Hamlet : Poem Unlimited

by Harold Bloom. I picked this up on a whim from the Morrison Reading Room after reading Wally‘s Bloom-mania. It’s a slim volume, a sort of post-lude to Bloom’s Shakespeare : The Invention of the Human. In its 25 brief chapters, he treats us to his musings on various topics related to what he concludes is Shakespeare’s greatest play. His thoughts are frustratingly vague at times, which makes them simultaneously appealing and obnoxious — it takes several more hours of thought to end up agreeing or disagreeing with him, and even then you’re not sure if you understood his point. In that way the book is a provocation to think deeper about Hamlet and to discard some conventional classroom assumptions about the play.

Bloom’s observations would make good response papers or starting points for longer analyses. For example, at the end of the chapter on the Grave-digger, he concludes:

The Grave-digger is the reality principle, mortality, while Hamlet is death’s scholar. Shakespeare sets Hamlet’s death, in the Court, at Elsinore. By then, however, Hamlet has long seemed posthumous.

When talking about the given circumstances of the play, he instructs us to

… set aside the prevalent judgement that the deepest cause of his [Hamlet’s] melancholia is his mourning for the dead father and his outrage at his mother’s sexuality. Don’t condescend to the Prince of Denmark: he is more intelligent than you are, whoever you are. That, ultimately, is why we need him and cannot evade his play. The foreground to Shakespeare’s tragedy is Hamlet’s consciousness of his own consciousness, unlimited yet at war with itself.

Later he describes Beckett’s Endgame as one of many famous misreadings of Hamlet. Bloom sort of abuses his reputation as a famous critic in the book by dropping these claims with only a few pieces of text to back him up. Perhaps they are meant to be bones for younger critics to squabble over, or perhaps he sees no reason to justify them further — after all, they are just musings. In the end, I found this book interesting yet unsatisfying. I don’t want Hamlet to be read for me by someone else, but I wanted a little more to go on than (seemingly) deep statement that Hamlet and Falstaff are the supreme comedians of the canon. However, armed with these ideas I can go through the play again to discover new depths in it, which is, in the end, what good criticism is good for.

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0 thoughts on “Hamlet : Poem Unlimited

  1. Heh. My professor and I were discussing this very piece of work last week in Modern European Drama. He finds Bloom to be a brilliant theorist, but a lazy scholar, much as you seem to.

    Guess I’ll have to read it myself.

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