Character Directory

 

FALSTAFF

Sir John Falstaff is physically huge, stunningly amoral, and outrageously funny—is generally regarded as one of the greatest characters in English literature. Lecherous, gluttonous, obese, cowardly, and a thief, he lies to the world but is honest with himself. His monumental presence, both literal and metaphoric, dominates the plays in which he appears, and he has become one of the most familiar of Shakespeare's creations, having inspired work ranging from pub signs and ceramic mugs to operas and symphonic works.

In the Henry IV plays Falstaff, although an entirely credible human being, also functions as a symbol of an extreme lifestyle. In Henry IV, Part 1 young Prince Hal begins to come to grips with his role as the future King of England, and he is presented with strong figures who suggest modes of adulthood. Unlike Hal's father, the calculating and politically shrewd King Henry IV, and unlike the intensely single-minded warrior Hotspur, Falstaff, in the free and dissolute ambience of the Boar’s Head Tavern, indulges in food, drink, and adventure, whether sexual or criminal, and rejects life's demands for courage or honor. From the beginning the Prince states his intention to reject Falstaff’s world, in the famous 'reformation' speech (1.2.190-212). Still, throughout the play he is clearly delighted with his friend's bold effronteries and witty lies; at its close he promises to support Falstaff’s claim to have killed Hotspur. In Part 1 Falstaff is a decided rascal, cowardly and deceitful, but his common sense and tolerance counter the values of Hotspur and King Henry.

In Henry IV, Part 2 the Prince is closer to his assumption of power, and he is accordingly more remote from Falstaff. Falstaff dominates this play entirely. He is still very funny—as he puts it, 'I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men' (1.2.8-but he is presented in a significantly darker light, contributing to the play's atmosphere of disease and death. He is ill; his first words deal with a diagnosis (1.2.1), and he describes himself as sick on several occasions. He refers to his age several times, as when he doubts his attractiveness to Doll Tearsheet, say-ing, 'I am old, I am old' (2.4.268). In Part 1 he says he is in his 50s (2.4.418-419), while in Part 2 his acquaintance with SHALLOW is said to date from 'fifty-five year ago' (3.2.205), making him at least 70. 

Most important, his misdeeds are distinctly more serious in 2 Henry IV. In Part 1 his extortion of bribes from draft evaders is merely reported (4.2.11-48), while we actually see it happen in Part 2, 3.2. Moreover, his impressed soldiers, anonymous victims in Part 1, take human shape in Part 2 as such sympathetic, if minor, figures as Shadow and Feeble. The recruiting scene is hilarious, but it remains on the record as evidence of Falstaff’s criminality. In fact, the episode was clearly intended as a satirical condemnation of a real practice that plagued the English poor in Shakespeare's time. Perhaps Falstaff’s most serious offence is his selfish exploitation of his friends. He promises love but instead bleeds money from his loyal admirer the Hostess, as she herself describes in 2.1.84-101. The preposterous Shallow is a natural victim, but Falstaff’s cynical rationale for fleecing him—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' (3.2.325-326)—is, however wittily put, morally repugnant. 

Hal is distant and hostile to Falstaff when they meet in 2.4, and when the knight seeks to profit from Hal's succession to the crown, the new king forbids his presence. Hal is cold and forceful—although he mercifully provides his former friend with a generous pension—and Falstaff’s fall seems abrupt, although it has been prepared for throughout both plays. The needs of the greater, political and military world of Prince Hal triumph in the end. Still however fully one may endorse Prince Hal's rejection of Falstaff (and many people do not accept it at all), the fat knight remains a generally sympathetic figure If his misdeeds would be offensive in real life, they are frequently delightful on stage. He deflates pretension with the needle of his satire, and he counters excessive rigor with his entertainingly flexible morals. His combination of grandiose rhetoric, penetrating wit, and common sense shines in such virtuoso passages of comic monologue as his battlefield rejection of courage (7 Henry IV, 5.4.110-120)-leading to a particularly outrageous gesture, the stabbing of Hotspur's corpse—and his tribute to wine (2 Henry IV, 4 3 85-123), long acclaimed as one of the most delectable discourses in English literature. In the plays’ tavern scenes (2.4 in each) he is uproarious and hearty. His ceaseless flow of parody and imitation evokes a wide and enjoyable range of personages from aristocrats to highwaymen.   

