Sir John Falstaff is a fictional character who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare as a companion to Prince Hal, the future King Henry V. A fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight, Falstaff leads the apparently wayward Prince Hal into trouble, and is ultimately repudiated after Hal becomes king.
Shakespearean scholar Edmond Malone claimed, on uncertain authority, that John Heminges was the actor Shakespeare had in mind to portray Falstaff; an alternative is that Falstaff was written for Will Kempe, the clown of Shakespeare's company. The original actor was later succeeded by John Lowin, another comic actor. It is also asserted that Thomas Pope played the role of Falstaff after Kempe left the troupe.
The character of Falstaff first appears in Henry IV, Part 1, but was at first called Sir John Oldcastle. Shakespeare changed the name when protests were made by Oldcastle's descendants. He adapted the new name from the historical Sir John Fastolf, a Norfolk knight who had appeared in his earlier play Henry VI.
Though primarily a comic figure, Falstaff still embodies a kind of depth common to Shakespeare's tricky comedy. In Act II, Scene III of Henry V, his death is described by the character "Hostess", possibly the Mistress Quickly of Henry IV, who describes his body in terms that echo the death of Socrates.
He appears in the following plays:
His death is mentioned in Henry V but he has no lines, nor is it directed that he appear on stage. However, many stage and film adaptations have seen it necessary to include Falstaff for the insight he provides into King Henry V's character. The most notable examples in cinema are Laurence Olivier's 1944 version and Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film, both of which draw additional material from the Henry IV plays.
There are several works about Falstaff, inspired by Shakespeare's plays:
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