Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Scrooge Is Falstaff

It’s January 1st, and still Christmas if you celebrate the holiday from December 25th to January 6th, like Shakespeare, instead of from Halloween through December 24th, like Wal-Mart. So I’ve got a Christmas question. Of what Shakespeare character was Charles Dickens thinking when he created Scrooge for A Christmas Carol?

The answer is: Falstaff.

What!?, you say. Falstaff? Jolly, festive Falstaff, the decadent, witty, frolicsome knight of Shakespeare's history plays? Falstaff as the miserly Scrooge? Impossible! (you say). Does Falstaff not have more in common with Scrooge’s kindly old employer Fezziwig, who spends his money on a Christmas party for his employees, and makes merry?

No. He does not.

Indeed, Falstaff is fat and festive, but he’s also a sinner and a skinflint, and the last person in any of Shakespeare’s plays who'd pay out of his own pocket to throw a Christmas party for his employees. He's worse than Scrooge, because he would never buy a friend a turkey. The redeemed Scrooge at least does that. Falstaff wouldn't even know what a turkey was, staggering around in London in 1403, leeching cash. Throughout his three-play career (the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor; four plays, if we count his reported death scene in Henry V), Falstaff's main occupation is to steal others’ money to pad his own purse. In fact, in Merry Wives, his “apprentices” (no Bob Cratchits they) abandon him because he won’t give them a raise. Their income is entirely derived from theft, and Falstaff keeps the split uneven.

But let me back up. Why compare Dickens’s characters to Shakespeare’s, anyway?