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The Prince's Dog: Falstaff and the Perils of Speech-Prefixity

Harry Berger, Jr., University of California, Santa Cruz

Throughout the two Henry IV plays, from his first appearance in the second scene of Part 1, Falstaff knowingly collaborates with Harry on the scenario entitled "The Rejection of Falstaff," subplot of "The...

(The entire section contains 19013 words.)

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The Prince's Dog: Falstaff and the Perils of Speech-Prefixity

Harry Berger, Jr., University of California, Santa Cruz

Throughout the two Henry IV plays, from his first appearance in the second scene of Part 1, Falstaff knowingly collaborates with Harry on the scenario entitled "The Rejection of Falstaff," subplot of "The Return of the Prodigal Son." Harry's resounding "I know thee not, old man" near the end of Part 2 (5.5.47) fulfills the scenario he entertained in the "I know you all" soliloquy that concluded the second scene of Part 1 (1.2.189-211).1 But Falstaff had already anticipated the scenario, alluding to it several times during conversations leading up to the soliloquy. Consider, for example, his sanctimonious parody at 1.2.89-96:

O, thou hast damnable iteration, and art indeed able to corrupt a saint. Thou hast done much harm upon me, Hal, God forgive thee for it. Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing; and now am I, if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked. I must give over this life, and I will give it over. By the Lord, an I do not I am a villain. I'll be damned for never a king's son in Christendom.

Substituting "Falstaff for "Hal" in this passage makes it clear that the sentiments he utters in the first person are those he attributes to Harry. They indicate his awareness that Harry will sooner or later run bad humors on the knight and that the rejection of Falstaff will be necessitated by a Puritan impulse to self-purgation in the prince. Falstaff impersonates Harry's response to his report that "An old lord of the council rated me the other day in the street about you" (11. 82-84), and this suggests that he already anticipates Harry's famous "I do, I will" (2 Henry IV, 2.4.476) and his more famous "I know thee not, old man." He knows from the beginning both that Harry has chosen him to play the role of misleader and that his misrule must have an end. He also recognizes the particular version of the Prodigal Son story that will best accommodate not only Harry's political needs but his moral needs as well: the naïf victimized by misleaders. That he knowingly, ironically, accepts this role turns out to be motivated by his own need for the Judgment he seems so enthusiastically to flout and thus to ask for. His deliberate assumption of the role in the second scene of Part 1 sharpens its challenge and its risk by giving Harry the moral advantage along with the chance to misuse it.

I find it difficult, therefore, to interpret his excited rush toward the royal presence in Act 5 of Part 2 as motivated only by a simple desire for preferment. Everything about the episode vibrates uneasily with the desire to bring his carnival to an exorcistic conclusion, to make himself "bait for the old pike" (3.2.329) and get his comeuppance. This orgiastic prospect spurs him to transgression and provocation: "Master Shallow, my lord Shallow—be what thou wilt, I am fortune's steward. .. . I know the young King is sick for me. Let us take any man's horses; the laws of England are at my commandment" (5.3.132-39). His plan to greet the king "stained with travel and sweating with desire to see him" is explicitly voiced as a histrionic fantasy: "to ride day and night, and not to deliberate, not to remember, not to have patience to shift me . . . thinking of nothing else, putting all affairs else in oblivion, as if there were nothing else to be done but to see him" (5.5.20-27).2 That he thinks the newly crowned king will appreciate his "zeal .. . to see him," his "earnestness of affection," his "devotion" (11. 14, 16, 18), is hardly credible in view of his previous knowing assessments of Harry. If he is in a state of "inflammation" similar to the one he mockingly ascribes to the "operation" of sack in the soliloquy at 4.3.95-115, it is because he has prepared himself for the long-deferred expulsion or sacrifice that will end the "lingering act" (1.1.156) of his carnival.

This is not to suggest that Falstaff's behavior in this scene fails to display any hope of advancement. That hope rides on the rhetorical surface of his excitement. But the message conveyed by the totality of his utterances and actions up to this point is that he also wants to put both his hope and Harry to the test; he wants to see how far Harry will let him go, to probe the limits of transgression, to expose himself to the risk of the rejection and punishment he half looks forward to. And it is further confused by another motive: he knows the king needs a public occasion, a ritual of exorcism, to dramatize his reformation, and he cooperates in provoking it. Yet even as he yields to the temptation to offer himself up to Harry, he continues Being Bad. For if Harry shifts responsibility in calling Falstaff his misleader, Falstaff's provocation gives him the opportunity and makes the king appear solely responsible for the rejection the two had been conspiring to bring about from the start. It is in the context of this discursive tug of war that one can begin to appreciate the ethical constraints on Harry and the meaning of his response to it.

"I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers. / How ill white hairs becomes a fool and jester" (5.5.47-48). These words signal Harry's rejection not only of Falstaff but also of the knowledge of what really went on between them. The distance of the refusal to know is increased by the generic appellation "old man," which Harry's subsequent words interpret in a religious context so that "old man" becomes synonymous with "my former self." (These connotations reverberate in Henry V in Canterbury's scary characterization of the king's violent conversion: "Consideration like an angel came / And whipped th' offending Adam out of him" [1.1.29-30].) "I know thee not" asserts the reality of Falstaff's sinfulness by forcefully and publicly rejecting it and asserts the validity of Harry's conversion. This seeming knowledge keep's Harry from submitting to an unknown or half-known fear of himself, but of course it does so by a strategy that must reactivate the fear, since he is at this very moment falsifying the hopes of his corruptibility that he earlier aroused.

Without such knowledge Harry could win the crown of England but could not ensconce himself on the throne of his self-esteem. Therefore he rejects the ironic Falstaffian voice that refuses to sanction this knowledge and stubbornly reminds him he was a falsifier of hopes. Yet even here the traces of guilt and his need to manage it are registered in the sentence he passes. Those who criticize Harry for the harshness of his treatment of Falstaff, for the narrowing of his sensibility, for the sacrifice of humaneness demanded by the royal office, perhaps overlook the character of the sentence. Given the severity of his rhetoric, it is oddly anticlimactic:

When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
The tutor and the feeder of my riots.
Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.
For competence of life I will allow you,
That lack of means enforce you not to evils.
And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
We will, according to your strengths and qualities,
Give you advancement.


Because "I banish thee, on pain of death" sounds so threatening, the actual terms of banishment specified two lines later seem surprisingly lenient, producing at the rhetorical level the effect of a feint toward strict justice countered by a gesture of clemency.3 The sentence is proclaimed in words that express the speaker's full assurance of his moral superiority. But what he brandishes is a carrot, not a stick.

I view this maneuver as an act of moral self-protection. The motivation behind it may be suggested by comparing a section of Harry's first soliloquy in Part 1 with the declaration in Part 2 that precedes the passage quoted above:

So when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promisèd,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes. . . .
I'll so offend to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

(1 Henry IV 1.2.202-11)

Presume not that I am the thing I was,
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turned away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.

(2 Henry IV, 5.5.56-59)

Since these two passages represent a promise and its fulfillment, they dramatize the singleness, the integrity, of the speaker's purpose over time. Thus they contradict the assertion that he is not the thing he was. He knows he never was but only played the prodigal, that he was and therefore remains the misleader of his misleaders and the falsifier of the hopes he falsely planted in others. That this is something he has not been able conveniently to forget is evidenced by the continuing traces of anger and violence his language betrays from the time of his interview with his dying father to the end of Henry V.4Henry V as a whole reflects the consequences of Harry's need to produce and maintain a ten-mile trouble-free zone around his conscience. This may be sensed in the language with which he protests to the French ambassadors that "We are no tyrant, but a Christian king," whose passion "is as subject [to our grace] / As is our wretches fettered in our prisons" (1.2.241-43), an odd analogy that exposes his dim view of his passion. The anger he directs toward Henry, Falstaff, and the French is rooted in what I have elsewhere described as the self-purging fury with which he "scours [the] faults" of others while persisting in his famous disclaimers of responsibility.5 These signs of anxious concern for moral solvency indicate his abiding suspicion that he may be more sinning than sinned against. It is in this general context that I view Harry's tempered rejection of Falstaff as a defensive maneuver of self-exculpation, part of a pattern in evidence from their first appearance together in the second scene of I Henry IV.

Nothing in this interpretation of Harry's language would surprise the speaker who emerges from my reading of Falstaff's language. His awareness of the prince's project and of his own relation to it is suggested from the beginning, conveyed by such teasingly indirect means as the parody of sanctimoniousness discussed above. It peeps forth with equal diffidence before the Gadshill robbery when he complains about the removal of his horse:

I am accursed to rob in that thief s company. The rascal hath removed my horse and tied him I know not where. . . . Well, I doubt not but to die a fair death for all this, if I scape hanging for killing that rogue. I have forsworn his company hourly any time this two-and-twenty years, and yet I am bewitched with the rogue's company. If the rascal have not given me medicines to make me love him, I'll be hanged; it could not be else—I have drunk medicines. Poins! Hal! A plague upon you both!


This passage is ambiguous for two reasons. First, as David Bevington points out, though Poins is the obvious referent of the complaint, "much of what Falstaff says . . . about the rascal's bewitching company applies no less aptly to Hal."6 Second, until the outburst at the end, it isn't clear what kind of speech act it is. This can be determined only—like the "open silences" Philip McGuire discusses in Speechless Dialect—by the way it is staged.7 The speaker could utter or mutter it to himself. He could say it loud enough to indicate that he wants to be overheard, and those at whom it is directed could be either offstage or visibly within earshot. If he aims his vexation at potential eavesdroppers, he could do so simply to register a complaint; but he could also do it to keep the game in play by telling his persecutors what they want to hear. It becomes clear as he continues—and even clearer if we note the echoes of the previous scene with Gadshill and the carriers—that he is performing the victim's discourse, exploiting its dialectical turnings, the alternation of its rhetoric between the specious probity of injured innocence and the villain's compensatory bluster:

I'll starve ere I'll rob a foot further. An 'twere not as good a deed as drink to turn true man and to leave these rogues, I am the veriest varlet that ever chewed with a tooth. Eight yards of uneven ground is threescore-and-ten miles afoot with me, and the stony-hearted villains know it well enough. A plague upon it when thieves cannot be true one to another! .. . A plague upon you all! Give me my horse, you rogues, give me my horse, and be hanged!

(11. 21-29)

When a speaker echoes the words and sentiments uttered in an episode from which he was absent (in this case, 2.1), it usually means that he is inscribed in the same discourse. Here, Falstaff articulates the discourse and inscribes himself in it. Allowing himself to be set up, pretending to be an unwilling victim, and feigning indignation at the disloyalty of thieves, he stages the complicity and self-deception that drive the intertwined discourses of the victim-revenger and the villain. He parades himself as an example of what he mocks.8

The structure of eavesdropping in this performance is complex, but it is considerably clarified by the sense Bevington conveys of the staging of the episode. In his account of the textual difficulties that make for indeterminate stage directions, he speculates that since Harry "comes forward to torment Falstaff about his horse, . . . he presumably overhears with Poins the soliloquy of comic grumbling that Falstaff directs at them. Conventions of darkness on the Elizabethan stage allowed the audience to suppose that Falstaff could not see those who are teasing him and overhearing his complaint."9 Falstaff, then, is listening to them listen to him, and letting them know it. The speech is itself a kind of eavesdropping performed by someone who rustles conspicuously behind the arras. Since, in the analogy this metaphor suggests, Falstaff resembles Polonius less than Harry resembles Hamlet, I am attracted to Bevington's suggestion that his opening remarks easily bounce from their putative target, Poins, to Harry.10 What he says is not "I love him" but "he has made me love him; it's his fault; he has bewitched me, seduced me, misled me, victimized me; he is indeed able to corrupt a saint." This is another piece of innuendo by mimicry. It continues Falstaff's knowing parody in 1.2 of the purposes subsequently revealed in the "I know you all" soliloquy.

