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Shakespeare: Invention of the Human

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"The indispensable critic on the indispensable writer." -Geoffrey O'Brien, New York Review of Books

A landmark achievement as expansive, erudite, and passionate as its renowned author, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human is the culmination of a lifetime of reading, writing about, and teaching Shakespeare. Preeminent literary critic-and ultimate authority on the western literary tradition-Harold Bloom leads us through a comprehensive reading of every one of the dramatist's ...

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Overview

"The indispensable critic on the indispensable writer." -Geoffrey O'Brien, New York Review of Books

A landmark achievement as expansive, erudite, and passionate as its renowned author, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human is the culmination of a lifetime of reading, writing about, and teaching Shakespeare. Preeminent literary critic-and ultimate authority on the western literary tradition-Harold Bloom leads us through a comprehensive reading of every one of the dramatist's plays, brilliantly illuminating each work with unrivaled warmth, wit and insight. At the same time, Bloom presents one of the boldest theses of Shakespearean scholarships: that Shakespeare not only invented the English language, but also created human nature as we know it today.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Shakespearean Canon

Where do personality and character come from? You may think they come from your parents, or you may think they come from God. If you belong to the "School of Resentment" Harold Bloom loves to deride, you may imagine character traits to be determined by one's location on the matrix of race, class, and gender. Whatever your position, chances are that you're wrong: Neither God nor family nor society invented you, but one William Shakespeare, "the man from Stratford." Such at least is the argument that literary critic Harold Bloom propounds in his typically audacious new book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.

Shakespeare's plays remain, for Bloom, "the fixed center of the Western canon" because "their influence upon life has been nearly as enormous as their effect upon post-Shakespearean literature." Not only literary characters but we ourselves derive from Shakespeare: "Had Shakespeare been murdered at twenty-nine, like Christopher Marlowe...we all of us might be gamboling about, but without mature Shakespeare we would be very different, because we would think and feel and speak differently." Certainly some of Shakespeare's figures are mere caricatures, but as Bloom traces Shakespeare's career, moving more or less chronologically through each of the 39 plays and infusing literary criticism with an unusual narrative force, we see the playwright progressing from such two-dimensional screens of inspired rhetoric as Richard III, who "has no inwardness," to the solidity of A Midsummer Night's Dream's Bottom the Weaver, and finally to the run of bottomlessly real and living characters that commences with Falstaff in Henry IV, Part One and concludes with the eponymous principals of Antony and Cleopatra. After the astonishing 14 consecutive months in which he composed King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, even Shakespeare, Bloom suggests, "was wary of further quests into the interior." Shakespeare depicts and creates the "interior" of the great characters through what Bloom calls their "self-overhearing," their self-conscious monitoring of the always-shifting relationship between what they say and what they do and are. "Iago and Edmund [the villains of Othello and King Lear, respectively] are the most Shakespearean characters because in them, and by them, the radical gap between words and actions is most fully exploited." Into this gap rushes meaning, and personality.

"The dominant Shakespearean characters," Bloom insists, "are extraordinary instances not only of how meaning gets started, rather than repeated, but also of how new modes of consciousness come into being." Whatever our own mode of consciousness, it was probably inaugurated by Shakespeare. Shakespeare thus turns out to have invented, say, Newt Gingrich or Harold Bloom: "Newt is a parody of Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice and Bloom a parody of Falstaff." This must surprise the Speaker of the House; it delights Bloom, and probably seems to him an instance of innocent Falstaffian self-love, for Falstaff is Bloom's favorite character in all Shakespeare. Even the extravagance of these somewhat silly claims can be seen in terms of Falstaffian exuberance.

Since Bloom approaches Shakespeare's work through character, his account of each play naturally centers on that play's most vivid personage. A Midsummer Night's Dream becomes Bottom's play; As You Like It would be better termed, to Bloom's mind, "As Rosalind Likes It"; and the Henry IV plays belong, of course, to Bloom's beloved Falstaff, the fat, jesting, impossibly intelligent knight. Falstaff is "a great vitalist," teaching us "the perfection and virtual divinity of knowing how to enjoy our being rightfully." Fat Jack refuses to grow old and insists that, for all his white hair and rolls of fat, he has not aged a day in his life: "My lord, I was born about three of the clock in the afternoon, with a white head, and something of a round belly." Bloom refuses to see such a figure as mere words upon a page. Falstaff creates us, not we him. And so real is Falstaff to Bloom that Prince Hal's rejection of the fat knight seems to grieve deeply the literature professor.

Still, for all Bloom's emphasis on "the invention of the human," his insights are not exclusively characterological. And despite his own preference for Falstaffian gusto, Bloom does not shy away from recognizing the darkness of so much of Shakespeare. "The authentic Shakespearean litany," Bloom observes, "chants variations on the word 'nothing,' and the uncanniness of nihilism haunts almost every play, even the great, relatively unmixed comedies." Bloom's last big book, The Western Canon, was joyously received by cultural conservatives, but his account in the new book of King Lear can hardly give comfort to trumpeters of "family values": "Shakespeare's intimation is that the only authentic love is between parents and children, yet the prime consequence of such love is only devastation." For Bloom, the reason to read Shakespeare is not that he will make us happy or wise. We must read Shakespeare because he has already made us, just as we are.

Shakespeare: The Inventionof the Human is a delightfully against-the-grain book. It revives the Great Man Theory of History while at the same time dispensing with any notion of literature's moral usefulness. In an age in which few people have time for poetry, it flouts Auden's claim that "poetry makes nothing happen." Poetry, it turns out, can make everything happen.