Falstaff is a figure of immense psychological resonance; through him we can enjoy our own fantasies of life without responsibilities. When it seems he can offer no excuse for some misdeed and must surely be brought down, like the rest of us, he devises some extravagant lie or joke and escapes. His vitality seems limitless; as he puts it himself, 'banish plump Jack, and banish all the world' (Henry IV, Part 1 2.4.473-474). However Falstaff is banished, for he also represents amoral disloyalty, criminal exploitation, and weak social values. Less sternly, he is often compared to spring like weather in autumn (e.g., in Henry IV, Part 1 1.1.154-155, and Henry IV, Part 2 2.2.112), a common metaphor for youthful energy in old age. The fat knight clearly reflects Shakespeare's fond appreciation of tavern lite and its pleasurable delinquencies, but one of the values most important to the playwright-as is especially plain in the History Plays—was the maintenance of social order. Thus Falstaff is repudiated in no uncertain terms, both in the Henry IV plays and in The Merry Wives, part of Falstaff s humor lies in his burlesque of the chivalric values of the aristocracy, and part of his vital force in his energetic individuality.    

These traits lead many modern readers to think of the Henry IV plays as ironical satires of war and government and of Falstaff’s rejection as proof that human authenticity is tragically at odds with the practice of politics. However, this ascribes to Shakespeare the views of our own age, when the worth of the individual is placed above that of traditional societal values. But in earlier times Falstaff was held to be flatly villainous. The first great Shakespearean editor, Nicholas Rowe, called him a Thief Lying, Cowardly, Vainglorious, and in short every way vicious' in his 1709 edition of the plays.  A little later, Samuel Johnson wrote that Falstaff has nothing in him that can be esteemed'. Although Shakespeare himself was surely less critical of his creation, he certainly would have understood their point of view. In the Renaissance the potential of the individual was beginning to be recognized, as Shakespeare's interest in and respect for human psychology exemplify, but the ancient, biblically sanctioned, hierarchical society of medieval Europe is persistently championed in the plays, as well as in other works of Elizabethan literature. Therefore, necessity—that national order be restored after a civil war—demands the rejection of the thoughtless pleasures and the irresponsibility that Falstaff displays. Falstaff’s popularity on the Elizabethan stage prompted Shakespeare to announce, in the Epilogue to Henry IV, Part 2, that the fat knight would appear in another play. However, he does not appear in Henry V, although he may have been a character m a lost, probably unacted version of that play. A number of textual peculiarities make it clear that Henry V was altered after it was first written; most strikingly, Pistol takes on Falstaffian characteristics in several passages. Following his humiliation in 5.1, he speaks of growing old and of losing Doll Tearsheet, lines that are plainly more appropriate to Falstaff. Also, Pistol's capture of the French Soldier parallels Falstaff’s comic achievements in 1 and 2 Henry IV. Scholars speculate that in an original draft of the play, Falstaff was the chief comic character, that he was deleted by the playwright—for it appears that the present version of the play derives from Shakespeare's manuscript—and that much of his part was transferred to Pistol. This theory cannot be proven, but it does explain the textual evidence. 

The fat knight's death is instead described in Henry V 2 3 by Pistol, the Hostess, Bardolph, and Nym and their affection for him reflects the playwrights. When Bardolph wishes he were with Falstaff where some'er he is, either in heaven or in Hell! (2.3.7-8), the Hostess asserts that he is surely in heaven; she goes on to describe his death-bed touchmgly:'... after I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with flowers and smile upon his fingers' end, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen and a babbled of green fields ... a' cried out "God, God, God!" three or four times . . .' (2.3.14-20). Thus Falstaffs humanly believable end summons our sympathy one last time for the knight who had 'more flesh than another man, and therefore more frailty' (7 Henry IV, 3.3.167-168).

The Merry Wives of Windsor was written before Henry V, probably during the creation of 2 Henry IV, and here Falstaff is a less complex figure than the giant of the Henry IV plays. His function is more purely comic and stands at the centre of the play rather than in contrast to the realities of history. He is more nearly a traditional character type, the comic villain whose downfall is obvious from the outset. He is also associated with another type, the foolish and boastful would-be lady's man, although in attempting to seduce the wives to get at their husbands' money, Falstaff is not erotically inclined. However, he is thereby linked with the familiar theme of the jealous husband, and the sexual side of his story links him with the sub-plots centered on the courting of Anne Page.  The complications caused by Falstaff’s greedy impulses lead him to receive a humorous retribution and then forgiveness. His personality has not changed—he is still brassy, shrewd, and amorally selfish—but the resourceful prankster and brazen reprobate of the Henry IV plays no longer has the initiative. He is easily tricked by the wives, not once but three times. This is sometimes regarded as an unfortunate trivialization of a great character, but it may also be argued that Falstaff’s lesser magnitude in The Merry Wives suits his simpler function as a comic butt. In the world of Prince Hal, Falstaff was a shrewd courtier in addition to his other roles, and he never forgot his status—indeed, several of his fantastic excuses for his misbehavior refer to the exalted position of the Prince.  In Windsor he assumes regal attitudes: he tyrannically bullies Pistol and Nym, and he attempts to lord it over the townspeople. His changed behavior—-in addition to demonstrating Shakespeare's acute perception of social relations—makes Falstaff an entirely appropriate target for a comic comeuppance.   This aspect of the character is particularly evident in Falstaff’s apologetic confession following his final humiliation (5.5.122-129)—often seen, in its 'un-Falstaffian' quality as evidence of a lost source play. However, in the masquelike finale, where none of the characters present their ordinary characteristics, symbolic expression is given to the play's implicit moral—the triumph of domesticity. Here, then, Falstaff makes the formal surrender that his status as a traditional comic butt requires.

