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But Falstaff's appeal has nothing to do with upright morals. Falstaff is interesting because he is anarchic; his value system is clearly different from that which either the noblemen or the officers of law claim to follow. He ignores standard upper-class conventions of legality, honor, and propriety, and he seems to have an enormous amount of fun doing it. He is also extremely witty, as can be seen in his long monologues, which frequently start with an insult and take off from there. Falstaff is an inveterate punner, and nearly everything he says has two or more meanings. Often compared to the figures of "Vice" and "Gluttony" from the old medieval morality plays, his character also echoes the "Lord of Misrule," a figure from English folk festival tradition who represents anarchy, fun without rules, and turning order on its head.
Falstaff shows his anarchic nature when he cheerfully ignores and then insults the Lord Chief Justice, the most important law official in the nation. He turns the Justice's remarks on their heads with replies that are half nonsense and half serious: when the Justice rebukes him for claiming to be young when he is clearly old, Falstaff replies that he was born only this afternoon and had his white hair and a potbelly at birth. Falstaff's cleverness at adapting to a situation is encapsulated in his last line of the scene: "A good wit will make use of anything; I will turn diseases to commodity" (249-250).
In I.ii, the discussion of the four conspirators in the Archbishop's house provides an interesting sampling of some of the play's different approaches to the arts of war and strategy. Hastings shows himself to be confident and assertive, insisting that Northumberland will come through, that the king's forces will be divided, and that the rebels have nothing to worry about. Lord Bardolph, on the other hand, is cautious and realistic--perhaps having learned his lesson in I.i, when he too quickly brought Northumberland the over-optimistic news about the outcome of the battle at Shrewsbury. Lord Bardolph and the Archbishop make the point that it was overconfidence that helped to sink Hotspur at the Battle of Shrewsbury: counting on troops that never showed up, he "lin'd himself with hope, / Eating the air and promise of supply, / ...And so, with great imagination / ...winking leap'd into destruction" (27-33). Lord Bardolph's complicated architectural metaphor compares the rebels' planned attack to building a house: if everything is not planned carefully, then the house will never be finished and disaster will follow.
The Archbishop's closing speech in I.iii returns again, as in I.i, to events that occurred before the action of Henry IV, Part 2. Just as Morton indicated to Northumberland, the Archbishop is using the memory of the murdered Richard II to spur on the rebels against King Henry IV. Here, the Archbishop ruefully remembers how popular Henry (then called "Henry Bolingbroke") was when he first seized the crown from Richard. Being an intelligent and thoughtful man, the Archbishop realizes that there is a generalization to be made here: no matter how well things are going, people are always dissatisfied with the present moment--they remember the past as being better and look to the future for change. That is why they were so quick to overthrow Richard, he thinks. The Archbishop sums this up in his famous phrase: "O thoughts of men accurs'd! / Past and to come seem best; things present, worst" (107-8).
Reading all of Shakespeare by April 2014. Just finished Henry IV, Part Two. I blog on the plays I finish. My take on H IV, Part 2 is at:
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written a comprehensive note on henry iv part 2. I think this will be helpful for students
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