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Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,695 Ratings  ·  160 Reviews
"Personality, in our sense, is a Shakespearean invention, and is not only Shakespeare's greatest originality but also the authentic cause of his perpetual pervasiveness." So Harold Bloom opines in his outrageously ambitious Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. This is a titanic claim. But then this is a titanic book, wrought by a latter-day critical colossus--and befor ...more
745 pages
Published (first published 1998)
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Jul 05, 2007 Cheri rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ick
I probably should try to like Harold Bloom better, since he seems to bring people to Shakespeare who wouldn't normally read him. But I just can't.
I have to say I found this book one of the silliest things I've ever read. Bloom's suppositions that Shakespeare invented the human personality are just ludicrous. Mostly, I think he gets away with some of his more grandiose theorems because he's either preaching to the choir or to those not informed enough to know better. But really, people didn't sel
M. D.  Hudson
I dimly remember when this book came out (1998) how big and important and controversial it was supposed to be. Given Harold Bloom’s prodigious reputation, I was afraid of the thing, and so avoided it, figuring it to be fraught with lit theory of the densest sort. A couple years ago I found a copy dirt-cheap at some thrift store or another and its fat binding has glowered at me from the shelves since. A few weeks ago I decided to give it a try and found it to be a piece o’ cake, mostly.

To be fai
Bobby Bermea
Brilliant, infuriating, dazzling, provocative, maddening, thrilling and explosive. This book is not wonderful because Bloom is always right but because he always excites and challenges. Always. Page after page after page he brashly, almost recklessly tosses out hypotheses, makes thundering assertions as though they just came down from Mount Sinai, dismisses entire populations of artists, assumes fantastic responsibilities in society not just for the artist but for the critic and generally makes ...more
Dec 05, 2007 Helena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: rosalind. falstaff. hamlet. hal. you, if you weren't already mentioned.
I think I like Harold Bloom even more now that you're not supposed to like him because he's a snob/misogynist/old white guy/whatever the reason is you're not supposed to like him, but this was the first book of literary theory I ever read (I was 15), so it holds a special place in my brainheart.

It also holds a special place in my brainheart because Bloom is pretty much right on about everything he's saying in regards to Shahkespeare's invention of modern personality, and because he unabashedly p
Feb 05, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: humans, and very mature chimpanzees.
The subtitle deliberately goads anyone who came of age after 1960 to pull the Eurocentric card. And given the amount of time Bloom has spent of late on a personal crusade against the Harry Potter series, you almost wonder if Bloom has landed a few steps to the wrong side of the line between provocative and senile. (It is puzzling to say the least that such a brilliant critic feels the need to officially weigh in -- vocally and repeatedly -- on an already critically agreed-upon observation about ...more
Dec 19, 2012 Geoff marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Yes, I'm going to read Harold Bloom's book putting forth the preposterous notion that humanity didn't exist before Shakespeare. Haters gonna hate. What, jealous?
Gustav Klimt
Dec 26, 2008 Gustav Klimt rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I hate to call any book worthless, but I'm having a hard time thinking of anything of value in this narcissistic bore of a tome. Bloom has done absolutely no research on Early Modern culture, has no concept of the current scholarly discussion in Shakespeare studies, and his readings of the plays amount--basically--to platitudinous gut-reactions. Sure,he has his insights here and there, but the layperson that thinks this is in any way a great contribution to Shakespeare studies is being hoodwinke ...more
John Porter
Glad it's on my shelf...but depressed about it at the same time. A big hunk of what Bloom is trying pass off as revelatory is more like a response to younger literary critics and their beliefs. (And it's kind of charmingly ironic that Bloom attacks others for their blind devotion to narrow paradigms in a book where he spends a big glob of time psychologically fawning over Falstaff.) It's not really a book about Shakespeare; it's a book about what Harold Bloom wants us to know about Shakespeare a ...more
Léonard Gaya
I must humbly confess that I had to stop halfway this heavy slumber-driven brick-book. In the end, I am not totally sure whether or not Shakespeare did "invent the human" as the title grandiosely seems to claim. However, I am quite sure that, with a few lines, like those spoken by Holofernes in "Love's labour's lost", he did invent Harold Bloom.
Ryan Creel
Jul 28, 2010 Ryan Creel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read this book a couple of times, and though my criticism of it has evolved over time, I still love it because, for me, it was the first book that made Shakespeare truly accessible. Along the way to earning my English degree, I came across some legitimate criticisms of the author, most of which came from professors teaching theory classes, and they aren't without merit. For one, the fact that Professor Bloom cites nothing, seemingly wishing the reader to believe every notion in the text is ...more
The Boston Globe put it accurately: "For all its huge ambition, this book will probably prove most useful as a companion to the plays [and:] may find its longest shelf life in the homes of theatergoers who crave a literate friend who's still awake to chew things over with."
Jan 28, 2008 Margaret rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This author loves himself and consistently rips apart works by female playwrights. However, yes he does know his stuff when it comes to good old Willy Shakespeare.
David Withun
Jul 08, 2014 David Withun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
In his play-by-play commentary on the works of Shakespeare, Bloom avers that William Shakespeare is the one who invented us. Not that he is the created of the human race, but something close to it; he is, says Bloom, the one who introduced to us the idea of effecting change within ourselves by self-overhearing. In addition, he argues that the most remarkable representatives of this invention of the human are Sir John Falstaff and Hamlet, the melancholy prince of Denmark. Both of them, he says, r ...more
More notes from my Harold Bloom period:

