Falstaff: Lion or Loon
In Maurice Morgans 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 Laymans 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 Johns character (in the first scene with Falstaffs 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 Falstaffs character in weird positions by comparing and making relations between other characters in Shakespeares 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 Shakespeares 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 Falstaffs 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 Morgans evaluation had a good ending decision of Falstaffs coward or courageous character; it didnt. 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 Falstaffs character in the later plays, but missed Prince Hals 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 spirits 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 students information, I would only use this essay for a few references of Falstaffs character but not for a complete reference and not for a critical review (only if you are into self abuse).
Morgan, Maurice. The Dramatic Character of Falstaff.
Ed. Bloom, Harold. Falstaff: A Critical Interpretation
Chelsea Publishing House, 1992