Falstaff – “Lord, Lord, how this world is given to lying!”


Sir John Falstaff appears in Henry IV, Part I; Henry IV, Part II; and The Merry Wives of Windsor.  In Henry V, Pistol announces Falstaff’s death, but Falstaff himself has no lines, which might be for the better as he lies so often.

And he does it with style, turning logic on its head.

Consider this:  A conditional syllogism is a logical argument with a hypothetical premise/antecedent (if…) and a conclusion/consequent (then…).  For example:

Premise/Antecedent:  If you are early to bed and early to rise…

Conclusion/Consequent:  …then you will be healthy, wealthy, and wise.

If the antecedent is true, then the consequent is true.  If the antecedent is false, then the consequent is false.

Likewise, if the consequent is true, then the antecedent must be true.  If the consequent is false, then the antecedent must be false.

Falstaff plays with us.  In Henry IV, Part I, Falstaff, Bardolph, Peto, and Gadshill rob some travellers riding from London.  Moments later, Prince Henry and Poins disguise themselves and rob Falstaff and his fellow thieves.  Falstaff flees like a coward, but when he meets Prince Henry and Poins at the Boar’s-Head Tavern, he tells the story as though he was exceedingly brave, as though he had fought off a hundred thieves (the number fluctuates).  He says:

…if I fought not with fifty of them, I am a bunch of radish: if there were not two or three and fifty upon poor old Jack, then am I no two-legged creature.

Now let’s look at those lines another way:

Premise/Antecedent:  If I fought not with fifty of them…

Conclusion/Consequent:  …I am a bunch of radish.

Prince Henry, Poins, and the audience can see that Falstaff is not a purple root vegetable.  Since the consequent is false, we are encouraged to believe that the antecedent is false too – that is, that Falstaff really did fight with fifty thieves.  The second part of the statement does the same:

Premise/Antecedent:  If there were not two or three and fifty…

Conclusion/Consequent:  …then am I no two-legged creature.

Falstaff might as well be radish.


Image: ClipArt ETC.