Tag Archives: Falstaff

Folklore in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by William Shakespeare

This was my first time reading this play, and I have to say, I really liked it. It is very funny and accessible. And while I have also never seen it performed, the language is so rich that I could easily picture the scenes in my mind’s eye as they would be acted out on stage. The play is full of sexual jokes and puns, which I’m sure went over really well with audiences during Shakespeare’s time. But what interests me the most about this play is the folklore woven in to the story.

When plotting revenge on Sir John Falstaff, Mistress Page presents a folk tale about Herne the Hunter

There is an old tale goes that Herne the Hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the tree and takes the cattle
And makes milch-kine yield blood and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner:
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Received and did deliver to our age
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.

(Act IV, scene iv)

While the archetype of horned deities that roam the wooded areas are myriad and ancient, what is fascinating about this myth is that Shakespeare’s reference to Herne is the earliest known reference in existence.

In English folklore, Herne the Hunter is a ghost associated with Windsor Forest and Great Park in the English county of Berkshire. He is said to wear antlers upon his head, ride a horse, torment cattle, and rattle chains. The earliest mention of Herne comes from William Shakespeare’s 1597 play The Merry Wives of Windsor, and it is impossible to know how accurately or to what degree Shakespeare may have incorporated a real local legend into his work, though there have been several later attempts to connect Herne to historical figures, pagan deities, or ancient archetypes.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So this begs the question: Was Shakespeare drawing on local folklore when writing this play, or did he just make up the tale of Herne to help drive the story? There is no way to know, but all mythology and folklore must begin by the telling of a story, and that’s what is really important here. It doesn’t really matter whether Shakespeare made this up, or if he heard it being told around a pub. What matters is that the tale was written down, and the myth was given birth, and it persisted. Herne may just be an artistic personification the archetypal forest god, but in the telling of the story and the acting of the play, Herne is given life and brought into existence within our collective consciousness.

The number three has been considered a mystical number for as long as humans have contemplated the magical nature of numbers, which is why Falstaff’s short passage regarding the number three caught my attention.

Prithee, no more prattling; go. I’ll hold. This is
the third time; I hope good luck lies in odd
numbers. Away I go. They say there is divinity in
odd numbers, either in nativity, chance, or death. Away!

(Act V, scene i)

This concept of the mystical power of 3 has become part of folk belief. The phrases are many: “Third one’s a charmer,” “Death comes in threes,” “Three strikes and you’re out.” Once a concept becomes planted in the collective consciousness, it manifests in folk sayings, as shown in the sayings concerning the number three.

Finally, no exploration of English folklore would be complete without mentioning the Fairy Folk, which Shakespeare also does in this play.

About, about;
Search Windsor Castle, elves, within and out:
Strew good luck, ouphes, on every sacred room:
That it may stand till the perpetual doom,
In state as wholesome as in state ’tis fit,
Worthy the owner, and the owner it.
The several chairs of order look you scour
With juice of balm and every precious flower:
Each fair installment, coat, and several crest,
With loyal blazon, evermore be blest!
And nightly, meadow-fairies, look you sing,
Like to the Garter’s compass, in a ring:
The expressure that it bears, green let it be,
More fertile-fresh than all the field to see;
And ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ write
In emerald tufts, flowers purple, blue and white;
Let sapphire, pearl and rich embroidery,
Buckled below fair knighthood’s bending knee:
Fairies use flowers for their charactery.
Away; disperse: but till ’tis one o’clock,
Our dance of custom round about the oak
Of Herne the Hunter, let us not forget.

(Act V, scene v)

While the fairies in this scene are just people pretending to be fairies in order to tease Falstaff, the imagery is consistent with the folklore surrounding fairies. And of particular interest is the custom of dancing around the oak tree. The idea of the oak as a sacred tree dates back to Greek mythology. It is mentioned in Celtic, Norse, Baltic, Slavic, Druid, and Wiccan mythology. It even has significance in the Bible as being the place where Jacob buries the foreign gods of his people and under which he erects a stone as the first covenant of the Lord. (Source: Wikipedia)

There is one more folk belief that is in this play that I want to mention, and it is a dark one: the “trial by fire.”

With trial-fire touch me his finger-end:
If he be chaste, the flame will back descend
And turn him to no pain; but if he start,
It is the flesh of a corrupted heart.

(Act V, scene v)

This conjures some very dark images for me. I cannot help but envision innocents accused of witchcraft or heresy tied to a stake and set a flame, as a way to test their guilt or innocence. This serves as a warning to us, that while there is much wisdom to be gleaned from folklore, we must also be vigilant and approach these tales with a critical mind.

In spite of the one dark spot, I still think this is a great and funny play. I hope to see it performed sometime in the near future.

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Eerie: Issue #1

Eerie_01

As a youth, I was obsessed with horror and sci-fi comics. I devoured them and while it caused some slight concern with my parents, it ultimately planted the seeds which grew into a love of reading. One of the comics I remember distinctly was Eerie. As all good thing from the past somehow seem to come back, it doesn’t surprise me that Dark Horse Comics has resurrected the Eerie publication. I figured since it is October, it would be the perfect time of the year to pick up an issue and see if it is as good as the ones I remember from my childhood.

This was definitely a step into my past. The issue is hosted by Cousin Eerie, a somewhat jolly, plump creature with a twisted sense of humor. He’s almost like a macabre Falstaff. The issue is comprised of four short vignettes which fall into the sci-fi/horror genre.

The first one, “A Robot for Your Thoughts,” is all about artificial intelligence and robots taking over the world. A man suspects that his family has been replaced by robots, so it’s somewhat reminiscent of The Stepford Wives, but with a nice twist at the end.