If, then, he submits "with comic grumbling" to the project he mimics, a project that (the mimicry suggests) will victimize him sooner or later and of which the present episode is a proleptic parody, an anamorphic reduction, is it because he believes what he says: "I am bewitched with the rogue's company"? Does he believe it about Harry? About himself? Is he expressing what he thinks Harry feels or what he thinks Harry pretends to feel? What he himself feels or what he pretends to feel? Is he—and this is a possibility the Shakespearean soliloquy always promotes—eaves-dropping on himself as well as the others, testing his ability, his desire, to believe the sentiments he utters? His ability and desire to deceive himself and justify yielding to the affection he knows will undo him? And if the innuendo by mimicry is intended for Harry's ears, is he prompting Harry to listen to him listen to Harry so that Harry will understand "I know you all" has been overheard? And, understanding that, will perceive that Falstaff perceives "I know you all" supplies the real force, the real meaning, behind the comic colting/uncolting of Falstaff?

At this point we can do little more than sift aimlessly through these questions because they encode the unresolved condition and ongoing interrogations of the bond between Falstaff and Harry. They represent questions I imagine Falstaff continually to ask himself, to ask Harry, and to ask Harry to ask himself; questions asked through the safely indirect medium of practical jokes and wit wars, questions that aren't yet answerable and whose darker implications are lightly broached in Falstaffs soliloquy, then carefully thrown away by the comic form the episode as a whole gives to the victim's discourse. The spectacle of Falstaff colted and uncolted condenses, displaces, reduces—in a word, detextualizes—those implications and thereby controls them. But because they are very much alive in the illocutionary fireworks of the soliloquy, their latent power overshadows the spectacle. Its comic circumstances anamorphically foreshorten the deep encounter embedded in the textual conditions of the scene's language. This limitation has strategic value: it enables Falstaff and Harry to go on colting and testing each other, sounding each other out, circling about each other.

I have been at this game long enough to know that the preceding analysis of interlocutory and illocutionary action is not something readers are inclined to accept at face value, especially those readers whose interests tend to be stage-centered and who are impatient with what they view as needlessly complexifying accounts of language intended to be spoken and heard in real-utterance time. Since I stand by the defense of decelerated close reading worked out in Imaginary Audition, I won't repeat it here. But there are some methodological premises informing my view of speakers' relations to their language and language games that may seem counterintuitive enough to violate conventional assumptions about the interpretation of speech acts in theatrical texts, and especially of two aspects of deixis: the direction and recipients of address in speech marked as soliloquy, and the reflexivity of address in speech acts of any kind. What does it mean for a fictional speaker to address a theater audience? Can a speaker who performs for and before others be shown to address himself as one of those others? What theoretical distinctions and moves are necessary to orient reading toward the signs of self-representation and self-auscultation in dialogue as well as in monologue and soliloquy?

Methodological Incipit

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3629

The Old Law: In the beginning Shakespeare created the script and the characters, and the script was inky-still and unsound, while the characters were without body; whereupon he created actors and performances to give soundness to the script and body to the characters.

The New Law; In the beginning is the speech prefix, and the speech prefix is with the text, and the text is speech. And the text transforms its speech prefix into the name both of the object represented by the speech and of the subject that represents itself through the speech.11 And neither the object nor the subject named by the speech prefix is with body until the actor's manlike or boylike body fills the words with sound. Nor does either have a character or become a character until speech as script is uttered by the actor and speech as text is interpreted by a reader. And the first reader is the actor, who performs his interpretation before an audience. And from the totality and multiplicity of performances and interpretations unrolling or scrolling across the horizon of time will be revealed the authorial Last Thing, the Omega that validates them all by being rewritten as their Alpha, the speech prefix "Shakespeare."

From the New Law flow many potent precepts, propositions, definitions, and guidelines to perplexity, but in this essay my immediate purpose is to explore the implications of the italicized sentence in order to reexamine the coordinates of the interlocutory territory that environs a single speech prefix, the name Oldcastle/Falstaff, which will from now on be abbreviated to Falstaff.12 My contention is that our maps of the territory are constructed according to imprecise interpretive cartographies that reflect various designs on Falstaffs ownership of his name and region, efforts to reduce him to a figurehead representing interests other than his own. I contend, in other words, that when critics, by means of their interpretations, transform the speech prefix into a speaker and a subject, the subject is dissociated from the speaker: the real subject is not the character but the playwright, the actor, the audience, or the culture—whatever is presumed to speak through the character Falstaff; and the character, dethroned from the subject position, is reduced to an object, a symbol, an iconograph, the bearer of the meanings of others.

In the playscripts there is no presence on the other side of the representational medium of speech, only a speech prefix. Therefore what actors present is a more aggressive mode of representation: not a re-presentation but an interpretation, and one that may depend for its effect on the charismatic force of presentation—an interpretation of the character that may reduce it (her, him) to the medium, vehicle, or reflection of the performance and its context, may reduce it (her, him) to the representation of a presentation so that the character is more the object than the subject of the speech assigned to the speech prefix. This problem invariably confronts playwrights who work within a star system, and the existence of something like an Elizabethan star system is indicated by the fact that in early Shakespeare texts, in which the same speaker may be denoted by speech prefixes other than the character's name, the actor's name is one of the frequent alternatives.13 As Randall McLeod notes during his discussion of the implications of this "polynomial" practice, there were plays "in which the actor's own personality and sometimes his name were as much part of the stage business and audience response as was his fictive role."14 In Elizabethan times as in our own, the star system encouraged audiences "to identify themselves with the 'star' actors, to wish the characters portrayed .. . 'as if the personator were the man personated.' "15

Were playgoers drawn by the prospect of seeing Burbage as Hamlet, Tarleton as Dericke, and Kempe as Falstaff, or did presentation so outweigh representation as a performance value that these preferences were inverted and Shakespearean theater aspired to the condition of opera? You don't go to hear Joan Sutherland's Norma or Placido Domingo's Otello or Maria Callas's Tosca; you go to hear Tosca's Callas, Otello's Domingo, and Norma's Sutherland. Of course, any composer/librettist familiar with that audience predilection is perfectly capable of standing it on its head and representing characters who carry on as if they were opera singers trapped in and frustrated by the stereotypes identified with The Tenor, The Soprano, etc., that is, by the cultural representations produced when opera conventions transform vocal registers into ethical discourses. So, too, the playwright confronting the charismatic dominance of the Actor over the Character may respond by displacing the tension between Actor and Character to a tension within Character. Imagine Morris Carnovsky telling Shakespeare that when he plays Lear, "it is my own indignation, my own frustration, my own anger, my own dawning sympathy with the world . . . that I communicate."16 If I were Shakespeare, I would ask Carnovsky whether he would also be willing to communicate at least a little of his own complicity, his own self-contempt, his own self-love, his own fear of death and emasculation, his fear especially of being unworthy of the love he needed and demanded from his children. Or perhaps I wouldn't ask him to do all that; I would simply write it into his language as everything he disowns or evades by emphasizing the indignation, frustration, anger, and dawning sympathy of the victim and fool whose suffering brought him knowledge and love. I would thus displace the tension I discerned between Carnovsky's Lear and mine into a tension within Lear. The effect of this shift would be to embed the conditions of theater within the dramatic illusion so that Character would be less the object of Actor's speech and more the subject of his or her own speech.

Such a displacement is indeed the theme of the story of Elizabethan drama told in various ways by theater historians as they explore the changing relations between presentation and representation, theatrical interaction and dramatic illusion, the staging of community rituals and the staging of dramatic fictions. But there is a problem in the way the story is told, and the problem turns on a difficulty in conceptualizing and maintaining the distinction between Actor's and Character's relations to their respective audiences. In his indispensable Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater, Robert Weimann gives social and ideological substance to the story through his account of the transformation of what were initially upstage and downstage locations (locus and platea) in the medieval theater to modes of "Figurenposition," the orientations of stage presence by which the actor "establishes a special relationship between himself and his fellow actors, the play, or the audience, even when direct address has been abandoned."17 Weimann immediately goes on to illustrate this with a discussion not of actors but of characters, Hamlet and Apemantus, and their relations to their "fellow actors." Is Hamlet as Hamlet aware of his fellow actors or of his fellow characters? When he moves downstage and seems to accost the audience, is it the same audience as the one addressed by the actor playing Hamlet?

The second question crops up during the course of Weimann's stimulating and persuasive analysis of the complex organization of behavior, stage position, dress, and language that allows Hamlet to establish "audience contact without departing from his role."18 Shakespeare's accomplishment is to make

Hamlet's special Figurenposition, his being apart from the locus (and the "illusion") of court society ... [have] a real (theatrical) as well as an imaginative (characterizing) significance. And so, spatial position assumes a moral function: the actor's rejection of illusion is turned into the character's honesty "which passes show."

Thus, traditional forms of dramaturgy are turned into modern modes of characterization; the paradox being that Hamlet, who knows no "seems," has to develop his platea-Yike Figurenposition within the "seems," that is, the illusionistic frame of the Renaissance play.19

But the "traditional actor-audience relationship" is maintained by the deployment of "verbal conventions" that "break the dramatic illusion and create the so-called 'extra-dramatic moment,'" sustaining the impertinent authority of theater as an upstart institution.20 On the one hand Weimann demonstrates that the spectacle in which actors present themselves representing characters to an audience is gradually internalized or fictionalized until it infiltrates and haunts the language and actions of the characters. On the other hand he demonstrates that the traditional relation persists in the modern one, and that an alienating or defamiliarizing power results from the mixing of modes. These different emphases are held together by Weimann's premise that in moments of direct audience contact, the character and the actor both address the same audience, the one consisting of the actual spectators in the actual theater. Not only does this premise limit Weimann's conception of, and interpretive engage ment with, the displacement of the actor's "platea-like Figurenposition" to the character; it also leads to at least one questionable inference, namely, that the character intermittently behaves as if he or she knows he or she is in a theater performing before an audience, an effect that may give charismatic actors a chance to go Operatic and strut their stuff at Character's expense.21

I want to modify this premise but not reject it. That the Elizabethan theater is both participatory (or collaborative) and representational (or illusionistic) can hardly be denied.22 But both modes are equally conventional, being inscribed in a conventional structure of theatrical practices that defines each mode in terms of and over against the other. And insofar as the use of scripts or "sides" and promptbooks are among those practices, both modes are fictional: to the extent that participatory episodes—prologues, epilogues, asides, soliloquies, stand-up monologues, clown acts—are scripted, the audience they engage is a fiction, a virtual audience constituted by the direction and express motivation of address and thus pre-existing any actual audience. This holds true for minor as well as major characters—for clowns and choruses no less than for such villainous platea addicts as Richard III and Iago. But of course the latter have more scope to make the transition from functioning as actors to functioning like actors—more scope, that is, to internalize the actor-function and, as characters, to be the subjects of the speech through which they present themselves representing themselves to themselves and others. Such variations in the intensity of self-representation as occur between minor and major speakers correlate with modal shifts between collaborative and illusionistic emphases, in which the collaborative often seem to serve up metatheatrical critiques of the illusionistic, and they call for corresponding flexibility in the intensity of linguistic or rhetorical interpretation.

One way to imagine the variable state of this theatrical structure is to plot it diagrammatically along a polar continuum:

Metatheatrical negotiations between theatrical presentation and dramatic representation go on across the range of the three middle positions (2-4) between the pure poles, the idealized points, of the actor and the character, neither of which appears in a staged play. The actor-qua-actor (not representing a character) appears only outside the play—before it, after it, or in the tiring house—and the character-qua-character (unrepresented by an actor) appears only in unstaged texts of plays.23 My claim is that the theatricality of minor speakers or minor speech acts such as asides tends to be more collaborative and non- or counter-illusionistic, while the theatricality of major speakers or speech acts such as soliloquy tends to be more illusionistic. The former includes the speaker's awareness of the theater audience, while the latter doesn't, which is to say that in position 4 on the diagram, the speaker may perform before other characters or before an invisible audience he imagines and that these fictionalized audiences are not to be confused with the theater audience. On these grounds I would argue that skeptical critiques of the editorial desire for consistency of characterization such as those polynomially claimed by Random Cloud and Randall McLeod should not be applied across the board. Polynomial speech prefixes may reflect the variability and stroboscopic alternation that mark relations between actor and minor character—Tarleton and Dericke, Sinklo and Clown—in the collaborative mode of positions 2 and 3, but to extend the critique to such major figures as Falstaff is trivial and potentially counterproductive. The chief aim of this study is to illustrate effects produced by the formulation and isolation of position 4 on the approach to interactions between speech and speech prefix. The focus on this position and its differentiation from positions 3 and 2 provide the basis for the analysis of what I call the subjective and objective aspects of those interactions.

