Harold Bloom Lecture on Shakespeare

fora tv' the world is thinking

it gives me great pleasure to welcome

you to the second installment of a

two-part series by Professor Harold

Bloom on the art of criticism but Who am

I fooling all I'm doing is with my

makeshift title is ducking Oscar Wilde

by far more appropriate title The Critic

as artists for this is who we have to

hunt the critic as artists the fact that

so many of you are here absolve me of

the requisite task of introducing Harold

Bloom he needs no introduction to list

his works would take probably the whole

hour suffice it to say that having

Harold Bloom with us here tonight at the

Graduate Center is a gift to us and to

me personally these lectures by the way

are the result of a student initiative

to propose the creation of a certificate

in critical theory here at the grad

center so I thank the students in

comparative literature especially who

helped me put together this event

tonight but before I ask everyone to

turn off their cell phones I also want

to thank my supporters here the

president of the Graduate Center William

Kelly and also my staunch allies in so

many endeavors David and Goldy blanks

teen without your trust and your

goodwill this Hall as I said last week

would have stayed empty and now without

further ado please turn off your

cellphone's ladies and gentlemen please

welcome Harold Bloom

thank you dr. Samuel Johnson told us

that the essence of poetry is invention

following that sublime critic I called

an endless book about Shakespeare the

invention of the human 14 years later I

am still chided for confusing the board

with Thomas Alva Edison following

Johnson my metaphor suggested that

Shakespeare the essential poetic

dramatist had revealed to as much that

always had been there but had not been

available before he discerned it his

recognition of the human was an act of

literary knowledge a mode concerning

which we still comprehend rather little

Falstaff Hamlet and Cleopatra are

transactions in knowledge so I you and I

the ancient Greek word for word logos in

its root means a gathering together the

Hebrew devar for word a word that is

also an act and a thing derives from a

root meaning to thrust foe with

something that had been held back in the

self when I listened to Falstaff or to

Hamlet I hear that bringing forward what

we learned from Shakespeare's most vital

men and women is the knowledge they


this is not the knowledge of the

Philosopher's or of the Mystics or even

the knowledge of Homer or Dante it is

unique to Shakespeare though Montaigne

and Cervantes his greatest

contemporaries are closer to it than

anyone else before or since the

self-awareness of Falstaff Hamlet and

Cleopatra is the salient quality that

renders them endless to meditation ours

and their own if their vitalism is

illusory why then so is yours and mine

for we are the

much of our self-consciousness had its

inception and their self-awareness what

we cannot catch up to is the amazing

tempo of their words thoughts acts that

preternatural quickness emanates from

their playfulness ludecke intensity

renders the purposes of playing

purposeless confronting us with mimetic

enigmas we scarcely apprehend let alone

absorb reread the tragedy of Hamlet

Prince of Denmark and send Europe on the

thousand lines from act 2 scene 2

through act 3 scene 2 a quarter of the

play in its uncut

composite length what you confront and

that whirligig of wonders only rarely is

it the imitation of an action or any

other aspect of theatrical illusion

plays within plays soliloquies

theatrical gossip lectures on acting

crowd upon you until you begin to feel

that Hamlet somehow is an actual person

intruding into a dress rehearsal for an

unwritten drama that scarcely could be

staged were it achieved Pirandello

bricht Samuel Beckett whoever you will

could not match this kaleidoscope of a

theatre of mind so compassion we still

cannot encompass it Hamlet palpably is

an experimental thinker rather more than

he is a thought experiment his seven

soliloquies each break the vessels of

discursive process in ways that directly

prompted Nietzsche's apothem that for

which we can find words is something

already dead in our hearts there is

always a kind of contempt in the

act of speaking I can think of nothing

more alien to the magnificence sir john

falstaff who excels even Prince Hamlet

in starting fresh meanings rather than

merely repeating old ones false now

finds avalanches of words for what lives

fiercely in his heart and always he

glories in the act of speaking few

others in all of imaginative literature

speaks so superbly oh thou has damnable

iteration and art indeed able to corrupt

a saint

thou has done much harm upon me how may

God forgive thee for it before I knew

thee how I knew nothing and now to speak

truly and I become little better than

one of the wicked I must give over this

life and I will give it over by the Lord

and I do not I am a villain I'll be


for never a king son and Christendom

before I knew thee I knew nothing

