On Harold Bloom’s new book on Shakespeare’s King Lear

William H. Pritchard in The New Criterion:

ScreenHunter_3027 Apr. 04 18.52Harold Bloom’s new book on King Lear is one in a series he is writing about Shakespeare’s personalities, including Hamlet, Falstaff, and Cleopatra.1 It is a short book of 160 pages, many of them taken up with long quotations from the play usually followed by rather brief comments from the critic. Those who have read Bloom on Shakespeare in previous books—Shakespeare, The Western Canon, The Anatomy of Influence—will find little here that is new except an even greater willingness on Bloom’s part to put himself front and center with utterances such as “It is pitiful that . . .” or “Who would not weep . . .” or “One wishes that . . .” as he takes us through the play. He even has sympathy for the absent Queen Lear: “How horrifying it would have been had she shared Lear’s privations, exposed out on the heath.” From his earlier books, we learn that Lear“ultimately baffles commentary”; that along with Hamlet it is “the height of literary experience”; and that the experience of reading it is (in a loaded word from Freud) “altogether uncanny.”

As in previous books, Bloom the critic operates through paraphrase and strong assertion, even as his posture has become increasingly isolated from other members of his profession. In The Anatomy of Influence, he lists those others in an exuberant way: “The usual rabblement: comma counters, ‘cultural’ materialists, new and newer historicists, gender commissars, and all the other academic impostors, mock journalists, inchoate rhapsodes, and good spellers.” Against them he has constituted himself “a department of one,” his main predecessor being, he admits modestly, Dr. Samuel Johnson.

More here.