The death of Yale English Professor Harold Bloom on October 14 brings to an end the career of one of the most prolific and widely read critics in the history of Western letters. Labelled a “colossus” by his fans, and “retrograde” by his detractors, Bloom was, without a doubt, a difficult person to ignore.
Most likely, with a writer as prolific as Bloom, there will be posthumously published books, but one of his final volumes appeared last spring. As with previous books in scholar/author Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare’s Personalities series — which includes Falstaff, Lear, Iago, and Cleopatra — there is considerably more Shakespeare than Bloom in Macbeth: A Dagger of the Mind. Whether that’s because the great critic preferred to highlight the Bard’s own words or he’s simply tired of commenting on plays about which he has already written so much, reading Bloom’s short book is like rereading most of the play, with a helpful teacher periodically pausing to tell you what you’ve just heard or what to look out for in an upcoming speech.
Macbeth: A Dagger of the Mind is certainly a tonic alternative to SparkNotes for students studying Macbeth, as the play’s the thing on which their attention will be focused. However, the casual enthusiast looking for sustained insight into Macbeth’s character may feel a little cheated by the lack of critical elucidation. Though one can easily imagine Bloom’s riposte to any readerly complaint: Who better to speak for Shakespeare than Shakespeare himself?
This post was updated on 10/22/2019