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Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human Paperback – September 1, 1999
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"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.
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Top customer reviews
Bloom is brilliant and insightful, and can be a very clever writer. His chapters helped me better understand some of the plays as I've read, seen, and performed in them. He finds subtleties in Shakespeare's language that a layperson would miss, and does a fairly good job of tying Shakespeare into his time.
This is a work of Bardolatry, which is not necessarily bad -- Bloom is pretty up front about it. And it is interesting, if sometimes frustrating, to read criticism so much in the traditional mold in this era of deconstruction and sexual politics. But Bloom's worship of Shakespeare can be overwhelming -- he often seems to be writing love letters to an unrequited crush. He is also extremely repetitive. Bloom believes (as I do) that Falstaff was Shakespeare's greatest triumph of character creation, but he says this again and again, in sections having nothing to do with Fat Jack or even with the Henriad. These paeans to the old knight get, well, old. As another Amazon reviewer has said, Bloom could have used an editor.
My biggest complaint is not with Bloom's perspective, nor the force with which he argues it. Rather, it is that he is very quick to denounce other scholars, as well as directors and actors, as fools. The layperson will not know the names of many of the scholars Bloom cites, but he goes after some of them with great invective that he does not bother to justify in the text.
This remains a key resource for understanding Shakespeare, but it comes with perils.
Many of this book's reviewers have focused their energy on whether or not Bloom proves his thesis (which is that Shakespeare "invented" the ways that we define ourselves as humans). Just to put my opinion on it, I don't think he did. Then again, I don't think Bloom thinks he did either, as is evident by his statement in the book's end that Chaucer "invented" the human and Shakespeare perfected it.
So, why should a reader invest time in a book where it is questionable whether the author proved the central thesis? Because Bloom does such a wonderful job of dissecting the plays that one gets lost in the nuances that he brings out. His critical analyses of the plays are insightful and provocative. While I might take exception to some of his comments (I don't think Richard III is as weak as Bloom thinks it is), his writing style has conveyed his ideas in such a way that I have to respect his opinions.
I was glad that I had read/seen some of the plays so that I could understand the context of Bloom's comments about them. I did feel a little lost when reading his analyses of those plays to which I had not been exposed. Instead of wallowing in the feeling, I wanted to read those plays in order to see if I agreed with his comments. Any critical study that makes one want to return to the original source material to discover if its arguments are valid is a very good study. While I don't believe one should accept Bloom's analyses at face value, his comments provide a solid counterpoint to many of the myths about the plays. I heartily recommend this book to those who want to broaden their perspective on Shakespeare's works.