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Hamlet: Poem Unlimited


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About the Author

Harold Bloom is a Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and a former Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard. As The Paris Review has pointed out, no critic in the English language since Samuel Johnson has been more prolific. His more than thirty books include The Best Poems of the English Language, The Art of Reading Poetry, and The Book of J. He is a MacArthur Prize Fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, including the Academy's Gold Medal for Belles Lettres and Criticism, the International Prize of Catalonia, and the Alfonso Reyes Prize of Mexico.

Alfred Kazin has said, Bloom is all literature, (he) positively lives it, and The New York Times called him the most original literary critic in America. He lives in New Haven and New York.


The Prince of Denmark, argues the eminent Bloom, was not much loved by his father the warrior king or by his mother, Queen Gertrude. Developing themes from his Shakespeare: Invention of the Human, Bloom adds that Hamlet was instead rather detached, moving through life rather like the lead in his own personal drama, giving a theatrical flair to moments such as the death of Polonius and aptly choosing a play to "catch the conscience of the king." The closest thing he ever had to a parent was Yorick the Jester, and his confrontation with Yorick's skull followed shortly by his attending Ophelia's funeral dealt a serious double blow to his indifference. It was then that he moves grimly toward the climax and his own death. Bloom generates any number of provocative themes, such as Hamlet's notions about plays and acting as reflecting Shakespeare's own rivalries with Ben Jonson, and that the prince never loved Ophelia. Some of the chapters are really too short to do justice to their topics, raising more questions than answers. Nor is the last third of the book, on the play's place in our cultural heritage, up to the parts that focus on its contents, though it features fewer off-putting attacks on political correctness than Bloom's more polemical works. Still, this is not a tyro's book; Bloom makes no concessions to readers who lack a deep familiarity with the play. Nor is it for any reader with a thin skin about Bloom's assumptions about the Anglo-European literary legacy. Short, sophisticated and opinionated, this is a thorny goodie for Bardolators and Bloomians. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

How chances it that Bloom's still our greatest critic? How comes it? Bloom teaches us, last in the magisterial Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, that we are Shakespearean creations, acting out our lives as if they were scripted by the world's greatest scribe. We envy like Iago, suffer like Ophelia, enjoy like Falstaff, all the while believing that our emotions are original. But Hamlet's "power of mind exceeds ours": awed audiences have an "unreasonable affection" for the cruel prince bent on revenge. 'Tis so because Hamlet, in Bloom's bravura reading, contains a model of self-knowledge that has not been surpassed to this day. Even the subtlest understanding of Hamlet is already contained within the play. The relentlessly dialectical "Bardolator" foregrounds Hamlet's bizarre understanding of himself as "another staged representation." Far superior to existing theories of performance and worth yards of criticism for each well-wrought page, Bloom's ironic expression of anxiety about his own immense critical faculties will delight everyone but resentful scholars. "There's the rub" (Hamlet III.I.65): to buy, or not to buy this deceptively slim book, that is not the question. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Ulrich Baer, NYU Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

An intellectual fireworks display. --San Jose Mercury NewsNot perhaps since Samuel Johnson has a critic explained to a general audience as ably as Mr. Bloom does how much Shakespeare matters to our sense of who we are. --New York Times

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