Bloom, literary critic and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University has written dozens of books on literary criticism theory and literature, putting forth the concept of the Western Canon, of which Shakespeare is the centerpiece. In 1998, he published Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, a collection of essays on all 38 of the plays. 745 pages. Weighty. Needless to say, he’s a fan.
In Hamlet, he does not find “an artistic failure” as Eliot did; instead
- Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
New York; Pelican/Riverhead, 1998
He loves the play (I mean, really REALLY loves it), but I think he loves the character even more: he holds both the prince and Falstaff up as epitomes of Shakespeare’s creations. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Bloom brings his florid style to his praise of the prince: when one sees the play or reads it, “it does not take long to discover that the prince transcends the play” (385). Why? because “no single character in the plays, not even Falstaff or Cleopatra, matches Hamlet’s infinite reverberations” (384).
I’m not completely sure what that even means, but it sounds impressive. Almost superhero-like. After all, Hamlet is a man “so intellectual that he cannot be contextualized” (390), and “the great villains–Iago, Edmund, Macbeth–would be destroyed by Hamlet’s brilliant mockery” (385). Super-Hamlet needs a cape–tasteful black, of course.
Bloom argues that Shakespeare himself wrote the Ur-Hamlet, and that–even though there’s no copy in existence–when compared to that earlier version (the rough draft, if you will…or even if you won’t), “The mature Hamlet is far more complex, outrageously so” (387). Of course, maybe Bloom isn’t comparing Hamlet to Ur-Hamlet at all, maybe he’s comparing Hamlet to Hamlet.
I can imagine many of you read that sentence and went, “Huh?”
Well, maybe this will help. Bloom writes,
I know, I went “huh?” too.
This is not to say that I found all of what Bloom had to say … well, let’s just say, “not to my taste.” His comparison of Falstaff and Hamlet is very apt:
And having recently seen Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight, his Falstaff epic, I so very much agree with this. Hamlet is all about the writing of the play, while Falstaff is all about the “play extempore,” making it all up–playfully–as he goes.
I do, however, find much of Bloom’s essay to be flatulent “hooey”:
The first three quarters of the quote is bad enough–a mind so powerful he’s Professor X–but the kicker is that last phrase, so tangential it should be in parentheses: Hamlet’s all things to all men, and to SOME women? What, only the smart ones? Or just the ones with Kate Upton figures and Mother Teresa souls? What the hell?
For me, though, the apex of Bloom’s Bardolatry comes when he comes to this conclusion about our main character:
“Ever-growing self”… “dream of an infinite consciousness”… I can’t help but go back to what Eliot said about some of the critics who are drawn to Hamlet:
Bloom fits the
bull (sorry, Freudian slip) bill, no?