Shakespearean Foodways: Feasting, Fasting, Playing and Digesting

“Drinking of the wyne of forgetfulnesse”: The Ambivalent Blessings of Oblivion and the Early Modern Stage

by Isabel Karremann


When William Rankins in 1587 railed against theatre-going and described its pernicious effects on both players and audience alike as “drinking of the wyne of forgetfulnesse”,[1] he voiced an antitheatrical attitude which we recognize today as part of the puritan vilification of the stage. What sounds perhaps less familiar in our ears today, is his insistence on forgetfulness and the metaphor he is using to bring home his point. What does Rankins mean by ‘forgetfulness’? How is the effect of watching a play alike to that of drinking wine? And, perhaps most importantly, what is it that is forgotten in such states of intoxication? Of course, the connection between wine and forgetting has been familiar since antiquity, and appears for example in several episodes of the Odyssey or in the Latin proverb Vinum memoriae mors, ‘wine is the death of memory’.[2] What interests me here are the specific ways in which ‘forgetting’ was used in early modern culture to negotiate the status of the theatre, both off and on the stage.

For Rankins, oblivion clearly has negative connotations, as can also be seen from the following quotes from other antitheatrical tracts: In his Treatise wherein Dicing, Dauncing, Vaine playes, or Enterluds […] Are reproued (1577), John Northbrooke judges that playgoers are like those who “have no mind of any reformation or amendment of [their] life”. Stephen Gosson claims in The School of Abuse (1587) that playgoing makes spectators “unmindful of [their] end” and in another tract, Playes Confuted in Five Actions (1582), that hence plays must “bee […] banished, least little and little we forget God”.[3] What is forgotten, then, are the duties one owes God, part of which are that one lead a godly life, which is obviously incompatible with having fun at the play-house.

William Rankins in A Mirrour of Monsters spells out explicitly the connection between the theatre, the consumption of intoxicating liquids and the dire consequences of stage-induced oblivion. Playgoing for him is a form of idleness invented by the devil himself, “[who] called forth Idlenes, from his boyling Caldron of insatiate liquor”. What is so dangerous about this liquor is that it tastes “more sweete then Nectar, and farre more pleasant then Manna from Heaven”, so that the addiction to this infernal beverage is immediate: “But the infection of this vice [idleness] is so contagious, that as the River Laethes maketh hym that drynketh thereof, presentlie to forget his own condition & former deedes, so this damnable vice of idlenes, so besotteth the sences, and bewitcheth the myndes of menne, as they remembred not the profitable fruites of virtuous labour.”[4] Here the connection is made between the river Lethe, the mythological river of forgetfulness which flows through the underworld, and the infectious vice of idleness—or, to use another name for this disease: of lethargy.

Early modern medical tracts were well aware of this etymological and conceptual connection. Pierre de la Primaudaye, for example, states matter-of-factly: “And the disease called the Lethargie bringeth with it forgetfulnesse and want of memorie, as the name itself giveth to understand.” (Second Part of the French Academie, 1605) John Bullokar in An English Expositor (1616) identifies the word ‘Lethe’ as a “Poeticall word, signifying a feyned River in hell, the water whereof being drunken, causeth forgetfulness of all that is past”, and describes its spiritual and physical signs as “a losse (in a manner) of reason and all the sense of the body.”[5] The effects of both, idleness and lethargy, are described in terms of forgetfulness as a loss of control over oneself and one’s body. This self-forgetfulness threatens to obliterate one’s “own condition & former deedes”, that is, one’s social position and duties, as well as one’s history as an individual.

Another etymological trace leads into the wider ramifications of self-forgetfulness for early modern subjectivity. According to the OED, ‘to forget’ means ‘to miss or lose one’s’ and ‘to forget oneself’ is paraphrased as follows: “To lose remembrance of one’s own station, position, or character; to lose sight of the requirement of dignity, propriety, or decorum; to behave unbecomingly.” While we still use this phrase today to register a violation of etiquette, much more is at stake in early modern culture when someone forgets himself or herself. Since the early modern self is originally constituted in terms of its place in a social network, to forget oneself by losing remembrance of one’s station and position is to become dislodged from such a network and disengaged from what determines your identity.[6] Theatre-going, from this perspective, is not only a moral problem which might entail the loss of one’s soul, but also a social problem which might lead to the weakening of social coherence and the loss of one’s identity.