—Benjamin Kunkel

Library Journal
01/01/2014
Literary scholar/critic Bloom devotes an essay to each of the plays on the idea that Shakespeare's work is responsible for our conception of what it means to be human. His focus on character traits that make up Shakespeare's greatest creations (Hamlet, Falstaff, Rosalind, Iago, and Cleopatra, among others) welcomes new readers.
Newsweek
Bloom..is a master entertainer and proselytizer....We get a thrill of recognition when Bloom articulates what we hadn't quite known we'd known.
Jodie Morse
Bloom may feel spent after 745 pages, but his essays will energize readers to go right out and pick up -- or see -- a play.
Time Magazine
James Wood
...[A]n excellent work of popular criticism, overflowing with Bloom's personality, and often acute about Shakespeare's art.
The New Republic
Michiko Kakutani
. . .[B]est read as an old-fashioned humanistic commentary . ..that gives us a renewed appreciation of the playwright's staggering achievement. . .[and] points up limitations. . . .It is . . .a study that is as passionate as it is erudite, as provocative as it is perverse.
The New York Times
James Shapiro
Had Bloom, one of the most gifted of contemporary critics, stuck to the plays and characters that he deeply understands, this book would have been a third as long and far more compelling.
The New York Times Book Review
From The Critics
It is a grand lecture, a lifetime's worth of reflections on each of Shakespeare's plays.....[T]he volume is a capsule of one man's love and research...
KLIATT
It is likely that Bloom's stunning analysis of Shakespeare's works will stand as one of the more significant additions to the canon of criticism produced in the 20th century. It has received numerous awards, and it was a National Book Award finalist. Bloom, a preeminent writer and critic, explains that he has "read and taught Shakespeare almost daily for the past twelve years." Yet, he is certain that he sees Shakespeare "only darkly." His ruminations will undoubtedly enlighten all who share a passion for Shakespeare. Bloom is unabashedly a proponent of Bardolatry. His awe of Shakespeare's creation is unbounded. Many scholars have suggested that the continuing fascination with Shakespeare stems from his ability to capture universal human qualities in his characters. Bloom actually takes the extraordinary step of suggesting that Shakespeare is responsible for the "invention" of human nature as we know it. He boldly states: "Without mature Shakespeare we would think and feel and speak differently. Our ideas would be different, particularly our ideas of the human, since they were, more often than not, Shakespeare's ideas before they were ours." Following in the tradition of critics Johnson, Hazlitt, Bradley, and Goddard, Bloom presents a chapter analysis of each of Shakespeare's 35 plays, beginning with The Comedy of Errors and concluding with The Two Noble Kinsmen. His concern is decidedly focused toward characterization rather than plot, with particular interest in Hamlet and Falstaff "as they are the fullest representations of human possibility in Shakespeare." Reading each chapter is equivalent to attending a lecture given by a respected authority who has not only a thoroughknowledge of the play but also of the views of other critics. Each commentary is lively and vividly presented. Bloom often challenges, disagrees, and questions. For example, he considers The Two Gentlemen of Verona to be Shakespeare's weakest comedy. He finds "no intrinsic value" in Titus Andronicus. Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand, is lauded as "the most persuasive celebration of romantic love in Western literature." Love's Labour's Lost is "a festival of language, an exuberant fireworks display." Of Twelfth Night, Bloom feels that "one cannot get to the end of it, because some of the most apparently incidental lines reverberate infinitely." The character of Macbeth is "endowed with a power of fantasy so enormous that pragmatically it seems to be Shakespeare's own." Cleopatra is "the most subtle and formidable" of Shakespeare's representations of women. This is, at best, a brief sampling of the insights and opinions found on each page of this mammoth volume. Bloom's work will challenge its readers for years to come. It should prove most helpful for teachers and advanced students of Shakespeare. Clearly, Bloom does not feel that his work is definitive. As he suggests, "we can keep finding the meanings of Shakespeare, but never the meaning. It is like searching for "the meaning of life)." KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students, and adults. 1998, Penguin Putnam/Riverhead, 745p, 24cm, 98-21325, $15.95. Ages 17 to adult. Reviewer: Anthony J. Pucci; English Dept. Chair., Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY, May 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 3)
Library Journal
All libraries should own this latest work of scholarship by noted critic Bloom (humanities, Yale Univ./NYU), author of The Western Canon (LJ 9/1/94). Here he examines every play by Shakespeare, touching briefly on issues of attribution and chronology and then offering a new thesis--that Shakespeare invented character and personality. Before Shakespeare, Bloom maintains, literature was full of one-dimensional figures--think of Medea and compare her personality and characterization to that of Lady Macbeth. The plays are arranged in groups (the early comedies to the late romances), but each play receives its own in-depth treatment; the argument is strongest in the essays on Hamlet and Falstaff. Bloom's analysis is much more than guidance for the befuddled undergraduate or season ticket holder--readers will need to be familiar with at least the rough outline of a play in order to follow much of what Bloom argues. This is a challenging, well-argued, and quite entertaining book that will leave readers both agreeing with and arguing against its thesis.--Neal Wyatt, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA
Donald Lyons
...[T]urns out to be another occasion for articulating, in extreme form, things that have been on Bloom's mind for quite a long time.
Commentary
Anthony Lane
An enraptured, incantory epic .. . .[Y]ou certainly catch an authentic tone of sovereign crossness in some of the pronouncements that litter [the book]. . . .If there is one belief that pulses throughout. . .it is the full-blooded sense of a Shakespeare who exists to teach us. . .to 'think too well'. . . .If Harold Bloom continues to devote his life to the hopeful proposition that ordinary readers. . .may become free artists of themselves, then good luck to him. He's only human.
The New Yorker
Michiko Kakutani
. . .[B]est read as an old-fashioned humanistic commentary . ..that gives us a renewed appreciation of the playwright's staggering achievement. . .[and] points up limitations. . . .It is . . .a study that is as passionate as it is erudite, as provocative as it is perverse.
The New York Times
Benjamin Kunkel
Where do personality and character come from? You may think they come from your parents, or you may think they come from God. If you belong to the "School of Resentment" Harold Bloom loves to deride, you may imagine character traits to be determined by one's location on the matrix of race, class, and gender. Whatever your position, chances are that you're wrong: Neither God nor family nor society but one William Shakespeare, "the man from Stratford," invented you. Such, at least, is the argument that literary critic Harold Bloom propounds in his typically audacious new book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.

Shakespeare's plays remain, for Bloom, "the fixed center of the Western canon" because "their influence upon life has been nearly as enormous as their effect upon post-Shakespearean literature." Not only literary characters but we ourselves derive from Shakespeare: "Had Shakespeare been murdered at twenty-nine, like Christopher Marlowe...we all of us might be gamboling about, but without mature Shakespeare we would be very different, because we would think and feel and speak differently." Certainly some of Shakespeare's figures are mere caricatures, but as Bloom traces Shakespeare's career, moving more or less chronologically through each of the 39 plays and infusing literary criticism with an unusual narrative force, we see the playwright progressing from such two-dimensional screens of inspired rhetoric as Richard III, who "has no inwardness," to the solidity of Midsummer Night's Dream's Bottom the Weaver, and finally to the run of bottomlessly real and living characters that commences with Falstaff in Henry IV, Part One and concludes with the eponymous principals of Antony and Cleopatra. After the astonishing 14 consecutive months in which he composed King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, even Shakespeare, Bloom suggests, "was wary of further quests into the interior." Shakespeare depicts and creates the "interior" of the great characters through what Bloom calls their "self-overhearing," their self-conscious monitoring of the always-shifting relationship between what they say and what they do and are. "Iago and Edmund [the villains of Othello and King Lear, respectively] are the most Shakespearean characters because in them, and by them, the radical gap between words and actions is most fully exploited." Into this gap rushes meaning, and personality.

"The dominant Shakespearean characters," Bloom insists, "are extraordinary instances not only of how meaning gets started, rather than repeated, but also of how new modes of consciousness come into being." Whatever our own mode of consciousness, it was probably inaugurated by Shakespeare. Shakespeare thus turns out to have invented, say, Newt Gingrich or Harold Bloom: "Newt is a parody of Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice and Bloom a parody of Falstaff." This must surprise the Speaker of the House; it delights Bloom, and probably seems to him an instance of innocent Falstaffian self-love, for Falstaff is Bloom's favorite character in all Shakespeare. Even the extravagance of these somewhat silly claims can be seen in terms of Falstaffian exuberance.

Since Bloom approaches Shakespeare's work through character, his account of each play naturally centers on that play's most vivid personage. Midsummer Night's Dream becomes Bottom's play; As You Like It would be better termed, to Bloom's mind, "As Rosalind Likes It"; and the Henry IV plays belong, of course, to Bloom's beloved Falstaff, the fat, jesting, impossibly intelligent knight. Falstaff is "a great vitalist," teaching us "the perfection and virtual divinity of knowing how to enjoy our being rightfully." Fat Jack refuses to grow old and insists that, for all his white hair and rolls of fat, he has not aged a day in his life: "My lord, I was born about three of the clock in the afternoon, with a white head, and something of a round belly." Bloom refuses to see such a figure as mere words upon a page. Falstaff creates us, not we him. And so real is Falstaff to Bloom that Prince Hal's rejection of the fat knight seems to grieve deeply the literature professor.

