Antony Sher on Falstaff

Sher is one of our finest and most knowledgeable Shakespearean actors, and was featured in the i’s series on the Bard’s plays. I saw him play Falstaff in the RSC production. He makes some very good points not just on the subject but much wider aspects of characters:

Falstaff is an astonishing Lord of Misrule. He shocks us even ow, so what must he have been like to Shakespeare’s audience? A man who, while people are fighting and dying on the battlefield, says that honour is worthless (“I’ll none of it”); and that it’s best to play dead (“Time to counterfeit”). Falstaff is a lying, cheating thief and highwayman. He’s an obese, alcoholic bullsh**ter. He’s a completely untrustworthy friend: the minute a character leaves the stage, Falstaff rubbished them (he does this with Hal, Poins, shallow, and others). And yet we, the audience, love him. Why? Because it’s one of Shakespeare’s gifts, or, you might say, one of his tricks. In his ceaseless quest to make us se ourselves,he shows our reflections good and bad. And so, amazingly, we end up enjoying he moments when, say, Richard III or Iago confide in us, outlining their terrible plans. In real life, we’d run a mile from these characters. But in the strange safety of the theatre, with an invisible yet invincible curtain between us and them, we can license their immorality, and even rejoice in it. It’s us recognising out other selves, it’s our secret appetite to be both Jekyll and Hyde.

Falstaff isn’t nearly as lethal as Richard III or Iago, but he’s something of a monster too, ad, as someone who’s played all 3 parts, I can testify that they’re a treat to put in front of an audience. But Falstaff’s outrageousness isn’t enough for Shakespeare. He gives the fat knight a cruel and lonely end. Part One begins with Falstaff and Hall as the best of buddies, Part 2 finishes with Hal (now Henry V) rejecting Falstaff: “I know thee not, old man”.

The rejection scene is, I think, a perfect example of Shakespeare’s genius, because it demonstrates is unsparing truth about human behaviour. Hal must reject Falstaff. Hal is king now. And as England’s new ruler, there’s no more place for the Lord of Misrule. “

I think what he’s saying at the end is that it’s about growing up, of rejecting the toys of childhood. At least if you’re a king. So I guess that is a really big story to tell. And one that none of us really get to escape.

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One thought on “Antony Sher on Falstaff

  1. Pingback: Antony Sher on Falstaff | texthistory | Rogues & Vagabonds

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