“In The Birth of Tragedy, (1873), Nietzsche memorably got Hamlet right, seeing him not as a man who thinks too much but rather as the man who thinks too well:

‘For the rapture of the Dionysian state with its annihilation of the ordinary bounds and limits of existence contains, while it lasts, a lethargic element in which all personal experiences of the past become immersed. This chasm of oblivion separates the worlds of everyday reality and of Dionysian rea
His premise, that Shakespeare around 1595 invented our entire modern understanding of psychology, personality, and identity, is a little farfetched. And also not very thoroughly explained. Yes, Shakespeare was the first--and very possibly the best--at representing life-sized, dynamic characters, but that doesn't mean that humans were drastically different before 1595, just as we weren't two-dimensional with limbs askew, mismatched shadows, and infants who looked like tiny adults prior to the Ita ...more
Mar 04, 2014 Salvatore rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Calling it - too cursory and too much blockquoting; not enough academic commentary that I didn't/couldn't glean for myself from the text.

Read this book if you don't plan on actually reading the plays themselves: Bloom covers plot and middle school level analysis. And he's obsessed with Falstaff. To an unhealthy degree.

It's just lazy writing from an academic.
Jan 06, 2015 Patrice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love Harold Bloom. Why? Because he agrees with me! I first discovered this when, after having finished Don Quixote, I found myself confused by other people's reaction to the book. They seemed to have read a different book than I had. Feeling out of synch and questioning my judgement I picked up Harold Bloom and there, in black and white, he expressed my thoughts exactly. It was so reassuring and validating!

Now, after reading Shakespeare's history plays, I find myself in a similar situation. Ma
John Pistelli
Mostly read late 1990s, consulted often thereafter.
Sarah Holz

Some flashes of insight here and there, but Marjorie Garber's Shakespeare After All is much more interesting. And like many, I disagree with the premise of even someone as great as Will "inventing the human."
May 21, 2015 Raymond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(from my blog personal stuff snipped out)

Bloom wrote this book at the tail-end of the '90s, the great age of Political Correctness. It's amazing in retrospect, to think on how much more repressed the Clinton years were than the supposed conservative times that came before. Some commentators see this as the obvious result of applying various modern -isms to American culture and education. David Denby's Great Books, which I read last year, interpreted this shift as
Sep 08, 2014 Jorge rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bueno pues este libro habla sobre Shakespeare, Shakespeare y Shakespeare. El autor Harold Bloom es un reconocido crítico literario y profesor en Yale y guarda una especial veneración hacia el gran autor inglés. El libro analiza todas o casi todas las obras de Shakespeare desde su punto de vista, para mi gusto un poco exagerado ya que como dije venera e idolatra a Shakespeare. Lo que me pareció más interesante es su concepto de lo que significa Shakespeare para el mundo y lo ilustra perfectamente ...more
Apr 28, 2015 Steven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this a couple of times when it came out in 1998, but my current practice is to pick it up before going to see another Shakespeare play. Othello being the current prompt. Even if you are anti-Bloom it's a book you have to deal with when it comes to old Shakey. My opinion of the book has changed a bit over the years just because Bloom's tone is a bit like a parent telling you to eat your vegetables because they are good for you. Remove the hyperbole of his thesis (the invention of the human) ...more
Jamie Teller
May 10, 2016 Jamie Teller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lot of Bloom's premises tread a fine line between audacity and absurdity; he suggests that Shakespeare literally invented the modern personality, along with ascribing a deal of Gnostic attributes to the Bard, both of which, to paraphrase Bloom himself, tell us more about the author than about Shakespeare. But he offers a great deal of valuable insight as well, and his lifelong enthusiasm for Shakespeare comes through in his crisp prose. However you feel about his claims, he's great fun to read ...more
Terence Carlisle
Professor Bloom’s magnum opus, a priceless gift to his beloved “general reader.” Bardolator Bloom takes us through the entirety of Shakespeare’s plays, giving us a revelatory analysis of each work. Never is there an unrewarding commentary, but his essays on the major plays – Hamlet, Lear, Othello, Macbeth, and several others – hit such depths of insight and flights of poetry that they become literature themselves, and the plays mystical texts. The most rewarding reading project of my life was to ...more
Jun 09, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Literature companion books often kill the joy of wandering through the frontier of some great work, and this is true of Shakespeare's works and the thousands of companion books to "explain" to the reader. Do yourself a favor, and read Shakespeare first--but if you must, then Bloom does a great job of pointing out some interesting thoughts in an easy to read, if a bit "Yale-ish," manner. As a HS English teacher, I've used excerpts from this multiple times, and have found it terribly useful for a ...more
Falstaff, Hamlet, Iago, Cleopatra, Macbeth, and Rosalind