The fictionalization of the audience may be linked to changing forms and uses of extradramatic address in Tudor drama before Shakespeare. Anne (Righter) Barton observes that after 1550, in conjunction with an increasing emphasis on self-contained illusion, audience address tended to be "set apart from the body of the play" and to assume "the quality of incidental amusement, an expedition across the space which separates two worlds."24 Within the body of the play, stand-up monologues mutated into soliloquies:

[T]he solitary reflections of characters other than the Vice begin to move out of the category of extradramatic address. As soliloquy, they belong now to the self-contained world of the play. By the time of Shakespeare, it was understood that almost all speeches of this kind were overheard by the spectators as the result of stage convention, not through conscious intent on the part of the speaker. Nevertheless, they retained an ambiguous and, in the new context, enormously valuable memory of their original position. The soliloquy continued throughout Elizabethan and Jacobean drama to imply a certain rapport with the audience, a rapport that was indefinite and deliberately vague. . . . 25

Barton quotes a wonderful example of an earlier moment of hesitation archly performed by the Vice in Kyng Daryus: after he "opens the performance by hailing the audience in what seems to be the old manner. . . . he deliberately and rather slyly withdraws this initial recognition of the spectators" in the following lines:

But softe, is there no body here?
Truly, I do not lyke thys gere;
I thought I should haue found sum bodie.


This perfectly expresses the pathos and desire of the character who longs for an audience he can't see even though it is right before the actor's eyes.

Theater history is all on the side of monologue against soliloquy—on the side of the presentational high jinks of the stand-up Vice, Clown, and Villain cavorting on what they know is a stage before what they acknowledge as a theater audience. But the premise that actor and character address the same audience is a theoretical solecism. It may not make much practical difference in the case of the Vice and Clown, but its impact on the response to principal characters is deleterious. It jeopardizes the idea of a character constructed by his speech as its subject in the specific sense of a speaker capable of representing himself to himself as well as to others, a speaker who can speak as if from the platea and absorb the actor's charisma fully into his fictive substance without appearing to surrender his locus-like Figurenposition, a speaker who may behave like an actor in need or search of an audience but who has absolutely no knowledge that he is performing or being performed onstage. Weimann's adoption of the premise tends to subvert his own distinction between Figurenposition and the material locus/platea structure of earlier stage practice. By insisting that the character functions as an actor rather than like an actor, he in effect rematerializes and detextualizes the locus and platea. To guarantee the character both his rights and his innocence, I posit the following distinction: when the actor seems to speak directly to the (theater) audience, the character he plays speaks as if to an audience. The character's audience is always a fiction:27

In theater signifier and signified, pretense and pretender, draw unusually close. Or, as Peter Handke more interestingly puts it, in the theater light is brightness pretending to be other brightness, a chair is a chair pretending to be another chair.

A dog on stage is certainly an object; but the act of theatricalizing it . . . neutralizes its objectivity and claims it as a likeness of a dog.28

Similarly, an audience offstage is certainly an object, but the act of theatricalizing it neutralizes its objectivity and claims it as a likeness of an audience.

This distinction is obviously modeled on the basic move of reader-response theory. The initial (but hardly the only) distinction which that theory makes between the actual and the virtual reader is transferable to theater, where it correlates nicely with the distinction between the audiences addressed respectively by actor and character. I have discussed this four-way relation—actor : audience :: character : "audience"—in Imaginary Audition, where I suggest that the presence of the theater audience to the actor should be construed not merely as an analogy but as a contrastive analogy, a metaphor that figures the absence of the audience to the character, who is thereby depicted as being his or her own audience. The relation has the form of a chiasmus—an actor plays a character who performs as if he were an actor—and the specular reversal inherent in the trope accentuates the force of the negation that deprives the character-as-actor of the very conditions he needs in order to resemble the actor-as-character he desires to be. Formulating the relation in this manner opens up what is at least a structural possibility: not only is the speaker who performs on the platea his own audience; he is also his own audience by default. "Truly, I do not lyke thys gere; / I thought I should haue found sum bodie"; if the presence of the theater audience signifies the absence of the virtual audience, the character's downstage address may valorize that absence and establish the missing audience as the object of his desire.

In this revised version of Weimann's analysis, the theatrical relations that are always (already) "outside" the field of illusion they produce and support take on a special interpretive function when considered as relations "inside" the field. Recursively embedded in the speech and behavior of characters, they enhance the impression of reflexivity conveyed by speakers who seem "aware of their own theatricality" even if we deny them awareness that they are dramatis personae onstage in a theater.29 The impression is further enhanced in Shakespearean drama when the "active and self-advertising presence of language in use" denotes self-advertising or -dramatizing tendencies in characters.30 Something of the histrionic self-presentation of the actor as charismatic performer rubs off on the character he performs, and something of the playwright's delight in the sound, the verve, and the tropical bravura of his own language transmits itself through the actor to the character. Even amid the declamatory thunder of tragic climaxes, speakers seem to be listening to themselves and to the way others listen to them. In that respect every dialogical speech act contains within it an element of monologue or soliloquy. And every monologue or soliloquy is dialogical because it represents the I that speaks as performing before the I that listens.

Yet if we premise that the I is the object created by its utterance as well as the subject that uses and commands it, we may find ourselves opening up a gap between what speakers do with their language, what they mean by it and hear in it, and what their language does with (or to, or for) them, what it says and does regardless of what they say, do, mean, and hear. This is the gap—or collision—between theatrical performance and linguistic performativity, between the presentational practice in which subjects of speech try to represent themselves and the pressure of those textual and illocutionary forces by which language acts on the speech prefix, interprets it, transforms it into an object that may not be congruent or coterminous with the I as subject.

But just what does "textual and illocutionary forces" mean? In the present context I use the phrase to denote, the characterizing work done by clusters of images, topics, and tropes that twist and twine like rhizomes through the language of the play's speech community. Consider, for example, the many occurrences of horse in 1 Henry IV and its multifunctional capacities as an epithet (the matter of jokes and put-downs), a referential sign (means of transportation, bearer of burdens, implement of war), and a symbol (of chivalry, nobility, honor, manhood). The horse enters into a set of comparisons between the ease of riding and the labor of walking and between the relative security of the former and the exposed condition of the latter. These comparisons implicate differences of political status, social class, and gender. Images, topics, and tropes exfoliating from the signifying node of the horse intermingle with those exfoliating from the sign of woman. The tokens of a cultural iconography, they branch through the text, appearing and reappearing in the utterances of one or another speaker, often in seemingly incidental or accidental relation to the main purposes of those utterances. Thus what they characterize is not so much the individual speaker as the way diverse inflections of the community ethos speak through speakers who may or may not be aware of the messages their language conveys. Speakers become sites through whose language is enunciated the habitus of the play's community, its understandings about positional or hierarchic differences, its anxieties and the language games (the ethical discourses and scenarios) they motivate. It is in this particular sense that speakers are objectified by their language; they become sites of interpretation by others whose readings of linguistic performativity may cut across the grain of the performances in which the speakers represent themselves as the subjects of their speech.


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The aim of this methodological exercise has been to set up and render explicit an interpretive framework that, in addition to dissociating the character's audience from the actor's, makes possible a double articulation of the speech prefix into the subject of the speech acts it performs and the object of the language that performatively interprets it. My emphasis is on the articulation of the speaker as the subject of his speech because my survey of several major treatments of Falstaff leads me to believe that their failure to give the subject's performance its due occasions what is simultaneously an oversimplification and an overvaluation of the object educed from their interpretations of the speech. And as I shall try to show in the seven samples of object-oriented analysis contained in this section, this result is usually connected with a failure to insulate the virtual audience constructed by the character's speech from the empirical audience hypothesized by the critic.

1) "[T]he difficulty of establishing the Right in . . . an England under no rightful king, is paralleled and parodied throughout in Falstaff's 'manner of wrenching the true cause the false way.' "31 "Parodied . . . in Falstaff's manner" could mean "parodied by Falstaff's manner"—that is, by Falstaff—but in this sentence it doesn't because A. P. Rossiter is concerned with Falstaff's manner, or behavior, only as a symbolic factor contributing to the network of parallels and contrasts that constitute the plays' multiple-plot structure. Rossiter's interest in the way the playwright uses his craft of plot construction to send messages to the audience leads him to reduce Falstaff to a symptom of defects in the social body the play represents and thus to reduce him to an object constructed by his speech. This focus tends to marginalize other possible relations of speech to speaker. One might, for example, entertain the possibility that speech may function reflexively and construct a speaker who, like an actor, presents himself representing himself as the kind of symbol Rossiter discusses.

2) "Falstaff represents to Hal not an alternative paternal image but rather a projected fantasy of the pre-oedipal maternal, whose rejection is the basis upon which patriarchal subjectivity is predicated."32 The opening construction is loose enough to let it mean that Falstaff represents himself to Hal as a maternal (rather than paternal) figure, but it doesn't mean that here. Traub is concerned in this essay with what Harry sees in Falstaff, and she thus discusses Falstaff as the object of Harry's representations but not as the subject of his own. Her purpose is to reposition a psychoanalytic approach to the Harry/Falstaff relation, first, by factoring in the previously excluded scapegoat function the play assigns to the fantasy of the female reproductive body mapped onto Falstaff, who "is figured in female terms," and, second, by asking what it shows about "both the Shakespearean and psychoanalytic dramas" that "the parent who is rejected, metaphorically killed, is figured in the iconography of the female body."33 How would this double purpose be affected if we redirected our attention to the victim's—the metaphoric mother's—discourse of self-representation? This question about Falstaff is in fact modeled on Traub's question about Katharine in Henry V After having discussed Katharine as "the object of Henry's discourse" and shown how "Henry's subjectivity and sexuality are predicated upon his repression of Katharine's linguistic power," she asks, "what of Katharine as the subject of her own discourse?" and goes on to give a concise account of the princess's limited resistance to the imperatives of the traffic in women.34 Nowhere in her study does Traub pay comparable attention to Falstaff as the subject of his own discourse, or to the implications for her larger theoretical claims of the possibility that he, the victim and metaphoric mother, may be complicit in his victimization.

3) With characteristic brilliance William Empson picked out an analogy between the Falstaff/Harry relation and that of the speaker and addressee of the sonnets. Actually, he expressed the analogy in genetic terms: the relation between the poet and friend or patron of the sonnets is the model for that between Falstaff and Harry. Thus in Some Versions of Pastoral he plays with the notion that Shakespeare might have projected into Harry "a grim externalisation of self-contempt as well as a still half-delighted reverberation of Southampton," and into Falstaff "an attack on some rival playwright or on Florio as tutor of Southampton as well as a savage and joyous externalisation of self-contempt," and he concludes that "only the second of these alternatives [Falstaff as Shakespeare] fits in with the language and echoes a serious personal situation."35 In other words, any particular topical reference as site of displacement presupposes a generic moment of self-interpretation and representation, the recognition that an attack on the referent externalizes an attack on oneself. By "generic," of course, I mean discursive. The radical structure of what Empson describes is the complex interaction of the sinner/villain's and victim/revenger's discourses. This pattern, in which self-contempt oscillates with self-wounding impulses to Be Bad and Get Had, is not merely mediated into discourse but given shape within the pre-existing discourse network. The language games that inform the moment of self-interpretation enable it to be represented, explored, developed, varied, and revised in discursive media that include lyric and drama, literature and theater, biography and history, experience and life. To embrace this standpoint is to readjust the relation between topical and extratopical references from genetic accounts of cause and effect within a diachronic field to analogical accounts of parallelism and variation within a synchronic field no less constitutive of actual (topical) than of fictional objects of interpretation.

