chapter  4
24 Pages

Falstaff and “the Modern Constitution”

WithRebecca Ann Bach

In the creaturely world, bodies made people like other creatures, and bodies also made people different from one another. One of the strangest features of modern Shakespearean criticism has been the apotheosis of Falstaff. The contrast between Falstaff's own celebration of his beast-like body and the critical celebration of him as epitomizing the human points to the contours of what Latour calls "the modern critical stance". The multitudinous beast tropes for Falstaff in his few plays are much more slippery than Hazlitt's metaphor, because those tropes were written in the creaturely world, a world in which all mortals shared humoral bodies. The apotheosis of childhood beginning in Romantic ideology seems to have been a historical partner to, and enabler of, Falstaff's apotheosis. The modern constitution and its guarantees have determined much of the criticism of Falstaff, even by critics who self-identify as rejecting the destructive aspects of modernity.