Saturday, February 13, 2010


Hamlet: Poem Unlimited is a too, too self-limited little book from Harold Bloom Ltd., the one-man critical industry that has given us such essential titles as The Anxiety of Influence, The Visionary Company and The Western Canon, as well as the seemingly unlimited Bloom's Critical Views series, which almost no one (I suspect) actually reads. (I hope I'm wrong about that.) As is the case with all of Bloom's books, Hamlet contains in its 150 pages much to agree and to disagree with. Highly questionable assertions, phrased in self-parodic Bloomian hyperbole, lie alongside readings that are deeply and genuinely insightful. Although, due to size limitations, these are rarely followed up. Why, one wonders, did the obsessively prolific Bloom turn in so short a book on so central a work? Perhaps because Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human was really a long commentary on Hamlet and Falstaff disguised as a consideration of all the plays. I would've preferred a 400-page book in which Bloom performs a microscopically close reading of the play and expands upon his insight--this little book's best moment--that the "How all occasions" soliloquy is the point at which Hamlet's theatricality parts ways with his inwardness. Bloom is very good on the theatricality here, but the exact nature of that inwardness seems to defeat the self-proclaimed Brontosaurus Bardolator--a defeat Bloom shares with virtually everyone who has thought deeply about the play. The great difficulty of Hamlet --and Bloom knows this, because his work taught it to me--lies in the fact that Hamlet's mind encompasses infinite space while ours, whoever we may be, are relatively nutshelled. Mr. Harold Bloom writes with relish of the internal organs of poems and novels, but Hamlet: Poem Unlimited is one of those rare instances where he writes less than enough.


David said...

An interesting post. I'll look for this book because I try to read everything Bloom writes about Shakespeare. It's true that sometimes it's easy to disagree with him but his passion is out of question. Nowadays most critical essays lack passion. That's why I think Bloom is so important.

Joe Miller said...

I think Bloom tries to hard to negate any influence that Hamlet's peers might have over him; it's not like he's a monad isolated from the rest of Elsinore.