What Falstaff represents is nothing more or less than life: life itself, life as such, the sheer indomitable fact of being alive. That is why Falstaff is so fat – he is larger than life, more human and more alive than ordinary mortals. When Hal points out that the grave gapes for Falstaff “thrice wider than for other men,” it is true symbolically as well as literally. No ordinary grave could hold Jack Falstaff, for he is no ordinary mortal. He is large, he contains multitudes. When old Falstaff condescendingly tells the Lord Chief Justice, “You that are old consider not the capacities of us that are young,” we feel the truth of it in our very bones. Falstaff’s body might be “blasted with antiquity,” as the Chief Justice replies, yet nobody is younger than he. He is young because he is youthfulness itself, the very energy and drive of life.
Nonetheless, in the final scene, a scene that has scandalised generations of playgoers and critics, Hal banishes his friend Jack Falstaff. Our minds recoil from the thought of it – even though, objectively speaking, Falstaff deserves everything he gets. It is not just that we like Falstaff and want things to turn out well for him. It is that this rejection of Falstaff seems like a rejection of life – an incomprehensible, nonsensical act. As Falstaff himself has intimated, to reject him is to reject everything: “Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.”
But perhaps the point of this difficult scene is just to show that Falstaff can be rejected. For all his irresistible charm, it is still possible to turn him away. The significance of the last scene is that it makes comedy more vivid by revealing its limits.
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