Falstaff and King Lear
Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear is a detailed description of the consequences of one man’s decisions. This fictitious man is Lear, King of England, who’s decisions greatly alter his life and the lives of those around him. As Lear bears the status of King he is, as one expects, a man of great power but sinfully he surrenders all of this power to his daughters as a reward for their demonstration of love towards him. (Cain) This untimely abdication of his throne results in a chain reaction of events that send him through a journey of hell. King Lear is a metaphorical description of one man’s journey through hell in order to expiate his sin. As the play opens one can almost immediately see that Lear begins to make mistakes that will eventually result in his downfall. (Neher)
This is the first and most significant of the many sins that he makes in this play. By abdicating his throne to fuel his ego he is disrupts the great chain of being which states that the King must not challenge the position that God has given him. This undermining of God’s authority results in chaos that tears apart Lear’s world. (Williams) Leaving him, in the end, with nothing. Following this Lear begins to banish those around him that genuinely care for him as at this stage he cannot see beyond the mask that the evil wear. He banishes Kent, a loyal servant to Lear, and his youngest and previously most loved daughter Cordelia. (Nixon) This results in Lear surrounding himself with people who only wish to use him which leaves him very vulnerable attack. This is precisely what happens and it is through this that he discovers his wrongs and amends them. Following the committing of his sins, Lear becomes abandoned and estranged from his kingdom which causes him to loose sanity. While lost in his grief and self-pity the fool is introduced to guide Lear back to the sane world and to help find the lear that was ounce lost behind a hundred Knights but now is out in the open and scared like a little child. (Bradley) The fact that Lear has now been pushed out from behind his Knights is dramatically represented by him actually being out on the lawns of his castle. The terrified little child that is now unsheltered is dramatically portrayed by Lear’s sudden insanity and his rage and anger is seen through the thunderous weather that is being experienced. All of this contributes to the suffering of Lear due to the gross sins that he has committed. The pinnacle of this hell that is experienced be Lear in order to repay his sins is at the end of the play when Cordelia is killed. Lear says this before he himself dies as he cannot live without his daughter. (Bradley)
All of this pain that Lear suffered is traced back to the single most important error that he made. The choice to give up his throne. This one sin has proven to have massive repercussions upon Lear and the lives of those around him eventually killing almost all of those who were involved. And one is left to ask one’s self if a single wrong turn can do this to Lear then what difficult corner lies ahead that may cause similar alterations in one’s life.
There has been many different views on the plays of William Shakespeare and definitions of what kind of play they were. The two most popular would be the comedy and the tragedy. King Lear to some people may be a comedy because they believe that the play has been over exaggerated. Others would say King Lear was a tragedy because there is so much suffering and chaos. What makes a Shakespearean play a comedy or a tragedy? King Lear would be a tragedy because it meets all the requirements of a tragedy as defined by Andrew Cecil Bradley. Bradley states that a Shakespearean tragedy must have to be the story of the hero and that there is exceptional suffering and calamity slowly being worn in as well as it being contrasted to happier times. The play also depicts the troubled parts in his life and eventually his death that is instantaneous caused by the suffering and calamity. There is the feeling of fear in the play as well, that makes men see how blind they are not knowing when fortune or something else would be on them. (Cain) The hero must be of a high status on the chain and the hero also possesses a tragic flaw that initiates the tragedy. The fall of the hero is not felt by him alone but creates a chain reaction which affects everything below him. Henry IV is a very different composition. Falstaff the main character is clearly a prankster, and not nearly as many horrible things happen to him. Falstaff is the character we laugh at, a mock King in Henry IV. Hal is the ideal King and Falstaff is a Lord of Misrule. Up to certain point Falstaff is merely an object of pure entertainment. His character is present chiefly for the humor that arises by showcasing his ludicrous traits. Why should we laugh at a man with a huge belly and an appetite to match, at the way he suffers on a hot day, his cumbersome size and the liveliness of his spirit. His timeless age and his youthful lightness of heart show his true nature. Why do we find comedy in the enormity of his lies and the suddenness of their exposure and frustration. The contrast between his reputation and his real character, seen most absurdly when, at the mere mention of his name, a rebel surrenders to him. (Neher) What is it about Falstaff that caused us to laugh at these and many such things? Here we have them poured out in endless profusion and with that air of careless ease which is so fascination in Shakespeare. But while they are quite essential to the character, there is much more than just fun in him. These things by themselves do not explain why, besides laughing at Falstaff, we are made happy by him and laugh with him. But while they are quite essential to the character, there is an ugly side of Falstaff, but we overlook it in light of his great humor.
The two compositions have humorous parts in them but both are distinctly different. Henry IV is clearly a comedy with almost all the traits of a comedy while King Lear is not as Clear cut but is definitely not either one. Falstaff and King Lear are somewhat dissimilar. King Lear deals with all of the problems from one of his actions, abdication of his throne. Falstaff deals with the situations surrounding the prince and the different paths he can take with his life. The two characters share a troubled past and an even more troubling future but that is the extent of their similarity.
What draws us in and makes us like Falstaff? If you ask what he enjoys, no doubt the answer is first and foremost, eating and drinking, then relaxing at the inn with his other merry friends and companions. These things are what really matter to Falstaff. Compared to King Lear who is extremely unhappy and is on a quest to regain his happiness which is ultimately impossible. Falstaff indulgences cause him to slowly lose his life and alienate the people around him. Like King Lear they both lose possessions along their journey. They are alike in many ways but take different ways to meet their ends. Their experiences are different but their end is the same.