A character in Shakespeare's 1 and 2 Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor. His remote historical origin seems to have been the Wycliffite Sir John Oldcastle, but his more important literary foundations lie in the stock figure of the Vice, together with some elements of the Plautine miles gloriosus. He is fat, witty, a lover of sack and jests, and skilful at turning jokes on him to his own advantage—‘I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men’ (2 Henry IV, i. ii. 8–9). The Falstaff of The Merry Wives of Windsor is a diminished figure, whose attempts to mend his fortunes by wooing two citizens' wives simultaneously end in his discomfiture in Windsor Forest. It is this Falstaff who is the subject of at least nine operas, including Verdi's Falstaff (1893).
Subjects: Literature — Opera.