Still, for all Bloom's emphasis on "the invention of the human," his insights are not exclusively characterological. And despite his own preference for Falstaffian gusto, Bloom does not shy away from recognizing the darkness of so much of Shakespeare. "The authentic Shakespearean litany," Bloom observes, "chants variations on the word 'nothing,' and the uncanniness of nihilism haunts almost every play, even the great, relatively unmixed comedies." Bloom's last big book, The Western Canon, was joyously received by cultural conservatives, but his account in the new book of King Lear can hardly give comfort to trumpeters of "family values": "Shakespeare's intimation is that the only authentic love is between parents and children, yet the prime consequence of such love is only devastation." For Bloom, the reason to read Shakespeare is not that he will make us happy or wise. We must read Shakespeare because he has already made us, just as we are.

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human is a delightfully against-the-grain book. It revives the Great Man Theory of History while at the same time dispensing with any notion of literature's moral usefulness. In an age in which few people have time for poetry, it flouts Auden's claim that "poetry makes nothing happen." Poetry, it turns out, can make everything happen.

Benjamin Kunkel is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York.
— barnesandnoble.com

Kirkus Reviews
A magisterial survey of the Bard's complete dramatic oeuvre by the always stimulating author of The Western Canon (1994). Bloom (Humanities/Yale) accurately describes himself as "Brontosaurus Bardolater, an archaic survival among Shakespearean critics." He unabashedly follows Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, and the great writer-critics of English Romanticism in concerning himself primarily with the dramatist as a peerless creator of characters and profound explorer of our deepest existential questions; he decries the "School of Resentment" (Bloom's blanket term for feminists, Marxists, deconstructionists, et al.) and high-concept modern directors, all of whom, he argues, interpret the plays in terms of historical particulars instead of universal truths. For Bloom, as the subtitle suggests, Shakespeare's greatest achievement was "the inauguration of personality as we have come to recognize it. [He] will go on explaining us, because in part he invented us." This emphasis makes the author an engaging explicator of the comedies, histories, and some aspects of the tragedies, which all feature personalities remarkable for their "inwardness"; his masterpieces are the discussions of the anguished, antic skeptic Hamlet and the jovial pragmatist Falstaff, whom he claims as "the fullest representations of human possibility in Shakespeare." Bloom is less effective with late works like The Winter's Tale, in which the Bard largely abandoned psychological realism in favor of a visionary mood that seems to make the critic uncomfortable. Philosophically, Bloom stresses the nihilism that animates Shakespearean villains and torments many protagonists; he tends to underrate the moments ofhard-won reconciliation that close many of the plays. In short, the author offers a personal view with inevitable omissions and weaknesses (unnecessary repetition and gratuitous polemics against political correctness among them). Nonetheless, this is a splendid book: elegantly written, scholarly yet accessible, radiant with Bloom's love for Shakespeare in particular and literature in general.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573227513
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Edition description: First Riverhead Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 768
  • Sales rank: 209,740
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.27 (h) x 2.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom is a Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and a former Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard. As The Paris Review has pointed out, "no critic in the English language since Samuel Johnson has been more prolific." His more than thirty books include The Best Poems of the English Language, The Art of Reading Poetry, and The Book of J. He is a MacArthur Prize Fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, including the Academy's Gold Medal for Belles Lettres and Criticism, the International Prize of Catalonia, and the Alfonso Reyes Prize of Mexico.

Alfred Kazin has said, "Bloom is all literature, (he) positively lives it," and The New York Times called him "the most original literary critic in America." He lives in New Haven and New York.

Biography

"Authentic literature doesn't divide us," the scholar and literary critic Harold Bloom once said. "It addresses itself to the solitary individual or consciousness." Revered and sometimes reviled as a champion of the Western canon, Bloom insists on the importance of reading authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer -- not because they transmit certain approved cultural values, but because they transcend the limits of culture, and thus enlarge rather than constrict our sense of what it means to be human. As Bloom explained in an interview, "Shakespeare is the true multicultural author. He exists in all languages. He is put on the stage everywhere. Everyone feels that they are represented by him on the stage."

Bloom began his career by tackling the formidable legacy of T.S. Eliot, who had dismissed the English Romantic poets as undisciplined nature-worshippers. Bloom construed the Romantic poets' visions of immortality as rebellions against nature, and argued that an essentially Romantic imagination was still at work in the best modernist poets.

Having restored the Romantics to critical respectability, Bloom advanced a more general theory of poetry. His now-famous The Anxiety of Influence argued that any strong poem is a creative "misreading" of the poet's predecessor. The book raised, as the poet John Hollander wrote, "profound questions about... how the prior visions of other poems are, for a true poet, as powerful as his own dreams and as formative as his domestic childhood." In addition to developing this theory, Bloom wrote several books on sacred texts. In The Book of J, he suggested that some of the oldest parts of the Bible were written by a woman.

The Book of J was a bestseller, but it was the 1994 publication of The Western Canon that made the critic-scholar a household name. In it, Bloom decried what he called the "School of Resentment" and the use of political correctness as a basis for judging works of literature. His defense of the threatened canon formed, according to The New York Times, a "passionate demonstration of why some writers have triumphantly escaped the oblivion in which time buries almost all human effort."

Bloom placed Shakespeare along with Dante at the center of the Western canon, and he made another defense of Shakespeare's centrality with Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, an illuminating study of Shakespeare's plays. How to Read and Why (2000) revisited Shakespeare and other writers in the Bloom pantheon, and described the act of reading as both a spiritual exercise and an aesthetic pleasure.

Recently, Bloom took up another controversial stance when he attacked Harry Potter in an essay for The Wall Street Journal. His 2001 book Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages advanced an alternative to contemporary children's lit, with a collection of classic works of literature "worthy of rereading" by people of all ages.

The poet and editor David Lehman said that "while there are some critics who are known for a certain subtlety and a certain judiciousness, there are other critics... who radiate ferocious passion." Harold Bloom is a ferociously passionate reader for whom literary criticism is, as he puts it, "the art of making what is implicit in the text as finely explicit as possible."

Good To Know

Bloom earned his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1955 and was hired as a Yale faculty member that same year. In 1965, at the age of 35, he became one of the youngest scholars in Yale history to be appointed full professor in the department of English. He is now Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale and Berg Visiting Professor of English at New York University.

Though some conservative commentators embraced Bloom's canon as a return to traditional moral values, Bloom, who once styled himself "a Truman Democrat," dismisses attempts by both left- and right-wingers to politicize literature. "To read in the service of any ideology is not, in my judgment, to read at all," he told a New York Times interviewer.

His great affinity for Shakespeare has put Bloom in the unlikely position of stage actor on occasion; he has played his "literary hero," port-loving raconteur Sir John Falstaff, in three productions.

Bloom is married to Jeanne, a retired school psychologist whom he met while a junior faculty member at Yale in the 1950s. They have two sons.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Harold Irving Bloom (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York and New Haven, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 11, 1930
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Cornell University, 1951; Ph.D., Yale University, 1955

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

    The shortest and most unified of all Shakespeare's plays, The Comedy of Errors is regarded by many scholars as his very first, which I tend to doubt. It shows such skill, indeed mastery--in action, incipient character, and stagecraft--that it far outshines the three Henry VI plays and the rather lame comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona. It is true that in comedy Shakespeare was free to be himself from the start, whereas the shadow of Marlowe darkens the early histories (Richard III included) and Titus Andronicus. Yet, even granted Shakespeare's comic genius, The Comedy of Errors does not read or play like apprentice work. It is a remarkably sophisticated elaboration of (and improvement upon) Plautus, the Roman comic dramatist whom most of our playgoers know through the musical adaptation A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Shakespeare himself was adapted splendidly by Rodgers and Hart, whose The Boys from Syracuse took The Comedy of Errors as their source, much as Cole Porter later was to utilize The Taming of the Shrew for his Kiss Me Kate.