The next tale, “Life Species,” is about a team of space explores searching extinct planets for the remains of previous life forms, then examining them to try and understand what happened to them and why the species declined. It reminded me of an old Twilight Zone episode, but with a humorous ending. This was probably my favorite story in the issue.

The third tale, “Beta-Eden,” is clearly inspired by the Alien films. It has space explorers encountering an alien race that lays their eggs inside the human host. The spawn then feed on the host. This was probably my least favorite story. It just felt hackneyed and the artwork was not so great.

The last story, “Child,” is a reworking of the Frankenstein archetype. A bereaved scientist decides to construct a child out of parts of the dead. Upon reanimation, he is initially horrified at his creation, but then forms paternal connection which turns to love. What I liked the most about this particular tale was the writing. It was written almost as an epistle, where the father is speaking directly to the child. It works very well and I liked the way the story unfolds.

Overall, I enjoyed this. It was $2.99 well spent and I think the writers capture the campiness of the original publication. I would certainly read more of these.

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“Henry V” by William Shakespeare

HenryV

Asheville’s local Shakespeare company, the Montford Park Players, are getting ready to open their 2014 season with Henry V. Since I make it a point to attend all their plays, and since I have never read this one before, I decided to squeeze it in amid all my other reading.

Overall, I liked this play, although I confess it was not one of my favorites. Still, there were some great parts and it is certainly worth reading. I think what was a bit of a let-down for me was the chorus, which appears at the beginning of each act. While I have nothing against the inclusion of a chorus part to provide background to the plot, the chorus in this play essentially pleads to the audience to overlook the shortcomings of the play, which basically is that it is impossible to put on a huge spectacle on a small stage. I have to be honest; it sounded a little pathetic to me.

But pardon, gentles all,
The flat and unrais
èd spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object.

(Act I: Prologue)

Now that I have that out of the way, I can say that as a character, I liked King Henry. He is depicted as strong, just, and merciful, all qualities which are requisite for a good leader. It is expressed that the citizens of England were happy under Henry V’s rule.

Never was monarch better feared and loved
Than is your Majesty. There’s not, I think, a subject
That sits in heartgrief and uneasiness
Under the sweet shade of your government.

(Act II, scene ii: lines 25 – 28)

In Act II, scene iii, we are told about the death of Sir John Falstaff. Although Falstaff does not make an appearance in this play, his death is mentioned. When the question arises whether he is in heaven or hell, the hostess of an inn asserts that she believes him to be in heaven.

Nay, sure, he’s not in hell: he’s in Arthur’s
bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom. A’ made
a finer end and went away an it had been any
christom child; a’ parted even just between twelve
and one, even at the turning o’ the tide: for after
I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with
flowers and smile upon his fingers’ ends, I knew
there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as
a pen, and a’ babbled of green fields. “How now,
Sir John!” quoth I “What, man! Be o’ good
cheer.” So a’ cried out “God, God, God!” three or
four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him a’
should not think of God; I hoped there was no need
to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So
a’ bade me lay more clothes on his feet: I put my
hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as
cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and
they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and
upward, and all was as cold as any stone.

Another thing that I found very cool about this play is how Shakespeare captures and incorporates different languages and dialects. There are numerous sections written in French, which, since my French is limited to a handful of words, I basically skipped over. But the dialects are excellent. For a great example of this, look at Act III, scene ii. Here we have dialog that includes a Welshman, an Irishman, and a Scot. It’s very witty and Shakespeare plays with the words to capture the subtleties of the language. It works very well and I found it interesting to read, imagining the sound of the words in my mind. I look forward to seeing this scene performed. It’s too long to post here, but definitely take a look at it on your own.

I think for me, though, the high point of the play was King Henry’s speech in Act IV, scene iii. He is speaking to his princes as they are preparing to fight the French army, which greatly outnumbers them. It’s a great speech, but the part that really struck me was a section where he talks about memory, and that it is the stories of their actions that will live on after they die. All things pass away, but it is the story and its connection to memory that lives on. As long as the stories are retold, then we never really perish.

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

In conclusion, I suspect that this is a play that works better on stage than on the page. That said, it is still very good and worth the read. Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!!

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Review of “Kill Shakespeare: Issue #10”

KillShakespeare_10It would be impossible to write about this issue without a couple of spoilers, so, in all fairness: SPOILER ALERT!!

A lot of characters die in this issue, since most of it depicts the battle between the rebels and the combined armies of King Richard and Lady Macbeth. But the earlier section has Shakespeare, who is an archetypal man-god, turning his back on those who follow him. There is great dialog between him and Hamlet during this section.

Ham: But what of your children? What do I say to those who believed in thee? That their god lent neither hand nor quill?

Shak: Perhaps it is best to say that Shakespeare is dead… that he never existed.

What is really cool about this exchange is that it hints at the existential philosophies of Sartre and Nietzsche which questioned god’s existence. Personally, I always viewed Hamlet as an existential play. Let’s face it, “To be or not to be” is the ultimate existential question.

In the great battle scene, Falstaff is one of the characters who gets killed, which bummed me out a bit because I really liked him. In fact, I’d say he was my favorite character in the series. As he lay dying, Hamlet kneels beside him and says: “Stubborn clown, you steal my role.” What a great line! The archetypal comedic clown takes the place of the tragic hero and dies upon the stage of war. It’s awesome. As painful as it was for me to see Falstaff die, it was a stroke of genius on the part of the writers.

There are only two more issues left in the series, so I will be finishing and reviewing those in the next week.

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