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Falstaff

Give Me Life

(amazon)

Harold Bloom (View Bio)
Hardcover: Scribner, 2017.

Falstaff
(amazon)

Falstaff is the first in a sequence of five brief volumes, “Shakespeare’s Personalities.”  The others are Cleopatra: I Am Fire and Air, Oct. 2017; King Lear: The Great Image of Authority, April 2018; Iago: Nothing If Not Critical, Oct. 2018; Macbeth: A Dagger of the Mind, April 2019 . Harold Bloom starts fresh with five of Shakespeare’s personalities endless to meditation, extending an open hand to readers who desire to find themselves in Shakespeare and Shakespeare in themselves. The reader and playgoer will gain an intensified awareness of the reality of great selves that differ from us only in vividness and sheer amplitude of being.

Harold Bloom presents a wise, intimate, and compelling portrait of Falstaff—one of Shakespeare’s most complex comedic characters.

Falstaff is both a comic and tragic protagonist in Shakespeare’s three Henry plays: Henry IV, Parts One and Two, and Henry V.  He is companion to Prince Hal (the future Henry V), who loves him, goads, him, teases him, indulges his vast appetites, and commits all sorts of mischief with him—some innocent, some cruel.  Falstaff can be lewd, funny, careless of others, a bad creditor, an unreliable friend, and in the end, devastatingly reckless in his presumption of loyalty from the new King.

Bloom writes about Falstaff with compassion and sympathy and with unerring wisdom. He uses the relationship between Falstaff and Hal to explore the devastation of severed bonds and the heartbreak of betrayal. Just as we encounter one type of Anna Karenina or Jay Gatsby when we are young adults and another when we are middle-aged, Bloom writes about his own shifting understanding of Falstaff over the course of his lifetime. Ultimately we come away with a deeper appreciation of this profound character.

Bloom achieves an exhilarating clarity in Falstaff, and the book becomes an extraordinarily moving argument for literature as a path to and a measure of our humanity.

"An ardent admirer of Shakespeare analyzes an incomparably robust character. For esteemed literary critic Bloom, MacArthur Fellow and winner of multiple awards and honorary degrees, Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff has enduring appeal, a character who ‘springs to life’ anew each time he is read or seen on stage. Falstaff, Bloom asserts, ‘is as bewildering as Hamlet, as infinitely varied as Cleopatra.’ Unlike the beleaguered, grieving prince or the Egyptian queen, however, Falstaff appears in plays not as frequently performed: Shakespeare’s trilogy of Henry plays. Bloom, though, assumes his readers—like students who have done their assignments—are as cognizant of these plays as he is. In 21 chapters, he analyzes excerpts from the plays to support his argument that the ribald Falstaff is life-affirming, ‘everliving,’ and ‘the greatest wit in literature.’ Bloom, now 86, feeling some diminishment with age, is buoyed by Falstaff, who ‘resolutely remains a child’ and ‘finds fresh delight in play.’ Bloom gained some insight into the character when he performed the role with the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2000 and at Yale, and he has seen a host of notable actors take it on. He especially admires the interpretations of Ralph Richardson, who played Falstaff with ‘a wounded dignity,’ and Orson Welles, who ‘relished the goodness of every phrase’ that Falstaff spoke, ‘tasting it as if it were bread and wine.’ Of all Shakespeare’s characters, Falstaff and Hamlet seem to Bloom ‘as being creations nearest’ to the ‘concealed inwardness’ of the playwright. Indeed, he writes, ‘it is difficult for me to withstand the temptation of identifying the Fat Knight with Shakespeare himself.’ In this first of five books about Shakespearean personalities, Bloom brings erudition and boundless enthusiasm." — Kirkus Reviews