In his revised essay on Falstaff, Empson resorts to the parabolic mode of genetic fantasy:

It seems inherently probable that the humiliation of Shakespeare's dealings with his young patron, which one can guess were recently finished, would get thrown into the crucible in which the Prince's friends had to be created. Falstaff looks to me like a secret come-back against aristocratic patrons, marking a recovery of nerve after a long attempt to be their hanger-on. . . . The point is not that he was like Falstaff but that, once he could imagine he was, he could "identify" himself with a scandalous aristocrat, the sufferings of that character could be endured with positive glee.36

This fantasy is reversible in the sense that Empson's reading of Falstaff may be taken as the source of his insight into Shakespeare and his patrons. But my interest is in a different reversal: where Empson collapses Falstaff into Shakespeare, collapsing Empson's "Shakespeare" into Falstaff internalizes the savage and joyous self-contempt so that it is the scandalous aristocrat who endures his own sufferings with positive glee.

4) Something else has to be thrown into the crucible to fuse the savagery with the joy: Falstaff "clamours for love," "regularly expresses love towards the young men who rob for him, and . . . this is a powerful means of leading them astray."37 Deleting the italicized word converts Empson's insight into the thesis Jonathan Goldberg develops in Sodometries on the basis of Empson's comparisons of Falstaff with the sonneteer and of Harry with the young patron: Falstaff expresses love toward the young men who rob him because from

their first scene together, . . . [he] stands to be abused. It's often said that we desire Falstaff's resurgence . . . , but it is his condition throughout the play, and if we desire his repeated comebacks it is because it is on his desire that ours floats. . . . . That desire is, importantly, the desire to take abuse. If we accept his banishment, it is then because we take it up as our position, because we have been accepting it all along, and because it is part of the way in which we need never give up desiring Hal.38

The "we" in this passage signals the ironic mimicry of critique; it activates the shifter formula "we minus I equals they." "We" are the critics who continue to be charmed by Harry and thus to reproduce the incipient heterosexist discourse of homophobia/misogyny visible in his "engrossing" of Hotspur and Falstaff.39 I wish not to take any exception to this critique but, on the contrary, to extend it back into the play so that Goldberg's irony may be seen as a reflection of the playwright's. But I would like to displace his insight from the critics to Falstaff, rewriting the italicized passage in a form that brings out the mordancy lurking in the phrase "Falstaff stands to be abused": "If Falstaff accepts his banishment, it is then because he takes it up as his position, because he has been accepting it all along, and because it is part of the way in which he need never give up desiring Hal." "Stands to be abused" means "solicits, desires, offers himself to abuse, is complicit in getting himself abused," but this kind of "standing to be" implicates the exhilaration of risk-taking, the search for opportunities both to seduce and outwit the abuser, a practice of dilation or delation that prolongs the pleasure and defers the anticipated consequences of the desire for self-abuse.

5) How much and what kind of interpretive control can the speech prefix have over the speech that interprets it and over the interpreters who use the speech to convert the speech prefix into a character? For example, how would my revision of Goldberg's phrasing be affected by replacing the name "Falstaff" with the name "Oldcastle," or by keeping "Falstaff but reading the dispersed traces of the Oldcastle/Brooke affair as allusions by means of which the censored text of the play remarks "the censored name and even the agents of that censorship"?40 Gary Taylor argues that the play brings together "two opposing conceptions of Oldcastle current in the sixteenth century," Oldcastle the soldier and martyr versus Oldcastle the "robber, traitor, heretic and hypocrite," in such a way as to produce "a deliberate and brilliant caricature of the dead Oldcastle," a caricature effected in part by "conflat[ing] the historical Oldcastle with the theatrical Vice." To assign the words that evoke this rich structure of "historicity and ambiguity" to the name "'Falstaff fictionalizes, depoliticizes, secularizes, and in the process trivializes the play's most memorable character," thus robbing it "of that tension created by the distance between two available interpretations of one of its central figures."41

By now it would be redundant to belabor Taylor's shaky presuppositions about authorship and authority, the simplistic opposition he draws between the historical and the fictional, or a method and practice of reading for which I have little sympathy and which I have examined elsewhere.42 My concern here is restricted to the effect of Taylor's renaming on the possibility that the speaker of the words assigned to Oldcastle may be constructed as both the subject and the object of his speech, a subject capable of representing himself as an object and of presenting that self-representation to himself and others. If those words are construed as a "caricature of the dead Oldcastle," the portrait of "a Protestant martyr as a jolly hypocrite" whom the author "deliberately lampooned,"43 I submit that their speaker is perforce reduced to the object of the representations of others. The method of interpretation implied by this reduction is one that necessarily rules out a whole range of linguistic, rhetorical, and—I insist—theatrical effects that other approaches to close reading make available. I have no objection to any speech prefix that doesn't shut down these possibilities in the name of old or new historicist and bibliographical fantasies.

Taylor's construal puts Falstaff in the position of the innocent dupe or dope whose relation to author, actors, and audiences is the same as that of the native to the outside observer, the one supposed-to-know in the classic but long-discredited mode of ethnographic narrative. But why, it may be objected, couldn't the caricature of the historical Oldcastle be attributed to the fictional Oldcastle, construing the words and behavior of the character as his deliberate lampoon of his namesake, and thus letting the speaker in on the secret? There would then be two different Oldcastles, I and II, the former the historical butt, the latter the fictional lampoonist. Or would there instead be a single figure, Oldcastle I/II, who, self-divided, makes fun of himself? But the point is that both Oldcastle II and Oldcastle I/II would differ from Oldcastle I—unless, of course, the historical Oldcastle is represented in the record as someone given to self-parody, which, as far as we know, he wasn't (and if he was, why would the Lords Cobham have objected to Shakespeare's portrait?).44 Therefore if the representation of Oldcastle I were performed in the spirit of parody or self-parody, it would make sense to mark and stabilize the difference between the performer and the performed by changing the speech prefix from Oldcastle to—for example—Falstaff.

The hilarity of seeing Falstaff as the historical butt Oldcastle I would be at Falstaff's expense and without his knowledge; he would be neither the subject nor the object of his discourse; he might as well be called Oldcastle—or Shakespeare. The hilarity of seeing him as lampoonist Oldcastle II would be shared by Falstaff but in a way that makes the latter's function as character structurally subordinate to that of the actor who presents his satiric representation of another to a theater audience. Oldcastle, not Falstaff, would be the object of his discourse, and the subject position would be co-occupied by Falstaff and the actor. The hilarity of seeing Falstaff as the self-divided Oldcastle I/II would be preemptively modified by the reflexive and self-dividing force of speech in which the speaker is related to his discourse as both its subject and its object, and also as the monitor, the interpreter, of that relation. Under this construal two things happen to Oldcastle: one, since the satire is reflexively internalized in this manner, the centrifugal force of its topical or referential energy tends to diminish. Topicality is contained and turned around: instead of seeing Falstaff as Oldcastle, Oldcastle through Falstaff, you assimilate what you know about Oldcastle to the interpretation of Falstaff. If the satire on Oldcastle-the-historical-figure lingers on, it does so only as an extra, added attraction. Two, as I argued at the beginning of this essay, Falstaff uses puritan rhetoric and discourse to target both Harry's moral scenario and his own indulgence in it. To the extent that such passages of mimicry work as allusions to the Bible-quoting proto-Protestant martyr and/ or hypocrite, the figure of Oldcastle becomes less a historical person and more a personification, a caricature of the misuse of puritan discourse.

6) Taylor's proposal has recently been rejected by Kristen Poole in an argument similar to Goldberg's but based on more specific historical objections:

To annihilate the effects of Shakespeare's contemporary censors is to rewrite history in a disturbingly Orwellian fashion and to deny the text's sociopolitical setting. In addition, if, as Taylor effectively argues, Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences were highly aware of Falstaff's "real" identity as Oldcastle, then part of the pleasure of this theatrical experience would have been the knowledge that one could read the clandestine identity hidden behind the name. .. . In short, rather than depoliticizing the play or robbing it of tension, the presence of the name "Falstaff combined with the knowledge of the character's "true" identity heightens awareness of the political circumstances of the play.45

Poole goes on to shift the emphasis from the portrayal of a particular historical figure to the broader context of antipuritan discourse—the Martin Marprelate controversy—in which the figure of Oldcastle works to transpose Falstaff "into a register of religious/political language familiar to his Elizabethan audience."46 This shift is compatible with the transition to the more complex construction of Falstaff as Oldcastle I/II described above. Does this strategy then enable her to avoid the reduction produced by Taylor's thesis?

"In Falstaff, as in Martin Marprelate," Poole asserts, "social and discursive orders are undermined and overturned."47 Does "In Falstaff = by Falstaff? Through the figure or symbol of Falstaff? In the person of Falstaff? Is Falstaff as the subject of his speech the source of subversive discourse, or is he, as the object constructed by his speech, the comic embodiment of subversion in the carnival figure of the grotesque puritan? Poole wants to have it both ways, but her polemic against critics who assume Falstaff self-consciously mocks puritans leads her to emphasize his function as an object of satire: she argues that an audience attuned to "stage lampoons of Martin Marprelate" and to the history of Oldcastle "would have laughed not only with Falstaff but simultaneously at him." She goes on to concede that he is also a satirist who "articulates overtly subversive sentiments, freely criticizing—even mocking—king and prince," but she is careful to restrict the scope of his satire to generalized social critique by reducing king and prince to symbols of rank and hierarchy, and metonyms of the "social and discursive orders" that Falstaff, like Martin Marprelate, irreverently puts down.48 This is in fact a double restriction: if it is deemed unlikely that Falstaff would criticize puritans, it is deemed equally unlikely that he would criticize himself. Both exclusions are motivated by respect for the expectations the critic imputes to the theater audience. Thus she rejects the opinion that "Falstaff's tendency to speak in biblical idiom and puritan jargon . . . is intended as active mockery of the puritans" on the grounds that it would "not make much sense" to "an audience that identifies Falstaff with Oldcastle": "The parody would have to be self-reflexive, with Sir John ridiculing his own religious inclinations—those same beliefs for which the historical Oldcastle was martyred."49

In a passage illustrating Falstaff's recourse to puritan jargon, Poole notes that he "compares himself to a 'saint,' " that he "speaks of his 'vocation,' " that he mimics biblical rhetoric, "makes references to psalm-singing," and "wishes he 'were a weaver.' "50 This series implies not simply that he is or symbolizes but that he performs the role of the grotesque stage puritan. It provides the basis for a study of the discursive registers through which Falstaff as the agent or subject of his speech constructs and deconstructs, represents and interprets, himself and his relation to Harry. We may then ask for whose laughter and pleasure, for whose mockery and contempt, he presents this representation. To answer with Poole that the audience the character addresses is an audience actually or potentially in an Elizabethan theater—or, typologically, the Elizabethan theater—effectively bypasses the dramatic center of the ambivalence and ambiguity it is one of the virtues of her essay to articulate.51 I want to answer that Falstaff, obviously, performs for Harry's pleasure and for his own. Perhaps less obviously, his puritan parody targets the self-righteous rationale he predicts Harry will resort to in casting off his misleader, but, as we have seen, it may at the same time be part of a performance perversely aimed at soliciting Harry's contempt, giving the prince further incentive to cast him off, and thus keeping open the possibility that he will eventually receive his just if bitter deserts. This is an account of Falstaff-as-object different from the one Poole gives; not, that is, the symbolic object of some form of iconographic analysis, not a representation of X constructed by and for others, but an object characterized and interpreted by the speaker's own speech, educed from the analysis of its linguistic performativity and set over against his performance as subject.