    In The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare compounds Plautus's The Two Menaechmuses with hints from the same dramatist's Amphitryon, and gives us the wonderful absurdity of two sets of identical twins. We are in Greece, at Ephesus (where we will be again at the other end of Shakespeare's career, in Pericles), and we never go elsewhere, in this play so carefully confined in space and time (a single day). Antipholus of Syracuse arrives in Ephesus with his bondsman, Dromio. His twin brother, Antipholus of Ephesus, also has a bondsman named Dromio, identical twin to the first. The merchant of Syracuse and his servant have arrived in Ephesus not on a commercial mission but on a familial quest to find their missing brothers. This quest is also the purpose of the merchant Egeon of Syracuse, father of the two Antipholuses, who enters Ephesus only to be immediately arrested in the name of its Duke, who sentences the hapless Egeon to be beheaded at sundown. Syracuse and Ephesus are fierce enemies. That gives The Comedy of Errors a rather plangent opening, not at all Plautine:

Egeon. Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,
And by the doom of death end woes and all.

    Duke Solinus regretfully but firmly assures Egeon that indeed it will be off with his head, unless a ransom of a hundred marks can be paid. In response to the Duke's questioning, Egeon tells us the fantastic, really outrageous yarn of a shipwreck some twenty-three years before, which divided his family in half, separating husband and one of each set of twins from the wife and the other infants. For the past five years, Egeon says, he has searched for the missing trio, and his anguish at not finding them informs his wretched readiness to be executed:

Yet this is my comfort; when your words are done,
My woes end likewise with the evening sun.

    These scarcely are the accents of comedy, let alone of the knockabout farce soon to engulf us. But Shakespeare, who was to become the subtlest of all dramatists, already is very ambiguous in The Comedy of Errors. The twin Antipholuses are dead ringers but inwardly are very different. The Syracusan Antipholus has a quasi-metaphysical temperament:

He that commends me to mine own content
Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
(Unseen, inquisitive) confounds himself.
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.

[I.ii.33-40]

These often-quoted lines belie our usual first impressions of The Comedy of Errors as a purely rambunctious farce, just as the laments of Egeon clearly transcend the expected situations of farce.

    The Ephesian Antipholus is not a very interesting fellow, compared with his Syracusan twin, upon whom Shakespeare chooses to concentrate. Partly, the Antipholus of Syracuse benefits in our regard from what bewilders him: the strangeness of Ephesus. Since St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians makes reference to their "curious arts," a Bible-aware audience would expect the town (though clearly Shakespeare's London) to seem a place of sorcery, a kind of fairyland where anything may happen, particularly to visitors. Antipholus of Syracuse, already lost to himself before entering Ephesus, very nearly loses his sense of self-identity as the play proceeds.

    Perhaps all farce is implicitly metaphysical; Shakespeare departs from Plautus in making the uneasiness overt. The Comedy of Errors moves toward madcap violence, in which, however, no one except the charlatan exorcist, Dr. Pinch, gets hurt. It is a play in which no one, even the audience, can be permitted to get matters right until the very end, when the two sets of twins stand side by side. Shakespeare gives the audience no hint that the Ephesian Abbess (presumably a priestess of Diana) is the lost mother of the Antipholuses until she chooses to declare herself. We can wonder, if we want to, why she bas been in Ephesus for twenty-three years without declaring herself to her son who dwells there, but that would be as irrelevant as wondering how and why the two sets of twins happen to be dressed identically on the day that the boys from Syracuse arrive. Such peculiarities are the given of The Comedy of Errors, where the demarcations between the improbable and the impossible become very ghostly.

    Exuberant fun as it is and must be, this fierce little play is also one of the starting points for Shakespeare's reinvention of the human. A role in a farce hardly seems an arena for inwardness, but genre never confined Shakespeare, even at his origins, and Antipholus of Syracuse is a sketch for the abysses of self that are to come. Even when he contemplates sightseeing, the visiting twin remarks: "I will go lose myself, / And wander up and down to view the city." You do not lose yourself to find yourself in The Comedy of Errors, which is hardly a Christian parable. At the play's close, the two Dromios are delighted with each other, but the mutual response of the two Antipholuses is left enigmatic, as we will see. Nothing could be more unlike the response of the Ephesian burgher, so indignant that his assured self-identity should ever be doubted, than the Syracusan quester's appeal to Luciana, sister-in-law to his brother:

Sweet mistress, what your name is else I know not,
Nor by what wonder you do hit of mine;
Less in your knowledge and your grace you show not
Than our earth's wonder, more than earth divine.
Teach me, dear creature, how to think and speak;
Lay open to my earthy gross conceit,
Smother'd in errors, feeble, shallow, weak,
The folded meaning of your words' deceit.
Against my soul's pure truth why labour you
To make it wander in an unknown field?
Are you a god? would you create me new?
Transform me then, and to your power I'll yield.
But if that I am I, then well I know
Your weeping sister is no wife of mine,
Nor to her bed no homage do I owe;
Far more, far more to you do I decline;
O, train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note,
To drown me in thy sister's flood of tears;
Sing, siren, for thyself, and I will dote;
Spread o'er the silver waves thy golden hairs,
And as a bed I'll take thee, and there lie,
And in that glorious supposition think
He gains by death that hath such means to die;
Let Love, being light, be drowned if she sink.

[III.ii.29-52]

    The poignance of this inheres partly in its desperation; Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love to refind himself, presaging the erotic pattern that will be amiably satirized in Love's Labour's Lost. There the wit Berowne audaciously secularizes the Christian paradox that Shakespeare evades in The Comedy of Errors:

Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves,
Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths.
It is religion to be thus forsworn;
For charity itself fulfils the law;
And who can sever love from charity?

[IV.iii.358-62]

    That is not precisely what St. Paul meant by "he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law," but Love's Labour's Lost is of course no more Pauline than is The Comedy of Errors. Antipholus of Syracuse loves Luciana not to fulfill the law, even of his own lost being, but to achieve transformation, to be created new. Shakespeare does not let us linger in this plangency, but moves us to hilarity in a dialogue between the Syracusan Antipholus and Dromio, concerning the kitchen wench, Nell, who has confused the visiting Dromio with her husband, Dromio of Ephesus. Nell is a wench of an admirable girth, provoking marvelous geographical surmises:

Syr. Ant. Then she bears some breadth?
Syr. Dro. No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip; she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her.
Syr. Ant. In what part of her body stands Ireland?
Syr. Dro. Marry, sir, in her buttocks; I found it out by the bogs.
Syr. Ant. Where Scotland?
Syr. Dro. I found it by the barrenness, hard in the palm of the hand.
Syr. Ant. Where France?
Syr. Dro. In her forehead, armed and reverted, making war against her heir.
Syr. Ant. Where England?
Syr. Dro. I looked for the chalky cliffs, but I could find no whiteness in them. But I guess it stood in her chin, by the salt rheum that ran between France and it.
Syr. Ant. Where Spain?
Syr. Dro. Faith, I saw it not; but I felt it hot in her breath.
Syr. Ant. Where America, the Indies?
Syr. Dro. Oh, sir, upon her nose, all o'er-embellished with rubies,
    carbuncles, sapphires, declining their rich aspect to the hot breath
    of Spain, who sent whole armadoes of carracks to be ballast at
    her nose.
Syr. Ant. Where stood Belgia, the Netherlands?
Syr. Dro. Oh, sir, I did not look so low.

