An ardent admirer of Shakespeare analyzes an incomparably robust character.
For esteemed literary critic Bloom (Humanities/Yale Univ.; The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime, 2015, etc.), 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.