7) Even when critics pick out particular passages or scenes for extended comment that elucidates interactions between performance and performativity, their romance with the audience diverts their attention from the subject of those interactions. The implications of Falstaff's verbal behavior in the Coventry scene (7 Henry IV, 4.2) have been brilliantly but problematically illuminated by William Empson and Charles Whitney. Problematically because both read the soliloquy that dominates the scene as an address to the audience. Here, first, is Empson:

Falstaff has just boasted that he took bribes to accept such bad recruits ("I have misused the King's press damnably"—and the audience would not think him a coward here, but that it took a lot of nerve to be so wicked) and he boasts later that he got them killed to keep their pay . . . but this makes his reply all the more crashing, as from one murderer to another. . . . 52

The reply Empson mentions is Falstaff's "Tut, tut, good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder. They'll fill a pit as well as better. Tush, man, mortal men, mortal men" (4.2.64-66). This is, he claims, "the most unbeatable of all Falstaff's retorts to Henry."53 But to whom has he just boasted that he took bribes? Empson's aside on what the audience would think reinforces my suspicion that he reads the retort as part of an ongoing flyting contest staged for the benefit of a collective third party offstage: Falstaff performs his wickedness in order to score another point and win another round of applause. If, in making himself a mirror and example of Harry's irresponsibility, his utterance conveys any bitterness, any note of irritable self-reproach, it is occluded by Empson's focus on performance.

This swerve from character to audience is elevated to a methodological principle and exhibited as an interpretive strategy in Charles Whitney's reading of the soliloquy. In one sequence, for example, an initial series of acute and compelling comments bring out the reflexive implications of Falstaff's speech:

Falstaff's treatment of his recruits and his use of the word "prodigal" may express his own feelings of apprehension about being abandoned by Hal; what Hal may do to him, he will do to the recruits. Such behavior on Falstaff's part parallels the "displaced abjection" of carnival violence that scapegoats those lower in the social scale rather than those who are responsible for the revellers' abjection.

With his line "food for powder" Falstaff performs .. . [a] festive inversion, shifting responsibility for the recruits' fate from himself to Hal. . . . "Whose fellows are these that come after?" Hal asks. "I never did see such pitiful rascals." As Falstaff answers, the nobles' faces show consternation which grows the more they stare and the more they hear the words of reassurance meant to have an opposite, horrific effect. . . . The irony of "food for powder" is so massive that here one tends to find Falstaff sympathizing with his recruits, where just before he was cackling at them. The irony suggests that Hal, as a leading member of the elite, has some responsibility for beggars being sent into battle; Sir John here contrives to become the wry spokesman for the very lower orders He is fond of exploiting.54

Though this perception about the displacement of responsibility is standard, it has seldom been applied to Falstaff's discursive practice here, and it invites closer attention to Falstaff as the auditor to whom "the wry spokesman" addresses his ironies and evasions. His sympathizing with those he exploits, for example, may comment on his own as well as Harry's displacement of responsibility. He isn't only Being Bad. He is showing himself up. There is anger in his words, but it is not aimed solely at the prince. The soliloquy solicits self-reproach.

This direction, however, is not the one Whitney takes. In fact he sets it up as a possibility only to turn away from it in his next words:

One may say that here Falstaff is simply demonstrating his ability to avoid responsibility for his actions. But a kind of representation typical of festivity—mimicry—seems to fit him well here. The character has a marvellous self-awareness about his impersonations, one that has sometimes been hailed as a sign that he is truly a rounded and coherent character, but is actually a sign that, as Dryden said, he is really a "miscellany of humors or images, drawn from so many several men"—a miscellany played .. . by an actor exploring comic roles.

The festive multiplicity emphasized by this latter reading helps to explain how Falstaff "manages to be both exploiter and spokesman for the exploited"—and at this point Whitney delivers the coup de grâce to what he depicts as a holdover from fictive (and liberal?) ideals of coherent well-rounded individualism by appealing to Bakhtin: Falstaff's "lines exhibit a double-voicing or doubly-oriented speech that suggests the speech's unhinging from individual persons."55 That is, he is a mimic, an impersonator of the miscellaneous alterities that speak citationally through him. Not merely like an actor, but as an actor, Whitney's Falstaff materializes the platea and regales the theater audience with witty cynicisms that reflect and appeal to their baser instincts:

Falstaff's joy is evident in his main speech (11-48), . . . [which] directly addresses the playgoers as if all were cronies in a tavern chuckling over Falstaff's particularly clever ruse. That ruse turns out to embody the subversion of fellowship. . . . Falstaff smirkingly confesses that he is ashamed of his soldiers, but his pleasure in what he has done is evident, and contagious—perhaps to our horror, we are clearly supposed to laugh with him.56

It is in the context of an emphasis on the carnivalesque features of the Coventry scene that Whitney depicts Falstaff working his theater audience with the presentational awareness of a stand-up comic.57 In terms that recall the accounts of Weimann and Barton, Whitney grounds his emphasis historically:

Carnivalesque play includes the playgoers and encourages the diversity of response that already seems to have been a common feature of playgoing. Shakespearean theater is in a process of evolution from a semi-professional drama enacted during holidays, in which playgoers were interactive participants, to a commercial, representational drama staged daily. Carnivalesque forms in this theater often still encourage participation of the playgoers, allowing for interpretive authority to be dispersed among them. .. . In this situation there can still exist a theatrical encouragement and accommodation of topical responses.58

Hence Whitney's interest in taking up Taylor's line on Oldcastle as one of a number of possible—and conflicting—interpretations to be expected from a heterogeneous audience.

For Whitney, then, the cash value of Dryden's view of Falstaff ("a miscellany of humors or images, drawn from so many several men") lies in its mirroring of the thesis that carnivalesque play allows "interpretive authority to be dispersed among" Elizabethan playgoers who represent diverse social and political interests. This centrifugal thesis depends on the exclusionary strategy of reading that underlies the structure and argument of Whitney's essay: he produces the effect of carnival by taking the scene out of its narrative/dramatic/textual context and treating it as an isolated moment embedded in the synchronic space of an imaginary theater he populates with "diverse playgoing groups"—pro-war supporters of the Essex faction, plebeians, burghers—each of which gives the scene's topical allusions a different interpretive skew.59 Falstaff, whom Whitney imagines as directly addressing these groups, becomes their Rorschach test. The problem this poses for me is how to retain Whitney's insights into carnival while replacing his exclusionary and centrifugal reading with one that recentralizes interpretive activity and desire in Falstaff as the self-testing subject of his speech.

As the preceding examples show, out of the language that constructs speakers interpreters may draw characters who are more the objects than the subjects of their speech, characters who are not objects for themselves, who do not present their self-representations as characters to themselves or to others. To imagine Falstaff as subject is to imagine the speaker on the model of the actor, imagine him performing like the actor (but not as an actor) in that he presents his representation of himself as the object he interprets, and in that he continuously audits and monitors this performance. Yet it stands to reason that the speech of only some, perhaps relatively few, speakers lends itself to such "thick" interpretation. In my discussion and critique of Weimann, I suggested that variability not only between minor and major speaking parts but also between collaborative or participatory and illusionistic Figurenpositionen calls for corresponding flexibility in the choice of interpretive strategies. Of course I may be overstating the problem: we're not in danger of being swamped these days by an outpouring of thick and close interpretation. Given the tendencies of the critical projects sampled in my critique, the opposite is more likely to be the case. There is a danger of reductive reading in which major speakers' relation to their language is characterized by extension of or projection from the analysis of minor speaking parts.

To illustrate this problem, I turn once again to Weimann, this time to his appendix on Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which he tries to define a comic position that gives the character more parity with the actor—the position of characters the audience laughs with as opposed to those it laughs at. His example is Proteus's servant, the clown Launce, whom he distinguishes from Speed in that, while Speed's asides provoke laughter at others, Launce "and his family experience are the objects of his own mirth." Since he can join the audience in laughing at himself, he is the "free and willing subject" of his mirth: "Launce, much like Falstaff, is not merely witty in himself but the reason that others have and enjoy their own wit."60 Weimann's point is two-fold. In the traditional situation the audience laughs with the actor at the comic figure the latter plays, and the character who laughs with the audience at himself assimilates the perspective and position of the actor: "The real performance of the actor and the imaginative role of . . . [Launce] interact. . . . Within this unity the character's relations to the play world begin to dominate, but the comic ease and flexibility of these relations are still enriched by some traditional connection between the clowning actor and the laughing spectator," a connection that extends the character's awareness, "his implicit insight into and criticism of the action of the play," and that brings together actor, audience, and character in the Utopian "laughter of solidarity."61

Weimann's coupling of Launce with Falstaff in terms of presentational role—of their common function as critical "countervoices" embodying "a platea-like position"62—is symptomatic of a failure to distinguish between what I referred to earlier as different intensities of self-representation. If we find in the language of both speakers "implicit insight into and criticism of the action" of their respective plays, do we also find that the insight and criticism are equally attributable to both speakers as the subjects of their speech? Weimann's reading practice follows the track of his social history of theater, hence particular passages of analysis are often narrowly constrained by their function as examples of the theme. The treatment of Launce is no exception. He is used to illustrate Shakespeare's contribution to the changing structure of relations between theatrical and fictional "worlds": Launce as subject is like the actor sharing with his audience the genial laughter occasioned by (his performance of) Launce the object. Meredith Skura takes Weimann to be arguing that Launce's "ridiculousness within the play's world—his shame and isolation—are thus mitigated by the actor Kempe's connection" to the spectators, who "laugh at Launce but identify with Kempe."63 This is a distortion of Weimann's claim, which is that they identify with Launce, or Kempe-in-Launce. But her distortion accurately registers the fact that his argument for the integration of actor with character combines with his underinterpretation of the language that represents the character to deny the character the richness or complexity he clearly wishes to confer on it.

Skura's critique of Weimann's Utopian optimism is based on a closer and darker reading of Launce's soliloquies, a reading contextualized within a study of the Elizabethan actor's subculture which differs from Weimann's both in the greater attention it pays to the effects on the actor of his precarious social position and in the greater subtlety with which it analyzes the play of those effects in Shakespeare's texts. She likens Launce's speech in 2.3, in which he complains about his "cruel-hearted cur," Crab (he "has no more pity in him than a dog"), to the "introductory monologue" of the "typical Elizabethan clown." Launce is

a kind of comic Aeneas, stepping forth to tell his sad tale to the only Dido he has: to us, the spectators in the audience. .. . In soliciting our response, Launce's soliloquy foregrounds his ambiguous relation to the audience, who both are and are not there: he calls attention to the precariousness of the actor's position and to the audience's multiple roles in validating it.64

This precariousness is comically intensified by the uncertainties—behavioral as well as ontological—connected with the presence onstage of a real dog representing Launce's dog, Crab (but not presenting itself as representing Crab).65 While noting that Weimann "also finds Launce an epitome of theatrical precariousness," Skura goes on to observe that he avoids the "dystopian implications of clowning" and its social cost to the performer by confining his comments to the first and lighter of Launce's two monologues about Crab.66 Weimann, who never mentions the dog, doesn't deal with the more humiliating moment in 4.4 when Launce "literally takes on the dog's identity—at least takes on his sins"—and makes the audience laugh at his "self-abasement . . . like a player 'playing the fool,' as Thomas Nashe sneered, to earn a few pennies—and our laughter."67

As a clownish servant, Launce is a boundary figure in the sense that he dramatizes the paradoxes inherent in the theater's edgy negotiations-with illusion and reality. The audience he conjures up through extradramatic address is invited to laugh not only at him but also—through the network of puns that bind his language in 2.3 echoically to that of Julia and Proteus in 2.2—at the serious knots and plots of the main action, the deceptions, desires, self-delusion, and self-abasement inscribed in the language games of romance and friendship, the conventionality of which Two Gentleman continually indexes by the conspicuousness of its citational play.68 This makes Launce more important as a precipitator of irony directed reflexively by the play at itself than he is as the subject of his own speech.

