I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley. What follows is my honest review.
I was introduced to Shakespeare the way most of us were: through terrible high school English classes that sucked all the joy and dick jokes out of them. While I’m sure the dick jokes would’ve helped pass the time, I’ve come to the conclusion that teenage me would still have never enjoyed it. Shakespeare’s something I’ve had to grow into (occasionally kicking and screaming).
I’m so happy I have. Between MST3k’s episode of Hamlet and Good Tickle-Brain’s scene-by-scene Macbeth and King Lear, comedy has led me to love the tragedies, so it makes some sense that the tragedy of the history plays would lead me to love the joy of Sir John Falstaff.
I say all of this to set the scene, so when I say that this is the most enjoyable nonfiction book I’ve ever read and that the sheer love Bloom has for Falstaff comes through in every line, you know that this is said by a complete n00b to Shakespeare. If this book had been required reading in high school (or college, for that matter), my descent in to Shakespeare would’ve began years ago.
Falstaff: Give Me Life is the first in the Shakespeare’s Personalities series, short books that focus on one character and how they connect with our world and theirs. With Bloom’s insight and energy, these books are perfect for all fans, new and old alike.
I had no experience with the character of Falstaff, except for the vague awareness that his character was drunk and bawdy — known more for his vices than his virtues — but within the first pages of Falstaff, Bloom proves that there’s much enough depth and complexity (and, in course of events, tragedy) in Sir John to rival any of the more popular Great characters of Shakespeare. He compares Sir John with Hamlet in what is possibly my favorite sentence from the book:
But Hamlet is death’s ambassador while Falstaff is the embassy of life.
Falstaff is almost Dionysian in his embrace of life and all its pleasures, though with none of the distemper of the gods. He has seen the horrors of life and has chosen to focus on the joys of it. When we throw off the blinders of Western Christian society, we embrace his so-called vices for what they are: freedom. How can living to excess be a greater sin than the scheming and hypocrisy of kings? “…The essence of Falstaffianism [is]: do not moralize,” says Bloom, and I can think of no better fitting statement.
I can’t even explain how much I love this book, when my head screams, “Poetry!” and my soul cries, “Life!” I’ve never been so enamored with a character, or more delighted by a scholar than with Harold Bloom’s Falstaff. I cannot recommend it enough. Legit, I want to buy it for all my friends and vague acquaintances so they can discuss this with me.