By Dennis Abrams
As Publishing Perspective’s journey through the plays of William Shakespeare continues at our site, The Play’s The Thing, we are pleased to announce that we’ll be beginning one of the Bard’s masterpieces among masterpieces — Henry IV, Part One (to be immediately followed by Henry IV, Part Two).
It is, on the surface, a history play examining the reign of Henry IV and the gradual evolution of his seeming dissolute son Hal into Henry V. But who is the play’s central figure? The title character Henry IV? Hal? Or is it, perhaps in spite of himself, Sir John Falstaff, the man Harold Bloom has described as “neither coward or jester, but infinite wit delighting in its own inventiveness, and transcending its own darkening pathos.”
For Bloom, Falstaff is second only to Hamlet in defining Shakespeare’s invention of the human. Indeed, “Only a few characters in the world’s literature can match the real presence of Falstaff, who in that regard is Hamlet’s greatest rival in Shakespeare. Falstaff’s presence is more than the presence of mind that Hazlitt praised in him. The illusion of being a real person — if you want to call it an ‘illusion’ – attends Falstaff as it does Hamlet. Yet somehow Shakespeare conveys to us that these two charismatics are in their plays, but not of them; Hamlet is a person, and Claudius and Ophelia are fictions — or Falstaff is a person, while Hal and Hotspur are fictions.”
We’re going to take our time, wallowing in the glory of two of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, and one literature’s greatest creations. We hope you’ll join us.