addressed by the fat night to the prince

is unanswerable and sublimely outrageous

sometimes I mused that the two oldest

persons in all of Shakespeare are Lear

and Falstaff who have in common only

their age which at 81 I share happily

resembling in temperament Falstaff and

not the tragic King knowing Falstaff is

more than entertainment though precisely

that was Shakespeare's first grand

triumph with his audience Hotspur says a

Falstaff and his irregular humorous that

they daft the world aside and bid it

pass we too should thrust the mouldy

thick scholars aside and be then passed

so as to properly apprehensive John and

to learn to know what he knows which is

what he is his absolute sense of being

Falstaff is the Socrates of Eastcheap

and teaches us to be

and the difficulty of what it is to be

his best student the ungrateful prince

how absorbs the lesson and intends to

hang the instructor or in any case see

him cut down upon the field of battle as

forgiving as life itself principle as

well as particle Falstaff declines to be

slain he will waste away and die of a

broken heart

but that scarcely diminishes his

ontological self

he teaches all things in himself wit

exuberance defiance of time but about

everything else the sheer joy of being

more even than the wife of bath of

Chaucer the pan urge of Rob aller Sancho

Panza Falstaff manifests the blessing

more life long ago I wear it of being

told that Hamlet and Falstaff are men

made out of words in more than 80 years

of countless friendships and allows too

many enmities I've encountered no one

among us half so real or so intelligent

as the prince and Sir John if to be a

Shakespeare scholar entails denying or

evading his creation of character and of

human personality that I am pleased to

be merely a reader literary knowledge is

not a shadow of our failure to know one

another but the larger form of what that

relation yet might be darker strains

reverberate when we realize we are

uncertain our self knowledge equals that

of Falstaff and of Hamlet which can

cause distress since they are

catastrophes and Sue from their greatest

gifts years ago in London I lunched a

number of times with Owen Barfield

a solicitor

profession a profound student a poetic

thought I remember our final meeting

when Owen asked me Harold doesn't not

cause you chagrin when you reflect that

your emotions originally was

Shakespeare's thoughts pondering this I

replied we have become his characters a

reflection also Emerson's when he

observed that Shakespeare had composed

the text of Modern Life Ludwig

Wittgenstein strongly dissented he I

realized that Shakespeare was too

English and more a creator of language

than of thought or of character David

Hume would have agreed with Wittgenstein

but for once I prefer Hegel with his

perception that Falstaff and Hamlet and

Cleopatra or what Hegel called free

artists of themselves

Shakespeare endowed them with the

capacity to recreate their souls each of

them his or her own Demiurge the

fiercest of demiurges yahwah who with

Jesus and Hamlet makes a betrayal of the

West's major literary characters

inaugurates the particular trope of

being that Shakespeare evades and

subverts in his most vitalizing

characters in Exodus yahwah calls his

reluctant prophet moses so as to send

that slow of speech it's hard to know

how to read the hebrew it can mean a


it can mean a stammerer to send that

slow of speech Shepherd down into Egypt

to lead the chosen people back to common

and I quote the King James and Moses

said unto God behold when I come unto

the children of Israel and shall say

unto them the god of your father's has

sent me unto you and they shall say to

me what is his name what shall I say

unto them and God said unto Moses I am


I am and he said thus shalt thou say

unto the children of Israel I am hath

sent me unto you the Geneva Bible is

being followed here by the King James

translators and it's wonderfully

mistaken I am that I am the great

William Tyndale most magnificent of

Bible Translators was much closer to the

Hebrew a yeah asha ayah in having yahwah

say i will be what I will be as I read

the Hebrew it means something very like

I bring into being what I bring into

being punning on his own mysterious name

a asha a yahwah nobody knows what the

name means to this day yahwah states the

myth of presence i will be present

whenever and wherever I choose to be

present which of course implies as we

all know he will be absent when he

chooses to be which is of course most of

the time Shakespeare's own dialectic is

a wholly secularized shuttle of the real

presence and the real absence teaching

Shakespeare and I've been doing it now

for 55 years

you teach presence a teaching that

enacts a reading of his ellipses no

other writer has been half so skilled at

the art of just leaving things out

though everything in the tragical

history of Hamlet Prince of Denmark is

questioned and questionable the darker

enigmas are simply unmentioned when did

the sexual relationship between Claudius

and Gertrude begin who actually is

