Simply put, Harold Bloom is Falstaff.
Or at least he was last night.
In a concert reading held at Zero Church Street to benefit the American Repertory Theater's Institute for Advanced Theater Training Scholarship Fund, Bloom read selections from Shakespeare's "Henry IV" and "Henry V" with characteristic wit and worldliness.
Seventeen actors and actresses ranging in age and experience from A.R.T. Director Robert Brustein to undergraduate James A. Carmichael '01 accompanied Bloom in the reading.
Bloom is Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, Berg Professor of English at New York University and former Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard.
Brustein introduced the evening to a packed house by explaining the mission of the Institute for Advanced Theater Training, and by expressing his delight that Bloom, "an old friend," could make this production possible.
Brustein said he has been dreaming of such a production for eight years.
Guest director Karin Coonrod adapted the text of Shakespeare's plays to fit the format of the evening. She worked closely with Bloom in choosing passages and adapting them for the performance.
Coonrod began the evening by describing the performance as a combination of "powerful scholarship and serious theater."
While Bloom's extensive scholarship on Shakepeare's plays, including his recent best-selling book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, attests to the fact that he is one of the foremost Shakespeare scholars in the country, he was not above having some fun with the text--often at his own expense.
Sporting red suspenders, rolled-up sleeves and a distinctive gleam in his eye, Bloom occupied center stage sitting in a gold easy chair.
When in the first part of "Henry IV" the prince asks Falstaff what manner of man he is, Bloom, as Falstaff, replied "A goodly portly man, i'faith, and a corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage; and, as I think, his age some 50."
Bloom, quite literally the image of Falstaff, caused an eruption of laughter from the audience.
Bloom's performance continued with sparks of animation, though he was acting only from his neck up. Although his bushy eyebrows and flashing eyes were unusually expressive, Bloom took the idea of a reading seriously, and remained seated in his easy chair for the majority of the performance.
The other actors, however, took more liberties, occasionally getting up to stab another character or fall over in their seats to imitate death.
Bloom writes at the end of his essay on Falstaff in Shakespeare that "Falstaff needs an audience, and never fails to find it. We need Falstaff, because we have so few images of authentic vitaliam."
With his performance last night as Falstaff, Bloom found an audience, and the audience found a vital image of Falstaff.