Quotation by Wylie Sypher

The double nature of the comic hero is symbolized in these two: Falstaff and Socrates. They are of opposite disposition, yet not so unlike as we might think. The essential character of the eiron is incarnate in Socrates, who was "ignorant" and who also had the disposition of the "buffoon" or "fool," the features of the comic spirit itself, the coarse, ugly mask of the satyr or clown. The Socratic method is a tactic of winning victory by professing ignorance, by merely asking questions of the "imposters," the so-called "wise" men of Athens.... We must remember that Falstaff the buffoon and imposter used the same sort of interrogation Socrates the ironist used. He asks the same sort of question: What is honor? Socrates asked: What is justice? Socrates, like Falstaff, is both ironist and buffoon; he is the questioner using a philosophic buffoonery to seek the truth.... He has a double or triple character, for he is, as Falstaff was, both victor and victim—a victim, eventually, of the unthinking Athenians who refused to have their creed unsettled. He was finally condemned to drink the hemlock because he asked too many impious questions. And Falstaff is rejected by King Hal.
Wylie Sypher (b. 1905), U.S. critic, educator. "The Meanings of Comedy," Comedy, Johns Hopkins University Press (1956).
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