[III.ii.110-38]

    This splendid tour de force is the epitome The Comedy of Errors, whose laughter is always benign. The recognition scene, Shakespeare's first in what would become an extraordinary procession, prompts the astonished Duke of Ephesus to the play's deepest reflection:

One of these men is genius to the other;
And so of these, which is the natural man,
And which the spirit? Who deciphers them?

[V.i.332-34]

Though Antipholus of Syracuse cannot be called his brother's daemon or attendant spirit, one possible answer to the Dukes questions might be that the discerning playgoer would locate the spirit in the outlander, and the natural man in the Ephesian merchant. Shakespeare, who will perfect the art of ellipsis, begins here by giving the two Antipholuses no affective reactions whatsoever to their reunion. The Syracusan Antipholus commands his Dromio: "Embrace thy brother there; rejoice with him," but then exits with his own brother, sans embraces or joy. Doubtless, Antipholus of Syracuse is considerably more interested in pursuing Luciana, just as Antipholus of Ephesus wishes to get back to his wife, house, and commodities. Still, the coldness or dispassionateness of the Antipholuses is striking in contrast to the charming reunion of the Dromios, with which Shakespeare sweetly ends his comedy:

Syr. Dro. There is a fat friend at your master's house,
That kitchen'd me for you to-day at dinner;
She now shall be my sister, not my wife.
Epb. Dro. Methinks you are my glass, and not my brother:
I see by you I am a sweet-fac'd youth.
Will you walk in to see their gossiping?
Syr. Dro. Not I, sir, you are my elder.
Epb. Dro. That's a question, how shall we try it?
Syr. Dro. We'll draw cuts for the senior; till then, lead thou first.
Epb. Dro. Nay then, thus:
We came into the world like brother and brother,
And now let's go hand in hand, not one before another.
Exeunt.

[V.i.414-26]

    These two long-suffering clowns have had to sustain numerous blows from the Antipholuses throughout the play, and the audience is heartened to see them go out in such high good humor. When the Ephesian Dromio remarks: "I see by you I am a sweet-faced youth," we see it too, and the concluding couplet exudes a mutual affection clearly absent in the two Antipholuses. It would be absurd to burden The Comedy of Errors with sociopolitical or other current ideological concerns, and yet it remains touching that Shakespeare, from the start, prefers his clowns to his merchants.


Chapter Two

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

    The Taming of the Shrew begins with the very odd two scenes of the Induction, in which a noble practical joker gulls the drunken tinker, Christopher Sly, into the delusion that he is a great lord about to see a performance of Kate and Petruchio's drama. That makes their comedy, the rest of The Taming of the Shrew, a play-within-a-play, which does not seem at all appropriate to its representational effect upon an audience. Though skillfully written, the Induction would serve half a dozen other comedies by Shakespeare as well or as badly as it coheres with the Shrew. Critical ingenuity has proposed several schemes creating analogies between Christopher Sly and Petruchio, but I am one of the unpersuaded. And yet Shakespeare had some dramatic purpose in his Induction, even if we have not yet surmised it. Sly is not brought back at the conclusion of Shakespeare's Shrew, perhaps because his disenchantment necessarily would be cruel, and would disturb the mutual triumph of Kate and Petruchio, who rather clearly are going to be the happiest married couple in Shakespeare (short of the Macbeths, who end separately but each badly). Two points can be accepted as generally cogent about the Induction: it somewhat distances us from the performance of the Shrew, and it also hints that social dislocation is a form of madness. Sly, aspiring above his social station, becomes as insane as Malvolio in Twelfth Night.

    Since Kate and Petruchio are social equals, their own dislocation may be their shared, quite violent forms of expression, which Petruchio "cures" in Kate at the high cost of augmenting his own boisterousness to an extreme where it hardly can be distinguished from a paranoid mania. Who cures, and who is cured, remains a disturbing matter in this marriage, which doubtless will maintain itself against a cowed world by a common front of formidable pugnacity (much more cunning in Kate than in her roaring boy of a husband). We all know one or two marriages like theirs; we can admire what works, and we resolve also to keep away from a couple so closed in upon itself, so little concerned with others or with otherness.

    It may be that Shakespeare, endlessly subtle, hints at an analogy between Christopher Sly and the happily married couple, each in a dream of its own from which we will not see Sly wake, and which Kate and Petruchio need never abandon. Their final shared reality is a kind of conspiracy against the rest of us: Petruchio gets to swagger, and Kate will rule him and the household, perpetually acting her role as the reformed shrew. Several feminist critics have asserted that Kate marries Petruchio against her will, which is simply untrue. Though you have to read carefully to see it, Petruchio is accurate when he insists that Kate fell in love with him at first sight. How could she not? Badgered into violence and vehemence by her dreadful father Baptista, who vastly prefers the authentic shrew, his insipid younger daughter Bianca, the high-spirited Kate desperately needs rescue. The swaggering Petruchio provokes a double reaction in her: outwardly furious, inwardly smitten. The perpetual popularity of the Shrew does not derive from male sadism in the audience but from the sexual excitation of women and men alike.

    The Shrew is as much a romantic comedy as it is a farce. The mutual roughness of Kate and Petruchio makes a primal appeal, and yet the humor of their relationship is highly sophisticated. The amiable ruffian Petruchio is actually an ideal--that is to say an overdetermined--choice for Kate in her quest to free herself from a household situation far more maddening than Petruchio's antic zaniness. Roaring on the outside, Petruchio is something else within, as Kate gets to see, understand, and control, with his final approval. Their rhetorical war begins as mutual sexual provocation, which Petruchio replaces, after marriage, with his hyperbolical game of childish tantrums. It is surely worth remarking that Kate, whatever her initial sufferings as to food, costume, and so on, has only one true moment of agony, when Petruchio's deliberately tardy arrival for the wedding makes her fear she has been jilted:

Bap. Signor Lucentio, this is the pointed day
That Katharine and Petruchio should be married,
And yet we hear not of our son-in-law.
What will be said? What mockery will it be
To want the bridegroom when the priest attends
To speak the ceremonial rites of marriage!
What says Lucentio to this shame of ours?
Kath. No shame but mine. I must forsooth be forc'd
To give my hand, oppos'd against my heart,
Unto a mad-brain rudesby, full of spleen,
Who woo'd in haste and means to wed at leisure.
I told you, I, he was a frantic fool,
Hiding his bitter jests in blunt behaviour.
And to be noted for a merry man
He'll woo a thousand, `point the day of marriage,
Make feast, invite friends, and proclaim the banns,
Yet never means to wed where he hath woo'd.
Now must the world point at poor Katharine,
And say `Lo, there is mad Petruchio's wife,
If it would please him come and marry her.'
Tra. Patience, good Katharine, and Baptista too.
Upon my life, Petruchio means but well,
Whatever fortune stays him from his word.
Though he be blunt, I know him passing wise;
Though he be merry, yet withal he's honest.
Kath. Would Katharine had never seen him though.
Exit weeping [followed by Bianca and attendants].

[III.ii.1-26]

    No one enjoys being jilted, but this is not the anxiety of an unwilling bride. Kate, authentically in love, nevertheless is unnerved by the madcap Petruchio, lest he turn out to be an obsessive practical joker, betrothed to half of Italy. When, after the ceremony, Petruchio refuses to allow his bride to attend her own wedding feast, he crushes what she calls her "spirit to resist" with a possessive diatribe firmly founded upon the doubtless highly patriarchal Tenth Commandment:

They shall go forward, Kate, at thy command.
Obey the bride, you that attend on her.
Go to the feast, revel and domineer,
Carouse full measure to her maidenhead,
Be mad and merry, or go hang yourselves.
But for my bonny Kate, she must with me.
Nay, look not big, nor stamp, nor stare, nor fret;
I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing,
And here she stands. Touch her whoever dare!
I'll bring mine action on the proudest he
That stops my way in Padua. Grumio,
Draw forth thy weapon, we are beset with thieves,
Rescue thy mistress if thou be a man.
Fear not, sweet wench, they shall not touch thee, Kate.
I'll buckler thee against a million.
Exeunt PETRUCHIO, KATHARINA [and GRUMIO].