Skura nevertheless succeeds in depicting him as a complex version of the clown figure—a kind of metaclown—by identifying the theatrical pressures his monologue exhibits with the clown/actor's occupational vulnerability. She focuses on the social dependency, the ethical self-abasement, and the psychic cost attendant on "the use the clown makes of himself in order to secure unity with society"; and she notes that such "self-deprecating humor" as Launce displays when he "takes on the role of 'dog' " may elicit from the audience laughter that is "tinged with sadism even in its solidarity."69 This amounts to an acerb revision of the bland praise Weimann bestows on Launce because, "much like Falstaff, [he] is not merely witty in himself but the reason that others have and enjoy their own wit." Skura is careful not to lump Falstaff together with Launce; she devotes a chapter to the former, six pages to the latter. Nevertheless, as we'll see, she focuses on something they have in common—their canine connection. A transition from Launce to Falstaff is easily made in terms of her analysis by noting that the evocation of "laughter tinged with sadism" may reflect the tinge of masochism in a character divided between suffering—even enjoying—his haplessness and wanting to be put down for it. Thinking of Launce, Falstaff, and Crab, I'm tempted by a fortuitous analogy to confuse small things with great by mentioning the last words of Joseph K. as he watches (not feels) "the final act" in the putative ending of The Trial: "'Like a dog!' he said; it was as if he meant the shame of it to outlive him."

Fortuitous and confused as it may be, it is nevertheless the spirit of Joseph K. that I invoke in turning back, finally, to the Falstaff of Part 1, whom, Skura reminds us, "W. H. Auden identified as 'the prince's dog,'" an epithet she unpacks in the following comment:

Falstaff knows there are benefits in being a loser. He dosen't merely become "the prince's dog": he plays it for all it's worth—just as he plays dead on the battlefield. The posture brings safety, material gain, and, most of all, what Falstaff needs even more than food: an appreciative audience. So long as the exchange holds ("I'll make a fool of myself if only you'll laugh"), his resentment is kept at bay. It's an actor's bargain. In fact, Falstaff's greatest moments are triumphs of recovery from humiliation; he succeeds by lying or charming his way out of traps. The moments we most remember when we think of Falstaff's vitality are escapes, rather than escapades.70

To this concise profile I add only two minor qualifications: first, that the traps Falstaff lies or charms his way out of are traps he sets for himself, and, second, that his resentment is diffusely, confusedly directed toward both himself and Harry. That is, I want to push a little harder on the idea that Falstaff as the subject and primary auditor of his speech performs the role of prince's dog for himself as well as for Harry, and that he is a less appreciative audience than the prince.

If Harry plays the prodigal to distance and decontaminate himself from the dubious legitimacy of his father's accession, Falstaff targets that project by playing the buffoon, the figure of carnival misrule, to dramatize the complicity of the prince in the sins he displaces onto his subjects. But at the same time, in making himself the mirror and example of Harry's bad faith, he dramatizes his own complicity. This double play is strikingly evident in the Coventry soliloquy in 1 Henry IV, 4.2. There he links his abuse of his military assignment to the irresponsible motive behind the prince's appointing him to lead "a charge of foot." The soliloquy is an uneasy performance of the villain's discourse, edged with anger and with what may be more than mock-penitence. "If I be not ashamed of my soldiers, I am a soused gurnet. I have misused the King's press damnably. .. . I pressed me none but such toasts-and-butter, with hearts in their bellies no bigger than pins' heads, and they have bought out their services" (11. 11-22), and he replaced them with unsoldierly riffraff. What happens when we redirect the monologue from the theater audience toward the virtual audience that includes the internal auditor for whose benefit the discourse is performed? Is Falstaff telling himself that it takes a lot of nerve to be so wicked? Does he find the spectacle of his wickedness only admirable or also irritating? His contempt for the all-round haplessness of the "scarecrows" he victimized is predictable, but more surprising is his contempt for the cowardice of those who weaseled out—as if he is angered by the complicity he encouraged and by the ease with which they could be (as he expected) corrupted. But "look what they got away with!" only reflects "look what I got away with!" which in turn reflects "look what my betters let me get away with!"

And who are his betters? They emerge in the following sequence:

We must all to the wars, and thy place shall be honorable. I'll procure this fat rogue a charge of foot, and I know his death will be a march of twelve score. The money shall be paid back again with advantage.


A hundred thousand rebels die in this!
Thou shalt have charge and sovereign trust herein.


O my sweet beef, I must still be good angel to thee. The money is paid back again. .. . I am good friends with my father and may do anything. . . . I have procured thee, Jack, a charge of foot.


Jack, meet me tomorrow in the Temple Hall
At two o'clock in the afternoon.
There shalt thou know thy charge, and there receive
Money and order for their furniture.
The land is burning. Percy stands on high,
And either we or they must lower lie.


PRINCE . . . tell me, Jack, whose fellows are these that come after?

FALSTAFF Mine, Hal, mine.

PRINCE I did never see such pitiful rascals.

FALSTAFF Tut, tut, good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder. They'll fill a pit as well as better. Tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.

WESTMORELAND Ay, but, Sir John, methinks they are exceeding poor and bare, too beggarly.

FALSTAFF Faith, for their poverty, I know not where they had that, and for their bareness, I am sure they never learned that of me.

PRINCE No, I'll be sworn, unless you call three fingers in the ribs bare. But, sirrah, make haste. Percy is already in the field.


I have led my ragamuffins where they are peppered. There's not three of my hundred and fifty left alive, and they are for the town's end, to beg during life.


This sequence charts the transgressive convergence of the "serious" and "comic" plots at the same time that it shows Harry moving away from Falstaff toward his father and Percy. But his method of moving away is peculiar. The repeated coupling of the "charge of foot" with the return of the stolen money suggests that the central joke of the robbery scene, the colting and uncolting of Falstaff, is being replayed.71 The picking of Falstaff's pocket, which Harry carefully has someone else do (2.4.525ff), effectively repeats the purse-taking of the Gadshill escapade, which he carefully had someone else do; but in claiming that he has cleaned up the mess Falstaff made (3.3.176), the princely "good angel" implicitly clears himself.72

Even as Harry mounts up from prose to the iambic pentameter that gathers speed near the end of 3.3, and rides off toward the dawning glitter of his reformation, his practices confuse the gesture of disengagement by extending the tavern tour and its carnival prodigality into his father's wars. Falstaff's thievery, his self-indulgence, his vulnerability, and his cowardice are all recalled in a context that makes them the basis of the next joke: they are the qualifications that will determine the nature of his war service; the argument of his running away recommends him for a charge of foot. Thus the "charge and sovereign trust" (3.2.161) Harry receives from his father is used to promote another lark aimed at keeping Falstaff close to the sullen ground or making him lard the lean earth: "his death will be a march of twelve score" (2.4.541), but his march will be the death of almost eight score.73

Falstaff responds immediately to Harry's announcement of the "charge of foot." He reads it as both a continuation of the uncolting joke and another invitation to highway robbery: "I would it had been of horse. Where shall I find one that can steal well? O, for a fine thief, of the age of two-and-twenty or thereabouts! I am heinously unprovided" (3.3.187-90).74 In 4.2 his tart "food for powder" comment shows that his misuse of the commission is in part a way of talking back to Harry, even, as Whitney observes, of making his own irresponsibility rub off on the prince—"what Hal may do to him, he will do to the recruits."75 It is in the context of the carnival extension of the tavern tour to the battlefield that I want to reconsider and revise Whitney's audience-centered reading of the carnivalesque features of the Coventry monologue. Recall his assertion that Falstaff addresses the theater audience as if they were "cronies in a tavern."76 The rules of theatrical disengagement I discussed above suggest the following revision: first, replace the actual theater audience with a virtual audience addressed and (therefore) constructed by the monologue; then, in line with Whitney's suggestion, let that audience, imagined by Falstaff, consist of his Eastcheap cronies.

The effect of revision is to displace the carnival relation from the contact between author/player/play and theater audience mediated through the character to the contact between the character and the virtual audience that includes such Corinthians as Poins and Harry—and Falstaff himself. In this new scenario, Falstaff revives the interlocutory swash of the earlier tavern games, fulfilling the wish he had perversely chimed out in the teeth of Harry's inspiring call to arms:

PRINCE . . . The land is burning. Percy stands on high,
And either we or they must lower lie.
FALSTAFF Rare words! Brave world! Hostess, my breakfast, come!
O, I could wish this tavern were my drum!


His first words in 4.2 are a request to Bardolph to "get thee before to Coventry" and "fill me a bottle of sack." Following this, he resumes his role as the cowardly braggart and outrageous teller of tall tales who can count on his cronies to appreciate not only the gusto with which he boasts of misusing "the King's press" (1. 12) but also the opportunity he gives them to put him down for the roguery he confesses.77 And if I pretend to listen to the monologue as a report Falstaff imagines himself giving Harry, I hear it—with Empson and Whitney—less as a boast than as a reproach. When he compares his pitiful rascals to "tattered prodigals lately come from swine keeping, from eating draff and husks" (11. 34-36), one thinks of the play's chief Prodigal. But the real prodigal is a greenhorn, a victim, a "younker": "What, will you make a younker of me? Shall I not take mine ease in mine inn but I shall have my pocket picked?" (3.3.77-79). Both he and his soldiers are victims of the false Prodigal, and, as Whitney perceptively observes, Falstaff is taking his victimization out on them even as his self-proclaimed villainy makes a statement about his betters:78 "Let me show you how bad you are by showing how bad I am." This is the force of "food for powder. They'll fill a pit as well as better," which Empson calls his "crashing" reply, "as from one murderer to another: 'that is all you Norman lords want, in your squabbles between cousins over your loot, which you make an excuse to murder the English people.' "79 In addition, "let me show you how bad I am" is inextricable from its presentational sine qua non, "let me show myself how bad I am." To listen to his utterance as a piece of bravery he tries out on himself is to hear it as a performance that solicits self-reproach. For then the bitterness in his words is keener, the anger sharper, the words surging violently back and forth between the villain's swagger and the sinner's disgust. As in Twelfth Night's festering festival, its protracted whirligig declining into a sink-a-pace, Falstaff's reprise of the tavern holiday brings out its darker undertones.

His comparison of his recruits to the ragged "Lazarus in the painted cloth, where the glutton's dogs licked his sores" (4.2.24-26), recalls his earlier remark that Bardolph's face makes him "think upon hellfire and Dives that lived in purple" (3.3.31-32). The echo helps him to merge with Dives in the glutton's position, and Whitney aptly notes that the parable "slips from its appropriator's grasp" for it "unmistakably . . . implies that Dives stands for Falstaff, who will get his just desserts [sic] in hell, as Dives did, for what he is doing to his recruits on earth."80 Thus "while Falstaff's parables mock his recruits, they mock Falstaff as well." But Whitney goes on to speculate that "the festively Satanic Falstaff may be

aware of his scriptural citations' ominous implications, and .. . be laughing at the whole idea of salvation and divine retribution. . . . [He] will gaily accept his own death and affirm the pleasures of life meanwhile. . . . Shakespeare has some sympathy for this view. He allows Falstaff to be both Lazarus and Dives. . . . From the perspective of grotesque realism, the biblical references in Falstaff's speech suggest a cycle of earthly pleasures: the individual may die, but the festive community lives on. This "old, white-bearded Sathan" turns apocalypse into carnival.81

I second the emphasis on the speaker's awareness but resist the happy Bakhtinian/Rabelaisian account of his tone on the grounds that the perspective of grotesque realism, or any other perspective that produces so optimistic a reading, responds less to the continuity of the text and the dramatic fiction than to this isolated moment of theatrical reception. That is, the consoling Saturnalian fantasies of Whitney's hypothetical plebeian playgoers are privileged over the bitterness of the speaker, whose biblical reference suggests that there may be some sort of compensator); resurrection for the slaves but none for the glutton who profits from their loss.

