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

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

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

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Election catch-up: Blairites for and against a Miliband victory

John Rentoul
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in debt to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before