“Macbeth” is the fifth and the last volume in Harold Bloom’s series on Shakespeare’s Personalities. The previous volumes were dedicated to Iago, Lear, Cleopatra, and Falstaff.
Bloom’s fascination with the Bard and his comprehension of Shakespeare’s language are legendary. No other writer, scholar or critic has been able to get as close to understanding Shakespeare as Bloom. Bloom’s sincerity, intuition and intimacy with his readers differentiate him from all other writers. The “Personalities” series is entirely focussed on Shakespeare’s characters. In contrast, others authors tend to take some undigested pieces from Shakespeare, mix them together with some trash gathered in their personal warehouses, and then sell them as historicism, cultural anthropology, feminist criticism, gender study, deconstruction, theory of this and theory of that, etc., etc. So, it is always refreshing to get hold of one of Bloom’s books and enjoy losing oneself in the mesmerizing world of Shakespeare’s magic.
“Macbeth: A Dagger of the Mind” is another Bloom’s masterpiece. Although half of the book is filled in with quotes from the play, the experience of reading it is extraordinary. One has a feeling that Bloom, like a storyteller, is sitting next to you and telling you a fascinating tale which you have never heard before. There is little commentary. Bloom just makes brief stops to make a personal comment (“To analyze it would be pedantic”) or to explain the meaning of a phrase (“The ‘vaporous drop’ is a foam emanating from the moon that transfigures herbs into spells”) or a word (“Ravishing ‘strides’ is Alexander Pope’s emendation, but I prefer the Folio’s ‘sides’ ”). Bloom’s mastery is disclosed by his skillful selection of the lines from the original text. His focal point is the character of Macbeth. Unquestionably, Macbeth is a murderous villain. Yet, Bloom is able to dig out some fascinating details about Macbeth’s mind and his proleptic imagination. One may be under the impression that Bloom is frightened by what he discovered within Macbeth’s mind. He is startled because he recognized some traces of Macbeth in his own mind. Again, Bloom is sincere enough to admit it.
There is only one thing that is missing. Namely, Bloom took the character of Macbeth out of the context of the play. But the play is not only about Macbeth, i.e., an illustration of modus operandi of a fascinating but malignant mind. In addition to the description and diagnosis, Shakespeare provides a remedy for the cause of his particular disease of the mind that is “call’d evil.” This remedy is at the heart of the play. And it is this remedy that has escaped Bloom’s scrutiny. The remedy is symbolically administered in the episode with King Edward, the Confessor. Its effect is encoded onto the procession of the eight kings that are presented by the witches.
It has been widely accepted that the procession of the kings was gesture of kindness towards King James I. Yet, Shakespeare’s overall purpose was not to be kings’ pleaser. He had a much more profound objective in his mind. To protect himself, Shakespeare had to be incredibly skillful in concealing his ultimate aim. He used the witches’ trick: he spread an attractive but deceptive veil over an accurate portrayal of future events (Bloom: “Shakespeare is a great master of ellipses, of leaving things out. He relies upon our mature imagination to fill out what is only suggested.”) Shakespeare used the procession to indicate that the remedy against the cause of “evil” that was administered at the time of King Edward would come into effect only at the conclusion of his History Plays. In other words, the procession presents the seven kings of the History Plays (King John, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Richard III, and Henry VIII). The eighth king, “who bears a glass,” is of course Elizabeth I who is born at the conclusion of “Henry VIII.” There is a reference to King Edward in that play as well.
According to Shakespeare’s narrative, it was at the time of Elizabeth I (and Shakespeare) that a remedy finally was made available to the western society. Therefore, adding this “remedy” aspect to Bloom’s analysis would further enrich “A Dagger of the Mind.”
- Hardcover: 160 pages
- Publisher: Scribner (1 May 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1501164252
- ISBN-13: 978-1501164255
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 299 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 61,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)