In this respect, Falstaff has been seen as a representation of an ancient fertility spirit in a tradition that in the playwright's time was still alive in remote regions of Britain and was still generally understood. As such, his figurative role was that of the sacrificial victim punished for the sins of society in ancient religious practices. This image need not be taken literally to see that the Falstaff of The Merry Wives is identified with common human foibles.  Indeed, Falstaff has the same function in the Henry IV plays as well. He moves us, in a way that Hal or Hotspur or Anne Page cannot, because, like him, we all often feel irresponsible, dishonest, selfish inclinations. We know that Falstaff is part of us, like it or not.  In the Henry IV plays he represents a childish, self centered universe of pleasure that adults are doomed to leave and that is defeated by a harsh and demanding political ideal, insistent on duty and order. In The Merry Wives Falstaff is again opposed by a triumphant principle, in this case the world of domestic security. In both cases, he embodies the need of each of us to rebel against the constraints of society and thus find our individual potential, and his defeat symbolizes the need to sublimate that rebellion in light of our innate dependence on each other. 

In his first appearance, Hal excuses Falstaff from even an awareness of time, 'unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta' (1 Henry IV, 1.2.7-10). The essential nature of Falstaff’s personality is revealed in this passage, for the thrust of his wit, and of his life, is to elaborate this fantasy and to defend it against the demands of reality.  We delight in the brilliant energy of his efforts, and we mourn the impossibility of their success.

FENTON

Fenton is suitor of Anne Page. Fenton, a conventional young romantic lead, has little personality, although we are told that he 'kept company with the wild Prince and Poins' (3.2.66-67). Anne's father, George Page, objects to Fenton on this ground and on the related one that he is too socially high-ranking to be an appropriate husband for the bourgeois maid. Moreover, Page suspects Fenton is a treasure hunter. Fenton himself admits to Anne in 4.3.12-18 that, although he has fallen in love with her since. Page's money was his original motive for courting her. Nevertheless, he compares favourably with Anne's other suitors, Slender and Caius, and when Anne's parents each plot to have her abducted and married by one of these misfits, her elopement with Fenton comes as a natural course of action. When Fenton announces their marriage in 5.5.216-227, her parents gracefully accept the situation in the spirit of reconciliation that closes the play.

SHALLOW

Robert Shallow is a Gloucestershire Justice of the Peace. A garrulous old man who thinks himself sophisticated but is in fact very gullible, the Shallow of Henry IV, Part 2 is a perfect victim for Falstaff’s exploitation. Given to lying about his youthful adventures with Falstaff and pluming himself on his status as a justice, he is somewhat ridiculous. As Falstaff remarks in a soliloquy at 3.2.296-322, he remembers the youthful Shallow as a laughing-stock, and he is certainly a comical figure in old age. However, he is never simply laughable, despite Falstaff’s elaborate and comically uncomplimentary description. Upon their initial appearance, Shallow and his cousin Silence seem amusingly empty-headed as their conversation shifts from the deaths of old acquaintances to the price of livestock in 3.2.33-52, but while the exchange is a tour de force of subtle comedy, the characters are also movingly human: two old men whose minds wander as they confront mortality. Shallow's age and something more of his earlier life are mentioned in 3.2.205, where Silence remarks that it was 'fifty-five year ago' that Shallow entered Clement's Inn, a law school. Supposing him to be about 20 years old at that time, we see that he is about 75 at the time of the play. Clement's Inn, as Shakespeare's audience will have known, was an institution similar to the Inns of Court but less socially and intellectually elite. As his capacities in old age suggest, he was not accepted by the top law schools in youth. Such a circumstantial biography helps make Shallow a real person and not simply a comic butt.

