Kevin A. Quarmby deposited Falstaff’s Baffled “Rabbit Sucker” and “Poulter’s Hare” in 1 Henry IV in the group Shakespeare on Humanities Commons 3 years, 2 months ago
In 1 Henry IV, Falstaff enacts his histrionic mock deposition scene, only to be usurped by England’s true heir, Prince Hal. Irate at his actorly demotion, Falstaff praises his own performance skills, while suggesting that, if found lacking, he should receive a punishment befitting his knightly status. Likening Falstaff to small game hanging in a shopfront or above a market stall, Shakespeare offers the ludicrous imagery of diminutive rabbit suckers and poulters’ hares as analogous with the metaphorical baffling of his cowardly knight’s massive bulk. With its systematic reference to the multiple methodologies of close textual analysis, intertextual evidence, and cross-linguistics and substitutions, this essay argues that Shakespeare’s “rabbit sucker” and “poulter’s hare” dialogue, while superficially referencing London’s poultry tradespeople, is actually adopting and adapting an obscure Scottish punishment, recently revised and reimagined with dangerous intensity in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Shakespeare builds on this Spenserian imagery, adding his own animal-inspired evocation of rural hunting practices with culturally rich detail. Originating in Shakespeare’s obscure textual reference to an everyday marketplace image of inverted helplessness and humiliation, Falstaff’s rabbit sucker and poulter’s hare metamorphose into the standard dramatic trope for punishing violence and aggression, their newly-envisioned disemboweled carcasses displayed openly in Beaumont and Fletcher’s A King and No King and Philaster.