Shakespeare : The Invention of the Human

by Harold Bloom

Hardcover, 1998




New York : Riverhead Books, 1998.


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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member millsge
This is the best book on Shakespeare's plays I have ever read, but it left me with a strange sensation. After reading the book, I felt like a professor who has just read a term paper that - even though the student wrote it in two days - was better than any paper on the subject he had ever read. Like the professor I was amazed and disappointed at the same time and, like him, I will always wonder what the paper would have been like had the student spent the whole semester writing it. I may be doing Mr. Bloom a grave injustice by saying this and he may very well have "spent the whole semester" writing the book, but I just cannot shake the feeling that there is a great deal more in the mind of Mr. Bloom and I long to see it.… (more)
LibraryThing member RaviSankrit
This book could have been subtitled, "Shakespeare for the Common Reader". Despite the fact that Hamlet and Falstaff intrude unexpectedly, and interesting characters are kept off-page, the book contains many interesting insights into the plays. And so Bloom inspires us to re-read Shakespeare.
LibraryThing member Pianojazz
Most anything Bloom writes is worth reading. Occasionally he can be tiresome, occasionally he can be repetitive; occasionally he can be tiresomely repetitive (see the later chapters from his book "Jesus and Yahwah--the Names Divine").
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!
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LibraryThing member libraryhermit
If you are a student who is new to Shakespeare and are having difficulty with the language, my first suggestion to you is to go to see the play in the theatre, that will make most of it make sense. Read the play through from start to finish and see if you can make sense of it. But then read the chapter in this book by Harold Bloom about that particular play. Once you have gotten the basic plot and characters of a play, Bloom can help you to start thinking about what the play means, and about what is interesting about it as compared to other literary works. It's true what mmckay says about Bloom going on and on. I agree with mmckay that if anybody should be allowed to go on and on, it would be Harold Bloom. I am sure that I can learn a lot from him.
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.
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LibraryThing member bhalpin
Alternately really insightful and really annoying. Bloom is so full of himself I fear he may explode.
LibraryThing member AlanWPowers
Though Bloom apparently now agrees with me on Measure for Measure, which I have taught in Freshman and Sophomore college classes for thirty years--often preferring it to the old ethnic chestnuts of MV and Othello (Shakspeare's only Arab play, the Moor)--this is not a particularly revealing critical work, and an opportunistic venture, since Bloom's whole career was based on dissing the canon in favor of Blake, Blake, Blake. And his work Anxiety of Influence is much more innovative, though it derives from contentious, patriarchal Freudianism.
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?
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LibraryThing member CarloA
A deeply interesting book that analyzes each and every one of Shakespeare's plays showing how the Bard "invented" the human as we know it. In terms of a being capable of self reflection and self evolution.
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.
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LibraryThing member AliceAnna
A scholarly, yet not pretentious look at Shakespeare's works as a reflection of human nature. A very good reference work. Read Bloom's take on any play before reading/seeing it, and you will surely get much more out of it.
LibraryThing member Doondeck
Often incomprehensible but sometimes helpful before watching a performance.
LibraryThing member selmablanche
No noun exists without an djective in Bloom's energetic style. He confesses that the book is based on a lecture series that fits my frequent bias for the spoken wor in academic subjects. However I also have a footnote fetish and miss things like an index to help me revisit choice comments.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Typical Bloom - some extremely insightful and enlightening insights, and some that are completely bizarre and absurd. Good for referencing Shakespeare and for finding interesting bits. I admit that this is a bit beyond my fragmentary experience with Shakespeare, so I'll just give it three stars and try again after I've read some more.… (more)
LibraryThing member pewterbreath
I'm not all the way sure I agree with Bloom's ideas on Shakespeare, but I'd be the first to add that Bloom is very hard to disagree with.
LibraryThing member justine
I adore this book. It gives a voice to the genius of shakespeare.



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