Throughout the play. Shallow is a sympathetic character. He presents the pleasant world of the small landowner in Henry IV, Part 2's remarkable panoply of English scenes, hosting Falstaff and his men with a bountiful dinner of home-grown food. His incautious friendship is repaid when he is jailed along with Falstaff in 5.5, when Falstaff is banished by the Prince.  In The Merry Wives, although Shallow is more prominent and appears in far more scenes than in Henry IV, Part 2 he is less strikingly drawn. He is the avuncular promoter of a marriage between his dim-witted young relative Slender and the desirable Anne Page. Also seconding the Host in 2.1, 2.3, and 3.1, he helps avert the duel between Evans and Caius, in a sub-plot that contributes to the play's conciliatory quality.

As The Merry Wives opens. Shallow—making pompous claims of aristocratic ancestry—threatens a lawsuit against Falstaff; this suit is immediately forgotten in the play, and it is sometimes thought that its purpose was solely to link the laughable country justice with some real person whom Shakespeare had disputed with and was now making fun of (see William Gardiner; Thomas Lucy). However, this is highly questionable, and the episode's peculiarly truncated quality probably reflects the haste with which the play was apparently written, or perhaps it survives from a lost play sometimes hypothesized as a source for The Merry Wives.

SLENDER

Abraham Slender is a dull-witted suitor of Anne Page. For financial reasons, a marriage between Anne and Slender is supported by Anne's parents and by Slender's elderly relative Justice Shallow, but Slender himself, although attracted to the idea, can only sigh vacantly at the prospect—'. . . sweet Anne Page!' (3.1.38, 66, ^S)—and make awkwardly embarrassed conversation. When he finally proposes, he can only blurt that it isn't his idea, 'Truly, for mine own part, I would little or nothing with you. Your father and my uncle hath made motions. . . . You may ask your father . . .'(3.4.61-64). Anne beseeches, 'Good mother, do not marry me to yond fool' (3.4.81), and the audience can only sympathize. However, Mistress Page arranges for Slender to elope with Anne during the mock fairy ceremonies in 5.5. Fortunately, Anne and her true love, Fenton, foil the plan, and Slender has a boy foisted off on him, as he only discovers during the marriage ceremony.  Slender's name suggests both his appearance and his lack of self-reliance. Such feeble characters were stock figures in Elizabethan comedy. It has been speculated that Slender was also intended by Shakespeare as a satirical portrait of the stepson of his enemy William Gardiner, but this cannot be proven.

FORD

Ford is a jealous husband of Mistress Alice Ford.  Ford is to some extent a character type representing a traditional figure in European folk ore and literature the jealous husband, but he is also humanly believable. His emotional excess is not only a source of simple comedy, it also adds to our rich sense of domestic life in Windsor. Ford's jealous tendencies are established before he appears, when hi wife remarks on them to her friend Mistress Page.  Then, in a psychologically masterful manner, Shakespeare demonstrates the growing frantic episode of jealousy. At first Ford disbelieves Pistol’s assertion that Falstaff is courting his wife, though only for a rather uncomplimentary reason-'Wh'sir, my wife is not young' (2.1.109)-but then he tersely directs himself to look into this possibility.  This is corroborated within Nym’s insinuations of a similar adultery to Page. Page dismisses these accusations. When his wife observes that Ford appears preoccupied, he snaps at her. She remarks that he has 'some crotchets m Ay head now' (2.1.148) When Mistress Quickly says that his wife leads an ill life with him' (2.2.85),. we easily believe her.  Ford's strategy-taking the name Brook and encouraging Falstaff to approach his wife so that he can catch him at it-is a simple-minded device suitable to the jealous husband in a farce.  The wily wives make Ford look foolish at the same time that they dupe- Falstaff though we do not sympathize with Ford, his heart felt relief when the true situation is revealed to him is touching. Moved to impromptu rhetoric, he asserts to his wife he rather will suspect the sun with cold than her with wantonness (4.4.7-8), inspiring Page to remark tellingly, •Be not-as extreme in submission as in offence' (4.4.11-12).

PAGE

George Page is the husband of Mistress Margaret Page. Unlike his jealous friend Ford, Page believes in his wife's fidelity. He is consistently mild and cheerful, pleasant evidence of the solid virtues of the bourgeois life of Windsor. He is part of the group, led by the Host, who mediate the quarrel between Evans and Caius, and he repeatedly tries to cajole Ford out of his irrational jealousy. If Page seems unpleasantly mercenary in attempting to marry his daughter Anne to the ridiculous Slender, we should remember that such motives were ordinary, indeed expected, in Elizabethan fathers, and we note that Page accepts Anne's elopement with Fenton with good grace.  Page's solid common sense is exemplified in his dry reply to Ford's exaggerated protestations of trust in his wife once he has been proven wrong. Page suggests, ' 'Tis well, 'tis well; no more. Be not as extreme in submission as in offence' (4.4.10-12). Once Falstaff is properly humiliated for his deeds, in 5.5, it is Page who ends the punishment, saying, 'Yet be cheerful, knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house.' (5.5.171-172).  In 1.1.42 Evans gives Page the name Thomas, though he is called George by his wife in three places (2.1.143, 2.1.151, 5.5.199). While this may represent an error by Evans, it is more probably just a typical instance of Shakespeare's tolerance for minor inconsistencies.