Hamlet's phallic father as Freud would

have called him the warrior king or his

shuffling brother more than any other

Shakespearean protagonist Hamlet does

not mean what he says

or say what he means if we suspect that

Claudius may well

be his father can hamlet suspect less

why does Hamlet return from the sea to

Elsinore where every first thought must

be his death in a Drama uniquely and

openly aware of its audience we are

compelled to complicity with Hamlet who

pragmatically is an agent of death

unlike Falstaff who gloriously is life's

ambassador to us Hamlet speaks 1500

lines of what in composite additions is

a play of four thousand lines much

Shakespeare's longest when not on stage

Hamlet's absence is a presence as there

can be no other focus the drama is his

passion and his mystery as the Gospel of

Mark was that of Jesus except that

Hamlet is unfollowed as James Joyce

first suggested a play that takes as its

burdened the meaning of

self-consciousness may hint that inner

freedom can be attained only when the

protagonist can separate his genius for

expanding consciousness from his own

passion for theatricality Falstaff

apotheosis of self presence enhances his

freedom by playing out the play both

Hamlet and Falstaff are great

improvisers and finally I go with

Falstaff it is because wonderfully he

goes into battle with sherry sack and

his holster which I must say I wish I

had here at the moment for swearing a

pistol dodging the bottle when the

infuriated Prince Health Rosalind him

the sublime Falstaff states a zest full

truth I like not such grinning honor as

Sir Walter hath give me life which if I

can save so if not honor comes

unlooked-for and there's an end

I have heard Shakespeare scholars say to

me that they prefer hot Spurs doomsday

is near died all died merrily and yet

Hotspur delights us because with great

high spirits he loves his life on his

own terms

Hamlet has no love for life no love for


indeed for anyone else be it a failure

or Horatio and in spite of the nonsense

written by Ernest Jones the hagiography

of Sigmund Freud about an Oedipus

complex nonsense when the dying Gertrude

cries out oh my dear Hamlet his loving

response will be wretched Queen adieu we

do not receive false starts dying words

emissions quickly 'z wonderful cockney

prose elegy for him in Henry the fifth

but vividly she presents the scene the

Great vitalist is a little child again

playing with flowers smiling at his

fingertips and singing the 23rd psalm

pure presence hardly could be more

enhanced Shakespeare wisely avoided a

final utterance from the undying

Falstaff how we might wince if the

knight departed murmuring the rest is

silence so capacious is Shakespeare's

effect upon us that we have no secular

similitudes to be offered as

alternatives the strongest of his

protagonists constitute a facticity a

kind of wall that contains us how can

you achieve perspective upon a

primordial poem of mankind that somehow

issued from a single creative mind we

are inside Shakespeare's imaginings and

therefore we have to scramble to see him

with any lenses not his own I no longer

go to suffer the plays staged because I

am simply too old to sustain yet more

exasperation at high-concept directors

who is

they can think beyond him what ensues

are caricatures travesties and noise

I cannot delude myself that I am more

intelligent than Hamlet or Falstaff here

is the most famous soliloquy in the

language the black Prince's ontological

meditation stilled by repetition

only if you do not strive to think

through it with Hamlet let me say of

course but I have an old cracked voice I

am NOT a trained actor it is in a sense

absurd that I subject you to my chanting

this soliloquy but I will read it for

what I take to be the sense I will read

it interpretive ly and as I say I will

mangle the greatness of it but to be or

not to be that is the question whether

tis nobler in the mind to suffer the

slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

or to take arms against a sea of

troubles and by opposing end them to die

to Sleep No More and by a sleep to say

we end the heartache and the thousand

natural shocks that flesh is heir to tis

a consummation devoutly to be wish'd to

die to sleep to sleep

perchance to dream ah there's the rub

for in that sleep of death what dreams

may come when we have shuffled off this

mortal coil must give us pause there's

the respect that makes calamity of so

long life for who would bear the whips

and scorns of time the oppressors wrong

the proud man's contumely the pangs of

despised love the laws delay the

insolence of office and the spurns that

patient merit of the unworthy takes when

he himself might his Quietus make with a

bare bodkin who would fardels bear to

grunt and sweat under a weary life but

that the dread of something after death

the undiscovered country from whose

Bourn no traveler returns puzzles the

will and makes us rather bear those ills

we have than fly to others that we know

not of

thus conscience does make cowards of us

all thus the native hue of resolution is

