Give Me Life
From Harold Bloom, one of the greatest Shakespeare scholars of our time comes “a timely reminder of the power and possibility of words [and] the last love letter to the shaping spirit of Bloom’s imagination” (front page, The New York Times Book Review) and an intimate, wise, deeply compelling portrait of Falstaff—Shakespeare’s greatest enduring and complex comedic characters.
Falstaff is both a comic and tragic central 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.
Award-winning author and esteemed professor Harold Bloom writes about Falstaff with the deepest compassion and sympathy and also 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 profoundly complex character, and this “poignant work” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) as a whole becomes an extraordinarily moving argument for literature as a path to and a measure of our humanity.
Bloom is mesmerizing in the classroom, wrestling with the often tragic choices Shakespeare’s characters make. “In this first of five books about Shakespearean personalities, Bloom brings erudition and boundless enthusiasm” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) and his exhilarating Falstaff invites us to look at a character as a flawed human who might live in our world.
Famed literary critic and Yale professor Bloom (The Daemon Knows) showcases his favorite Shakespearian character in this poignant work. Falstaff, one of Shakespeare's most complex tragicomic characters, appears in Henry IV Part One and Part Two and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and is referred to in Henry V. Bloom covers the many facets of a "disreputable and joyous" character, a knight, highwayman, jovial wit, and enthusiastic imbiber of sack (fortified wine) at the Boar's Head Tavern in London. The book also attends to Falstaff's motley crew, including Doll Tearsheet, a prostitute; Ancient Pistol, "a street hoodlum"; and Mistress Quickly, the tavern's malapropism-prone proprietor. Notably, Falstaff is also a nonjudgmental companion to Prince Hal, the son of Henry IV, and Bloom traces their relationship up to Prince Hal's ultimate rejection and betrayal of Falstaff upon being crowned King Henry V. The author notes that the Henry plays' historical aspects interest him less than the changing characters of Falstaff and, to a lesser extent, Hal. Bloom, who says he fell in love with Falstaff because "he exposes what is counterfeit in me and in all others," has created a larger-than-life portrait of a flawed character who is "at his best a giant image of human freedom."