Falstaff: Give Me Life

Scribner. Apr. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781501164132. $22; ebk. ISBN 9781501164156. THEATER
Shakespearean scholar Bloom (Sterling Professor of Humanities, Yale Univ.; Berg Professor of English, NYU; Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human) fits many treasures into a scant number of pages in what is first and foremost a moving personal appreciation of what Bloom considers Shakespeare's most complete and effective character, Sir John Falstaff. The errant knight gets his due in Bloom's moving description of how Shakespeare's invention touched his life from adolescence on. In addition, the reader is treated to a close reading of Falstaff in the histories (his appearance in The Merry Wives of Windsor is mercifully glossed over). Part of this analysis is devoted to the characters in the Henriad (newly dubbed "the Falstaffiad" in this study) who echo Sir John. Hotspur, Hal, and Henry IV are all viewed through the prism of the corpulent crusader and the insights are solid, if not revolutionary. Bloom also devotes his attention to Falstaff in performance. Using Ralph Richardson's legendary enactment at the Old Vic and Orson Welles in his neglected masterpiece Chimes at Midnight, Bloom demonstrates how the plays work not just on the page but in the theater.
VERDICT An enchanting and appreciative celebration of Shakespeare's greatest comic creation.

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