sicklied o'er with the pale cast of

thought and enterprises of great pitch

and moment with this regard their

currents turn awry and lose the name of


this absolutely is not what it purports

to be a reverie contemplating

self-slaughter since Hamlet greatest of

ironies again does not all mean what he

says or say anything like what he means

a psychic double-dealer he broods on the

abscess of being as his old mode of

consciousness that sea of troubles will


directly transmuted by John Milton into

a universe of death that the heroic

Satan must explore enroute to the new

world of Eden Hamlet

Western hero of consciousness now

invents with the romantics what to call

the power of the poet's mind over all

outward forces soldiers of deaths cosmos

night death the mother and the sea Walt

Whitman's fourfold metaphor for his

unknowable soul will undo being and end

conscience which is also consciousness

at once awareness and word joy so

splendidly called egg and bite of in

which Hamlet gives presence or being two

choices only suffer like a stoic or else

outrageously uselessly take arms against

the ocean whose heightening pitch must

consume us in its currents since our

opposition cannot hope to quell them the

consummation however devoutly desired

must conclude in console multum esthe

the final words from the cross of being

but why does the Prince so beautifully

call death the undiscovered country from

whose Bourn boundary no traveler returns

the ghost of King Hamlet

however brutal and malevolent has

returned and so once again Hamlet does

not mean what he says what shall we know

of whatever it is that truly he means

the puzzled will WI ll must be the

center of this fresh creation of meaning

this new birth of poetic knowledge for

is the will in Shakespeare that

overhears itself and proceeds to will

change Will Shakespeare plays endlessly

on his name in the sonnets and rings

changes on it yet more profound in the

tragical history of how

we'll in Shakespeare is desire and the

consciousness that desire is death how

can the will over here itself the will

to change confronts at last the final

form of change death that distinctly is

not the Falstaff Ian well which seems to

go on unsettling what passes for

Shakespeare scholars even as it

exasperates their hero the brutal and

conniving prince how who becomes Henry v

what better time to jest and dally then

of the senseless butchery on

battlefields Hamlet Jess and Dolly's in

the graveyard but beneath the raillery

he will not admit how much he loved

Urich Vonnie because he has never loved

anyone else for a moment himself

included where are we to find the

meanings of Hamlet's words Falstaff is

how meaning gets started while Hamlet is

how it ends by immolating the well I do

not suggest that Shakespeare take sides

between the two because his compeition

'us and moves them both we are

Shakespeare's objects children of his

will his perspectivism is so dumb

foundering that we cannot know whether

or why we ourselves must choose do we

care where the fresh meaning can get

started in or for ourselves

Shakespeare's influence on Shakespeare

drove him to an augmenting elliptical

style of thought and rhetoric Falstaff

sister Cleopatra meets her match not in

the noble ruin of her Antony but in the

clown death's emissary who carries in

his basket the pretty worm of Nilus that

kills and pains not and here you must

beer with me again for this great

dialogue between the clown and the

Magnificent Cleopatra the clown look you

the worm is not to be trusted but in the

keeping of wise people for indeed there

is no goodness in the worm Cleopatra

take thou no care it shall be heated

very good give it nothing I pray you if

it is not worth the feeding and then

Cleopatra will it eat me you must not

think I am so simple but I know the

devil himself will not eat a woman I

know that a woman has a dish for the

gods of the devil dress her not but

truly the same horse Sun Devils do the

gods great harm and their women for an

every ten that they make the devil's ma5

Cleopatra well get Lee gone farewell


yes forsooth I wish you joy of the worm

even in Shakespeare there is nothing

else quite like Cleopatra's sudden

return to childhood fantasy will it eat

me the clown charmed by her as we all

have to be conceals in his populist

misogyny our and his genuine distress

that so magnificent a woman should slay


except for Falstaff and Hamlet nor the

death in Shakespeare divests us of so

much life constitutes so large a

withdrawal of meaning tragedy in

Shakespeare turns upon a loss in being

that threatens to empty us of meaning we

gain knowledge at the expense of life

and the hazards of Knittle ISM

Shakespeare in my experience is the

height of literary knowledge but what is

the fate of such knowledge nothing is

got for nothing the price of love

increases with aging because more of

those you loved are among the dead than

among the living to no fewer people

without the finer tone of knowledge

which is love is a poverty that

redefines imaginative need divinity for

