Robert Nye’s imaginative and licentious "autobiography" of Shakespeare’s fictional character Falstaff is a bawdy, voice-driven novel that flourishes in the audiobook format. The exuberant performance of English actor John Lee contributes the larger-than-life quality called for by one of the most famous comic personalities in the Bard’s oeuvre.
At 16 hours, Falstaff: A Novel barely clocks in as one of Lee’s longer narrations. The actor has a reputation for stamina, having performed the thick tomes of James Joyce and Ken Follett to great acclaim. Lee has repeatedly won Best Voice awards. In an interview with AudioFile magazine, he declared, "I love doing audiobooks, because it’s as close as you get to good theater without being in one."
First published in England in 1976 and long awaited by American fans of Nye's Mrs. Shakespeare: The Complete Works and The Late Mr. Shakespeare, this unabashedly bawdy and outrageously raunchy winner of the Hawthornden Prize and Guardian Fiction Prize is a takeoff on such classic literary erotica as Fielding's Tom Jones and Cleland's Fanny Hill. The novel unfolds as the true-life memoirs of one of the Immortal Bard's most memorable characters, the feckless soldier of fortune Falstaff, aka Sir John Fastolf, based upon a real-life knight reputed to be cowardly.
Dictated to various household secretaries as he is nearing death, at age 81, Falstaff's fictional memoir opens with the extravagant claim that he was conceived under a fig tree planted on the phallus of the legendary figure of the giant of Cerne carved into the chalk hillside near Cerne Abbas in Dorset. Now an octogenarian, the old rooster gleefully crows about the size of his own member and a sexual dalliance with his 15-year-old niece. Graphically chronicling seven decades of debauchery, Nye revisits Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I depiction of Falstaff as the father figure for young Prince Hal (soon to become Henry V), who publicly rejects him along with his rather reprehensible companions when fickle Hal assumes the throne following his father's death (Henry IV, Part 2).
Purporting to set history aright, the narrative offers a Walter Mittyesque version of the infamous rogue's exploits in the boudoir and battlefield. Annotated with snide naysaying asides from his stepson, this delightfully raucous, slyly insightful fable gently closes the book on Falstaff as a bittersweet metaphor for the foibles of everyman.