Standing up for a binge: There's another side to the coin in the drinking debate

Banish binge drinking altogether and good times will go with it

Share
Related Topics

The University College London’s recent study into alcohol consumption revealed that between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of England’s alcohol sales are unaccounted for, suggesting that we drink around 50 per cent more than we realise. The figures have caused Labour MP Diane Abbott to declare the country needs “a huge change in our hospitals and high streets – nothing short of a political and cultural earthquake,” the executive editor of The Independent and I, Lisa Markwell, to call for the government to hurry up and finish its unit measure review and impose a sensible scale so we can keep tabs on how much we’re drinking, and Sir Richard Thompson, President of the Royal College of Physicians, to claim the study is “yet more evidence of the need for strong government action, including a minimum unit price for alcohol.”

It’s a broadly unified response, with an overriding message that out of control alcohol consumption is detrimental to society, and that we all need to change our steaming ways. It is also hardly a surprising one; to condemn excessive drinking is evidently a sensible position. This is a country where the mere mention of ‘binge drinking’ (generally defined as 8 units or 3 lagers for men, and 6 units, around 250ml of wine, for women) is enough to conjure up images of angry men with bloody noses and police riot vans, and an abundance of national statistics which further vilify anything but the most moderate of drinking habits: Abbott quotes the financial cost of “problem drinking” as £21bn a year, and the latest government report on drink driving fatalities puts the figure at 280 per annum.  

But although the consequences of a boozed-up Britain are undoubtedly bleak, they are – dare I say it? – only one side of the coin. Because in the face of this onslaught of public figure opinion and black-and-white statistical evidence, there are still those who believe that what’s classified as binge drinking, is not, altogether, a completely terrible thing.

Attempting to defend such a point might at first seem impossible. But there is one man fit for the task; a man who, while drinking the recommended daily allowance on an almost hourly basis, remains one of the most revered debaters and linguistically gifted Englishmen ever to have (almost) lived: Shakespeare’s fat knight, Sir John Falstaff.

Falstaff’s views on the drinking of sack (wine) proliferate in Henry IV parts I and II, and, to a lesser extent, in The Merry Wives of Windsor. His most poignant speech on the matter comes at the latter end of Act II scene IV of 1 Henry IV; a direct riposte to Prince Harry’s critique of his alcoholism and subsequent corpulence.

“If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked,” says Falstaff. “If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned."

But the real substance of his argument, addressed again to Harry, lies in the following lines:

“Banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins, but for sweet Jack Falstaff...banish not him thy Harry’s company. Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.”

And now we come to the crux of the matter. If Prince Harry were to rid himself (as he eventually does) of Falstaff’s ribald influence, he will be cutting something far more important than his alcohol intake: he will be setting himself apart from the laughter, wit and drama of one of the greatest characters the world has ever seen. In short, he will lose a treasure.  

It would be wrong to argue that every glass of wine we drink contains the magic of Sir John Falstaff; any dull night in the pub will prove that. But it is still this magic – these Falstaffian qualities – that would suffer if we were to assimilate the barrage of negative press alcohol receives today. Just because they cannot be quantified and published in a counter study on the positive effects of alcohol consumption, does not mean that laughter, fun and a lowering of inhibitions should be left out of this debate.    

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

AX Developer With EPOS Experience

£450 - £500 per day: Progressive Recruitment: Dynamics AX / Developer / AX2012...

Senior Analyst - ALM Data - Banking - Halifax

£350 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Analyst, ALM Data, Halifax, ...

Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/day

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/d...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz