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Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human Paperback – September 1, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade; 1ST edition (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 157322751X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573227513
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Personality, in our sense, is a Shakespearean invention, and is not only Shakespeare's greatest originality but also the authentic cause of his perpetual pervasiveness." So Harold Bloom opines in his outrageously ambitious Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. This is a titanic claim. But then this is a titanic book, wrought by a latter-day critical colossus--and before Bloom is done with us, he has made us wonder whether his vision of Shakespeare's influence on the whole of our lives might not be simply the sober truth. Shakespeare is a feast of arguments and insights, written with engaging frankness and affecting immediacy. Bloom ranges through the Bard's plays in the probable order of their composition, relating play to play and character to character, maintaining all the while a shrewd grasp of Shakespeare's own burgeoning sensibility.

It is a long and fascinating itinerary, and one littered with thousands of sharp insights. Listen to Bloom on Romeo and Juliet: "The Nurse and Mercutio, both of them audience favorites, are nevertheless bad news, in different but complementary ways." On The Merchant of Venice: "To reduce him to contemporary theatrical terms, Shylock would be an Arthur Miller protagonist displaced into a Cole Porter musical, Willy Loman wandering about in Kiss Me Kate." On As You Like It: "Rosalind is unique in Shakespeare, perhaps indeed in Western drama, because it is so difficult to achieve a perspective upon her that she herself does not anticipate and share." Bloom even offers some belated vocational counseling to Falstaff, identifying him as an Elizabethan Mr. Chips: "Falstaff is more than skeptical, but he is too much of a teacher (his true vocation, more than highwayman) to follow skepticism out to its nihilistic borders, as Hamlet does."

In the end, it doesn't matter very much whether we agree with all or any of these ideas. What does matter is that Bloom's capacious book sends us hurrying back to some of the central texts of our civilization. "The ultimate use of Shakespeare," the author asserts, "is to let him teach you to think too well, to whatever truth you can sustain without perishing." Bloom himself has made excellent use of his hero's instruction, and now he teaches us all to do the same. --Daniel Hintzsche --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In some ways the crowning achievement of the controversial Yale critic's career (which has produced The Anxiety of Influence; The Book of J; etc.), this sweeping monograph devotes an essay to each of the plays, emphasizing their originality and their influence on subsequent literature, feeling and thought. The result is a series of brilliant, persuasive, highly idiosyncratic readings punctuated by attacks on current Shakespeare criticism and performance. The ratio of screed to reading is blessedly low; although Bloom has kept his common touch, one feels that he has ceased the play to the peanut gallery that made The Western Canon a cause c?l?bre. The leitmotif of Shakespeare's "invention of the human," i.e., of the changeable, individual human character, is a useful through-line to the essays but never highjacks them as Bloom's critical tropes sometimes do. Other extravagant claimsAthat Shakespeare wrote an early version of Hamlet between 1589 and '93, or that the playwright may have lived in physical terror of his street-tough rival MarloweAmay raise eyebrows, but they will not matter to readers who need this book. Those readers fall into two categories: performers and everyone who studies Shakespeare outside the academy. For the latter, Bloom is an ideal cicerone: a passionate, sensitive reader who tempers his irreverent common sense with an even-more-instructive stance of awe. And no criticAnot even Bloom's masters A.C. Bradley or Harold GoddardAwrites as well for actors and directors, or understands as clearly the performability of the plays. Indeed, it is a great pity that Bloom has not followed the example of Helen Vendler's recent edition of the sonnets and included a recording of his own recitations. BOMC main.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Harold Bloom is a Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and a former Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard. 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.

Customer Reviews

When I first opened the book, I said no, he (and Shakespeare) are just too elevated for me, and I just don't get it.
His thesis - that Shakespeare "invented the human" - is a stretch but agreeing with it is not essential to appreciating the book.
Steve Harrison
I've read all of Shakespeare's plays and many sonnets.... and I'm going to make this quite simple: I LOVE HAROLD BLOOM!!!!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

171 of 183 people found the following review helpful By M. H. Bayliss on June 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
I appreciate all my fellow reviewer's criticisms about the book: yes it's true that Bloom was opinionated, non-politically correct, and a bit of a wacko at times. Still, he's one of the few 20th century critics who has the self confidence not to fall into lit. crit. jargon to express himself -- he manages to avoid the snobbiness that often accompanies Shakespeare studies. The word I would use to describe this work overall is uneven. Some chapters are so insightful that you may ask yourself how you could have ever read the play without reading the essay and still appreciated it. Others are small ruminations on intersting points which are much less earthshattering. Sure, there are much more "scholarly" essays out there on Shakespeare, but these are all READABLE essays, all well-written. I happen to enjoy Bloom's lack of tight structure. It's like sitting down with Bloom at a coffee house or bar and hearing him ramble on about his thoughts and lifetime reflections on Shakespeare.
But remember, Bloom was not just your average guy chewing his cud -- he's probably the most well-read and brilliant reader of our generation. Due to a sleep disorder that he had, he often would stay up all night and would typically consume several volumes of literature in one evening. So, when forced to listen to his musings, there are many kernels of brilliance that make their way to the surface. Many professors have begrudged him his popular success, but by avoiding jargon, Bloom does us all a service by popularizing Shakespeare for everyday readers and making us want to go back and read and reread Shakespeare. At the very least, these chapters will make you run to a bookstore to read more Shakespeare -- how can you criticize anyone who instills a passion for literature?
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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
In The Western Canon, Harold Bloom stated that Shakespeare, along with Milton, was the center of Western thought. In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, he contends that Shakespeare, alone, "went beyond all precedents (even Chaucer) and invented the human as we continue to know it." Bloom assigns Shakespeare the singular honor of being responsible for our personalities, not just in the Western world, but in all cultures. Falstaff and Hamlet, the central characters of Bloom's discourse are, he says, "the greatest of charismatics" and are "the inauguration of personality as we have come to recognize it."
Naturally, critics of Bloom have taken great exception to sweeping statements such as the above and their general reaction is one of resentment. Individual critical response depends on what particular school of criticism the respondent adheres to, but most often critics and readers alike have simply attacked Bloom, himself. However, even those who denigrate both Bloom and this book have found the time to read and review it to a greater extent, rather than to a lesser.
The book, itself, is made up of three major critical discussions by Bloom combined with brief discussions of each of Shakespeare's thirty-seven plays. Bloom begins by expressing his awe at Shakespeare's ability to create literary characters who epitomize the quintessential nature of humanity itself. In Bloom's opinion, Shakespeare shapes all of humanity, not just the elite literati.
Bloom does acknowledge the fact that great writers existed before Shakespeare and says that, "The idea of Western character" defined as "the self as a moral agent" came from many sources at many different times.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
The least important thing a great teacher does is the important task of providing the student with good information. The most valuable is to provide the student with sufficient challenge to stimulate passionate thinking so the student develops a framework to use in not only comprehending the topic at hand, but also ready for use in further intellectual development. Even to the point of being able to rebuild the framework itself as life experience stimulates reconsideration.
Bloom is a great teacher and it is hard for me to find the words to explain how grateful I am for this book.
I should start off by saying what it is not. Even though it discusses each of the 39 plays it is not at all a compendium surveying the plays. This is a book with a specific thesis and discusses the plays in terms of that thesis. The idea, if I understand Bloom correctly, is that Shakespeare's understanding of the human creature; the nature of our lives as human creatures, combined with Shakespeare's preternatural artistic gifts has actually changed our understanding of what it is to be human.
Like all truly great artists, what we think of them says nothing about the artist, but everything about us. Shakespeare is such a potent cultural influence that he informs the lives of those who have never heard of him, who have never read his plays, and even those who don't speak a syllable of English.
Bloom has read so widely and so deeply that he has much to share with us. I am glad for his courage to speak against the fashions of our time and to tell the truth about our post-literate stage of thinking. However, feel free to disagree with him (and especially with me).
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