New historicist and cultural materialist treatments of Shakespeare's 1 and
2 Henry IV have been reductive of Falstaff's complexity, subordinating him
to mechanisms of power. However, Falstaff represents historically new forms
of subjectivity reactive to early modern political power , but also resist
ant to it. A complex amalgam of theatrical, popular, literary, and cultural
types, Falstaff derives from the European carnivalesque. Falstaff also act
s as an alternative to Machiavellian state power and thus prefigures aspect
s of the aesthetic as defined by Frankfurt School theory.