We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Who Was John Falstaff?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

John Falstaff is a fictional character who appears in several of William Shakespeare’s plays. He is originally introduced in two history plays as a drinking companion and mentor to Hal, the son of King Henry VI. The character also crosses over into comedy as the hero of one of Shakespeare’s bawdiest comedy. From the 16th century until modern day, he remains one of the most memorable characters in all of Shakespeare’s work.

Experts suggest that Falstaff was not the original name for the character. There is evidence that asserts Shakespeare intended to name him “John Oldcastle,” but was forced to change it after the protests by a descendent of a real man of that name. Textual support shows that the name “John Falstaff” is consistently out of poetic meter in Henry IV, Part I, suggesting the name was changed after the play was completed. Additionally, the epilogue to Henry IV, Part II explicitly denies any connection between the character and the historical Oldcastle, implying that a connection might be drawn. Their does not appear to be any similarity between Shakespeare’s character and the historic figure, and experts are unsure why the author chose to use Oldcastle’s name at all.

In Henry IV, Parts I and II, Falstaff is a fat, jolly and corrupted knight in the constant company of Prince Hal. He is a great storyteller and braggart, forever telling tall tales of his own bravery. In truth, he is cowardly, not above playing dead on a battlefield to avoid fighting, or taking credit for another man’s kills. While Hal is initially his devoted companion, he eventually tires of the deceptions and double-talk. Upon becoming King Henry V, Hal renounces Falstaff and publicly ends their friendship.

Falstaff’s death is announced in Henry V, but Shakespeare quickly resurrected the character for use in The Merry Wives of Windsor. His appearance in the comedy is somewhat perplexing, as the Henry plays are set in 15th century England, while The Merry Wives of Windsor takes place during the late 16th or early 17th century. A popular theory suggests that Shakespeare acted on the whim of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who wished to see a play where the character fell in love. This theory is highly questioned by experts, as it did not appear for more than a century after the play was first performed.

In the comedy, the character continues his life of bawdiness and debauchery, lusting after two married women and their fortunes. When Falstaff fires his two pages for refusing to aid his schemes, the servants tell the women and their husbands of his plan. The remainder of the play consists of the wives conspiring to make the old knight look foolish, leading to him being beaten, thrown in a river, and eventually convinced that fairies are attacking him while he is dressed like a deer. In true character, Falstaff enjoys a hearty laugh when his plans go awry, realizing he has gotten what he deserved.

Experts are divided on the importance of Falstaff, particularly in the Henry plays. He is considered essential to the character of Hal, as he represents the prince’s wastrel youth that must be left behind before Hal can become king. Others suggest that the character is an embodiment of the common man and humanity, and that Hal’s rejection of him is a negative symptom of the detachment between monarch and subjects. The controversies over his meaning and importance may never be settled by experts, but the arguments do not diminish the popularity of this character believed by some to be Shakespeare’s greatest comic creation.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for Language & Humanities. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon145227 — On Jan 22, 2011

In spite of all the comments on Falstaff, I think he is hugely misunderstood -- especially by followers of Professor Harold Bloom (Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human). Who is Falstaff?

1. He is an alcoholic. (Ask any health professional.) He does not carry a bottle or sack instead of his pistol onto the battlefield because he is "free" [Prof Bloom]. That bottle is more important to him than the battle.

2. What would Shakespeare (and his audience) have thought about a highwayman?

3. When given command of a troop of foot, he uses the appointment as a chance to swindle his employer. First, he impresses a troop of reluctant well-to-do and allows them to buy their way out, then he impresses a troop of starving beggars. He does nothing to equip them; even to clothe themselves they must steal laundry as they march. Then he deliberately leads them to pointless death on the battlefield, so he can keep their pay.

This is genuine evil. He is an ogre who fattens himself on the flesh and blood of the poor and destitute.

4. Who is his employer that he is defrauding? His friend and patron, Prince Hal! Prince Hal is engaged in a desperate fight, not only for his throne but for his liberty and life. (Pretenders to the throne tend to die when they fall into their enemies' hands.)

5. At the same time, he is desperate to retain Prince Hal's favor, and when he finally loses it, the shock of it kills him.

Evidently, Falstaff is not only dishonest, but he does not even understand the concept of honesty. He is, in the clinical sense of the term, a psychopath.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.