Julius Caesar: tragical-historical parallel / flashback

Think of a Shakespearean character who is a notorious party boy, a man-child who (while second-in-command) is still hanging out with the wrong crowd. An impressive speaker who’s not above using that skill to threaten his living enemies and eulogize his dead ones.

Know who he is?

Good.

Now think of his adversary. A too-serious, single-minded idealist, with a caring wife who is desperate to know his secrets, but a wife whose constancy is in enough question for him to keep things close to his vest. A man not above insulting an ally in conflict.

Know who he is, too?

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Critical Opinion

The Merry Wives of Windsor doesn’t appear in (m)any Top Ten lists of Shakespeare. Most critics find it a weaker play.

There’s not a great deal of deeper meaning in the play, its plot or its characters.

What seems to be the greatest sin in the eyes of most critics, however, is in the character of Falstaff. While the fat knight is seen as a comic creation of genius in The First Part of Henry the Fourth, one with wit and ironic wisdom, the Falstaff of The Merry Wives is seen as a bad copy of that earlier character.

So why is it (and he) so weak?
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A Legend

According to theatrical legend–which, because it’s legend cannot be validated–The Merry Wives of Windsor exists because Shakespeare had been told by his patron, Queen Elizabeth, that she wanted to see “Falstaff in love.”

It’s a great story. The only problem is that the first time we hear this legend, it’s a hundred years later and the legend is brought forth by English dramatist John Dennis.

Let’s say it’s true, though… what are our clues?
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Say Goodbye to the Tavern Life

Yesterday, we talked some about the boy in Henry the Fifth being, for Hal, the last link to the tavern-life. Just to be clear:

  • Falstaff dies, of a “heart…fracted and corroborate” (II.ii.119)
  • Bardolph is hanged “for robbing a church” (III.vi.98)
  • Nym, too, has been “hanged” (IV.iv.72)
  • The boy is killed (IV.vii.1) by the French
  • Word from England comes that Pistol’s “Doll” (V.i.77) is dead of venereal disease (“malady of France” [V.i.78])

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Hal, the Boy

King Henry the Fifth “was not angry since (he) came to France // Until th(e) instant” (IV.vii.54-55) he discovers that the boy has been killed by the French. The king’s been insulted, has faced military losses, and has had to allow a childhood friend to be hanged, but only NOW is he angry. Why? What is it in the character of the boy that elicits such a response?
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Henry’s Greatest Hits: The Siege of Harfleur

How yet resolves the governor of the town?
This is the latest parle we will admit;
Therefore to our best mercy give yourselves;
Or like to men proud of destruction
Defy us to our worst: for, as I am a soldier,
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Act Two: Traitors, Tavern-mates, and Tennis Ball-Gifting Princes

Act Two of Henry the Fifth begins in the same manner as the first act, with the Chorus pushing the plot forward. After we hear that Henry is ready to lead an expedition to France, the Chorus tells us that “all the youth of England are on fire” (II.Chorus,1). The Chorus then tells of the plot of Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey against the king, hired by “the gilt of France (O guilt indeed)” (II.Chorus,26).

Only when the Chorus ends, and we get to Act Two, Scene One, it’s NOT to “Southampton (where) we shift our scene” (II.Chorus,42), but rather to where all our previous Act Two’s (from The First and Second Parts of Henry the Fourth) have gone: the tavern. Here, we find “Lieutenant Bardolph” (II.i.2) and “Corporal Nym” (II.i.1), where the latter bemoans Mistress Quickly’s marriage to Pistol, despite Nym’s being “trothplight” (II.i.18) or betrothed to her. When “Ancient Pistol” (II.i.24) and Quickly enter, it’s obvious from all the ranks, that it’s not just the “youth” of England that are on fire for war, but the old men as well.
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Falstaff

If The First Part of Henry the Fourth introduces John Falstaff, then The Second Part puts him front and center.

Last week, we talked a little about how Falstaff’s role increased in size while Hal’s shrunk. And yesterday, we saw how the play is thrown off balance by Shakespeare’s refusal to have Hal (whom you’d figure would be the main character) interact with either father figure (real or symbolic).
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Lack of Interaction (Hal and Poins, as well)

Yesterday, we discussed the absence of the royals for long stretches of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, and it weird effect on the dramatic structure of the play. And last week, we touched on the amount of time (stage time and speeches) that each of the three main characters spent in the play.

Let’s take a look on the effect this has…
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Numbers (but not overall) and More Expectations

In The First Part of Henry the Fourth, there are 18 scenes.

In The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, there are 19 (plus the Induction).
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