[III.ii.220-37]

    This histrionic departure, with Petruchio and Grumio brandishing drawn swords, is a symbolic carrying-off, and begins Petruchio's almost phantasmagoric "cure" of poor Kate, which will continue until at last she discovers how to tame the swaggerer:

Pet. Come on, a God's name, once more toward our father's.
Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!
Kath. The moon? the sun! It is not moonlight now.
Pet. I say it is the moon that shines so bright.
Kath. I know it is the sun that shines so bright.
Pet. Now by my mother's son, and that's myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or e'er I journey to your father's house.--
[To Servants.] Go on, and fetch our horses back again.--
Evermore cross'd and cross'd; nothing but cross'd
Hor. Say as he says, or we shall never go.
Kath. Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please.
And if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.
Pet. I say it is the moon.
Kath. I know it is the moon.
Pet. Nay, then you lie. It is the blessed sun.
Kath. Then, God be blest, it is the blessed sun.
But sun it is not, when you say it is not,
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it nam'd, even that it is,
And so it shall be so for Katharine.

[IV.v.1-22]

    From this moment on, Kate firmly rules while endlessly protesting her obedience to the delighted Petruchio, a marvelous Shakespearean reversal of Petruchio's earlier strategy of proclaiming Kate's mildness even as she raged on. There is no more charming a scene of married love in all Shakespeare than this little vignette on a street in Padua:

Kath. Husband, let's follow, to see the end of this ado.
Pet. First kiss me, Kate, and we will.
Kath. What, in the midst of the street?
Pet. What, art thou ashamed of me?
Kath. No, sir, God forbid; but ashamed to kiss.
Pet. Why, then, let's home again. Come, sirrah, let's away.
Kath. Nay, I will give thee a kiss. Now pray thee, love, stay.
Pet. Is not this well? Come, my sweet Kate.
Better once than never, for never too late.
Exeunt

[V.i. 130-38]

    One would have to be tone deaf (or ideologically crazed) not to hear in this a subtly exquisite music of marriage at its happiest. I myself always begin teaching the Shrew with this passage, because it is a powerful antidote to all received nonsense, old and new, concerning this play. (One recent edition of the play offers extracts from English Renaissance manuals on wife beating, from which one is edified to learn that, on the whole, such exercise was not recommended. Since Kate does hit Petruchio, and he does not retaliate--though he warns her not to repeat this exuberance--it is unclear to me why wife beating is invoked at all.) Even subtler is Kate's long and famous speech, her advice to women concerning their behavior toward their husbands, just before the play concludes. Again, one would have to be very literal-minded indeed not to hear the delicious irony that is Kate's undersong, centered on the great line "I am asham'd that women are so simple." It requires a very good actress to deliver this set piece properly, and a better director than we tend to have now, if the actress is to be given her full chance, for she is advising women how to rule absolutely, while feigning obedience:

Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman mov'd is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty,
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince
Even such a woman oweth to her husband.
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am asham'd that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms,
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown.
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot.
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.

[V.ii.137-80]

    I have quoted this complete precisely because its redundancy and hyperbolical submissiveness are critical to its nature as a secret language or code now fully shared by Kate and Petruchio. "True obedience" here is considerably less sincere than it purports to be, or even if sexual politics are to be invoked, it is as immemorial as the Garden of Eden. "Strength" and "weakness" interchange their meanings, as Kate teaches not ostensible subservience but the art of her own will, a will considerably more refined than it was at the play's start. The speech's meaning explodes into Petruchio's delighted (and overdetermined) response:

    Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate.

    If you want to hear this line as the culmination of a "problem play," then perhaps you yourself are the problem. Kate does not need to be schooled in "consciousness raising." Shakespeare, who clearly preferred his women characters to his men (always excepting Falstaff and Hamlet), enlarges the human, from the start, by subtly suggesting that women have the truer sense of reality.

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Table of Contents

Chronology
To the Reader
Shakespeare's Universalism 1
I The Early Comedies
1 The Comedy of Errors 21
2 The Taming of the Shrew 28
3 The Two Gentlemen of Verona 36
II The First Histories
4 Henry VI 43
5 King John 51
6 Richard III 64
III The Apprentice Tragedies
7 Titus Andronicus 77
8 Romeo and Juliet 87
9 Julius Caesar 104
IV The High Comedies
10 Love's Labour's Lost 121
11 A Midsummer Night's Dream 148
12 The Merchant of Venice 171
13 Much Ado About Nothing 192
14 As You Like It 202
15 Twelfth Night 226
V The Major Histories
16 Richard II 249
17 Henry IV 271
18 The Merry Wives of Windsor 315
19 Henry V 319
VI The "Problem Plays"
20 Troilus and Cressida 327
21 All's Well That Ends Well 345
22 Measure for Measure 358
VII The Great Tragedies
23 Hamlet 383
24 Othello 432
25 King Lear 476
26 Macbeth 516
27 Antony and Cleopatra 546
VIII Tragic Epilogue
28 Coriolanus 577
29 Timon of Athens 588
IX The Late Romances
30 Pericles 603
31 Cymbeline 614
32 The Winter's Tale 639
33 The Tempest 662
34 Henry VIII 685
35 The Two Noble Kinsmen 693
Coda: The Shakespearean Difference 714
A Word at the End: Foregrounding 737
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Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, December 1st, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Harold Bloom to discuss SHAKESPEARE.


Moderator: Welcome, Harold Bloom! We're looking forward to our discussion this evening. Are you ready to dive in and discuss your new book, SHAKESPEARE: THE INVENTION OF THE HUMAN?

Harold Bloom: Yes, I think I am always ready to discuss Shakespeare.


Megan from Williamsburg, VA: Mr. Bloom, I am very intrigued by your theory that Shakespeare actually changed human nature, as we know it today. What exactly do you mean by this? And do you really think that enough people have read Shakespeare or were influenced by him for this to be true?

Harold Bloom: I don't think that it necessarily depends on people having read him or seen him or having seen a film version. I think Shakespeare changed the representation of human nature, that is to say the description of language on how people feel, think, endure, and I think it is difficult to make a distinction between the representation of thinking and thinking itself. I think he pioneered in delineating human beings who suffered change because their relationship to themselves changed. His descriptions of humans have contaminated all of our representations of thought and emotion, and these representations don't have to be written or acted out; they are intimately involved in how we speak to others and how we speak to ourselves. He changed us in how we speak to ourselves, and he created the phenomenon that we overhear ourselves.


Rachel from New York City: What do you think about Helen Vendler's THE ART OF SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS? Did her Shakespearean scholarship prove to be insightful for THE INVENTION OF THE HUMAN?

Harold Bloom: I am not writing about the sonnets in this book, so even though I have a great regard for her -- we are dear old friends -- I don't think any of the sonnets had any effect in the book. Besides, Helen and I are very different critics. She is a formalist who deals with verbal structure, I am an experiential critic and deal with men and women, even though I am interested in language. I excluded the sonnets and poems because I wrote about all 32 plays, and there was no way of making the book any longer. The publisher would not have tolerated it.