WILLIAM PAGE

William is the son of George Page and Mistress Page. William appears only in the famous 'Latin' scene (4.1), where he is quizzed by his schoolmaster, Evans. Evans' Welsh accent and the confusion of an observer, Mistress Quickly, combine to produce a parody of the standard Latin textbook of Shakespeare's day, Lily’s Latin Grammar. William stumbles through the interview, none too well prepared, until he is finally forced to admit, 'Forsooth, I have forgot' (4.1.-67). He is then excused from the impromptu lesson. The scene, with its bevy of double entendres and bilingual puns, was presumably intended especially for the educated audience for whom the play was written, but the episode may also reflect Shakespeare's childhood memories. He had himself learned Latin from Lily's Grammar at school in Stratford; perhaps William's name was not without sentimental significance for the playwright.

SIR HUGH EVANS

Sir Hugh Evans is a Welsh clergyman and schoolmaster. A peaceable busybody, Evans is distinguished by his heavy Welsh accent—Falstaff says he 'makes fritters of English' (5.5.144). In 1.1 he volunteers to form a committee to settle a dispute between Falstaff and Shallow, and he repeatedly tries to allay the irrational jealousy of Master Ford. When he attempts to promote Slender’s marriage to Anne, he is challenged to a duel by Dr Caius. The clergyman is daunted by this prospect, describing himself as 'full of . . . trempling of mind' (3.1.11-12). To calm himself, he sings a popular Elizabethan love Song (with words by Christopher Marlowe), comically borrowing a line from the Bible. The Host defuses the duel by sending the two men to different rendezvous. To preserve his honor, Evans proposes an alliance with Caius against the Host, claiming that they have been made fools of. They later are apparently responsible for the theft of the Host's horses.

Evans also figures in the famous 'Latin scene' (4.1), in which he quizzes young William on his Latin lessons. In lines that parody the standard Latin textbook of Shakespeare's day, Lily’s Latin Grammar, Evans' accent and Mistress Quickly capacity for misunderstanding join to make fritters of Latin. The scene is full of double entendres and bilingual puns, presumably intended especially for the educated audience for whom the play was originally written. The episode may also reflect Shakespeare's own memories of childhood: he learned Latin from Lily's Grammar at school in Stratford, where he probably had a teacher of Welsh ancestry, Thomas Jenkins.

DOCTOR CAIUS

Doctor Caius is a French physician and suitor of Anne Page. Caius is descended from a traditional stock figure, the blustering, arrogant, and ineffective doctor, although his profession is not important in the play; his bad temper and aggressive nature are exemplified by his explosive reiterations of the expletive 'By gar'—e.g., in 5.5.203-207. Caius is also a stereotypical foreigner, mangling the English language and behaving with notable wrong-headedness. He challenges Evans to a duel for having attempted to assist Slender, a rival for Anne's hand. The duel is averted by a group of townsmen, led by the Host. Caius and Evans then conspire against the Host, arranging to steal his horses. Although Caius' combativeness is generally amusing, this petty vengeance, combined with his vanity, isolates him from the generally mild temper of the play, and it is probably significant that he and Evans, a Welshman, are Windsor’s only foreigners. Caius is also the only character to Withdraw willfully from the reconciliations in 5.5.

Host

The Host is the keeper of the Garter Tavern. The bluff and ebullient Host is a peacekeeper whom Evans nominates to the committee intended to arbitrate between Shallow and Falstaff and who later leads the effort to prevent the duel between Evans and Dr Caius. The would-be combatants, the only two foreigners in Shakespeare's Windsor, reward the Host's good intentions by having his horses stolen. The Host's heartiness is evident in his extravagant rhetoric. For instance, when directing a visitor to Falstaff’s rooms at the inn, he says, 'There's his chamber, his house, his castle, his standing-bed, and truckle-bed; 'tis painted about with the story of the Prodigal, fresh and new. Go, knock and call; he'll speak like an ‘Anthropophaginian unto thee; knock, I say' (4.5.5-9). His bold language encompasses an extraordinary range of epithets, from 'bully rook' (1.3.2, etal.),'Cavaliero' (2.1.186; 2.3.70), and 'bully Hercules' (1.3.6), to such fanciful constructs as 'Bohemian-Tartar' (4.5.18) and 'Castalian king-Urinal' (2.3.31).

