Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Not Actually A Thieving, Booze-sodden Gallows Bird

Shakespeare picked a name out of the chronicles and gave it to a fat thief. This got him into trouble because the actual man whose name he'd filched- Sir John Oldcastle- turned out to be an early protestant hero- and you didn't mock early protestant heroes in Elizabethan England. So he hastily put out a disclaimer and filched another name for his character. The actual Sir John Falstaff happened to be a very perfect gentle knight but there was no religion involved so Shakespeare got away with it.

He got away with Bardolph too. The actual Bardolph who followed Henry V to France was a distinguished soldier and statesman who made a name for himself at Harfleur and Agincourt and organised Henry's funeral when he went and died prematurely- and so bore no resemblance to the boozehound who acts as Falstaff's lieutenant and ends his life at the end of a rope after stealing from a church. We complain about inaccuracies in contemporary historical dramas but Shakespeare was the king of blackening reputations in the name of art.

The actual Bardolph is buried beside his wife in St Mary's Dennington under one of the finest alabaster tombs in the country. Some scrote has scratched a wrong way round swastika between his brows. Had he been caught doing it he could have pleaded that he was only following Shakespeare's example...


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