I hear my oldest coming down the steps. “I wonder if she needs help with calculus or physics?” I ask my wife.
She rounds the corner. “Ok, so, we’re playing trivia in virtual classroom and the category was Shakespeare.” Oh fun. “Which character has been in three plays?”
“I’m going to assume Falstaff.”
“Right. Yes, well, we got it wrong. We guessed Antony.”
“That’d be Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, only two.”
“Exactly, I knew that wasn’t it. But anyway, he’s, like, a big character, isn’t he?”
“He was never the title character, but it’s been argued by more than one person that he’s Shakespeare’s greatest creation. Books have been written on just him. I literally have a book upstairs right now that’s nothing but an actor’s diary of when he played Falstaff.”
“I thought so. Our teacher told us that he’s a huge Shakespeare fan, and how he’s read all of the Henry’s because, you know, he prefers the lesser known plays, and that he didn’t remember this character, he must not have been that important.”
I fire up my computer. “Hold on a second.” I google “Harold Bloom Falstaff”:
Then there’s Harold Bloom, who, in the opening pages of his short, charming new book Falstaff: Give Me Life, writes that he has “come to believe that if we are to represent Shakespeare by only one play, it ought to be the complete Henry IV, to which I would add Mistress Quickly’s description of the death of Falstaff in act 2, scene 3 of Henry V.”
For Bloom, what puts Henry IV on top is not the starring role, Prince Hal, but the supporting character Sir John Falstaff. “I think of this as the Falstaffiad,” writes Bloom, “rather than the Henriad, as scholars tend to call it.” For Bloom, who has been teaching at Yale since 1955 and who is considered by many to be the most distinguished living literary critic (he’s 87), Falstaff is not just “the glory of the Henry IV plays” but (his italics) “the grandest personality in all of Shakespeare.”
You can’t bluff your Shakespeare knowledge in front of my kids.