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

Download (28)William H. Pritchard at The New Criterion:

Put simply, a reader can approach Shakespearean drama in two ways: the first is to treat character (or “personality” as Bloom has it in this book) as arising out of motives that often require some rational justification on the reader’s part. So when Edmund dies at the play’s end, Bloom stays alive, wondering; “I always wonder who he thought he was, as he lay dying. Did he feel vindicated at having stood up for his bastardy?” Or, even more grandly at the book’s very end, “I write the final sentences . . . wondering if all of us, like Lear, should cry that we are come unto this great stage of fools.” (I was reminded of a song from the 1940s, “I wonder, I wonder, can’t help it if I wonder.”) The other approach is by way of Shakespeare rather than one of his characters. In Hamlet if one “wonders” why the prince delays in enacting his revenge, an answer might be that Shakespeare wanted it that way—that it provided a continuing way of keeping the audience listening. Is it demeaning to Shakespeare to imagine him seeing how far he can go in the desolation of loss that fills Lear? Can we think that for a moment he hesitated as to whether the plucking out of Gloucester’s eyes were a fit subject for representation on stage? In addressing that scene Bloom declares himself: “I have seen several stage performances of King Lear. The gouging of Gloucester’s eyes is not to be borne. Why did Shakespeare inflict this scene upon us, and indeed, on himself?” Another unanswerable question, though one might note incidentally that Bloom was able to bear it, since he attended several performances of the play.

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