act and use. Hereof comes it that Prince Harry is valiant; for the cold blood he did naturally inherit of his father, he hath, like lean, sterile and bare land, manured, husbanded and tilled with excellent endeavour of drinking good and good store of fertile sherris, that he is become very hot and valiant. If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack.

Sir John carries on drinking until the end, although his hopes on becoming a favourite of the new king are dashed when the Henry publically disowns him. Still, who needs fancy friends when you’ve got Sherry?

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