In her brilliant account of Falstaff's growing self-degradation and resentment in Part 2, Skura describes a pattern of change similar to the one she discusses in the transition from Launce's first soliloquy to his second. Her emphasis is on the corrosive manner in which Falstaff treats his relation to Shallow as a bitter parody of Harry's relation to him in Part 1:

Even while participating in the tavern society, Hal had stepped aside to plot his strategy: "I know you all.". . . Now Falstaff stands back to manipulate Shallow. "I will fetch off these justices. I do see the bottom of justice Shallow." . . . Hal has "stolen" one thousand pounds from Falstaff; now Falstaff borrows the exact sum from Shallow with no more intent of returning it than hope of getting it back from Hal.82

Of the threat Falstaff directs at Shallow in 3.2, "it shall go hard but I'll make him a philosopher's two stones to me" (11. 323-24)—in Skura's paraphrase, "I'll have his balls"—she remarks that "Falstaff is not promising to rape Shallow so much as 'to fuck him over,' but the scene comes as close to overt allusions to homoeroticism as any in the canon apart from Patroclus's scene with Achilles in Troilus and Cressida"83 Her subsequent digression on Patroclus as "a version of the male friend who epitomizes (by exaggerating) Falstaff's combination of the roles of house jester and 'male varlet' " leads to the conclusion that although "Falstaff is not a Patroclus. . . . he is . . . pained by playing" such roles.84

I would qualify this powerful reading in only one respect: the pattern of change Skura traces is already discernible in Part 1. In the process of amusing and abusing Harry during their first scene together (1.2), Falstaff not only holds the mirror up to Harry's abuse of him but also invites a pay-back. By Being Bad, he seems perversely to invite the risk of Getting Had. In 4.2 he boasted of his abuses of the king's press but, as we saw, in a tone not free from self-contempt and in words that hinted at the complicity of his betters, that is, Harry. He concludes his first soliloquy in 5.3 with a reference to the outcome of his accomplishments as a recruiter, described in 4.2:

Though I could scape shot-free at London, I fear the shot here, here's no scoring but upon the pate. Soft, who are you? Sir Walter Blunt. There's honor for you. Here's no vanity! I am as hot as molten lead, and as heavy too. God keep lead out of me! I need no more weight than mine own bowels. I have led my ragamuffins where they are peppered. There's not three of my hundred and fifty left alive, and they are for the town's end, to beg during life.


As he confesses his battle fear, he insulates it with puns that convey the manliness of the witcracker and unrepentant artful dodger, more skilled in ducking bills than bullets. But the puns are heavyhanded; they embarrass his rationalizations with cynical bluster. He puffs up the prudential and "honest" cowardice by which he would avoid such vanity as Blunt's honorable death. Yet his taking responsibility for the casualties immediately after that move places the emphasis on the lethal consequences of his success as a profiteering recruiter and battle leader. "I have led my ragamuffins where they are peppered" is a bitter boast; he scores it on his own pate; the tone suggests that he despises his dishonorable cowardice no less than the honor he debunks. Thus the coward's rationalization modulates into the sinner's sardonic comment.

It isn't easy to catch either Falstaff's tones or their complex directional force if you station yourself in fantasy as a member of the theater audience being addressed by the hybridized figure composed of Falstaff and the actor playing Falstaff. In order to listen to Falstaff listening to himself, you have to imagine yourself as the eavesdropper he imagines and performs before. This requires an auditory station somewhere within the ear of the speaker, whom you make the subject of his speech when you premise that he gives himself to be heard—or, more reluctantly, to be overheard—by himself and not only presents but monitors and judges the representation of Falstaff that is the object of his speech.

From this station you may also intercept uncanny messages such as those that materialize in Part 2 under the spell of the idea that Falstaff not only vents his spleen at Shallow as a pathetic surrogate for the prince, he also treats him as a distorted mirror, an "old Double" (3.2.41), of himself.85 As I have argued elsewhere,

he does exactly what he accuses Shallow of doing . . . as if he enjoys reminding himself that his every third word is a lie, savors in himself what he contemns in others, takes perverse pleasure in imposing fictions on himself that he knows are fictions. . . . By the aggressive bravado of his soliloquy he likens his way of addressing the present to Shallow's way of addressing the past: to speak of making Shallow "a philosopher's two stones to me" is not merely to acknowledge the folly of the alchemical dream of perpetual potency. Rather it is Falstaff's way of acknowledging, with a certain savage amusement, his relish for imaginary testicles, for the impotent bluster that will reduce him to "bait for the old pike."86

In his judiciary function Shallow is also an old Double of the Lord Chief Justice, an institutional relation emphasized by the latter's reappearance in 5.2 for the first time since his encounter with Falstaff in 1.2. Falstaff links them together in two other respects: by harping on their advanced age and by requesting from each a loan of a thousand pounds.87 The Lord Chief Justice's principled and austere seniority is parodied by Shallow's lax and sycophantic senility. Nevertheless, the listener in Falstaff's ear, "swoln with some other grief," can hear something more than Shallow means when he picks up and remonstrates against the words "You must excuse me" with which Falstaff begs off from-spending the night at Gloucestershire: "I will not excuse you, you shall not be excused, excuses shall not be admitted, there is no excuse shall serve, you shall not be excused" (5.1.3-6). He repeats the final phrase in his next utterance after summoning Davy (11. 10-11). When, several lines later, he responds to Davy's inquiry about a bill with "Let it be cast and paid" and then again repeats his injunction to Falstaff, "Sir John, you shall not be excused" (11. 19-20), the first part of the utterance bleeds into the second.

Through Justice Shallow's voice speaks the discourse of judgment and spiritual accountancy displaced from whatever greater authority he represents.88 After the interchange that follows, Falstaff waves the others away so that he can listen to himself vent his bitter and disdainful opinion of the "semblable coherence" of "Master Shallow" and his servants: "It is certain that either wise bearing or ignorant carriage is caught, as men take diseases, one of another. Therefore take heed of their company" (11. 64, 73-76). Yet in his very next words, when he goes on to represent to himself the pleasure his tales of Shallow will give to Harry, this advice is conspicuously ignored, for surely by now—having taken heed of the prince's company and intentions from the beginning, having taken their measure as recently as the soliloquy on sack in 4.3—he knows better, knows that the prospect of the prince exploding in Falstaffian laughter is one he might in his folly wish or hope for but will never see realized.

The soliloquy as a whole not only registers Falstaff's recognition that there is semblable coherence between his folly and the folly he criticizes; it also registers the turning of the speaker's anger from his rural targets toward himself. Skura's observation—"although he is forced to spend time with substitutes like Justice Shallow, Falstaff keeps thinking about the Prince as his absent audience"89—implies that this situation increases the anger and scorn he directs at Shallow. But the grotesque figure with which he concludes the soliloquy suggests to me that what angers him is his own persistent desire for the absent auditor. As he imagines Harry's mirth, he dresses it up in a mirthless similitude: "O, you shall see him laugh till his face be like a wet cloak ill laid up" (5.1.83-84)—"wrinkled," the Arden editor explains, "with innumerable creases" because "packed carelessly away."90 It is as if Falstaff acknowledges this prospect as another "smooth comfort false" begotten on and resurrected from "the times deceas'd" by self-blinding desire—like the pathetic longing he had earlier condemned in Shallow's reminiscences. "Lord, Lord, how subject we old men are to this vice of lying" (3.2.302-3), and especially of lying to ourselves. His persistent longing to "curry with" the princely Thin Man he affects makes him no better than the pathetic Thin Man he despises. Thus at the end of 5.1, he shrinks from the contaminating embrace of Shallow's aggressive hospitality, responding reluctantly, impatiently, to his host's importunate summons: "Sir John! / FALSTAFF: "I come, Master Shallow, I come, Master Shallow" (11. 86-87).

Coda: The Thin Man

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"Then death rock me asleep, abridge my doleful days!" (2.4.194): Pistol is not the only speaker in this community who seeks to lay his head "in Furies' lap" (5.3.107). In Part 2, "death turns and stalks Falstaff . . . in the form of thinness,"91 and the thinness Falstaff harps on ("This same starved justice" [3.2.303], "the very genius of famine" [11. 312-13])92 is a kind of memento mori calling the fat man to account. The Thin Man reappears in 5.4 in the form of the beadle whom Doll and Quickly later revile:

DOLL . . . you filthy famished correctioner . . .

BEADLE Come, come, you she knight-errant, come.

HOSTESS O God, that right should thus overcome might! Well, of sufferance comes ease.

DOLL Come, you rogue, come, bring me to a justice.

HOSTESS Ay, come, you starved bloodhound.

DOLL Goodman death, goodman bones!

HOSTESS Thou atomy, thou!

DOLL Come, you thin thing, come, you rascal! (5.4.20-29)

Doll and the Hostess are speaking figuratively, and what they ask for is their day in court, perhaps with the intention of proving how society or its overmighty justiciars victimize them.93 But if I shift my attention from what the speakers evidently mean to express to what their expressions can mean—if I take their figurative expressions seriously, "literally,"—they convey the complex desire of the ultimate peace, the punishment, the self-transcendence, that their transgressions cry out for: "Come, sweet death." The desire they fear and resist is the desire to be taken and consumed by old Double, the insatiable Thin Man, whose workings are mocked in such second bodies as those of the country justices of the peace, the Lord Chief Justice, and the king.

You must excuse me.

I will not excuse you, you shall not be excused, excuses shall not be admitted, there is no excuse shall serve, you shall not be excused.

—I come, Master Shallow, I come, Master Shallow.


1 Unless otherwise noted, quotations from the Henriad follow the Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington, rev. 4th ed. (New York: Longman, 1997).

2 The tone of these statements is affected by their being a replay of the parodic triumphant speech with which Falstaff greets Prince John and his companions in 4.3: "I have speeded hither with the very extremest inch of possibility; I have foundered nine score and odd posts; and here, travel-tainted as I am, have in my pure and immaculate valor taken Sir John Colevile of the Dale, a most furious knight and valorous enemy" (11. 34-39).

3 Here I follow William Empson, who in turn agrees (for once) with Dover Wilson "that Henry shows a good deal of forbearance in his conditions to Falstaff (Essays on Shakespeare, ed. David B. Pirie [Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986], 68).

4 Many of my observations in this account of Harry's relations to Henry and to Falstaff have their origins in my encounter with M. D. Faber's "Falstaff Behind the Arras," American Imago 27 (1970): 197-225; see especially 198-99, 206-7, and 209. Regardless of what I consider an unhelpful commitment to a kind of demotic Freudian lexicon—as in his attention to the struggle between Harry's consciousness and unconsciousness—I still, after all these years, find Faber's commentary the best guide to conflicts I prefer to approach in a more textual and more guardedly psychoanalytical manner, and I remain deeply indebted to it.

5 See, for example, "Hydra and Rhizome" in Shakespeare Reread: The Texts in New Contexts, Russ McDonald, ed. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1994), 79-104, esp. 94-95.

6 David Bevington, ed., Henry IV, Part 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 166.

7 See Philip C. McGuire, Speechless Dialect: Shakespeare's Open Silences (Berkeley: U of California P, 1985).

8 For an account of these ethical discourses and their interaction, see my Making Trifles of Terrors: Redistributing Complicities in Shakespeare (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997), xiii-xix, 222-46, 288-334, and passim.

9 Bevington, ed., Henry IV, Part 1 (1987), 102.

10 Empson allows that "the actor could drag the words around to apply to the Prince" but finds a difficulty in the reference to the twenty-two years of companionship because it would imply that Falstaff has "forsworn" and been "bewitched" by Harry since the latter's birth (65-66).

11 To avoid misleading implications, let me say that I use the term subject in this context to denote a site of agency or propriety, on the analogy, for example, of the locution "she is the subject of (her) desire and not merely the object of others'."

12 Reasons for this decision are given on pp. 56-57, below.

13 This illustrates what Bert O. States calls the "self-expressive mode," in which the actor relates to the audience, distinguished by States from the "collaborative" and "representational" modes; see Great Reckonings in Little Rooms: On the Phenomenology of Theater (Berkeley: U of California P, 1985), 120-206.

14 Randall McLeod, "UN Editing Shak-speare," Sub-Stance 33/34 (1981-82): 26-55, esp. 50.

15 John Russell Brown, Shakespeare's Plays in Performance (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971), 155.

16 Morris Carnovsky with Peter Sander, "The Eye of the Storm: On Playing King Lear," Shakespeare Quarterly 28 (1977): 144-50, esp. 144.

