What the Gnostics called the pleroma , the fullness, always abides with Falstaff.
As a secularist with Gnostic proclivities , and above all as a literary aesthete ,I preach Bardolatory as the most benign of all religions. The painter J M W Turner and his critical apostle John Ruskin saw the sun as God. For me, Shakespeare is God. Tropologically call that the sun if you want to. The First Folio for me is also the First Testament. How wise its editors (who had Ben Jonson’s advice) were to open it with The Tempest, recognizing this uncanny comedy declined to be an apocalypse
In The Anatomy of Influence, Literature as a way of life
In his introduction to –Literature as a way of life, Harold Bloom writes that literary criticism out to consist of acts of appreciation. In his conclusion to The Anatomy of Melancholy , Burton urges: “Be not solitary, be not idle”. We all fear loneliness, madness, dying. Shakespeare and Walt Whitman, Leopardi and Hart Crane will not cure those fears.And yet these poets bring us fire and light (2)
On the occasion of 400th anniversary of Shakespeare, we look at some memorable characters created by Shakespeare
THE IMMORTAL FALSTAFF
The complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity in Shakespeare’s plays are like life itself. It is difficult to say what is right or wrong. In his lecture series on “Understanding Shakespeare” Professor Marc C Conner helps understand these things better.
The history plays of Shakespeare are cleverly made into tools of the education of a king.They fall into what is the modern definition of epic- a literary work describing a large scale activity of many men, a movement of a nation or people, through violent change, from one condition to another. The complexity of the plays, is enhanced by the way you interpret them. If you make Prince Hal the centre of focus and see his evolution from being a young man to a responsible King, then you come to one conclusion. If you see it from the perspective of Falstaff, you come to another conclusion.
The old, fat man Sir John Falstaff, a man of at least 60 years of age, more at home in the taverns than at court—the great friend of the young prince by his own account or the corrupter and destroyer of the prince by others’ accounts. If Percy is Hal’s brother figure, then Falstaff is his father figure, both of whom Hal must overcome if he is to become a great king.
That is part of the tableau: Hal poised between his parodic father and parodic brother figures, standing triumphant against these challenges to his character
Professor Conner explains Shakespeare through different tools
1-Undertanding history tool
Ask yourself: What is a history play?
Shakespeare draws upon actual historical events for a large number of his plays, but he does not slavishly record history.
In understanding history-we can see how history impacts people.
2-Drama of Ideas
In this lecture Prof Conner explores the relation of religion to state and kingship.
3-Stage craft The politics of theater and the theater of politics.
Shakespeare dramatizes the education of a king, an education that is now almost complete
Anyone interested in exploring these ideas will be greatly benefitted by going through this entire course.
HAROLD BLOOM ON FALSTAFF
The literary critic Harold Bloom says that Falstaff is the matrix from which Shakespeare’s mature art of characterization emanated. He is brother to the Wife of Bath (Chaucer, Marlowe and Bible are supposed to be the three great influences on Shakespeare), and he is Cleopatra’s histrionic rival. According to Bloom- Falstaff engendered Hamlet, and the Black Prince made possible Iago and Macbeth. What the Gnostics called the pleroma , the fullness, always abides with Falstaff.
(Pleroma- (In Gnosticism) –the spiritual universe as the abode of God and of the totality of the divine powers and emanations. In Christian theology –the totality or fullness of the Godhead which dwells in Christ.)
Falstaff is a child again, smiling upon his fingers’ ends, and singing the Twenty-Third Psalm. He spends his life bidding time stand aside. It will not, and yet we will see no triumph of time over Sir John Falstaff. Betrayed love achieves victory; can that be total defeat? Falstaff, through floraabundance, excess, overflow, creates meaning. Such creation can take place only because Falstaff creates love, laughter, a rejoicing in mere being, the ecstasy of existence. There is a highly deliberate diminishment in Shakespeare’s long movement from Falstaff to Prospero (The Tempest), who empties out meaning and ends triumphant but in despair, departing his island back for Milan, where every third thought shall be his grave.
“My King! My Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!”
Falstaff to King Henry V- (Prince Hal)
In the final act , the King leaves behind the tavern world and goes into the world of Kingship, statecraft. The tavern world represented by Falstaff recedes. Lord Chief Justice now becomes the father figure of the new king. Professor Conner concludes his analysis Now, Henry V takes the throne, and for the land to thrive under him, he must cast out the part of him that would follow Falstaff and commit himself to the course of justice and order. If we lament this exchange, even a bit, then we are like generations of readers who wish the world could accommodate both Falstaff’s misrule and the Chief Justice’s rule.
READING GROUP ACTIVITIES
1-Deep reading- In a world where theatre is becoming rarer, and for persons staying in places like Tripoli, we can still read the rich complexity of the characters created by Shakespeare
2-Arc of development of characters: Watch carefully the way in which Shakespeare’s main characters develop and grow over the course of the play. Pay attention not only to a character’s rise and fall—that is, his or her internal changes—but also to the ways a character’s external role changes—that is, how his or her status in or relation to the social structure can alter throughout a play. What patterns do they follow? Is it a rise and fall, or is there a more subtle pattern at work? How is this arc related to power? How is it related to the movement from ignorance to knowledge?
To conclude with Bloom’s words
‘Only the force of Shakespeare’s own mind could defend it from itself. Shakespeare, almost all deep readers agree, excelled in intellectual power, wisdom, and linguistic vitality, but the three together are surpassed by his rarest gift: the creation of personalities. People is the word I prefer., though that restarts wearisome arguments. Even Cervantes and Tolstoy are not that prodigal.
READING GROUP QUESTIONS-ACTIVITIES
- Who were the main influences on Shakespeare?
- What is relation of Falstaff to power at the end of the play?
- Who wrote the character Wife of Bath? Do research on this character and write a paragraph on her.
1- How to read and understand Shakespeare
3-HAROLD BLOOM ON SHAKESPEARE