Shakespeare could have meant for Falstaff to represent the virtues of a time that had passed by the 17th century. A time where companionship and playfulness were valued and people took themselves and their power over others less seriously. He praises Harry for being the “most comparative, rascalliest sweet young Prince” (1.2.71). Falstaff also references the Bible in the many of his lines, using proverbial wisdom to help himself and Hal make decisions. This contrasts with how “the court” uses the Bible, which is in more of a manipulative way just to gain leverage over others. Falstaff uses it for moral dilemma, however backwards the advice is from his actions, while they seem to use it for power. Perhaps Shakespeare is mourning a more peaceful time in England when people were interested in communion over power struggles and violence. Even though Falstaff is so obviously a liar, it seems to be just for show, for entertainment, to keep things light. I don’t think he would ever say idk…kill one of his uncles just to reign as king. If Falstaff was king I picture free drinks and performances forever, just a madhouse of playful debauchery.
Hal is in an advantageous position when the play begins because he is able to experience extremes: the duty and obligation of royalty and the freedom of the bar scene. What he realizes, during the mock conversation between him and his father in the tavern with Falstaff, is that the two worlds really are not as different as they seem. Both involve an ample amount of role-play, deceit, and debauchery, but royalty involves ownership and power as opposed to Falstaff’s ineffectual existence in the society. In 5.1, Falstaff can’t even understand the concept of honor or why anyone would want to strive for it. He ask can honor “take away the grief of a wound?…What is honor? A word.” Falstaff notices how honor can be simply used as an incentive to die for the king’s cause, so that he may have even more control. Hal leads Falstaff on, making him seem like an influential father figure, while the whole time Hal secretly wants to leave one world of corruption behind for another.
During the performance by Hal and Falstaff, when Falstaff is sure to ask Hal not to suddenly banish him when he becomes King, Hal has a tough decision to make. I think that was the moment when Falstaff gave up his cover because Hal realizes that at least part of Falstaff’s whole act, of being Hal’s surrogate father and leading him in his “virtuous” ways, is to ensure his safety when Hal becomes King. Hal just can’t shake the deceitfulness of Falstaff as he questions his motives for being so kind.
The full play at the Globe Theater is here: