The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1051  Monday, 6 June 2005

From:           Bill Lloyd <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 5 Jun 2005 11:45:44 EDT
Subject: 16.1027 First Falstaff [Was Gambon as Falstaff]
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1027 First Falstaff [Was Gambon as Falstaff]

Gabriel Egan writes that John Astington "demolished the authority" for
The Wits illustration as a reliable representation of pre-war depictions
of Falstaff. Well, yes and no. Astington's article shows that the The
Wits engraver, John Chantry, derived many of the figures depicted in The
Wits from non-theatrical engravings of the 1620s and 1630s. Of Falstaff
he says:

"TJ King has specifically connected Falstaff's costumes with the 1630s,
rather than with the dress current at the time the engraving was made.
Hence, it is claimed, the picture is invoking performance before the
wars, or during the Commonwealth. King's arguments, and the pictures he
provides to support them, are persuasive as far as they go, but there
are other reasons why an earlier style of dress might be shown on this
figure. As I have said, the prints of Callot were very popular models by
trhe 1660s, and they include the costume plates of "La noblesse
lorraine" (earlier 1620s), showing several male military figures. The
fashion for such plates was copied by Abraham Bosse (1630s and
following), who also provided an example to English engravers in the
Restoration. King's evidence for the dating of the costume seems
generally right, but it is not from theatrical sources, and to claim
that the clothes would specifically invoke an earlier period seems
rather strained, particularly in the context of the other stage
costumes. The figure of Falstaff is simply "dressed" pictorially, in the
same way as the other character are, and the "Hostes" with whom he is
playing a scene is costimed as a Restoration serving maid, it appears"

In a footnote Astington adds: "One may also wonder whether it is of any
significance that the printer Henry Bruges... was working in 1660 "at
the Signe of the Sir John Oldcastle in Pye-corner". While granting that
Brugis's sign was probably a picture of the Prostestant martyr, a
popular figure during the Commonwealth, it is also possible that it was
not: the Falstaff-Oldcastle confusion had by no means died out in the
1590s-- a performance of what was presumably Henry IV 1 at court in 1638
is recorded as "ould Castel". In a period when booksellers traded at the
Ben Jonson's Head, and the John Fletcher's Head..., Brugis's sign is
intriguing, and I would like to know more about it."

So to the extent that it had been suggested that The Wits illustration
possessed any *authority* as a depiction of Falstaff, Astington has at
least called it into serious question ("other reasons why...might";
"seems strained").  But IF a pre-war Falstaff had been in Chantry's
mind's eye, he would presumably have been dressed the same. However I
never claimed much authority for The Wits' Falstaff-- I only suggested
it was an interesting possibility that it evoked Lowin, a possibility
that Astington casts doubt on but does not rule out. No mention is made
of similarity of the style of beard between The Wits' Falstaff and the
portrait of Lowin  I wonder if John Astington has found out anything
more about the Signe of Sir John Oldcastle, and what its beard was like.

On a related matter, I have found proof that Thomas Pope was indeed the
first actor of Falstaff. In the first printing of Henry IV Part 1, on
Sig E3v, Falstaff says:

     If I become not a cart as well as another man, a
plague On My bringing uP, I hOPE I shall as soone be strangled
wiTH a halter AS another.

Clearly this refers to his vying with "another man" -- Will Kempe?-- for
the part. "Cart" is probably an abbreviation for "comic art", and his
"bringing up" is his training as an actor. No doubt Shakespeare took
Pope to meet Peter Short to arrange for the nicely spaced imposition of
his name (along the the reiterated "I") in Falstaff's speech. I trust
this settles the matter.

Bill Lloyd

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