The play: Henry IV, Part II
The plot tweet: Rebellion is quelled and wayward Hal is finally transformed. Henry IV dies, Henry V is crowned, and Falstaff is finally banished for good.
My favorite line:
I know thee not, old man ...
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.
This play tries my patience. It reads as an extended and unnecessary epilogue to Henry IV, Part I. We've already seen Hal redeem himself at the Battle of Shrewsbury, but now we must sit through another cycle of his redemption. We've already heard Falstaff make eloquent speeches about life and honor, but now we get unmemorable rants about sack. Short of giving the popular Falstaff more stage time, what's the point? Everything we see here could be wrapped up in a quick prologue to Henry V.
This probably annoys me more than it should because I simply can't stand Falstaff. Harold Bloom is one of my favorite Shakespearean critics, but in this respect we differ widely; his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human fawns over Falstaff for dozens of pages, enough to turn my stomach. Falstaff is a superbly drawn character, full of wit and vitality, but I can't understand why Bloom should exalt him as the greatest character in all of Western literature. I mean, come on.
Critics often dislike Falstaff for moral reasons, and I suppose that is part of my objection. Bloom claims that Falstaff is "free" of societal structures and expectations, but that's simply not true. He takes money and goods he knows he can't repay, forcing others to bear the burden of his lifestyle; he deliberately leads poor, weak men to their deaths in battle. He leaves pain and destruction in his wake, and there is nothing admirable about that.
All the same, I do feel pity for Falstaff when the newly crowned Henry V rejects him so publicly. The audience has seen it coming, but Falstaff has not. He genuinely thinks that "the young king is sick for [him]" and has already started passing out favors to his friends. Hal told him outright in Part I that he would be banished, so we must assume Falstaff is blinded by his own genuine affection for the new king. That is Falstaff's one redeeming quality. It's more than enough for Bloom, but it's not enough for me.