Volume 3, Issue 11, (Originally Published on Monday 20 May 2013)
The Invention of the Human, by Yale Professor Harold Bloom, is an indispensable guide to Shakespeare, in the same league as the classics by A.C. Bradley and Dr Johnson.
The book begins with a defence of Shakespeare’s universalism, setting forth the central thesis that Shakespeare more or less invented the mode of thinking we partake in today. Bloom then analyses Shakespeare’s works play by play.
One does not need to agree with Bloom’s thesis to appreciate the erudition and passion that Bloom has invested his work with: “The common element in Falstaff’s ludic mastery and in Hamlet’s dramaturgy is the employment of great wit as a counter-Machiavel, as a defense against a corrupted world.”
Characters move freely between plays as though they were themselves as human as you and me. Certainly Bloom owes much of this thinking to A.C. Bradley, as he perhaps acknowledges when he echoes one of Bradley’s hypothetical encounters where Hamlet, with his wit, drives Iago to suicide.
Such an approach – to talk about Hamlet as though he was in the room with us – is admittedly not the most fashionable today. But fashion cannot always be correct, as Bloom would surely agree.
Though more fully articulated in his older work The Western Canon, Bloom also takes arms in The Invention of the Human against what he has coined ‘the school of resentment’ in the academic world. Bloom simply cannot resist criticising. He frowns upon “certain more or less recent Parisian speculators”, openly naming Foucault. Sometimes these occasional diversions illuminate Bloom’s own arguments and his focus on literary aesthetic, yet at other times, they can be slightly distracting.
But that is all nitpicking. It is nothing short of pleasure to watch Shakespearean characters come back to life under Bloom’s loving interpretation, and in doing so, he confirms that Shakespeare is a bottomless well. This book is nothing short of a labour of love, and is a necessary and urgent read for anyone with an interest in Shakespeare.