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Shakespeare's Politics Paperback – 7 Nov 1996

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About the Author

At his death in 1992, Allan Bloom was the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and in the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, including The Closing of the American Mind. Harry Jaffa is Henry Salvatori Research Professor of Political Philosophy Emeritus at Claremont McKenna College.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Powerful. Pungent. Political and philosophical too. 3 Feb 2000
By Michael Russell - Published on
Format: Paperback
It is difficult to convey how wonderful I found this thin little book to be. It is no larger than a slice of rye bread, but the food for thought contained therein could feed a soul for a thousand days. It took me two mesermizing hours to get through the Introduction and Bloom's essay on 'The Merchant of Venice'. At first, I mistrusted my recollection- was there really so much there? Had the dry old play decayed so completely in my estimation, or had Bloom inserted his own opinions? No, after more blissful consternation, I relived what I had long taken for dead. Allan Bloom really sees things. His deft insight makes Shakespeare seem real and urgent again, despite how unfashionable and out of vogue the debate may seem to contemporary minds. The Jewish and the Christian come to light, the entire legacy of each Faith revealed keenly, sharply, and decisively in favour of one higher power. The authority of thought, the power of unaided reason brought to bear nakedly on an eternal, ever-so tender, sore. Bloom's essay on 'Othello' and 'Julius Cesear' prove out this reviewer's intial wonder at the work. To readers familiar with Bloom's other works, I include myself, this book was additionally worthy because it showed that the issue Allan Bloom later became famous for, the decay of education, was already at the forefront of his mind in the early 1960's. He states in the book's introduction and claims it as his motivation for publishing the essay. This was 1964, several years before the signifigant events of the 1960s took full shape and bore full weight on American society. The introduction includes Bloom's stark assessment of Poetry and Philosophy. He quotes Napolean (one of very few direct quotes, the footnotes are rich, but few) to argue for the superiority of poetry over politics and then slyly demostrates the superiority of philosophy, or the philosopher, true and proper, over poetry. This is a book you could own and keep and reread often, even secrete it undercover and carry it across hostile borders, real and imagined.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Solid scholarship and thoughtful ideas 1 Nov 2003
By Thomas Stamper - Published on
Format: Paperback
While many study Shakespeare for literature or theatre, Bloom and Jaffa try to discover Shakespeare for political insights. The authors' study of The Merchant of Venice and Othello both give readers an understanding of an outsider's role in a community while Julius Caesar and King Learn demonstrate that political power at the top is more tenuous than it many times appears.
Othello is an accepted member of Venice and is even a hero of sorts, but co-existence isn't full citizenship argue Bloom and Jaffa. Citizenship in a homogenous society requires that one adhere to the same customs and even have the same background. Othello may be a hero, but he's still an outsider. Iago uses this insecurity to convince Othello that his wife is unfaithful. Bloom and Jaffa certainly consider Othello a tragic figure of sorts, but he's one largely of his own making. If Othello were to realize that he's incapable of being accepted totally in such a closed society he would have made better choices himself. This would have kept him from making an enemy of the envious Iago.
Bloom and Jaffa also have a different take on the question of King Lear. They think the most important political message occurs in the very first scene of the very first act. While many consider Lear's idea of dividing his kingdom among his daughters the evidence of a foolish old man, the authors argue that Lear was a great king and only a great king could be guilty of such a terrible mistake. No other English King in Shakespeare's writing was able to unite the whole British empire. Shakespeare made this point up front so that you would realize what a great man King Lear is when the play opens. It's important that Lear be seen as great not foolish, because when a great king makes the biggest mistake, the tragedy is all the more sorrowful.
You might not agree with every premise or conclusion in this book, but you'll certainly get to weigh the new ideas versus your own. The result should be a better understanding of the Bard as a political animal. The book has sure given me a new outlook on these characters.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
See Shakespeare In Another Light 31 Dec 2002
By Nathan Albright - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It should be obvious that Shakespeare wrote great literature. That fact is assumed by the authors of this book. However, Allan Bloom and Harry Jaffa demonstrate a deeper awareness of Shakespeare than one will find in literature departments. Shakespeare combined poetry with an acute knowledge of politics, and these excellent scholars have written a clear and convincing account of some of those facets of political wisdom. Read this fine book and help rescue Shakespeare from political irrelevance.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Another inspiring tour de force 27 Mar 2005
By Brett Williams - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bloom's insight into the deepest aspects of humanity may not be matched by anyone, past or present. Having been given the gift of his existence we are magnificently lucky he wrote what he knew so we might scratch the surface. Once again Bloom inspires by penetrating our perpetual present with the permanent and universal. This time he performs this magic through analysis of Shakespeare's plays, their political message, Shakespeare's grasp of what makes us who we are and the great, forever present teacher he has the capacity to serve as, if, at least for the moment, we ignore "new critic" sermons. (He means postmodern sophistry.) What makes Bloom so uplifting is his success in communicating power to the reader. With Bloom's assistance, not control, the reader realizes we too hold the keys to our richest experiences, unavailable to those attached to fashionable dogmas, Right or Left.

Shakespeare's plays deal with fragile balances of humanity as individuals and as associations (civilization) with their impossible reconciliations between competing concepts and ideals, which is what both are made of. The Jew and Christian in Venice - their conflicts between what matters most while still members of the same society, which though peaceful and prosperous engages in the simplification of man; The strength and weakness of men in love, with women and their own self image; the root of tragedy suffered by the hero precisely due to his heroic strengths. Shakespeare acts on so many levels it's hard to fathom anyone could grasp it all without Bloom as escort.

Bloom has a habit of telling the truth about our circumstances and for that he is sure to be character assassinated by those unable to deal with it. We do not, he says, "look at all to books when [we] meet problems in life or think about [our] goals; there are no literary models for [our] conceptions of virtue and vise." Reflecting a deeper fact about "the decay of common understanding of - and agreement on - first principles that is characteristic of our times." Resulting in a "decided lowering of tone in [our] reflections on life and its goals." Thus we are "technically well equipped but Philistine." But Shakespeare provides an opportunity to see out of this, as do other great books Bloom was so taken by and wrote about elsewhere.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Great Insights for teachers and scholars of the Bard 13 Dec 2010
By Galfridus - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This colletion contains essays on several of Shakespeare's plays and focuses on politics and political themes. Moreover, Bloom and Jaffe relate political ideas to ideas that range from ethnic identity to parental love to stoic philsophy. The essays are well-written, concise, and full of useful insights. This collection has proven an invaluable tool in teaching such plays as The Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar.
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