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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: January ::
Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0011  Thursday, 7 January 2010

[1] From:   Larry Weiss <
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     Date:   Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 17:48:15 +0000
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0627 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom

[2] From:   Duncan Salkeld <
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     Date:   Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 23:04:15 +0000
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0627 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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Date:       Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 17:48:15 +0000
Subject: 20.0627 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0627 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom

 >Hamlet's riddles, Iago's homosexual lust, and now Falstaff
 >transgendered... All more harmless pursuits than bombing
 >Afghanistan, true.

More harmless, to be sure; but far less useful.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Duncan Salkeld <
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 >
Date:       Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 23:04:15 +0000
Subject: 20.0627 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0627 Falstaff in Arthur's Bosom

Conrad Bishop finds it hard to imagine 'a playwright working as hard as 
that guy did salting his work with embroidery that not only goes over 
the head of his audience but takes 400 years for anyone to fathom.' I 
agree and throw some dice in defence of F: 'his nose was as sharp as a 
pen and a table of green fields' (HV, 2.3.15ff).

Gary Taylor wrote in his 1982 edition of Henry V that, 'if convincing 
sense can be made of the Folio reading, it should be retained' (p. 293). 
Mistress Quickly notoriously takes 'Abraham' for 'Arthur' and 'pulcher' 
for 'polecats': in other words, she is written up as a pretty clumsy 
speaker. The Elizabethan word for the tavern game of backgammon was 
'tables' (see OED). A few Elizabethan taverns seem to have operated as 
gaming houses: the Bridewell Governors recorded one Jones who 'kepeth a 
tabling house' near Rothbury on 15 February 1577. Taverns and tables 
were an association with which an inn hostess might be familiar. A 
backgammon board consists of four playing 'fields', nowadays more 
usually referred to as the 'home' and 'outer' fields, each marked with 
six sharp, triangular 'points. Backgammon boards are constructed and 
advertised today as having 'inlaid playing fields'. An entry for 
'playing field' in the OED reads '1639, Bury Wills (Camden), I give unto 
my sonne in lawe my inlaid playing tables'. So Falstaff's nose was 
sharp, having the sharpness of a quill, and of conical points marked on 
the green quadrants of a hostelry backgammon table. Shakespeare 
elsewhere refers to the game of backgammon twice  --  in Love's Labour's 
Lost, where Biron describes Boyet as 'Monsieur the Nice, / That when he 
plays at tables chides the dice / In honourable terms' (5.2.325-27), and 
in Measure For Measure, when Lucio speaks of sex as a game of 
'tick-tack' (1.2.167). Allusions to playing at tables occur now and then 
in Elizabethan drama [see, for example, Gascoigne's Supposes (1.2.7-9), 
the murder scene in Arden of Faversham, the opening scene of Porter's, 
The Two Angry Women of Abington and Dekker's, Blurt, Master Constable 
(5.2.125-6)]. Hilda Hulme (1962) noted that the word 'table' could 
technically refer to backgammon but passes over this possibility without 
considering the design on a board. The RSC Complete Works cites this 
hunch [published in Notes and Queries 2004 (Vol 51; No.3, 284-285] as a 
possibility but does not accept it. I suggest that on this 
interpretation, the Folio reading makes sense as it stands and suitably 
fits the context of tavern life.

Wishing everyone a cheerful 2010,
Duncan Salkeld
Senior Lecturer in English
Department of English
University of Chichester

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