745 pages. I am a Shakespeare nut. I am also a Harold Bloom fan. But 745 pages? That is the length of Bloom’s indispensable work, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Its breadth and depth, however, are immeasurable.
Bloom (who is also the author of How to Read and Why, The Art of Reading Poetry, and approximately a bajillion others) works from the premise that William Shakespeare invented our modern concept of what it means to be “human.” Maybe it’s just me, but I think he often is distracted (or I was) from that theme and thus doesn’t compellingly prove his premise. But everything else he does, he does wonderfully.
After a first chapter on Shakespeare’s universality, he offers thirty-five chapters of widely varying length, one on each play (treating Henry IV and Henry VI in one chapter each). The book concludes with a “coda” on “The Shakespearean Difference” and “A Word at the End: Foregrounding.”
As I expect from Bloom, his insights and eloquence are striking.In the coda, he says, “Without mature Shakespeare, we would be very different, because we would think and feel and speak differently” (p. 716). I think that’s true. He also says, “These days, critics do not like to begin by standing in awe of Shakespeare, but I know of no other way to begin with him. Wonder, gratitude, shock, amazement are the accurate responses out of which one has to work” (p. 719).
I suppose genius recognizes genius better than anything else, which is partly what makes Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human an important and indispensable book.