BARDOLPH

Bardolph appears both parts of Henry IV, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry V, and is a follower of Falstaff. In Henry IV, Part 1 Bardolph participates in the highway robbery of 2.2, and in 2 Henry IV he assists the fat knight in his illicit recruiting efforts in 3.2, collecting bribes from men who wish to avoid service. When Falstaff’s rejected by Prince Hal in 5.5, Bardolph goes to prison with him. In The Merry Wives Bardolph is only a minor figure who occasionally delivers messages to Falstaff. In Henry V he is a soldier in the army of King Henry V. In 2.1 he defuses the feud between Pistol and Nym. In 3.2.28-57 the Boy convincingly describes him as a coward and thief. In 3.6 we learn that Bardolph is to be executed for having stolen a sacramental vessel from a French church, and in 4.4 the Boy reports that Bardolph has indeed been hung.

Despite his swaggering, he has little distinctive personality. His peacemaking role in Henry V ironically counters King Henry V's bellicosity in an anti-war reading of the play, but if one interprets Henry as a epic hero, then Bardolph remains a comic soldier, a petty villain whose end helps to demonstrate the King's dedication to justice. Bardolph's most prominent characteristic is his diseased facial complexion, florid and fiery, 'all bubukles, and whelks, and knobs, and Hames o' fire' (Henry V, 3.6.105-106). He is teased mercilessly about his skin disorder by Falstaff and other characters, finding himself compared to lamps, torches, blushing maids, red wine, red petticoats, hellfire, and even 'Lucifer's privy kitchen' (Henry IV2, 2.4.330)

PISTOL

Pistol appears in Henry IV, Part 2, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry V and is a braggart soldier and follower of Falstaff. The comical Pistol serves as Falstaff’s aide in King Henry IV's campaign against the rebels in Henry IV, Part 2. He first appears at Falstaff s dinner party at the Boar’s Heard Tavern in 2.4, and he offends everyone present with grandiose insults while asserting his chivalric honor with distorted snatches of rhetoric from Elizabethan drama and literature. This vigorous mode of address is Pistol's principal attribute in all of his appearances. To some extent. Pistol satirizes military pretensions, but his rhetoric is more pointedly a literary parody; Shakespeare exaggerates the florid language of Marlowe and his followers. Pistol is called an ancient; ancient, or ensign (standard-bearer), is a military rank, the equivalent of lieutenant, which Bardolph calls Pistol in Henry V, 2.1.38.  Pistol may actually be an ancient, or he may have simply appropriated the title, for part of his absurdity is his singular unsuitability for command.

Like the 16th-century sidearm for which he is named. Pistol is violently loud but incapable of serious damage. Also, the pistol was commonly associated, in Elizabethan humor, with the penis; much is made of this in Henry IV, Part 2 2.4.109-135.  When the Quarto edition of Henry IV, Part 2 was published in 1600, its subtitle made particular reference to Pistol, whose appeal was already recognized, and he has been among Shakespeare's most popular characters ever since. His extravagant rhetoric makes him hilarious even to audiences for whom the original parodies are meaningless.

In The Merry Wives Pistol is again in Falstaff’s entourage (apparently as a civilian), but he refuses to deliver his master's love letters, rejecting the task as unsoldierly, and Falstaff fires him. He and Nym seek revenge, and they inform Ford and Page that Falstaff has designs on their wives, thereby triggering the principal sub-plot of Ford's jealousy. Pistol is insignificant thereafter, although he does appear in the final Masque like scene, disguised as a fairy. This may simply reflect the employment of the actor who played Pistol in another role, but Pistol's appearance in character might have been taken by 16th-century audiences as a clue to the ceremonial nature of the scene, in which personality is wiped out.

In Henry V, Pistol mourns the passing of Falstaff with his new wife, the Hostess, whom he has presumably dazzled with his extravagant braggadoccio.  Once on campaign in France, he proves himself a coward in 3.2; following this episode, the Boy remarks on the villainy of Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph.  In 3.6 Pistol pleads unsuccessfully for Fluellen’s intercession on behalf of Bardolph, who has been sentenced to death for looting; in 4.1 he is one of the soldiers whom the incognito King Henry V encounters the night before the battle of Agincourt, though he has little to say, merely making a nasty remark about Fluellen.