17 Robert Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function, ed. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978), 230.

18 Weimann, 235.

19 Weimann, 232-33.

20 Weimann, 233. The final clause alludes to one of Weimann's more recent applications of the locus/platea distinction to conflicts of authority between the represented and representing institutions; see "Bifold Authority in Shakespeare's Theatre," SQ 39 (1988): 401-17.

21 I use the male pronoun for Elizabethan actors, who were either boys or men. Did a female character intermittently behave as if she knew she were a he? Elizabeth Pittenger has addressed this question in a brilliant unpublished study of Lyly's Gallathea.

22 Again, my use of these terms loosely follows the discussion in States, 170-85.

23 Legend for 2 through 4: 2) the actor presents himself to the theater audience in his role of actor-playing-character; 3) by addressing the theater audience, the character presents herself or himself as the actor playing that character; 4) the character behaves like an actor in his address to the onstage audience of other characters.

24 Anne Righter [Barton], Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (London: Chatto and Windus, 1962), 56-57.

25 Righter, 60-61, emphasis added.

26 Righter, 57. Righter quotes from King Daryus, ed. Alois Brandi, Il. 37-39.

27 See Walter J. Ong, "The Writer's Audience Is Always a Fiction" in Ong, Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1977), 53-81.

28 Bert O. States, "The Dog on the Stage: Theater as Phenomenon," New Literary History 14 (1983): 373-88, esp. 373 and 380.

29 The quoted phrase is from Lionel Abel, Metatheatre: A New View of Dramatic Form (New York: Hill and Wang, 1963), 60. Developing his notion of the "metaplay" in part as an apologia for the modernist drama of Brecht, Beckett, and Genet (among others), Abel valorizes this drama as the genre best suited to express the skeptical problematic Stanley Cavell would subsequently badger with notorious philosophical panache and persistence.

30 Keir Elam, Shakespeare's Universe of Discourse: Language Games in the Comedies (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984), 1.

31 A. P. Rossiter, Angel with Horns and Other Shakespeare Lectures, ed. Graham Story (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1961), 53.

32 Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of sexuality in Shakespearean drama (London: Routledge, 1992), 55.

33 Traub, 56 and 66.

34 Traub, 62ff.

35 William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (London: Chatto and Windus, 1950), 104, emphasis added.

36 Empson, Essays on Shakespeare, 72.

37 Empson, Essays on Shakespeare, 65-66, emphasis added.

38 Jonathan Goldberg, Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992), 153-54, emphasis added.

39 Goldberg, 152.

40 Goldberg suggests this in his convincing rebuttal of Gary Taylor's proposal to restore the latter in modern texts of I Henry IV; see Jonathan Goldberg, "The Commodity of Names: 'Falstaff and Oldcastle' in 1 Henry IV in Reconfiguring the Renaissance: Essays in Critical Materialism, Jonathan Crewe, ed. (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1992), 76-88, esp. 81. See also Gary Taylor, "The Fortunes of Oldcastle," Shakespeare Survey 38 (1985): 85-100. David Bevington's critique of the Taylor thesis in his Oxford edition of the play (106-10) has been questioned by Goldberg on philosophical grounds and defended by John W. Velz on the grounds criticized by Goldberg; see Goldberg, "The Commodity of Names," 87; and Velz, Review of Bevington's Oxford edition, SQ 43 (1992): 107-9, esp. 108. For a more recent attempt to work Oldcastle into the field of possible topical allusions around Falstaff, see Charles Whitney, "Festivity and Topicality in the Coventry Scene of 1 Henry IV" English Literary Renaissance 24 (1994): 410-48.

41 Taylor, 93-95, 98, 96, and 95.

42 See my Imaginary Audition: Shakespeare on Stage and Page (Berkeley: U of California P, 1989), 25-42.

43 Taylor, 98 and 99.

44 For information on Oldcastle and the debate that swirled around him, see The Oldcastle Controversy, Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge, eds. (Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 1991). For this reference, and also for a wonderfully compact yet complete sketch of the Oldcastle question, I am grateful to the commentaries of Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine in their New Folger Library edition of Henry IV, Part 1 (New York: Washington Square Press, 1994) liv-lvii and 235-41.

45 Kristen Poole, "Saints Alive! Falstaff, Martin Marprelate, and the Staging of Puritanism," SQ 46 (1995): 47-75, esp. 52n.

46 Poole, 54.

47 Poole, 71.

48 Poole, 68 and 70-71.

49 Poole, 67.

50 Poole, 66.

51 See, for example, Poole's fine closing statement on page 75.

52 Empson, Essays on Shakespeare, 52. This chapter is a revised version of "Falstaff and Mr. Dover Wilson," which appeared in 1953 in The Kenyon Review. Because there is considerable evidence for the practice Empson mentions—getting soldiers killed to keep their pay—many editors and critics assume that this practice is implied in Falstaff's "I have led my ragamuffins where they are peppered" (5.3.35-36). It may be implied, but Empson's attribution of this motive to Falstaff is incorrect. Falstaff makes no such boast.

53 Empson, Essays on Shakespeare, 52.

54 Whitney, 424-25. In spite of the reservations I express here, Whitney's is the most enlightening study I have encountered both of Falstaff's performance in particular and of the differences and tense interactions between festivity and topicality in general. A lucid and comprehensive-yet-economic discussion of the way the titular concepts may be incorporated into a framework for speculating about the range of possible audience responses in a pluralistic theater may be found on pages 410-18.

55 Whitney, 425. There is something wrong with the reference to Mikhail M. Bakhtin here. Whitney cites a passage from Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson [Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984]), in which the word "double-voiced" appears just before a discussion of carnivalistic dialogismi and seems to be applied to such phenomena as the mixing of styles ("multi-toned narration") and the use of such "inserted genres" as letters, manuscripts, citations, parodies, etc. (108-9). This doesn't seem as relevant to Falstaff's speech, or to the statement Whitney is trying make about it, as the following passage from The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin (ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist [Austin: U of Texas P, 1981]):

As a living, socio-ideological concrete thing, as heteroglot opinion, language, for the individual consciousness, lies on the borderline between oneself and the other. The word in language is half someone else's. It becomes "one's own" only when the speaker populates it with his own intention, his own accent, when he appropriates the word. . . . Prior to this moment of appropriation, the word . . . exists in other people's mouths, in other people's contexts, serving other people's intentions: it is from there that one must take the word, and make it one's own. . . . Language . ... is populated—overpopulated—with the intentions of others.


The description of the word prior to the moment of appropriation and thus "unhinged" from Falstaff as the subject of his speech fits Whitney's apparent purpose better than the passage he cites because it supports his thesis about the dispersal of interpretive authority among different sectors of the audience. But it is also a description of the way Falstaff's language is read by critics who don't explore the possibility that he populates it with his own intention, his own accent, and makes it his own.

56 Whitney, 422.

57 For different perspectives on Falstaff's performances as a self-mocking parodist and a self-proclaimed rogue, see Whitney, 429, 433, 438, 439, and 440.

58 Whitney, 413-14.

59 Whitney, 448.

60 Weimann, 256-57.

61 Weimann, 258-60.

62 Weimann, 159.

63 Meredith Anne Skura, Shakespeare the Actor and the Purposes of Playing (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1993), 162.

64 Skura, 160.

65 Skura's discussion of this canine conundrum (160-61) follows that of States in "The Dog on the Stage" (379-81). See also Elam's astute and amusing account of Launce's troubles in this soliloquy (56).

66 Skura, 161 and 163.

67 Skura, 164-65.

68 On the relation of conspicuous citation to the dominance of rhetoric over ethos, see Elam's stimulating discussions in Shakespeare's Universe of Discourse (223-26 and 287-89).

69 Skura, 162-63.

70 Skura, 116 and 120.

71 "[The prince] has given Falstaff charge of an infantry company because he knows Falstaff hates walking .. . ; he can also guess, and take pleasure in beholding, how Falstaff is likely to flout the regulations to exploit his position as captain" (Whitney, 424).

72 M. D. Faber's interesting suggestion that pocket-picking evokes the rifling of corpses on the battlefield (202) suggests the same overlap seen from the other side. Going to war, Harry will accentuate his dissociation from Falstaff—will "kill" what he represents—by continuing to put him down and keep him close to the ground.

73 Harry's contrasting promise to Peto at 2.4.539-40 ("We must all to the wars, and thy place shall be honorable") seems included mainly to drive this home. In context it sounds like a reward for Peto's willingness to pick Falstaff's pocket.

74 Empson is puzzled by the repetition of the number twenty-two (Essays on Shakespeare, 66), which Falstaff had also used in 2.2 ("I have forsworn his company hourly any time this two-and-twenty years" [11. 15-16]). But the second reference contributes to a pattern of conspicuous backward references, and that may be explanation enough: it is one of several mnemonic triggers that keep 2.2 and 2.4 in full recall during the boundary crossing (from tavern to battlefield) of 3.3.

75 Whitney, 424.

76 Whitney, 422.

77 The soliloquy is studded with terms that recall phrases and moments of 1.2 and the tavern scenes. Some examples: "a commodity of warm slaves" (4.2.17-18)—"a commodity of good names" (1.2.81-82); "Lazarus in the painted cloth" (4.2.25)—"hellfire and Dives" (3.3.31-32); "revolted tapsters, and hostlers trade-fallen" (4.2.28-29)—Francis and the Gadshill episode; "prodigals lately come from swine keeping" (4.2.34)—Harry and Falstaff.

78 Whitney, 424.

79 Empson, Essays on Shakespeare, 52.

80 Whitney, 429.

81 Whitney, 440.

82 Skura, 121.

83 Skura, 122. I see no evidence for the claim of "overt allusions to homoeroticism" in 3.2. Throughout this discussion Skura tends to run two separate scenes (3.2 and 5.3) together and treat them as one.

84 Skura, 122-23.

85 On this, see Skura, 121.

86 Berger, Making Trifles of Terrors, 143-44.

87 Compare 1.2.224-25 with 5.5.73-86. See also 1 Henry IV, 2.4.156-57; 3.3.132-36; and 2.4.60-66. Empson notes that the reference to £1,000 "is kept echoing through both parts of the history; it seems to become a symbol of Falstaff's hopes and his betrayal" (Some Versions of Pastoral, 107). Though Empson ignores the exchange with the Lord Chief Justice, his comment applies to it.

88 The scope and source of this authority are suggested by the still-echoing words that end the preceding scene. In these words the dying king recognizes the irony—but acknowledges the justice—of the misleading prophecy that he would die in Jerusalem: not, as "vainly I supposed the Holy Land" on a crusade to atone for the guilt of regicide and usurpation; the closest he would get would be the Jerusalem Chamber in Westminster Abbey: "Laud be to God! . . . bear me to that chamber; there I'll lie. / In that Jerusalem shall Harry die" (4.5.235-40). On this passage, see my Making Trifles of Terrors, 249-50.

89 Skura, 120.

90 A. R. Humphreys, ed., The Second Part of King Henry IV (London: Methuen, 1966), 161.

91 Skura, 123.

92 See also 3.2.309-12, 318, 323-25; and 5.1.61-63.

93 "I pray God," the Hostess says of Doll, "that the fruit of her womb miscarry" (5.4.13-14). The statement is both a malapropism and a falsehood (since what swells Doll is not pregnancy but cushions), but it is nevertheless "true" on both counts. It expresses the general desire that all their schemes and hopes miscarry. But what they want to abort, to be delivered of, is the absence of the pregnancy and fulfillment whose workings they can only mock in an imaginary body composed of cushions and words. Their actual bodies, their persons and plots, are diminished by what the Hostess earlier miscalled "confirmities" (2.4.58), which I interpret to mean complicity with the male forces that victimize them—woman's acceptance of herself as "the weaker vessel, as they say, the emptier vessel" (2.4.60-61, emphasis added). They do not know what to make of a diminished thing, and thus "of sufferance comes ease."

Source: "The Prince's Dog: Falstaff and the Perils of Speech-Prefixity," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 40-73.

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