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Movie Essays - Shakespeare's Henry Plays - A Comparative Study of Falstaff on Film

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Shakespeare's Henry Plays - A Comparative Study of Falstaff on Film

The Character of Sir John Falstaff is an integral part of any adaptation of Shakespeare's "Henry" plays. The treatment of this character effects the way the production will be taken by the audience as the treatment of Falstaff is directly related to the understanding of the character of Prince Hal (later Henry V). Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, the BBC versions of parts one and two of Henry IV, and Orson Welles' amalgamation Chimes at Midnight all show Falstaff in different lights, producing three different takes, not only on the character himself, but also on the interpretation of Prince Hal, and the entire workings of the production.

In the case of Kenneth
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In an abbreviated sort of version of the rejection scene, Prince Hal (Branagh) shows his intense link to Falstaff by conveying his lines of rejection and banishment without spoken words, choosing instead to use his facial expressions (assisted by a voice over by Branagh) to illustrate his thoughts. Falstaff's reception of Hal's non-verbal meaning shows the fact that Hal and Falstaff are linked beyond friendship and family, while the words themselves show that despite this union Hal has no qualms about using Falstaff to achieve his ends. The humanization of Falstaff changes the way we look at the character of Henry V and the production as a whole, as with Falstaff so much more pure, Henry is seen as the Machiavel he must become in order to succeed his father.

The BBC versions of Henry IV parts one and two show Jack Falstaff (played by Anthony Quayle) as a different sort of character altogether. In these productions the lecherous, unhealthy, and alcoholic qualities instilled in Falstaff are accentuated to a nearly morbid respect. While, unlike Branagh, the screenwriter leaves the lines intact, those lines that commonly evoke humor tend to evoke pity, or disgust instead. Quayle's appearance is not that of a robust jester who promotes joviality and wins the affection of the audience, but rather is a sickly, fat man who drunkenly forces his words out of the side of his mouth. While this Falstaff accentuates
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