The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0294  Monday, 22 February 1999.

From:           Daniel Traister <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 19 Feb 1999 11:31:19 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Listening in on Great Minds

Terry Hawkes commented in a posting to SHAKSPER on "poor Bloom" several
days (weeks?) ago. He and others might be interested in the following
ruminations on poor Hal -- 100,000 copies sold? how poor can he be? --
from another writer, reproduced here with a final reference to the URL
at which this material (a column) is also freely available (from SALON,
a web magazine). I particularly recommend the all-too-brief discussion
of Shakespeare's appearance and its indications as to his essential

        He was phlegmatic, depressive, richly observant, yet worldly-
        wise. He had British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's fierce,
        shrewd eyes; the young Orson Welles' precocious prodigality;
        Dirk Bogarde or Kevin Spacey's simmering sexual ambivalence;
        and the detached, brooding pride yet contained sensuality of
        Claude Rains in "Notorious" (1946), James Mason in "North by
        Northwest" (1959) and Peter Finch in "Sunday, Bloody Sunday"


Dear Camille:

Please share your view of Harold Bloom's "Shakespeare: The Invention of
the Human." As a longtime subscriber to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
I laugh Falstaff-like at the irony of the gift shop pages of their Web
site now featuring Bloom's book, while his pages blast their style of
academic/political stagecraft that, for example, casts female actors in
male roles, and vice versa, to raise the gender consciousness of their
audience. These opinions of Bloom's match yours on postmodern humanities
professors. I know, from your writings, something of the role that he's
played in your own career. And he does mention you in his new
bestselling book. Do you agree that Shakespeare created human nature as
we perceive it today? What are your favorite Shakespearean plays,
characters, actors, directors and theaters? While you're at it, what's
your review of the movie "Shakespeare in Love"?

                        Richard Tracey

Dear Mr. Tracey:

What a kick it is to see my learned mentor Harold Bloom getting the
full-scale star treatment-not just in glossy magazines like Newsweek but
in gossip guru Liz Smith's column!

Some radical cultural shift is at work: America is plainly in need of a
philosopher-king, an empathic enthusiast who will reconnect intellect
and emotion and reestablish the primacy and prestige of art. Bloom can
thunder like Moses or charm like Zero Mostel: As a scholar, critic and
personal-ity, he dwarfs the shrill yuppies of the current academic
elite, with their tiresome poststructuralist, postmodernist, New
Historicist cliches.

That Bloom's thick "Shakespeare" tome has astonishingly sold over
100,000 copies in hardback shows that people are hungry for artistic
sustenance.  Shelley's "Ozymandias," one of the canonical texts of
Romantic poetry (a field where the young Bloom made his pioneering
reputation), rightly asserts that art transcends politics: Art is the
only thing that lasts, amid the great swirl of nature. Though he
despairs about the state of the humanities, Bloom is a major force in
the growing campaign to restore respect for art to American education.

As a proponent of Egyptian and Greco-Roman studies, I do have some
quarrel with Great Bloom's theory about Shakespeare's "invention of the
human." Bloom has long professed his preference for the Bible over
Homer. I would cite as inventors of the human not only Homer and the
Greek tragedians but Archilochus, Sappho, Alcaeus and Ibycus and the
other lyric poets of the Archaic age, whose incandescent work has
survived in fragmentary form.

My favorite Shakespeare play is "Antony and Cleopatra," which I have
analyzed in detail, along with "As You Like It," in "Sexual Personae."
(My material on Shakespeare's transvestite comedies dates from work I
was already doing on sexually heterodox themes in college in the
mid-1960s.) While Bloom and I share a psychoanalytic orientation, I am
probably more interested in the historical and political context of
Shakespeare's plays than he is. "Hamlet," for example, fascinates me not
just for its unsurpassed characterizations but for its richly
metaphorical commentary on hierarchy and government.

As for "Shakespeare in Love," as a regular teacher of the Shakespeare
course at my university, I know I must see that film eventually, but I
am dreading it: My dislike of Gwyneth Paltrow (goony, gangly Streep Jr.
on sugar pills) and of the entire callow, weasel-faced Fiennes family
(Joseph and Ralph) has kept me away. The many clips I've seen on TV
haven't impressed me-except for the Elizabethan costume design. And I'm
no fan of the screenplay writer, playwright Tom Stoppard, with his
smarmy Beckett ironies. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who wrote and directed the
brilliantly witty "All About Eve" (1950), is my idea of a true movie

Films on major historical figures or events are to be welcomed and
encouraged, since they broaden the perspective of the mass audience in
this era of shoddy public education. But the real-life William
Shakespeare, if we can extrapolate from his sonnets, was a far more
complex character than what "Shakespeare in Love" seems to show. He was
phlegmatic, depressive, richly observant, yet worldly-wise. He had
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's fierce, shrewd eyes; the young
Orson Welles' precocious prodigality; Dirk Bogarde or Kevin Spacey's
simmering sexual ambivalence; and the detached, brooding pride yet
contained sensuality of Claude Rains in "Notorious" (1946), James Mason
in "North by Northwest" (1959) and Peter Finch in "Sunday, Bloody
Sunday" (1971).  Aspiring screenplay writers, think bigger and better!

Postscript: Amid the post-impeachment wreckage, I am thanking almighty
Zeus for our deliverance from the daily media infliction of that seedy,
lumbering lard pot Henry Hyde (doesn't he ever shampoo his hair?) and
that bawling, petulant persimmon Barney Frank, two of the most blindly
partisan hatchet weevils of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The piquant surprise of the closing chapter of this soggy year-long soap
opera is that Monica Lewinsky, under videotaped questioning by the
clumsily inept House manager, has exactly the same adolescent,
Daddy-baiting vocal mannerisms and skittish eye movements as Madonna! My
partner, Alison, spotted this first; we were in stitches as we watched
Monica and Madonna morph into one another-just like the split-screen S&M
climax of Ingmar Bergman's "Persona"  (1967), where Liv Ullmann and Bibi
Andersson mind-meld.

My forecast for the post-White House Clintons: How about Hillary
scrapping Bill and eloping with Queen Noor? Did you catch kissy-kissy
Hillary leaping into Noor's arms at King Hussein's funeral? Now those
two gals would make a fab power couple for the 21st century.  New York
Senate seat be damned:  Hillary's running for Red Queen of the World!

        SALON | Feb. 17, 1999


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