Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:
Harold Bloom, the doyen of American literary critics and author of The Western Canon, has spent a professional lifetime reading, writing about and teaching Shakespeare. In this magisterial interpretation, Bloom explains Shakespeare's genius in a radical and provocative re-reading of the plays. How to understand Shakespeare, whose ability so far exceeds his predecessors and successors, whose genius has defied generations of critics' explanations, whose work is of greater influence in the modern age even than the Bible? This book is a visionary summation of Harold Bloom's reading of Shakespeare and in it he expounds a brilliant and far-reaching critical theory: that Shakespeare was, through his dramatic characters, the inventor of human personality as we have come to understand it. In short, Shakespeare invented our understanding of ourselves. He knows us better than we do: 'The plays remain the outward limit of human achievement: aesthetically, cognitively, in certain ways morally, even spiritually. They abide beyond the end of the mind's reach; we cannot catch up to them. Shakespeare will go on explaining us in part because he invented us... ' In a chronological survey of each of the plays, Bloom explores the supra-human personalities of Shakespeare's great protagonists: Hamlet, Lear, Falstaff, Rosalind, Juliet. They represent the apogee of Shakespeare's art, that art which is Britain's most powerful and dominant cultural contribution to the world, here vividly recovered by an inspired and wise scholar at the height of his powers.
Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
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 thesisÄthat Shakespeare invented character and personality. Before Shakespeare, Bloom maintains, literature was full of one-dimensional figuresÄthink 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 holderÄreaders 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.ÄNeal Wyatt, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
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 clbre. 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 claimsÄthat 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 MarloweÄmay 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 criticÄnot even Bloom's masters A.C. Bradley or Harold GoddardÄwrites 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. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
In The Western Canon (1994), Bloom aired the notion that Shakespeare "invented us." Now he surveys the plays to lay out evidence for that extraordinary claim. He revives a tradition that all but died early in this century: considering the plays' characters as the most fruitful way of reading Shakespeare. What obtains instead these days, and what Bloom occasionally mocks for its faddish inconsequentiality, is the conceit that Shakespeare's characters do not matter and neither, very much, does Shakespeare, who is just a name for a set of forces drawn into a nexus at a particular moment and place. Criticism reflecting that position gushes from academia, whereas a book like Bloom's is rare. Is it convincing? Bloom's thesis is that Shakespeare, who is much greater than any other writer and much more intelligent than any thinker in any discipline, invented what we define as personality by inventing characters of unlimited depth, interiority, and self-creation. Only Chaucer comes close to doing this before Shakespeare, and Shakespeare's contemporaries show nothing of his confounding of art and nature. Freud, in such a view, just plagiarizes Shakespeare, as do we all. Bloom can go on a little too long about Falstaff, whom he admires more than all other Shakespearean characters, but so brilliant, so probing is his criticism that he virtually compels the reader to test his thesis by rereading the plays with equal dedication. This is pure Bloom, delightful and provocative, literary criticism at its very finest--and a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection. (Reviewed October 1, 1998)1573221201Stuart Whitwell
Kirkus Book Review
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 of hard-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. Less interesting as a salvo in the ongoing culture wars than as an old-fashioned exercise in narrative criticism for the general reader and, as such, very nearly perfect. (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection)
Author notes provided by Syndetics
Harold Bloom was born on July 11, 1930 in New York City. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Cornell in 1951 and his Doctorate from Yale in 1955.
After graduating from Yale, Bloom remained there as a teacher, and was made Sterling Professor of Humanities in 1983. Bloom's theories have changed the way that critics think of literary tradition and has also focused his attentions on history and the Bible. He has written over twenty books and edited countless others. He is one of the most famous critics in the world and considered an expert in many fields. In 2010 he became a founding patron of Ralston College, a new institution in Savannah, Georgia, that focuses on primary texts.
His works include Fallen Angels, Till I End My Song: A Gathering of Last Poems, Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life and The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of The King James Bible.
Harold Bloom passed away on October 14, 2019 in New Haven, at the age of 89.
(Bowker Author Biography)