How did apologists of the stage react to these attacks? The most usual strategy was to hold up the stage’s central function for individual and collective memory, adopted, for example, by Thomas Heywood in An Apology for Actors (1612) or by Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poesie (1624). Here is an especially telling quote from Thomas Nashe’s Pierce Pennilesse (1592):

Nay, what if I prove plays to be no extreme, but a rare exercise of virtue? First, for the subject of them: for the most part it is borrowed out of our English Chronicles, wherein our forefathers’ valiant acts, that have lain long buried in rusty brass and worm-eaten books, are revived and they themselves raised from the grave of oblivion and brought to plead their aged honours in open presence: than which, can be a sharper reproof to those degenerate, effeminate days of ours?[7]

Reminding his readers of England’s national heroes who were resurrected from “the grave of oblivion” on the stage, Nashe links the watching of plays with national history and collective memory. Moreover, he emphasises the exemplarity of what one can see on stage and claims that play-going actually enhances self-remembrance and through this, the moral standard of the time. This exemplarity is also the focus of Heywood’s defence in An Apology, echoing Nashe’s argument that the representation of history on the stageis much more attractive than the “worm-eaten books” of the chronicles: “[…] so bewitching a thing is lively and well spirited action, that it hath power to new mold the harts [sic] of the spectators and fashion them to the shape of any noble and notable attempt.” Again, historical subjects are especially apt to incite virtuous self-reflection and self-remembrance: “in the lives of Romans, Grecians, or others, either the vertues of our Country-men are extolled, or their vices reproved […].”[8] From this perspective, the theatre is a space which fosters social coherence through acts of collective remembrance and provides guidelines for proper individual behaviour.

What looks like two very different views on the theatre turns out, in fact, to be built on a common argumentative ground. Both positions operate within a closed dialectic in which the theatre is enlisted under the banner of either memory or forgetting: the stage is seen either as a medium of self-forgetfulness or as a medium of remembrance. The texts by Rankins and Nashe set up a clear dichotomy of oblivion versus history, of sinful feasting versus affective mourning, of effeminizing immorality versus manly exemplarity. The logic governing both arguments remains the same throughout: memory is good, forgetting is bad.

However, there was also a third perspective on theatre, memory and forgetting available at that time, which did not define forgetfulness in merely negative terms as a failure of memory. I want to start my exploration of this more positive attitude to oblivion with an early modern emblem from Joannes Sambucus’ Emblemata from 1566 which also uses the imagery of the “wyne of forgetfulnesse”, albeit in strikingly different ways than Rankins.

Emblem from Joannes Sambucus’ Emblemata

Glossed as “The blessings of oblivion”, the image shows a naked Bacchus, the god of wine and festivity, sitting on a wine barrel next to a gaunt female figure who is sacrificing a ferula, or a fennel rod, to him on the altar. The Latin motto reads “I hate the unforgiving man”, a statement that is elaborated in the accompanying poem:

Odi symposij memorem, dubiae et simul
Liti: nam calices volo, verbaque libera,
Ludos atque iocos nive pectora candida.
Baccho recte igitur veteres Ferulam dicant,
Oblitumque cor, vt penitus sileant, suos
Aut laesi socios leuitur modo puniant.

