Shakespeare Quarterly 54.1 (2003) 114-117
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Harold Bloom's Shakespeare. Edited by Christy Desmet and Robert Sawyer. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Pp. xiv + 292. $55.00 cloth.
Harold Bloom needs enemies, and where they don't exist he invents them with, yes, Falstaffian amplitude. How else, except against all comers, in buckram or Kendall green, could he pronounce, heroically and begging no man's pardon, the greatness of Falstaff or Hamlet? There's something comical (but "rancid," too, to use one of Bloom's talismanic words) about this brilliant critic's impassioned defense of things that scarcely need defending. Sure, there are dissenters from the view that Richard III lacks inwardness while Hamlet is transcendent. But Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human is less interested in arguing with particular critics than in opposing a whole spectral school of resentment, undifferentiated masses of historicists "Old and New," a legion of "academic puritans and professorial power freaks" who hate us youth.1 Bloom is a writer of astounding power, but his book could have been better, and shorter, without his pose as vox clamantis in deserto. My favorite review of it—reprinted in the collection called Harold Bloom's Shakespeare—is Hugh Kenner's, which advises taking it in small doses.
Most of the eighteen essays in this collection began life as contributions to a seminar at the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America in 2000. They have been meticulously edited, judiciously arranged, and introduced by Christy Desmet and Robert Sawyer. Many of the book's contributors find something, or everything, to dislike about Bloom's Shakespeare. Some are surprisingly temperate, given that Bloom leaves hardly a wither unwrung. The opening section reprints reviews by Jay L. [End Page 114] Halio, Terence Hawkes, William W. Kerrigan, and the aforementioned Kenner, along with a purpose-built contribution from Gary Taylor. Halio is the only unconflicted admirer in the volume (he praises "Bloom's largeness of vision—truly immense, as no other critic's of our time is" ). Kerrigan is Bloomian with very interesting reservations. Only at the end of his essay does Kerrigan say anything about Bloom's commentaries on specific plays: he likes the Lear chapter and thinks Bloom has good things to say about four acts of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but he "butchers Measure for Measure," takes a "preposterous tack [on] . . . Othello and Desdemona," finds "nothing relevant to talk about" in Macbeth; and the Hamlet chapter is "a whole lot of hot air" (41). In fact, Bloom is secondary to Kerrigan's real purpose, which is indicated by his subtitle: "Harold Bloom Rescues Shakespeare from the Critics." Like Bloom, Kerrigan is a great lumper-together: for him, new historicists are members of a "sect" (35), a "movement" (37), "a critical school programmatically excluding literary greatness" (38). He cites some really bad stuff by way of example, but his killer tactics are unfair to a lot of scholars who think you can love Shakespeare's work and also be interested in his historical situation. Kerrigan claims that Bloom has a "heroic disregard for academic fashion" (33). Hardly: without a fashionable cabal to oppose, much of Bloom's book, as well as Kerrigan's essay, would seem a tempest without even a teapot.
Still, people who invent enemies can also make enemies. Bloom insults Gary Taylor in the third sentence of his acknowledgments: Taylor's Oxford Shakespeare "perversely seeks, more often than not, to print the worst possible text";2 and Kerrigan gets in his licks, too: "There is no more pathetic book in modern criticism than Gary Taylor's Reinventing Shakespeare (1989)" (38). Taylor's reply is the anger peak of this collection. Writing annoyingly in the third person, Taylor claims that "Bloom is effectively quoting and endorsing Taylor's work" (50)—an interesting accusation considering "Taylor's" belief that "Shakespeare's reputation is on life support and would die if it were removed from the machine that is artificially prolonging its life" (51). Taylor, for his part, would gladly, righteously, pull the plug on the moribund Bard. He's more...