English Major Geekery

A bit of disclosure, since a couple of people have asked: I came up with the title to the previous post in a pretentious fit of Shakespearean geekery. It’s a hazard of English majors everywhere. The wording is a play on a line from Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4, where Falstaff tell the young Prince Harry “banish plump Jack, banish all the world.”

There’s more to the quote than that. I have always thought that these lines are the finest description of what the bard’s Fat Man stands for as he defends his behavior to those around him. It’s a strangely honest rendition of what goes on inside Falstaff’s head:

But to say I know more harm in him than in myself,
were to say more than I know. That he is old, the
more the pity, his white hairs do witness it; but
that he is, saving your reverence, a whoremaster,
that I utterly deny. If sack and sugar be a fault,
God help the wicked! if to be old and merry be a
sin, then many an old host that I know is damned: if
to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine
are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto,
banish Bardolph, banish Poins: but for sweet Jack
Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff,
valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant,
being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him
thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s
company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

Translation: You can’t avoid me, kid. I am the most real human being you will ever meet.

The thing is, he’s right. John Falstaff, for all his failings, is the most real person that the future Henry V will ever meet.The boy has been raised his whole life in the presence of the royal court; his father, the current Henry IV, has no time for anything that isn’t state business. His staff teaches the boy royal manners, rules, and behaviors, but not what it is to be a man, or , really, a king. (Harry comes to grips with his kinghood in Henry V, but that’s another play.)

Anyway, normally, Harry would have to figure out the gritty bits on his own so into this breach (as it were) steps Sir John Falstaff who proceeds to show the boy what a larger-than-life, raucous, boastful failure of a man looks like. This is a lesson that Harry learns well as the audience sees when he tells Sir John to pop off at the end of Henry IV Part 2 (“Old man, I know thee not!”)

Not that I’d compare Alan Moore to John Falstaff: one is a liar, a cheat, a buffoon, a lout; a fat, slovenly, cowardly sot. The other writes comic books. But no matter how crazy, nonsensical, utterly bizarre, or freakish one of Moore’s stories might seem to the new reader, his work is unquestionably real, drawing believable, flawed, heroic, and well-developed characters into terrifying situations, and failing or prevailing as they can. There is much to be learned about story and storytelling within the pages of any of Moore’s writings. Arguably as much as in a Shakespearean play, although probably in a more accessible form.

Thus: banish Alan Moore, banish the world.

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