I hate him who remembers both the drinking bout
and the ensuing quarrel, for I love the tumbler and free words,
the jesting play of a pure and joyful heart.
Thus the elders have justly dedicated to Bacchus the giant fennel
and the oblivious heart, so that they bury it [the insult] in silence or,
in case they got hurt, may punish their companions only lightly.[9]

At first glance, this poem seems to echo Rankins’ invective against drink: wine induces forgetfulness. However, forgetfulness here does not appear as a negative but rather as a positive force. The speaker of the poem rejects the man who remembers both the drinking bout and the following quarrel as detestable, praising instead “the tumbler and free words, the jesting play of a pure and joyful heart”. He seems to claim no less than the freedom of speech and to identify it with the freedom to forget his sober, law-abiding self in drink. However, this carnivalesque claim to drunken self-forgetfulness as a liberation from the rules of everyday life can be quite dangerous, as the second part of the poem shows: it closes with a prayer that hurtful words may be forgotten, or, should this prove impossible, that the punishment may be a mild one. As a symbol of this forgiveness from the powers that be, the ferula is sacrificed to Bacchus.

The blessings of oblivion, then, seem to be rather ambivalent: The praise of forgetfulness turns quickly into a prayer for forgiveness. This ambivalence is also borne out by the ferula, the staff of a giant fennel, which in ancient times was both a fertility symbol, used in Bacchanalian rites, and a symbol of punishment, used to discipline children and slaves who had forgotten their place.


In the final part of this paper, I want to show how these different perspectives on memory and forgetfulness were negotiated on the early modern stage itself. My hypothesis is that the stage provides us with a more complex notion of the workings of forgetfulness than either its attackers or its defenders.[10] The Bacchus-emblem serves me as a model for the ambivalent blessings of oblivion, and my test-case will be that most Bacchus-like of all early modern stage figures, Sir John Falstaff in the two parts of Henry IV.

Of course the connections between Bacchus and Falstaff have been drawn for quite a while now, at least since C. L. Barber’s seminal study of Shakespeare’s Festive Comedies was published in 1959. Since then, Falstaff has been interpreted productively as an embodiment of the festive culture of carnival.[11] However, the problem with this interpretive tradition, as David Ruiter points out, is that it operates within a closed dialectic of festivity versus order, tavern versus court, Carnival versus Lent, and, one might add with Rankins: idle self-forgetfulness versus duty and virtuous labour. Even if one takes into account, as especially New Historicist scholars in the wake of Foucault and Greenblatt have done, that carnival is complicit in upholding the social order by acting as a kind of safety-valve, the dichotomy itself has remained (un)surprisingly stable.[12] I would like to argue that a shift of focus onto oblivion challenges this dichotomy and shows that the relations between festivity and order, between oblivion and memory in these plays are in fact rather ambivalent.

Since the equation of Falstaff with carnival spirit is well established by now, I will only touch this very briefly by pointing out that he embodies the positive, pleasurable sides of self-forgetfulness as they are described in the first part of the Bacchus-poem. Especially the Falstaff of the early tavern scenes is aptly described in its words as a lover of “the tumbler and free words, the jesting play of a pure and joyful heart”. In his drinking sessions, he repeatedly forgets himself, that is, his station and the proper behaviour it requires. His idleness proves every bit as contagious as William Rankins feared, since he also seduces his companions, most notably Prince Hal, into forgetting their positions and duties as well. Calling him familiarly by his first name and accosting him as “lad” (1.2.35), “sweet wag” (1.2.13–14) and “mad wag” (1.2.39), he claims for himself a freedom of speech which ignores their respective positions in the court hierarchy.[13] Falstaff is of a forgetting and forgiving disposition, as is pointed out by a servant in the second part who reports how Prince Hal played a prank on Falstaff that “angered him to the heart”, only to add in the same breath: “But he hath forgot that.” (2H4, 2.4.6–7) While this comment certainly serves to characterize Falstaff once again as good-natured, it also implies that the fat knight has not quite forgotten about the respect he owes his social superiors: after all, it would be most unwise to hold a grudge against the future king. In fact, he is not unmindful either of his unruly past or of his future prospects but keeps reminding Prince Harry of the forgiveness as well as privileges he hopes for “when thou art king” (1H4, 2.1.13–15, 20–26, 51–52, 54).

