Shakespeare’s Typological Satire
Study of Falstaff-Oldcastle Problem

By Alice-Lyle Scoufos

“This is an honorable book: learned, rich in detail.”


Shakespeare created a new and vibrant satire in his history plays by inverting the medieval mode of typology and applying it to old chronicle materials to make his historical characters “types” of the Elizabethans who were alive in England in his own day. Shakespeare’s Typological Satire is a detailed study of historical materials which lie behind the most famous and involved of these lampoons: the Falstaff-Oldcastle crux in the Henry IV plays. Professor Scoufos uses evidence drawn from sixteenth-century documents in the British Museum, the Public Record Office, and in several private repositories to unravel Shakespeare’s lampooning of the Brooke family – Lords of Cobham.

This complex satire, which focuses upon both historical characters and contemporary Londoners, was made possible because William Brooke, Lord Cobham, and his son, Henry Brooke who succeeded to his father’s title in 1597, were involved in questionable political intrigue bordering upon treason. Shakespeare began his satire of the Cobhams in 1 Henry VI, a play apparently written to honor Gilbert Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, just prior to his election as Knight of the Garter (1592), at which time Shrewsbury and the Cobhams were feuding. In 2 Henry VI the satire continued with the negative image of Eleanor Cobham, a fifteenth-century member of the family, who, like the Brookes, had been accused of treason. After the Henry IV plays, Shakespeare presented in The Merry Wives of Windsor a complex and highly symbolic recapitulation of his satire of the Cobhams, using Falstaff in three disguises. With this sortie, his lampooning of the Brooke family ended, seemingly at the request of the Queen, but he revived the technique in Macbeth, when he turned to the old chronicle materials of Scotland for incidents which would mirror elements of the Gunpowder Plot and the involvement in that debacle of Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland, the “Wizard Earl.”

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Related Subjects

Literary Studies · British Literature



Retail price: $29.95, S.
Release date: Sep. 1979
395 pages