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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: September ::
Re: Bloom and *The Western Canon*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0682. Thursday, 14 September 1995
 
(1)     From:   Joseph M Green <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Sep 1995 10:16:46 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0676  Re: Bloom and *The Western Canon*
 
(2)     From:   William Proctor Williams <
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        Date:   Friday, 08 Sep 95 17:54 CDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0676  Re: Bloom and *The Western Canon*
 
(3)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Sep 1995 22:38:43 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0676  Re: Bloom and *The Western Canon*
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph M Green <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Sep 1995 10:16:46 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0676  Re: Bloom and *The Western Canon*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0676  Re: Bloom and *The Western Canon*
 
Perhaps we should take Bloom's claim that Shakespeare invented us as seriously
as all those claims -- so exciting when made -- that the bourgeois or romantic
self was invented in the Renaissance andeven, specifically, in this or that act
of *Hamlet.*  That is, judging from the fair field of folk who made this sort
of claim, we should take this claim plenty seriously -- unless, of course, the
mere fact that it is Harold Bloom from the Dark Side who, this time, makes this
assertion instead of those whose purpose is to reprehend this sort of
interiority trammels up what should, by God, be trammeled.  How does Bloom's
claim differ?
 
I should also add that Bloom does not claim that Shakespeare invented us by
presenting us with a cast of characters so richly described that we learn how
to be people from them.  He does say that "The peculiar magnificence of
Shakespeare is his power of representation of human character and personality
and their mutabilities" (63) but his particular assertion is that Shakespeare
uniquely presents characters who are "free artists of themselves" (a phrase
from Hegel) and that it is from these charcters that we derive the possibilty
of becoming the same. That is, he is asserting romantic individualism for some
of Shakespeare's characters (Hamlet and Edmund his examples) and this claim is
no different from the claims made by many who see themselves as Bloom's
cultured despisers. I don't believe either version of the claim -- but if one
is ahistorical then so is the other.  The point is that Bloom does more than
merely point to the variousness, or psychological depth, or richness of
Shakespeare's characters:  his claim is that we derive our peculiar sense of
freedom and autonomy from them and that, until Shakespeare, no-one ever
presented characters as "self-creating artists" of themselves.  He then insists
that "Our naive but aesthetically crucial conviction that Edmund, Hamlet,
Falstaff and scores of others can, as it were, get up and walk on out of their
plays, perhaps even against Shakespeare's own desires, is connected as an
effect of figurative language, this Shakespearean power remains beyond
comparison, though it has been imitated universally for almost four centuries
now" (72).
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <
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Date:           Friday, 08 Sep 95 17:54 CDT
Subject: 6.0676  Re: Bloom and *The Western Canon*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0676  Re: Bloom and *The Western Canon*
 
Oh, give over!!  Who, in power (and all of us who have teaching positions have
power) gives any space to the likes of Bloom?  He is a good acadcemic joke, and
he will make many of our less well trained colleagues to part with near
$US30.00 of their resources.  But did any of us think he did it for any other
reason?  I think not!
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Sep 1995 22:38:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0676  Re: Bloom and *The Western Canon*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0676  Re: Bloom and *The Western Canon*
 
Horrible to admit ignorance, but I only heard of "The Western Canon" though
these posts, though I certainly will read it as soon as I can. I am surprised
and pleased to hear that someone else agrees with me, about Shakespeare being a
watershed of western culture. As I see it, as the feudal and pre-feudal
culture, land-based, hierarchical, religious, communal, began to give way to
the trade-based, class levelling, secular, individualistic culture we know
today, language in every western nation was undergoing a revolution, from the
lingua franca of Latin to a national literture based on the local vernacular.
This meant that as individuals wrote in the new vernacular they created the
language as it would be from then on. Ariosto did this in Italy, Ronsard in
France (he created the alexandrine verse form that Racine and Corneille would
use to create the classic French theatrical literature), Lope de Vega and his
fellows were doing the same in Spain. Of all of these, writing at roughly the
same time, Shakespeare has had the most impact on western culture. His plays
have been translated into every language, are still performed with more
regularity than any other single playwright, and have been recreated in
hundreds of works of music, dance, and film. To point to the handful of English
poets and writers that English professors have deemed worthy of study is to
miss the huge influence Shakespeare has had, not only on the language (won't
bother to recite the number of words he created, phrases invented or preserved,
and whole speeches that have become as well-known as the Lord's prayer or the
preamble to the Constitution, the preserve of all who speak the language), but
on the culture in general, through the ballets and operas, and more than
anything, on a certain mode of thought, of phraseology, of spirit, not only
better than his fellows, but a quantum leap beyond them. Through his mind and
heart passed a tremendous amount of knowledge of ancient myth, medieval
romance, folklore, which he preserved as in honey in the wonderful sweetness of
his language and the dramatic excitement of his plays, for the time to come. He
saw the rise of the Puritan revolt, not only against the wrongs of feudalism,
but against the goodness as well, the art, the music, the dancing, the revels.
The destruction of the altars, the smashing of the stained glass windows, so
that very little is left from before reformation times, was leading to the
smashing of all happinesse.  The celebration of Christmas was frowned upon.
The folkways were being exterminated as witchcraft and tools of the Devil. He
foresaw a time coming when there would be no more cakes and ale, and against
that time he preserved Puck, Ariel, Herne the Hunter, Venus, Adonis, the
history of the great lords and their kings, the passion of Antony and
Cleopatra, of Romeo and Juliet.  The French have the great paintings, the
Italians great sculpture and music, the Germans music, but the English have
their language and the literature it has given them is their great art.  And
this literature is what it is because of Shakespeare.  Can anyone really
believe that if we had skipped Shakespeare and had only Jonson, Sidney, Bacon,
Raliegh to build on, that the English language would be the second most spoken
language in the world today, and the most important in every other way?  It is
not necessary to find echoes of Shakespeare in Dickens, Shelley, Hardy, Austen,
Hopkins, A.A. Milne, Evelyn Waugh, James Joyce, Tennyson, Emerson, Whitman,
Lewis Carroll, Keats, to see that they all stand on his shoulders. We all stand
on his shoulders. I would venture to say that only the great world religious
leaders, Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucious, Lao Tze, have had more effect on
human consiousness, and perhaps not even they.
 
Stephanie Hughes
 

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