Katherine Bailey on Books
Book Reviews, Literary Essays


Literary Essays The Anatomy of Influence

Harold Bloom on Shakespeare and the Human Predicament

Harold Bloom, who has taught Imaginative Literature at Yale for 55 years, is perhaps America’s foremost literary historian and critic. He believes that his immersion in the great works of he Western Canon has made his life more coherent and intelligible. Though he claims Dr. Samuel Johnson as his hero and mentor, Bloom’s 2011 The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life centers on William Shakespeare. Indeed, Bloom contends that “without Shakespeare we would not see ourselves as we are.” Shakespeare, according to him, is the quintessential global writer. Because Shakespeare’s characters are alive and universally and timelessly relevant, his plays have been a necessity for all writers who came after him. The transmission of Shakespeare’s poetic stance and vision is at the very core of imaginative literature worldwide.

Reading Shakespeare widens one’s consciousness because the plays illuminate human motivation, achievement and weakness; the idiosyncrasies of personality; and the tragic deterioration of aspirations. As we experience the likes of Hamlet or Iago our world expands immeasurably. In each of Shakespeare’s works one discovers variations in the portrayal of love, suffering, tragedy and the familial. Shakespeare’s own impressive detachment delivers power to what he has written. We are moved by the emotion that his words evoke – words written almost four-hundred years ago. The human predicament includes fear – fear of loneliness, madness and death. Reading Shakespeare will not cure these fears, yet it will provide a measure of comfort.

Bloom underscores the fact that literary precursors such as William Shakespeare remain alive in their progeny, in all writers of imaginative literature.