almost all of us no matter how we try to

deceive ourselves and others is an

affair only of silent shadows

and of dreams I study Shakespeare with

great diligence hoping to continue

acquaintance with the ever-living his

women and his men what is that I know

when my knowledge of them augments or at

least remains constant

Shakespeare's invented word for the

identity of any man or woman is the self

same a deep paradox since he is the most

metaphoric of all writers beyond Ovid

perhaps Montaigne comes closest but he

presents only the one magnificent

identity himself notoriously well

Shakespeare has virtually no identity

whether in the sonnets or in the place

Hamlet has a dozen identities and scores

of modulations within them there are

more roles in him than great actors to

perform such endless intricacies

whatever literary knowledge is it begins

and ends with Shakespeare except there

is no end to Shakespeare I once believed

poetic knowledge could be regarded as

figurative thinking that now seems to me

just another evasion Nietzsche defined

the motive for metaphors our desire to

be different to be elsewhere but

literary knowledge is a larger response

to desire than our longing for a larger

self seeking father Shores the Jesus of

Mark's Gospel says he does not know who

he is and heaps asking his thick-headed

disciples sometimes indeed one believes

he has chosen them for their stupidity

but who do people say I am Hamlet the

secular Christ as Unamuno thought Don

Quixote to be like Cervantes sorrowful

Knight knows who he is

and who is going to be if he chooses our

sense of who we are and what we might be

as everything to Shakespeare historicist

old and new descent from that but there

is no history only biography and

biography from Johnson and Boswell on is

a purely Shakespearean mode to an

epicurean like Walt Whitman or myself

the what is unknowable literary

knowledge is in the first place

knowledge of literature and after that

something else let us name this added

realm as imaginal consciousness Hamlet's

theatricality constituting a fiction so

humanized that it leaps the plots

confines that vaulting bridges the gap

between Hamlet's ever-growing inwardness

and outward show a pageant at once a

celebration and a litany we are at a

festival of knowledge since Hamlet knows

more than we know

still we lament his not divulging more

and wonder if we resemble those poor

players Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

rather than Hamlet

many of us should wince as I do myself

when the Prince chives Guildenstern why

look you now how unworthy a thing you

make of me you would play upon me you

would seem to know my stops you would

pluck out the heart of my mystery you

would sell me for my lowest note to the

top of my compass and there is much

music excellent voice in this little

organ yet cannot you make it speak

Sablan do you think I'm easy to be

played on than a pipe call me what

instruments you will though you fret me

you cannot play upon me Hamlet like


composes a drama rehearsing the mode of

drama he writes I'm aware that's a

rather intricate sentence I take the

liberty of repeating it Hamlet like

Shakespeare composes a drama rehearsing

the mode of drama

he writes bewilderingly brilliant this

propels us into imaginal knowledge which

there are no ground rules stage playing

is reinvented before our eyes

startling our ears as it is indeed in

the wonderful tavern skits improvised by

Falstaff and Prince L it may be that

literary knowledge itself should be

regarded as another play within a play

daunting our prior awareness how can

each of us cast off the shadow of self

while continuing the expansion of our

consciousness at 81 I no longer read to

assuage loneliness early in life I

thought I read so many books because I

could never get to know enough people

that seems wrong now

not even Montaigne or Shakespeare

Cervantes or Marcel Proust suffice when

we pine for an absent friend let alone a

friend who has gone without the presence

of another valued being the self shadow

occludes any heightening of awareness

still we must take our condition as

given solitude to some degree augments

with aging you begin to write the style

of old age more surprisingly the

solitary reader drifts into a new mode

of perusal in which the momentous world

of shakespeare startlingly refigure your

prior sense of spatial relation in

regard to Shakespearean personality and

characters you go from containing

Falstaff Hamlet Cleopatra to being

contained by them as though they were

the echo chamber your spirit inhabited

in the atmosphere of Solitude the spirit


is gloriously asaro I associate with the

stridency of Nietzsche Zarathustra

crying out - but do I bid you be either

plant or phantom she experience cancels

that cloven fiction Falstaff is as much

Quicksilver spirit as sagging flesh

while hamlet apotheosis of Minds

theatricality laments that his solid

solid or solid flesh of the three

possibilities for the word they're all

splendid will not will to fall will not

dissolve itself into the moisturing x'

