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.
But he, along with Jacob Neusner and Norman Cantor (all of them Jewish, coincidentally?--and Richard Posner), are the most genuinely educated writers we have in America. Anything Bloom writes has been well thought through. It doesn't matter if you agree with him on everything. It's merely enough that he gets one to think!
Live long, Harold Bloom, and prosper. And keep writing!
Just to give one example, please look at the description on pages 252-253, when he describes the poetic utterances of Richard II in the play of which he is the central character: "When Richard, in Act V, begins to sound a little like a proleptic parody of Hamlet, we distrust the king as much as ever, and yet we also come to realize that he has been dazzling us since Act III, Scene ii, though with a purely verbal brilliance."
This should give you an idea of the flavour of the prose in the book. At first glance it seems a bit on the heavy side, but I think this would be unfair, because the sentiments expressed are fairly complex, and there are no extraneous words. I have no complaints. After reading or attending a performance of a Shakespeare play, I am just overwhelmed with the drama, and I think I can benefit from the reasoning and insights that Bloom brings. I feel like I'm not as smart as him, and his wisdom can rub off on me.
As for Shakespeare criticism, Shapiro's 1599 is much better written and more insightful, though on fewer plays, of course. Bloom runs through each play in a separate brief chapter, like 100 Famous Novels. I never thought of novel plot books as real books. Q.E.D. Is this?
At times it is heavy going, but the parts about Falstaff, Hamlet and Macbeth are really enjoyable, of course much depends also from which plays you like most.
It definitely sits between a reading book and a reference volume, it's for you to decide.