If Falstaff is always ready to forget injuries done to him, he is even more so regarding the dishonourable acts done by him. When Hal discovers his cowardly behaviour in the robbery at Gad’s Hill (2.5.) or when he is caught claiming that the prince owes him one thousand pounds in order to prolong his credit at the tavern (3.3.), Falstaff simply refuses to be ashamed and wittily offers the most favourable interpretation of his behaviour instead. His famous catechism against honour in the context of a battle scene, in which he inverts the common hierarchy of honourable death over staying alive, is another case in point (5.1.129–139). Forgetting, then, enables Falstaff to avoid the demands of chivalric behaviour or of honourable dealings and to carve out an imaginative space in which he recasts the memory of past events in terms of his alternative set of values.

Similarly, his self-forgetfulness should not be understood in terms of a loss of identity but rather as a productive, creative force, since it frees Falstaff to adopt social roles or poses at will. Hugh Grady has suggested that we see Falstaff’s refusal to be tied down to any single identity and his continually reinventing himself through a series of dramatic improvisations, as a strategy of resistance to Althusserian interpellation: “This playfulness, this ability to subvert ideological interpellation through theatricality is Falstaff’s crucial characteristic […]”.[14] I would like to argue that his deliberate forgetting of “former deedes” (Rankins) can be interpreted similarly as an act of resistance to interpellation. This is nowhere more obvious than in Falstaff’s encounters with the Lord Chief Justice, the foremost representative of state authority, in the second part of Henry IV. In a scene which resembles Althusser’s prime example of interpellation,[15] the Lord Chief Justice attempts to call Falstaff to account for the Gadshill robbery he committed in the first part. Falstaff, however, pretends to be deaf to these acts of interpellation, a deafness which he explicitly and tellingly describes as “a kind of lethargy” (1.2.101). “Lethargy”, as pointed out before, derives etymologically from Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, and Falstaff’s ‘lethargy’ here is nothing but an attempt to forget his former deeds and to eschew being interpellated and punished as a criminal. Falstaff himself marks this forgetting as a deliberate act rather than an accidental disease, when he confesses tongue-in-cheek that his deafness is “[r]ather […] the disease of not listening, the malady of not marking, that I am troubled withal” (1.2.110–111).

However, forgetting can be found not only on the side of carnivalesque celebration and subversive resistance, but also on the side of order and power itself. This becomes clear in the second encounter between Falstaff and the Lord Chief Justice, in which the latter simply turns Falstaff’s own strategy against himself: When he asks the Lord Chief Justice eagerly “What’s the news, my lord?”, he is deliberately and repeatedly being ignored by him (2.1.152–164). The implication is, that the Lord Chief Justice pretends to the same “kind of lethargy” or “deafness” in order to put Falstaff into his place. Yet the very moment he attends to the old knight’s calls of “My lord!”, Falstaff turns the tables once again and ignores the Lord Chief Justice. Upbraided by him—“What foolish master taught you these manners, Sir John?”—Falstaff agrees readily with him, managing to insinuate that the Justice was the fool who taught him this habit. While Falstaff seems or pretends to have forgotten that it was in fact he himself who started this game, what he has not forgotten is the name of the game: to get even with his social superior. “This is the right fencing grace, my lord”, he triumphantly calls quits, “—tap for tap, and so part fair.” (2.1.175–6)

That forgetting can also be a strategy employed by the powerful does perhaps not come as a surprise in a play whose main plot—the nobles’ rebellion—is driven by the king’s refusal to remember by whose help he came onto the throne in the first place. The Earls of Worcester and Northumberland who were involved in the deposing and murder of Richard II and the accession of Henry Bolingbroke to the throne, are now held in low esteem by the king. Thus from the first act on, he is repeatedly accused by them of forgetfulness, even disrespectfully apostrophised as “this forgetful man” (1.3.159). Harry Hotspur, Northumberland’s son, specifies the king’s debts to his family in detail, reminding him that “My father and my uncle and myself/ Did give him that same royalty he wears.” (4.3.56–57) Worcester finally charges the king directly of forgetfulness: “It pleased your majesty to turn your looks/ of favour from myself and all our house;/ […]/ Forgot your oath to us at Doncaster” (5.1.30–31, 58). From the king’s point of view, this forgetfulness is not so much dishonourable as a political necessity: he cannot allow his nobles to have such a powerful claim over him, much less to let his own person be connected with the disgrace of regicide. Nor, for that matter, can he allow anyone to remember that regicide is indeed a possibility. Nevertheless, forgetfulness turns out to be quite an ambivalent blessing: it is the king’s disregard of the Percy family’s services that incites them to rebellion in the first place.