of a fresh dawn Orson Welles sublimely

suggested that Hamlet sensibly reached

and it stayed in England rejecting

Elsinore slaughterhouse and he happily

grew old and fat and aged into Sir John


the mercurial Orson thinking his way

figuratively into conversations with

Falstaff in his wonderful film chimes at

midnight gave us the only portrait of

the giant wit that could approach Rafe

Richardson's definitive stage enactment

which I saw at 16 and hold fast by

two-thirds of his century later I

returned to the ultimate question what

is Shakespearean knowledge Giambattista

Vico whose poets were Homa

Virgil and AD theologian Tay grounded

all knowledge in the true poets who

repopulated the earth with giant forms

by the V Cohn Ian tests Shakespeare is

the truest poet the knowledge

Shakespeare gives is not language but

diction the choice of words all the

Shakespearean gifts cognitive figurative

inventive of personalities depend upon

his total supremacy in diction arielle

songs in the tempest are illustrative

those are pearl

that were his eyes nothing of him that

does fade but of suffer a sea-change

into something rich and strange the

litany rings on pearls were eyes and

then on nothing fades suffice he changed

to culminate magnificently with the rich

and strange that are undesignated

diction surpassing the linguistic medium

itself opens to the roam of the will to

change the lesson of the master mastery

of diction marks Falstaff and Hamlet as

Shakespeare supreme fictions though to

me they are more than fictions since I

believe in them as the true gods

literary knowledge in Shakespeare

initially is the apprehension of diction

and then improves into the comprehension

of person hoods the wonderful English

poet of the Second World War of the

heroic Keith Douglas killed fighting in

Normandy in June 1944 only a few moments

after d-day commenced was barely 24

years old when he wrote what seems to

have been his last poem a month before

before embarking for Normandy concluding

it with a casual eloquence that I think

really is worthy of being called

Shakespearean the next month then is a

window and with a crash I'll split the

glass behind it stands one I must kiss

person of love or death a person or a

wraith I fear what I shall find the

lucid diction is Hamlet like kief

Douglass chooses a sequence of window a

crash that will split the glass the

enigmatic one I must kiss a person who

whether of love or death may be only a

wraith one's own imminent death just two

months later as it

about in battle simplification through

intensity Yates's definition of the late

romantic imagination is achieved in that

marvelous last line I fear what I shall

find diction touches perfection in this

and I hear again reverberations of

Hamlet's fearlessness because by fear

Keith Douglass meant acceptance of the

rest that is silence at twenty-four the

poet demonstrates Shakespearean

knowledge in his surpassing diction

inevitability of phrasing is a nagging

and which only Dante among Western poets

can rival Shakespeare after Dante the

Italian literary language had to be his

initially highly personal Tuscan

actually originated by his friend

Cavalcante but then surpassed in the

commedia after Shakespeare English

literary language gradually unfolds into

something wholly his my personal guide

to this unfolding remains my much

lamented friend owen Barfield in his

splendid poetic diction a study in

meaning thus shakespeare's aureole gives

us something rich and strange which

always makes me rejoice choice would

have liked that

that's strange Finnegan's Wake --is--

pun which I did not intend which always

makes me recall James Joyce's answered

to the desert island question as to the

one book to take I should like to answer

Dante but I would have to take the

Englishman because he is richer when

hears a Gaelic resentment of

Barfield employed strangeness as a prime

criterion for the highest poetry my own

critical hero of latter days Walter

Pater defined the romantic imagination

as adding strangeness to beauty and

wallace Stevens's whom h oon an amalgam