In 4.4 Pistol captures a French Soldier and demands ransom of him, threatening to kill him otherwise. Since he speaks no French and the soldier no English, the scene is comical, but Pistol is unquestionably an unpleasant character, vicious and overbearing.The Boy acts as interpreter, saving the soldier's life, and he remarks afterwards of Pistol, 'I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart' (4.4.69-70).  Pistol is last seen in 5.1, where Fluellen forces him to eat a leek. The last survivor of FalstafFs followers, Pistol in Henry V serves to show that the anarchic element represented by Falstaff is finally rendered both harmless and completely disreputable. On the other hand. Pistol may also be seen as a symbolic parallel to King Henry's militarism: he satirizes notions of military honor, while most of the combat actually presented involves Pistol at his most degenerate. Most strikingly, his threat to kill his prisoner in 4.4 foreshadows Henry's own order that 'every soldier kill his prisoner' (4.6.37).

It is thought that Falstaff appeared in an early, unacted version of Henry V and was then excised by Shakespeare, with remnants of his part going to Pistol, who displays Falstaffian characteristics in several scenes, particularly 5.1. This theory cannot be proven, but it is supported by textual evidence. 

NYM

Nym appears in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V and is a follower of Falstaff. In The Merry Wives Nym is a minor figure, being dismissed by his master early in the play for refusing to deliver love letters. But in three brief scenes he is memorably established as an eccentric character, using the word 'humour' in almost every speech, applying it in every imaginable way, to the point where it ceases to have meaning. This word was a fashionable and widely parodied term in late 16th-century London (see ‘Comedy of Humours’; in fact, a character in a play of 1596, George Chapman’s The Blinding Beggar of Alexandria, had the same verbal habit and clearly seems to have influenced Shakespeare's creation of Nym.

In Henry V Nym feuds with Pistol, who has married the Hostess, to whom Nym was engaged. Bardolph reconciles the two. Nym is one of the companions of Falstaff who mourn his death in 2.3, but he says little. In 3.2, as part of King Henry V's army in France, Nym is cowardly and is upbraided by Fluellen. The Boy comments on the villainous characters of Nym, Pistol, and Bardolph in 3.2.28-56, describing them as braggarts, petty thieves, and cowards.  In 4.4.72 the Boy reports that Nym has been hung,

apparently for theft. In The Merry Wives, Nym's function is comical, although he remains an undeveloped character. In Henry V, his more unsavory aspects are stressed; he is part of the underworld that is put down by King Henry. His very name suggests petty villainy; it meant 'steal' or 'filch' in Elizabethan English.

ROBIN

Robin goes by several ‘names’ in different plays.  In Merry Wives, he uses his proper name but in Henry IV, Part 2 he is known as Page and Henry V, he goes by Boy.  In Henry IV, Part 2 he simply performs routine tasks and says little. However, in 2.2, where he ; bests Bardolph in a battle of wits and is rewarded with money by Prince Hal and Poins, the Page saucily comes into his own, in the manner of the part 'young pages in the plays of John Lyly, whose works were well known to Shakespeare.  Robin’s diminutive stature is frequently referred to in humorous terms by the other characters.

In Henry V he accompanies his late master's cronies to France as part of King Henry V’s army. In 3.2.28-57 he elicits our sympathy by regretting his association with such cowardly thieves. At the battle of Agincourt he acts as an interpreter between Pistol and the captive French Solider in 4.4, and after this sorry episode he again bemoans his continued connection with Pistol; he also reveals that Bardolph and Nym have been hung. In this speech (4.4.69-80) he remarks that only he and other boys guard the English baggage train, which would thus make a good target for the French, if only they knew the situation. With this observation the Boy grimly heralds his own death, for in 4.7.5 Gower reports the French massacre of all these youngsters.

SIMPLE

Peter Simple is the servant of Slender. Simple reveals himself to be no smarter than his name suggests, as he carries messages and announces arrivals.  In his most developed scene 4.54.24-53, he is fooled by Falstaff's elementary verbal tricks.

RUGBY

John Rugby is servant of Dr Caius. Rugby, who says little, merely attends his bullying master, a court physician.

MISTRESS FORD

Mistress Alice Ford is one of the title characters in The Merry Wives of Windsor and wife of Frank Ford.  When Mistress Ford and her friend Mistress Page receive identical love letters from Falstaff, they feel their honor has been insulted by a gross lecher, and they plot revenge. In their plan Mistress Ford serves as bait for Falstaff, who comes to her house, where the appearance of her jealous husband causes the lecher's humiliating flight, first in a hamper of dirty laundry and then in disguise as an old woman, pummeled by Ford. Mistress Ford suffers from her husband's neurotic jealousy, but she bears with him, and we sympathize when she quietly observes that Mistress Page's more reasonable man makes her 'the happier woman' (2.1.103). By the same token we share her delight when Ford's jealousy leads him to be made as foolish as Falstaff; 'I know not which pleases me better', she exults, 'that my husband is deceived, or Sir John' (3.3. 164-165).