As much a necessity as a liability, forgetting is above all a political strategy. Again, this strategy can be employed by those at the centre of power as well as those hovering precariously at its margins: In the second part of Henry IV, the rebellious nobles—having lost the decisive battle at the end of the first part in which Prince Harry killed their champion Hotspur—recognize the king’s absolute will to oblivion and try to turn this to their advantage. About to negotiate a peace treaty with their sovereign, they fear that the king will remember their disobedience ever after:

Mowbray:          […] our valuation shall be such
That every slight and false-derivèd cause,
Yea, every idle, nice, and wanton reason,
Shall to the King taste of this action. (2H4, 4.1.187–190)

The Archbishop of York, obviously better versed in Machiavellian tactics than Mowbray, is able to reassure him, however:

Archbishop of York:       No, no my lord; note this.       The King is weary
Of dainty and such picking grievances,
And therefore will he wipe his tables clean,
And keep no tell-tale to his memory
That may repeat and history his loss
To new remembrance; […]
And therefore be assured, my good Lord Marshal,
If we do now make our atonement well,
Our peace will, like a broken limb united,
Grow stronger for the breaking. (195–221)

In contrast to the Bacchus poem, however, their petition for forgiveness is met with harsh punishment when they are arrested and sentenced for high treason (332–349).

What importance the policy of oblivion has in Henry’s eyes becomes clear when the dying king explicates its rationale in the “very latest counsel” (4.3.310) to his son and heir, cautioning him to adopt it for his reign as well:

King Henry:       Yet though thou stand’st more sure than I could do,
Thou art not firm enough, since griefs are green
And all thy friends—which thou must make thy friends –
Have but their stings and teeth newly ta’en out,
By whose fell working I was first advanced,
And by whose power I well might lodge a fear
To be again displaced; which to avoid
I cut them off and had a purpose now
To lead out many to the Holy Land,
Lest rest and lying still might make them look
Too near unto my state. Therefore, my Harry,
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels, that action hence borne out
May waste the memory of the former days. (2H4, 4.3.331–343)

To erase the memory of rebellion and regicide from his nobles’ restless minds and to secure domestic stability by keeping them busy abroad is Henry’s favoured strategy of staying in power. How well the prince has learned his father’s lesson becomes obvious in Henry V, where the “foreign quarrels” against France (a well as the young king’s charisma) unite the chequered nation.

But one need not look to the next play in the tetralogy to see that Harry is himself a master of the “art of oblivion”[16]. For most of the first part of Henry IV, he seems to be joyfully forgetful of his position and duties as heir apparent, so much so, that his father doubts or rather wishes that his enemy’s valiant son, Harry Hotspur, might not be his true heir (1H4, 1.1.77–89). However, Hal proves that he is his father’s son indeed. Already in act 1.2., in his famous “imitate the sun”-soliloquy, he makes clear that this self-forgetfulness is not merely a disease he caught from Falstaff, but part of a strategic self-fashioning. Distancing himself from his companions and “the unyoked humour of [their] idleness [!]”, he intends to “throw off” such improper behaviour in good time; his spectacular “reformation” is to “glitt[er] over [his] fault” (1.2.191), thus obliterating it from memory, and to win him the admiration and respect of his subjects. In other words, he counts on the willingness or ability of his subjects to forget in order to complete his project of self-transformation. His present familiarity with the world of the lower social classes—which at first glance looks as if he is lost in drunken self-forgetfulness—never obscures the future he is born for. Coming from a drinking bout with a couple of drawers and recalling what they say about him, the sentence “when I am King of England I shall command all the good lads in Eastchap” (2.5.13–14) allows for an ambivalent reading: as indirect speech, it expresses the drawers’ acknowledgment of his superiority and an oath of loyalty; spoken in Harry’s own voice, it not only announces his intention to assert his rank in the future but that he will do so more effectively because of his intimate knowledge of the common people. His seeming self-forgetfulness, then, is not only self-indulgence, but also a mask which can and will be thrown off at will.