of Walter Pater and Walt Whitman cries

out and there I found myself more truly

and more strange I owe to owen Barfield

the emphasis it must be a strangeness of

meaning Barfield wrote one day is our

reaction to things which we are

conscious of not quite understanding or

in any rate of understanding less than

we had thought the element of

strangeness in beauty has the contrary

effect it rises from contact with a

different kind of consciousness from our

own different yet not so remote that we

cannot partly share it as indeed in such

a connection linear word contact implies

strangeness in fact arouses wonder when

we do not understand aesthetic

imagination when we do that's the end of

the quotation from Owen in what ways

intimate ever early candid self

reflective do Hamlet Falstaff Cleopatra

render us a strange newness in meaning

repetition consigns meaning to the

rubbish-heap only the start of fresh

meaning hurts us enough to be memorable

Walt Whitman fought against

retrospection in his leaves of grass

until his heroic hospital service among

the dead and dying broke him until then

Walt was a mythic cosmos a hermetic or

Gnostic play Roma the fullness of powers

they granted a flawless the divine man

who does inhabits

of myself there is a fullness of being

in Falstaff and Cleopatra and a ruining

of even greater being in Hamlet who

would wear out any cosmos whatsoever

unlike Cleopatra and Falstaff Hamlet

gives us the illusion that he exists

neither in space nor in time this is

though his astonished and astonishing in

witness represents a reality that has

priority over all temporal and spatial

divisions of human existence hermetic

Gnostic Kabbalists texts and scriptures

however fragmentary all furnished images

of an unfallen atom a man God the Adam

Kadmon who precedes the creation fall

Walt Whitman had encountered such a

figure in his Egyptian interests but

also in reading 19th century fictions

yet he did not need sources his

fecundity was sufficient in itself I go

back to many conversations I enjoyed

with my truest mentor Gershom Scholem in

Jerusalem and in America we expounded

his conviction that Walt had invented an

original Kabbalah and that wise

apprehension the scholar of all scholars

located what we now neglect in Walt

Whitman the incarnation of the Orphic

poet prophesied by Emerson's American

religion I never quite agree with to

gifted late friends Toni not all ad not

all and UT tal and the wonderful Frances

Yeats marvelous woman and their linkage

of Shakespeare to the Hermetic fantasies

of Robert Fludd and dr. John Dee and yet

Hamlet illuminates the hermetic image of

the divine man falling outwards and

downwards into our base much more fully

than esoteric tradition ever could hope

to clarify the Black Prince

what is foundational for the hermetic

corpus is only another unpacking of the

heart with words words for Prince Hamlet

so capacious is Shakespeare's project in

the tragical history of Hamlet Prince of

Denmark that religious speculations

however heterodox cannot unfold a mind

finally self purified of all theatrical

ISM what then is the scope of literary

knowledge if as I believe Hamlet

Falstaff Cleopatra stand at the center

of it Hamlet a kaleidoscope world's his

wonder wounded hearers into a

cosmological quest absurdly too

momentous for the rotten court of

Elsinore Falstaff deliciously regaled

with sherry sack I wish I had some at

the moment and doll tearsheet my wife is

here so I could set that aside

challenges your perspectivism to

professor moldy fig sir John is a

cowardly buffoon to you whoever you are

he is the true image of life itself

Cleopatra two dead eyes is an aged

trollop to those who discern she

personifies heroic eros the Shakespeare

care how you choose our not knowing that

is the clue to literary knowledge in

this most comprehensive of nois in part

only we come to know what he knows

Hamlet defies augury if it be tis not to

come if it be not to come it will be now

if it be not now yet it will come the

readiness is all willing to die is a

shade only from willing death Falstaff

will have none of it or indeed of old

