This is the first post in an online exhibition and blog series looking at some of the fantastic sculptures in the gardens of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s properties. I have decided to start by considering the character Falstaff, who is the focus of three of our garden sculptures. What is it about this character that is so appealing to an artist?
What is honour? A word. What is in that word “honour”? What is that honour? Air. A trim reckoning!
Falstaff, Henry IV part I, Act IV Sc I.
Out of all of Shakespeare’s comic characters, Falstaff is the most celebrated and perhaps the most popular. He is fat, cowardly, lazy, dishonest, and drunken. In fact, some of his antics would see him not out-of-place in our recent “Shakespeare’s Villains” series. Despite this, though, he is witty and likeable, and he seems to show a genuine affection for the young Prince Harry, who ultimately betrays this.
Two contrasting sculptures inspired by the Henry IV plays and Falstaff, made by Greg Wyatt, stand side-by-side in the garden at New Place (currently next to the large spoil heap, which is a product of the ongoing Dig).
In ‘Falstaff,’ the sculpture pictured above, we see a familiarly buoyant Falstaff, standing above a barrel. This one is inspired by the first part of Henry IV. Engraved on the reverse is Falstaff’s speech stating that he has no use for honour.
That figure is quite different to this statue of ‘Henry IV," which is inspired by the second part and depicts the disillusioned knight. The most striking part of the ‘Henry IV’ sculpture is the reverse where you see a red tube running up and down from a nose and throat through a heart and straight into a barrel. This sits between an extract of Falstaff’s articulate speech on the benefits of a drink. “A good sherry-sack hath a two-fold operation in it.” Henry IV part II, Act IV, Sc III.
In this video I look at a Staffordshire pottery figure of Falstaff and a maquette (model) for another sculpture of Falstaff that can be found in one of our gardens: