O the Humanity!
I think I am probably the last person on the planet to figure this out. When I first heard of Harold Bloom’s 1999 book, I had no idea what the title meant, what it referred to. Somehow I had missed initially that very subtle nuance, Shakespeare, the title of the book. I was fixated on the subtitle: The Invention of the Human. “What a great, intriguing title, sort of an oxymoron, but why is it the title of a book about Shakespeare’s plays,” I wondered. Not flicker of light. Well, about three weeks ago, I figured it out. It took me that long. And then, of course, I bought the book, so I peeked inside to see whether Bloom did a little explaining, which of course he does. Nonetheless, it still feels like my epiphany. The following are my thoughts, not Bloom’s, and if any of them are the same, he just siphoned them off the same universal thought collective that I drew from. The subtitle to his book did inspire me, however.There’s a reason why Shakespeare is quoted in the Western world more often than the Bible, why his plays and poems are published in practically every language–even Klingon, apparently–why his works have not only survived over four centuries, but are celebrated, performed, hotly debated, critiqued, interpreted, adapted, referenced, paid homage, and studied by scholars and novices alike. Shakespeare invented a language to describe and convey the complexity of the human mind, our emotional interactions with other humans and our planet, and our quest to understand the meaning of our existence. In his characters, great or humble, a wise fool or a foolish king, we see truths about ourselves. We catch glimpses in a mirror whose reflection we recognize as our own or of someone we know, a celebrity, a person in power, a face in the news–or we just see an image that excites the vague itch of familiarity, somehow, somewhere. Shakespeare reveals the capacity of the human mind to house impossible paradoxes and the myriad riches of intellect and imagination.
As I was researching my final project I was struck by this thought. How is it possible after four centuries of scrutiny and analysis that I–or anyone–can examine one of Shakespeare’s plays and discover a unique interpretation, propose an original idea? I found the answer in my exploration–the “infinite variety” of the human imagination and experience. If Shakespeare’s works explore the multifaceted, convoluted nature of the human psyche in his characters–Cleopatra’s narcissism, Othello’s jealousy, Hermione’s sorrow, Hamlet’s despair, Lady Macbeth’s ambition, Macbeth’s depravity, Antony’s empathy, Leontes’ cruelty, and Iago’s evil, to name but a few–how can there be a finite number of interpretations or meanings? Every person who experiences Shakespeare will attach his own completely original meaning, unique to his experience, and far beyond what Shakespeare himself could have ever imagined. The potential for original thought regarding Shakespeare’s canon is limited only by the number of individuals exposed, the variety is as infinite as human personality.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. London: Fourth Estate, 1999.
William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. The Pelican Text Revised. New York: The Viking Press, 1969.