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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

It’s two decades since ‘education, education, education’, but still Britain’s primary school admissions are a farce

Jane Merrick
United Nations special rapporteur Rashida Manjoo addresses journalists in central London  

We could have had a proper debate about sexism after Rashida Manjoo's comments. Instead, we’re fencing over a media-garbled paraphrase

Archie Bland
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books