What is more, as a king he has to forget his old friends—much like his father had to forget the friends whose “fell working” (2H4, 4.3.334) helped him onto the throne. Several times in the two parts of the play, Prince Hal openly admits to this necessity, as when he tells Poins, another of his roguish companions: “What a disgrace is it to me to remember thy name! Or to know thy face tomorrow!” (2H4, 2.2.12–13). Part of remembering his duties as heir apparent, then, is a deliberate forgetting of his old companions, most notably of Falstaff. Too late (and by then also too unimportant a courtier?) to be present at the coronation, Falstaff stands in the crowd, trying to catch the young king’s attention. Calling him “King Hal, my royal Hal!” (2H4, 5.5.39), “my sweet boy” (41) and “My king, my Jove, I speak to thee, my heart!” on a scale of mounting anguish at being ignored by his foster-son, the scene recalls that in which he was pointedly snubbed by the Lord Chief Justice earlier on. Here, too, the Lord Chief Justice is present to remind him of the gap in rank which separates Falstaff from the king: “Have you your wits? Know you what ’tis you speak?” (43–44) When Harry finally turns to him, it is to dismiss him with the words: “I know thee not, old man.” (45) Whether he does so in cold blood or breaks his heart over it, has become an issue of hot academic debate. In either case, he is following here his father’s policy of oblivion to the letter.

Falstaff thus also embodies the dangers of self-forgetfulness as they are hinted at in the second part of the Bacchus poem: having indulged too freely in the pleasures of self-forgetting, he is himself being deliberately forgotten in the end. Left behind in the race for positions and privilege when his foster-son comes into his royal rights, Falstaff sinks into oblivion.[17] Unfortunately, all prayers to Bacchus for a mild punishment are in vain: being banished from the presence of the king and thus barred from access to power and privilege, is the most severe sentence that can be dealt out to an early modern courtier.


To sum up, I hope to have shown that a dichotomous notion of memory and forgetting in terms of good and bad is too simplistic. Oblivion can be a positive, productive force, not just a failure of memory: self-forgetfulness does not only mean a loss of identity but rather an opportunity for resistance against interpellation and for self-transformation. However, the blessings of oblivion are ambivalent; they can be employed by those in power as well, and oblivion can be a cruel form of punishment. From this follows that we have to reconceptualise the relation between memory and forgetting: memory and forgetting are complementary forces, and their respective roles are quite ambiguous—or perhaps contingency is a better word here, because whether forgetfulness is something positive or negative (or both) depends on the context and the web of power at play.


[1]  William Rankins, A Mirrour of Monsters: Wherein is plainely described the manifold vices, & spotted enormities, that are caused by the infectious sight of Playes, with the decription of the subtile sights of Sathan, making them his instruments (London, 1587).

[2]  For more examples, see Harald Weinrich, Lethe: Kunst und Kritik des Vergessens [1997] (München: Beck, 2005), p. 29–30.

[3]  Quoted in Zackariah Long, “‘Unless you could teach me to forget’: Spectatorship, self-forgetting, and subversion in antitheatrical literature and As You Like It”, in Christopher Ivic, Grant Williams, eds., Forgetting in Early Modern English Literature and Culture: Lethe’s Legacies (London: Routledge, 2004), 151–164.

[4]  Rankins, p. 6–8.

[5]  Quoted in Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr., Memory and Forgetting in English Renaissance Drama: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 29.

[6]  Ibid., p. 15.