No discussion of this book can begin without mention of Shakespeare's most wonderful characters: Falstaff, Hamlet, Iago, Cleopatra, Macbeth, and Rosalind. The human is most thoroughly invented in these characters. The boundless humanity of these characters shows Shakespeare at the peak of his abilities. In Falstaff, Hamlet, Iago, Cleopatra, Macbeth, and Rosalind (although Bottom, Portia, Shylock, the Nurse, Lear, Edgar, Edmund, Philip Faulc
A great scholastic look at Shakespeare's canon. Harold Bloom provides his usual insight and wit, though oftentimes I don't agree with what he has to say regarding the earlier plays such as Titus Andronicus and Richard III. Nonetheless, this is invaluable resource for people who want background reading on the Shakespearean canon, or need references for their essay. It's also great leisure reading, surprisingly enough, and is split into the sections by play and era for your convenience.

That said,
Jun 01, 2013 Philip rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
This is part of my Shakespeare reference collection, which includes:

A Companion to Shakespeare
Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare
Essential Shakespeare Handbook
Imagining Shakespeare
Northrop Frye on Shakespeare
Shakespeare After All
Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide
Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare
The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare

For the plays I’ve read, I’ve also read the relevant sections in these reference books. When I pick up the next play in my Shakespeare re
Ronald Wise
Jul 23, 2011 Ronald Wise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This examination of the characters in Shakespeare's plays is an inspiring work combining a masterful use of the language of literary criticism with an understanding of the complexities of the human psyche and a vast knowledge of the past development of European literature. And though I've only read one Shakespeare work and seen performances of two or three others, this book provided the background and context necessary to appreciate the author's analyses of all Shakespeare's characters.

As indica
David Gray
Aug 16, 2011 David Gray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It would be foolish to say much against the brilliant mind of Bloom. He knows far more about his subject than probably most anyone and provides a (mostly) readable book about Shakespeare's role in creating the western idea of the "self." I say "mostly" because though some passages are quite readable, you will periodically stumble upon a sentence like: "I do not offer a nihilistic Shakespeare or a gnostic one, but skepticism alone cannot be the origin of the cosmological degradation that contextu ...more
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  • Shakespeare After All
  • Shakespearean Tragedy
  • Northrop Frye on Shakespeare
  • The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups
  • Shakespeare's Language
  • Shakespeare and Co.: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher and the Other Players in His Story
  • A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599
  • Shakespeare
  • The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets
  • Shakespeare: The Biography
  • Shakespeare: A Life
  • The Genius of Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare's Words: A Glossary and Language Companion
  • Hamlet in Purgatory
  • Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare, Vols. 1-2
  • Shakespeare the Thinker
  • Shakespeare
  • The Meaning of Shakespeare (Volume 1)
Bloom is a literary critic, and currently a Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University. Since the publication of his first book in 1959, Bloom has written more than 20 books of literary criticism, several books discussing religion, and one novel. He has edited hundreds of anthologies.
More about Harold Bloom...

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“...the representation of human character and personality remains always the supreme literary value, whether in drama, lyric or narrative. I am naive enough to read incessantly because I cannot, on my own, get to know enough people profoundly enough.” 13 likes
“We can be reluctant to recognize how much of our culture was literary, particularly now that so many of the institutional purveyors of literature happily have joined in proclaiming its death. A substantial number of Americans who believe they worship God actually worship three major literary characters: the Yahweh of the J Writer (earliest author of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers), the Jesus of the Gospel of Mark, and Allah of the Koran.” 8 likes
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