Harald Zils from Hamilton, NY: Would you consider yourself a conservative (as many others do)?

Harold Bloom: I think that is silly. I am a lifelong Democrat. I have never voted for a Republican, nor would I ever. I am, in fact, a socialist, and this is again a way in which social politics distorts how things are going on. That is to say that if you believe in intrinsic values then you are a conservative -- that is absolutely absurd. If we have really reached the point where the judgement that William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy is better than Toni Morrison and BELOVED makes one conservative, then the struggle to uphold any standards of disinterested literature is lost. I find that question extremely offensive.


Dennis Cummings from Haverford, PA: I have a basic question that I would love your help with. What to you is the main fallacy in the Oxonian vs. the Shakespearean argument?

Harold Bloom: There isn't any argument. You could say anything you want to about any author as to who wrote his or her work. The Oxonians are simply crazy; it is a harmless lunacy, but it is a lunacy. There is no more reason for their claim than to say that Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare or anybody else you choose. The plays are still the plays.


Steven Shaviro from Seattle, WA: First, Mr. Bloom, as a long-ago former student of yours, I would like to send you my reverent greetings. Second, I'd like to ask you why you give such short shrift to CYMBELINE? It seems to me that this play really does give us something like a "postmodern" Shakespeare, not in the bad sense that you criticize when you speak of politicized interpretations, but in what I, at least, think of a good sense: a way in which ambivalent emotions and the dissolution of boundaries and of logical order becomes quite haunting. So I am wondering what else you can say about this play.

Harold Bloom: I will begin by saying hello to you, for whom I have many good memories. I hope you are well. I don't think that I have in any way denounced it. Perhaps you might want to look at the chapter again. It is at times an outrageous self-parody and a highly deliberate self-parody, written at times in great disgust with himself. That does not preclude what you are saying here. You could, by a shift in critical perspective like the one you advocate, come up with an argument close to your own without greatly disregarding what I was saying. I indicate what I think are the play's great strengths. A very strange play, perhaps his strangest play.


Don Tarshes from San Mateo, CA: Professor Bloom, I've greatly enjoyed your book; it's inspired me to go back and reread most of Shakespeare's plays. You assert that the modern human personality as such did not exist before Shakespeare; that he in effect invented it. If that's the case, what was the human personality like before Shakespeare? Did people think about themselves differently? Did they relate to each other differently?

Harold Bloom: Extremely complex question. I think it slightly overstates what I said in the book. I think there are enormous changes in human personality that take place in the text of Shakespeare, and they are not so much a reflection of the change in the people around him as they are an inward vision of his own. In fact, I would emphasize the inward aspect. When did the growing inner self in the modern sense begin? I indicate in the book that the modern Dutch psychiatrist Jan Hendrick Van Den Berg, who wrote THE CHANGING NATURE OF MAN, argued that the inner self in our sense began with Martin Luther, and there is a moment in my book when I dispute him and confess a general debt to Shakespeare that I have always felt since I have been teaching. I can put the whole thing this way, that if there is a kernel of truth to my argument, it would be: People in literature change, they grow old, they despair, they die. When they cannot accept dying their relationship to God changes, but they don't change the way Macbeth changes or Edmund in KING LEAR or the King himself or Edgar. They don't change because to do that they have to reformulate their estimate or estimation of themselves -- I think that is peculiarly Shakespeare. He came out of an age that had its share of highly introspective personalities, but the value of personality is a unique Shakespearean value.


Robert Oventile from Pasadena, CA: How did the nihilism of Shakespeare's characters influence the English Romantics?

Harold Bloom: Very useful and fascinating question. Shelley at his most skeptical and most despairing also deeply echoes Hamlet, particularly in "The Triumph of Life." Keats cannot be called a nihilist; it is Keats who credited Shakespeare with having invented negative capability -- so large and complex a matter that it creates a poetic stance. I suppose a young Byron, Shelley, and Keats were deeply affected by that element in Hamlet and other Shakespearean characters. I would not think that Blake or Wordsworth were. Both of them were affected by Shakespeare, but Blake is an original visionary and not a nihilist and Wordsworth surged into a vision of consolation that is all his own. The three major Romantic poets are the ones who should be discussed with regard to Shakespearean nihilism -- even though to call it that begs many questions.


Mike from Sudbury, MA: In your more than 40 years of studying literary theory, how do you think the general perception of Shakespeare has evolved?

Harold Bloom: There are two parts. I don't consider myself as a student of theory, it is just one variety of the "French Madness." I think the general pervasiveness of Shakespeare is greater today then it has ever been, and nothing is going to end his importance to us. It is a peculiarity that for two centuries, Shakespeare has been more popular here in the U.S. than in Great Britain. Nothing, evidently, will ever change that.


Frank from Studio City, CA: How would you propose getting kids more interested in Shakespeare?

Harold Bloom: I think I would start them with a wonderful book entitled TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE by Charles and Mary Lamb. It is a great book for kids, and it is still one of my favorite books.


James Harmon Clinton from Baton Rouge, LA: What additions would you make to THE WESTERN CANON if you were writing it today?

Harold Bloom: I wouldn't want to list any names or any works because there would be so many, but I now find the list highly inadequate. I think it was a mistake to make the list. I wish that it weren't there, and as I remarked to an interviewer the other day, "You don't need any lists, all you need is Shakespeare."


Hattie Norman from Chattanooga, TN: Mr. Bloom, what is your favorite Shakespearean play, and why is it your favorite?

Harold Bloom: I guess I have several favorites. MACBETH is my favorite among the tragedies; it upsets me the most-- I find it really very terrifying. MEASURE FOR MEASURE is the most fascinating and enigmatic of all the plays. For sheer pleasure? The comedies AS YOU LIKE IT and TWELFTH NIGHT -- so upsetting and zany. I have a special passion for LOVE'S LABORS LOST, and of course, as I say in the book, if I had to choose one play by Shakespeare, it would be the two parts of HENRY IV, taken as one play. I identity with Falstaff, so that big double play has to be my favorite.


Lola from New York City: Do you believe that Shakespeare wrote his work? Because some people do not think that he wrote it!

Harold Bloom: I am so baffled as to why people are interested in that. It is just nonsense. We have overwhelming evidence that Shakespeare wrote all of his plays, except for the collaboration towards the end. There is no question about it at all. It is madness to say the Earl of Oxford wrote them or Christopher Marlowe wrote them. It is one of those odd human obsessions -- perhaps a Shakespearean obsession. I guess since I am getting old I have less patience than I should have.


E. V. from Lighthouse Point, FL: I'm fascinated by TWELFTH NIGHT. The various performances I have seen of it have shown incredible variations in interpretation -- as a bright comedy, as a dark and eerie and somewhat skewed reality, as a statement about sexuality.... I have also heard people call it unbalanced and incomplete, which might account for the variety of interpretations. What do you think of this play?

Harold Bloom: My book has a long chapter on TWELFTH NIGHT, which I think is his masterpiece in comedy. I don't think it is unbalanced. It is so rich a play that it is capable of infinite interpretations. Malvolio is the ultimate scapegoat and does not deserve the terrible treatment he gets. But the play is an endlessly complex work. He has two dozen masterpieces, and TWELFTH NIGHT is one of them. It is open to many interpretations. But that is Shakespeare -- I would think that in some sense there are more Hamlets than actors that can play him.


Harald Zils from Hamilton, NY: It seems to me that THE WESTERN CANON and SHAKESPEARE are very different from THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE, MAP OF MISREADING, and all your other books from the '70s. Did you redefine your position? Where is the systematic Harold Bloom that dealt with a map of revisionary ratios?