MISTRESS PAGE

Mistress Margaret Page is one of the title characters in The Merry Wives of Windsor, wife of George Page and mother of Anne and William. In 2.1 Mistress Page's response to Falstaff’s love letter establishes the position of the honest and forthright wives as enemies of Falstaff’s amorality. After reviewing the insult to her wifely honor, she concludes, 'How shall I be revenged on him? For revenged I will be, as sure as his guts are made of puddings' (2.1.29-31). When Mistress Ford receives an identical letter, the two friends join forces. Mistress Page's role is to break in on Falstaff’s visits to Mistress Ford, sparking his humiliating exits, first hidden in a hamper of dirty laundry and then beaten into the streets while dressed in an old woman's clothes. In 4.4 Mistress Page devises Falstaff’s final punishment, his torment by children disguised as fairies. If she seems insensitive in seeking to marry Anne to the obnoxious Dr Caius, she accepts the outcome graciously when Anne elopes with Fenton, saying, 'Master Fenton, Heaven give you many, many merry days!' (5.5.236-237), and she proposes the pleasant resolution of the play, that all the chief characters 'laugh this sport o'er by a country fire, Sir John [Falstaff] and all' (5.5.239-240).  Mistress Page's ebullient strength is well matched with her husband's milder cheerfulness. With him, she contributes a large share of the play's charm, in both her vigorous good humor and her confident assertion of traditional values.

ANNE PAGE

Anne Page is a marriageable young woman pursued by Slender, Dr Caius, and Fenton. Anne's father, George Page, favors Slender because he is rich, although completely vacuous. Her mother, Mistress Page, prefers Dr Caius, who is an obnoxious but prestigious physician at Windsor Castle. Anne herself is in love with Fenton. A demure daughter, she urges Fenton to do his utmost to win over her father before they consider elopement. However, she has the good sense to see that the other two suitors are totally unacceptable.  After Slender has proposed by observing that it isn't his idea to marry her, but that of his uncle and her father, Anne forthrightly pleads, -Good mother do not marry me to yond fool' (3.4.81), and when Mistress Page assures her that Dr Caius is more likely, she cries, 'Alas, I had rather be set quick i' th' earth 'and bow'd to death with turnips!' (3.4.85). When her parents each arrange her abduction by their chosen son-in-law, she rebels and urges Fenton to arrange their secret marriage, which her parents accept in the spirit of conciliation that closes the play.

MISTRESS QUICKLY

Mistress Quickly is the housekeeper of Dr Caius. Mistress Quickly is a shrewd yet comically foolish servant who meddles in other people's affairs. She serves as a messenger between the merry wives and Falstaff, and she impartially supports three different suitors in their pursuit of Anne Page. Quickly is a traditional, humorously loquacious comic character, given to the misuse of fancy words and the misinterpretation of other people's speeches. For instance, in the famous 'Latin scene', 4.1, Quickly finds bawdy puns in Latin grammatical exercises.  In 5.5 Quickly takes the part of the fairy queen in the ceremonial taunting of Falstaff that is his final humiliation at the hands of the wives. Quickly is entirely out of character in this scene, and her presence in the texts of the play may merely reflect the playhouse practice of having the actor who played Quickly also play the anonymous fairy imitator. Alternatively, her distinctively uncharacteristic presence may have been intended by Shakespeare to suggest the Masque like unreality of the scene, emphasizing its ritualistic quality. 

Mistress Quickly bears the same name as the Hostess of both parts of Henry IV and Henry V, and she shares the Hostess' comical way with words, but she is nonetheless best considered as a different person, living in a different world. She is unacquainted with FalstafF when she encounters him in The Merry Wives, and she has certainly never had anything to do with the Boar’s Head Tavern in London. It seems likely that, in the haste with which The Merry Wives was written, Shakespeare simply made use of an earlier creation in a new way. Neither he nor his audience was distressed by the inconsistencies this involves.

Servants

Servants are either of two workers in the Ford household. In 3.3 Mistress Ford has the Servants, whom she addresses as John and Robert, carry Falstaff out of the house in a laundry basket and dump him in the river. In 4.2 they again carry out the basket, and they remark humorously on the great weight it contained before. The Servants contribute to the sense of bourgeois prosperity that pervades Shakespeare's Windsor.

 

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