F is for Falstaff, Shakespeare’s knavish knight. Part rascally gnoff, part philosopher, this fat rascal appears in three of the bard’s plays. In Henry IV parts 1 and 2 he advises young Prince Hal (the future king) on matters of honor and drinking. In the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff tries to cuckold some country farmers and steal their cash; the scalawag’s plans go awry and he ends up wearing the horns. Falstaff is one of Shakespeare’s most verbose characters–only Hamlet has more lines. And despite his fun-loving and roguish nature, Falstaff, like Hamlet, also provides several meditations on human nature, death, and the seeming futility of the individual’s ability to change social order.
F is also for Finn, Huckleberry. Like Falstaff, Huck Finn is something of a rogue, albeit he is just a child. As the white trash double to middle class Tom Sawyer, Huck is one of Twain’s keenest tools for social satire. Huck escapes the Widow Douglas’s aspirations to give him a moral education, in turn helping her slave Jim make his own escape via the Mississippi River. While navigating the river, Huck must also navigate the perplexing and paradoxical moral codes of the strange South. Despite the happy ending of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the novel remains controversial over a hundred years after its publication, still appearing frequently on lists of challenged books.