Harold Bloom: I have not redefined my position, but I have changed the way I write, and I have changed the audience to whom I write. I think I went through a sea change and started to write in a more plain style, accessible to the common reader, from 1982-1987, during which I was editing Chelsea House volumes. I taught myself during those five years how to write more clearly without writing down to an audience. I suppose I have become a much more general critic than during the '70s. The change came during the '80s, with the culmination in SHAKESPEARE. I am trying to emulate Dr. Samuel Johnson and trying to write to the ordinary reader. I think I am distant from doing that, and if I live long enough I hope I can write a more clear and open style than I write now. I think I was a very esoteric writer. I think my concerns can still be quite esoteric, but I try to make it accessible. Shakespeare is surely the most open and available of all writers, and I try to make him more open and available in this book.


Joe from Evanston, IL: Any observations about the quality of Shakespeare productions in North America today?

Harold Bloom: I am not a good person to pass judgement on this, because in recent years I have only gone to a handful of productions, and some of them I have walked out on because I thought they were so ideological that they were unbearable. I frequently find that I am happier with amateur productions, like ones done at universities, than I am with a George C. Wolfe adaptation of THE TEMPEST.


John Hasbrouck from Chicago, IL: Professor Bloom, I understand your next book will be HOW TO READ AND WHY. Do you have a favorite guide to reading? Do you have an opinion regarding the original edition of Mortimer Adler's HOW TO READ A BOOK?

Harold Bloom: Yes. My favorite guide to reading would be the critical writing of William Hazlitt and Dr. Samuel Johnson and Emerson, who are the critics of the English language who have most influenced me. I don't know anything better than THE CHARACTERS OF SHAKESPEARE'S PLAYS, by Hazlitt. I think they give an epitome of how to read.


Paul from Marietta, GA: When you refer to Newt Gingrich as a mere "parody of Gratiano" and say that Shakespeare is responsible for his "mode of consciousness coming into being," are you suggesting that the former Speaker's personality would be different if THE MERCHANT OF VENICE had not been written and that Shakespeare did not simply expose the intricacies of human nature but completely invented it in the modern sense? Do you hold a grudge against Shakespeare for "inventing" Newt Gingrich?

Harold Bloom: Newt Gingrich is not there for us liberal Democrats to kick around any more. If I could have predicted what would happen with Newt, I would not have used him. In Time magazine I recently compared Kenneth Starr to Iago and Polonius, but I may come in time to regret that, thank you.


Don Tarshes from San Mateo, CA: I find it extraordinary that Shakespeare chose the medium of a history play, RICHARD II, to experiment with writing a whole play which is, as you put it, "an extended metaphysical lyric." Are there other examples of Shakespeare's audaciously experimenting with forms that seem, on the surface, ill suited to his content? He seems to be almost setting difficult challenges for himself, as if writing a "normal" play would be too easy.

Harold Bloom: I think that is a very suggestive remark, in the form of a question. One reason why he has such little concern with plot is that he is looking for a new kind of theatrical form. I think he achieves it more times then we realize.


Robert Oventile from Pasadena, CA: Would you say the nihilism of Shakespeare's characters influenced your notion that sublime poetry exhibits an "achieved dearth of meaning"?

Harold Bloom: Brilliant question! Yes, I think so. It was an influence that worked upon me without my knowing it, until about six or seven years ago. I think that my obsession all through the '70s and '80s was really founded upon Iago and Edmund and Macbeth to an extent that I didn't myself realize. I really commend the question. I think the question and my answer together really take me to the central point of my book, which is that we can never be fully aware of how much Shakespeare influences us. It did determine my achieved dearth of meaning in the 1970s and '80s.


Scott Zimmerle from Elmhurst, IL: Dr. Bloom: First of all, thank you for writing so many books. I particularly enjoyed your BOOK OF J and your writings on Gnosticism and Kabbalah. What type of person becomes or should become a Gnostic? Is there are personality type that gnosticism appeals to? You have mentioned that Gnosticism flourishes under persecution or alienation. Does that explain in part your self-identification as Gnostic?

Harold Bloom: I don't think it appeals to any personality type. It is a world religion. I also think it originally had nothing to do with being persecuted, but as it happens at different times with Judaism, Christianity and others have persecuted their Gnostics or at least reviled Gnosticism with Judaism. You might want to look at THE AMERICAN RELIGION. As I understand it is Gnostic, and I think many Americans are Gnostic. All of our Mormons are Gnostic, many of our Southern Baptists are Gnostic. But I think there are hundreds of thousands of people that don't want to associate themselves with any organized status who have deep Gnostic roots.


Sharon from Oyster Bay, NY: Mr. Bloom, I was curious about your reluctance to believe that Emily Dickinson could have engaged in a long-standing lesbian relationship with Susan, her sister-in-law. Why be so bullheaded?

Harold Bloom: I am not sure what being bullheaded means, but I don't think I am being a male chauvinist in my reaction. We have great biographical information that does indicate two prolonged relationships, neither of which could have been consummated, with men, and a definite consummated relationship with Lord Judge. The evidence being presented today by lesbian or feminist critics regarding her relationship is not even tenuous; it founds itself upon a number of the letters she sent to her sister-in-law. They were composed, they are prose poems. They are remarkable, contrived, and not to be taken as reliable guides to the erotic history of Emily Dickinson. I would be delighted if we could get proper evidence. I think that women are entitled to whatever mode of sexual happiness they experience, but I just find very little reason to believe in this new contention, if all they can come forward with are these so-called letters. I don't think there is a personal or sincere letter by Dickinson; she used her letters as expressionistic vehicles. I think you have me wrong. I would be utterly delighted with a fully satisfied Emily. I am not any kind of brute, and this is the first time I have ever been called bullheaded. I have a large head but not a bullhead.


Moderator: Thank you so much for spending time with us online, Harold Bloom. It's been a fascinating conversation, and we hope you'll join us again in the near future. Do you have any closing remarks for the online audience?

Harold Bloom: I hope that the book is as direct, as passionate, and at times as simple as I have intended it to be. I really have had more pleasure in this life out of reading and teaching Shakespeare than I have gotten out of any other intellectual activity, and I hope that I have succeeded in communicating this pleasure and made it possible for the readers to experience something of the extraordinary diversity and comprehensiveness of Shakespeare as a reading experience. Thank you.


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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2001

    The Bardologist breaks down Shakespeare like no one else can!!

    Prof. Bloom is one of those truly charsimatic writers who truly believes his thesis that without the Bard there would be no society as we know it! His work is enthralling and well sumarized! I BELIEVE :)!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2012

    It seems rather strange there are not abundant customer reviews

    It seems rather strange there are not abundant customer reviews of Bloom's book. What could this mean? Does reading him cause us to fall silent? There is printed above a moderated discussion, but only a single reader review. One reason people don't do more with Prof. Bloom is because to read him productively it's necessary to digest first the works of Shakespeare which he expounds. As most Americans look at only a couple of Shakespeare's plays (and quickly forget) it's nearly impossible to evaluate the contribution of a scholar. Alas, the only solution is for many more folks to try to tackle Shakespeare in a meaningful way. Having done that, the ingenious hyperbole of Bloom is more easily comprehended. Of course that is not going to happen. Life is too short and far too crammed with basketball games to allow time for anything as remote as Shakespeare. It should also be noted that for all his singular erudtion, Mr. Bloom has a hermetically sealed mind when it comes to the question of Shakespeare's identity. The "Bard" may well have "invented the human," but if "the human" is ever proved to have emanated from Stratford-Upon-Avon I'll eat my hat.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2008

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