[7]  Thomas Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse, his Supplication to the Divell, ed. by G. B. Harrison (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1966), p. 86–87.

[8]  Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors, ed. by J. W. Binns (New York: Johnson Repr., 1972), p. B3r-v, F3v.

[9]  Joannes Sambucus, Emblemata (1566), p. 69, reprinted in Emblemata, ed. by Arthur Henkel, Albrecht Schöne (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1996), p. 350–351.

[10] For a similar line of argument, see Long (2004), p. 153.

[11] The two poles of festivity and order have usually been discussed either in terms of space (the contrastive worlds of tavern and court) or festive versus historical time. For examples of the first, see Paola Pugliatti, Shakespeare the Historian (New York: St. Martin's, 1996); Jean Howard, Phyllis Rackin, Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare's English Histories (New York: Routledge, 1997); Alexander Leggatt, “Killing the Hero: Tamburlaine and Falstaff”, in Paul Budra, Betty Schellenberg, eds., Part Two: Reflections on the Sequel (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 53–67; François Laroque, “‘Shakepeare’s ‘Battle of Carnival and Lent’: The Falstaff Scenes Reconsidered”, in Ronald Knowles, ed., Shakespeare and Carnival: After Bakhtin (New York: Macmillan, 1998), 83–96. The temporal distinction prevails in Shigeki Takada, “The First and Second Parts of Henry IV: Some Thoughts on the Origins of Shakespearean Gentleness”, in Yasunari Takahashi, ed., Hot Questrists After the English Renaissance (New York: AMS Press, 2000), p. 183–196 and Peter Womack, “Henry IV and Epic Theatre”, in Nigel Wood, ed., Henry IV, Parts One and Two (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1995), p. 126–161.

[12] David Ruiter, Shakespeare's Festive History: Feasting, Festivity, Fasting and Lent in the Second Henriad (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), pp.1–39, esp. pp. 5–16.

[13] William Shakespeare, The History of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, ed. by Stephen Greenblatt et al., The Norton Shakespeare (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997). All further references taken from this edition.

[14] Hugh Grady, “Falstaff: Subjectivity between the Carnival and the Aesthetic”, The Modern Language Review 96 (2001), 609–623, p. 613.

[15] Althusser likens the act of interpellation, by which individuals become subjects as they subject themselves to ideology, to that moment when somebody is hailed by a police officer on the street “Hey, you there!” and turns around because he or she identifies him-/ herself as the person hailed. Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses [1968]”, in Julie Rivkin, Michael Ryan, eds., Literary Theory: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), p. 301.

[16] John Willis uses this expression in Mnemonica; or, the Art of Memory (1618) to describe the techniques of deliberate forgetting.

[17] That Falstaff does precisely not sink into oblivion—he holds centre-stage again in The Merry Wives of Windsor and is at least verbally represented in Henry V—but rather remains one of the most memorable and most popular Shakespearean characters, is of course one of the ironies of stage history.


Entgegen der von Umberto Eco postulierten Unmöglichkeit einer Kunst des Vergessens (“An Ars Oblivionalis? Forget It!”, 1988) zeigt dieser Aufsatz, dass das Vergessen mitnichten eine bloß naturhaft-zerstörerische Kraft und das Vergessene selbst nicht nur als negative Abwesenheit und Gegensatz zu einem bewahrenden Erinnern denkbar ist. Während eine solche dichotome Logik die polemische Debatte über das frühneuzeitliche Theater durchaus prägt, stellt sich das Vergessen auf der Bühne selbst als konstruktive, bewusst einsetzbare und mehrdeutige Kraft dar. Am Beispiel von Shakespeares Henry IV und hier besonders an der Figur des Falstaff wird gezeigt, wie das Vergessen als widerständige Position gegenüber Staat und Autorität ebenso wie als Kalkül einer machtgestützten Erinnerungspolitik operiert, dass es als eine kreative Strategie des self-fashioning ebenso wie als strafende Auslöschung einer gesellschaftlichen Existenz zum Einsatz kommen kann.