Shakespeare Didn't Just Write Plays - He Wrote Us

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By Harold Bloom

Riverhead Books 800 pp., $35 This 750-page study grew out of a lifetime of reading, meditating, and teaching by one of the supernova luminaries of American literary criticism. Harold Bloom, Sterling professor of humanities at Yale, is considered by many in the academic community (possibly including Bloom himself) as the preeminent critic of this age. Who else would attempt a definitive annunciation of "The Western Canon" (1994), in which Shakespeare is concentered? In fact, for Bloom, Shakespeare is the canon. For 40 years, he has written prolifically - at least 20 major works of criticism, countless editions of and introductions to collections and anthologies, essays, and at least one novel. He has inspired, provoked, antagonized, and edified multitudes of scholars and nonacademic readers. His latest book was nominated for this year's National Book Award for nonfiction. "Shakespeare" is not a scholarly work, in the professional sense. It is innocent of footnotes, bibliography, and index. Incidental reference to and quotations from a myriad of critics are infrequently documented. Drawing from his immense erudition, Bloom brings in historical heavyweights from Western literature, philosophy, religion, and psychology - from Empedocles and Lucretius to Chaucer and Milton to Emerson, Nietzsche, and Freud - all laid to the measure of Shakespeare's sublime transcendence. Bloom deplores efforts by some contemporary critics - Marxists, feminists, deconstructionists, semioticians, neo-historicists, which he catalogs as a School of Resentment - to find "social energies" in Shakespeare's plays. And he rejects any categories for the Bard. "Shakespeare's politics, like his religion, forever will be unknown to us," he writes. "I suspect that he had no politics, and no religion, only a vision of the human." Given Bloom's lively style and provocative opinions, "Shakespeare" is congenially readable by the nonscholar. …


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