age though he knows well enough that

both will have him I think I love this

better than the other moment in Falstaff

my lord I was born about three of the

o'clock in the afternoon with a white

head and something around belly for my

voice I have lost it with hollowing and

singing of anthems others to say

chanting songs crying out praises of

yahwah is hardly the Falstaff e'en or

indeed the blue Mian mode though on his

deathbed he will sing songs I know him

better than I know Hamlet for who can

identify with the Black Prince all of us

have known perhaps two or three women

who in life could assume Cleopatra's

garments give me my robe put on my

ground counter I am getting tired put on

my crown I have immortal longings in me

whatever else they may be Falstaff

Hamlet Cleopatra are not among

Shakespeare's falls of time as so many

of his protagonists become it is a

scholarly commonplace that the

Renaissance fiercely augmented the

classical drive to augment time with art

outlasting eros

Elizabeth's fabled chastity manipulated

into political power became an image of

temporal constancy always the same the

great Queen resisted owning the final

form of change death literary knowledge

however is of and in time and cannot

exist without consciousness of

temporality Ovid is the very first

instance of overt literary knowledge I

can recognize and Christopher Marlowe

more than Shakespeare seems closer to of

it in an obsessive anxiety that forces a

specifically literary knowledge The

Tempest in my reading a final overcoming

of Marlowe's dr. Faustus is the farthest

experience of literary knowledge

available to me

literary knowing is an event were in our

own acquaintance with the known his self

reflexive and that the allusion glares

back at us when endlessly I reread and

teach yet once more the shocking tragedy

of King Lear the knowledge I gained

primarily is of what only the uncanny

fool knows on that great stage of Falls

we cry the cry of the human as though we

are newborn but we fall into times

theater and not into Hamlet's or

Falstaff theatre of mind Lear's full

half a changeling child half wise beyond

wisdom knows that he and all the others

on the stage inhabit what the ancient

Gnostics called the kinoma a

cosmological abyss enduring beyond a

false creation

ruined by its capricious rushing into

being falling into time we abandon a

full up knowing for empirical caprices

if that is the best we can achieve

unless the richest mode of literary

knowledge can be attained Marcel Proust

the most Shakespearean writer of his

time recovered knowledge in the

privileged moments had partly redeemed

time Samuel Beckett meditating on proofs

from a Joycean perspective reminds us of

the link through John Ruskin to high

romantic spots of time secularized

epiphanies the Wills revenge against

time and times it was a failed

Nietzschean quest brilliantly as

isolated by Proust as sexual jealousy

restored to the Shakespearean intensity

of Othello and of Leontes in The

Winter's Tale and so I come to my

conclusion the pristine comedy of sexual

jealousy plays against Shakespeare's

darker view of it but both augment our

understanding of literary knowledge and

Proust the jealous lover is an art

historian searching for every visual and

temporal evidence of infidelity as fulls

of time we're all of us

agonized lovers

fantasizing fictions of duration that

become our own alas sometimes bad poems

or stories if I had to choose only one

character as a guide to literary

knowledge it would of course be Sir John

Falstaff rather than Hamlet or Cleopatra

Dante the pilgrim or Don Quixote Proust

narrator or that splendid fellow who

usurped my name forever

Leopold Bloom for me the question what

is literary knowledge is answered

triumphantly by Falstaff why Falstaff

need not quest for lost time since he

triumphantly has thrust time aside and

bid it pass Falstaff is not human all

too human as academic moralist

tiresomely repeat Falstaff is as he says

the true and perfect image of life

itself turn him and turn him for

everything is in him thank you very much