The only one of Shakespeare’s plays that has Falstaff as its central character is The Merry Wives of Windsor, and it is generally agreed that the Falstaff in it is a very pale reflection of the Falstaff we feel we know. When we think of Falstaff, we think of him as he appears in the two parts of Henry IV, the fat knight whose banter with Hal, Poins, Mistress Quickly and the Lord Chief Justice provides the comic sub-plot of these plays. Removed from the Boar’s Head tavern and his Eastcheap friends and flung into the parlours of the Elizabethan bourgeoisie, his bulk remained but his spirit dwindled. So, in writing about Falstaff, I shall be writing about the man who appears in the two history plays, and not the impostor in the buck-basket.
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