Falstaff, after all, is no knockabout farce but one of Western art’s most searching commentaries on the vanity of human wishes, no less so because it says what it has to say with a smile. What makes Verdi’s Falstaff immortal is the comic finality with which his remaining delusions of potency are dispelled—and the nobleman’s grace with which he accepts his reversal of fortune. Verdi, who was seventy-nine years old when he completed Falstaff,, understood such matters in his bones, which is why it is the most Shakespearean of all operas.
Sir John may be a fool to chase after Alice and Meg, but if he is, so are we all, and there is nothing even slightly absurd about the piercing moment when he assures Alice that he was not always the fat, tumescent rake who stands before her….
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