Essay on William Shakespeare's Fools

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Shakespeare's Fools

Shakespeare used foolish characters in his plays to make points that he considers highly important. I had previously supposed that Shakespeare was an entertainer who sprinkled his writing with observations about humanity and its place in the world to please critics. However, I discovered that he was a gifted writer who had a penetrating understanding the condition of humanity in the world and sprinkled his plays with fools and jokes meant for the common man as a way of conceding to his audience's intellectual level. Or, as Walter Kaufmann said in his essay "Shakespeare: Between Socrates and Existentialism," Shakespeare "came to terms with the obtuseness of his public: he gave his pearls a slight odor of the
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(I Henry IV I.ii.201-207)

That is to say, Hal wishes that others see him as the prodigal son. Having sunk himself in debauchery and common vice, his new acceptance of his noble station after his conversation with his father in III.ii, with all of its attendant responsibilities, is all the more impressive. The king who Shakespeare believes to typify the ideal head of state had to identify with the common people, both to be able to understand them and to win their love and admiration. Falstaff is an essential part of Hal's ability to identify with the common people, albeit only indirectly. It is Falstaff who provides Prince Hal with many opportunities to show his companions, the common people of the inn, how similar his is to them through his constant jokes at Falstaff's expense. The robbing of the robbers in II.ii, the plundering of Falstaff's pockets in II.iv, and the constant jokes at Falstaff's expense throughout the first three acts are types of humor which the inn's patrons could appreciate.

However, seen in this light, Falstaff could still be a mere entertainment device. It is true that Falstaff provides numerous opportunities for humor throughout the first three acts, but there is another layer at work, one that I