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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: November ::
Falstaff: Corrupt Buffoon or Joyous Inspiration?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2156  Monday, 10 November 2003

[1]     From:   Richard Burt <
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        Date:   Sunday, 09 Nov 2003 07:59:35 -0500
        Subj:   NYTimes.com Article: Falstaff: Corrupt Buffoon or Joyous
Inspiration?

[2]     From:   Al Magary <
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        Date:   Sunday, 9 Nov 2003 14:42:38 -0800
        Subj:   To be Bloom's Falstaff or not to be


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Sunday, 09 Nov 2003 07:59:35 -0500
Subject:        NYTimes.com Article: Falstaff: Corrupt Buffoon or Joyous
Inspiration?

Falstaff: Corrupt Buffoon or Joyous Inspiration?
November 9, 2003
 By RON ROSENBAUM

Jack O'Brien, celebrated Shakespearean director, is challenging, no,
defying, an absent Harold Bloom, celebrated Shakespearean scholar. The
subject: Falstaff.

"You can't have him, Harold! You can't have him. You just can't."

It's a joyful challenge. Mr. O'Brien thinks Mr. Bloom is "a great mind,
a wonderful writer," but he calls Mr. Bloom's ecstatic embrace of
Falstaff "so over the top."

To which Mr. Bloom responds, when I read him that quote: "You can do a
hell of a lot worse than go over the top over Falstaff. I am very over
the top over Falstaff."

The Falstaff Wars have come to Lincoln Center.

The object of this contention - fat, slovenly, perpetually soused
sexagenarian knight-turned-highway-robber, tavern lout and misleader of
youth, most particularly of the crown prince, Hal, in Shakespeare's two
"Henry IV" plays - is generally regarded as one of the great characters
in all literature, so it's not surprising that the contention over
portraying him should arouse such passion. In fact, for centuries
scholars and directors have been fighting over Sir John Falstaff.

Mr. Bloom celebrates Falstaff as the embodiment of all that is natural,
joyful and free in human nature. The question for Jack O'Brien - and
Kevin Kline, who is playing Falstaff in the Lincoln Center Theater
production that opens on Nov.  20 - is whether Mr. Bloom loves Falstaff
too much. Whether Mr. Bloom's love is blind, or blinds him to
complexities in a character to whom he gives credit (with Hamlet) for
"inventing the human." Whether Mr. Bloom loves Falstaff even more than
Shakespeare loved him. As much, perhaps, as Falstaff loves himself. And
that's a lot.

. . .

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/09/arts/theater/09ROSE.html?ex=1069382636&ei=1&en=c2c6b79abef177fd

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Sunday, 9 Nov 2003 14:42:38 -0800
Subject:        To be Bloom's Falstaff or not to be

The Sunday NYTimes has a long article on Falstaff and how he should be
played on stage.  The occasion is an upcoming (Nov.  20) production of a
compressed Henry IV at the Lincoln Center Theater, with Kevin Kline as
Falstaff, directed by Jack O'Brien.  The article's author, Ron
Rosenbaum, who is writing a book on Shakespeare scholars and directors,
couldn't get Kevin Kline to talk about the role but he sets up the
interpretive difference between Harold Bloom and others--the headline is
"Is Falstafff a Corrupt Buffoon or Joyous Inspiration?"

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/09/arts/theater/09ROSE.html

No less interesting is the version being staged:

"In the United States, if a 'Henry IV' play is done at all, it's most
often the more crowd-pleasing Part 1, which ends with Falstaff
fraudulently triumphant and leaves out the more melancholy, dying fall
of Part 2, with its climactic rejection scene in which Hal banishes his
heartbroken former friend when the prince is crowned Henry V.

"It's harder to get American theaters - and audiences - to commit to two
evenings. Richard Easton argues that these logistical hurdles prevent
the 'Henry IV' plays from getting the level of appreciation they deserve
- even though they represent Shakespeare at a peak of creativity that
rivals the better-known 'Hamlet' and 'Lear.'

"Compression is one solution to putting the entire trajectory of the two
plays before a single audience in a single night. It's a tradition with
a long history in fact: a manuscript of the two plays compressed into
one, dating to 1622, just six years after Shakespeare's death, has come
to light, and some scholars conjecture it might be based on a
compression done by Shakespeare's company during his lifetime, if not by
Shakespeare himself. Whole books have been devoted, without resolving
the question, to the mystery of whether Shakespeare composed the two
parts of 'Henry IV' as separate plays or (as the late textual scholar
Harold Jenkins argued) began writing a single play and then realized,
halfway through what is now the first part, that he would need two parts
to contain its richness.

"The problem with compressing the two parts, the problem that Mr.
O'Brien and Mr. [Dakin] Matthews (who also plays the Lord Chief Justice
in this production, as well as the Welsh warrior-sorcerer Owen
Glendower) confront, is that most compressions, like Orson Welles's
'Chimes at Midnight,' tend to make the two plays into a single Falstaff
play (indeed, 'Chimes' was released in America under the title
'Falstaff').

"Mr. Matthews's compression, first produced some 30 years ago (when Mr.
Kline saw it, as a student at Juilliard), has been a work in progress.
Mr. O'Brien directed a later version at the Old Globe in 1995, with John
Goodman as Falstaff. The advantage of the Matthews version is that it
preserves the balance between Falstaff and the other major characters.
However, in the rehearsal process, the challenge is to control
Falstaff's expansiveness..."

Last tidbit from the banquet table:  "...one thing that will have people
talking about Mr. Kline's Falstaff is that for most of the play he is
barely able to stand up - and he makes the attempt into a prolonged
comic spectacle. This infirmity of the flesh may be a signature of his
Falstaff."

Conveyed by Al Magary

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