Cleopatra: I Am Fire and Air by Harold Bloom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley
Anthony and Cleopatra is my favorite Shakespeare play. It didn’t really attain this title until I was in graduate school. There is something not only wonderful about the character of Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s play but also because it is a love story with a political theme. Everyone remembers Cleopatra but very few remember that political component.
Like all of us, Harold Bloom has fallen for Cleopatra. Hard. After reading his slim volume on Hamlet, I thought Bloom wanted to have an affair Gertrude, but now I think there is something of a threesome going on between Bloom, Gertrude, and Cleopatra. One can’t really fault him for that.
Bloom is at his best and most piercing when he links Shakespeare’s Cleopatra to the idea of ebb and flow of the Nile river. This is a brilliant observation. It actually does much to explain aspects of Cleopatra’s character and then also ties both Cleopatra and ebb/flow into Anthony’s character. It is quite interesting.
There are also problems with it. In many ways, it is difficult for a female reader to forget that early on in his book, Bloom writes that Cleopatra “cunning beyond male thought”. Now I am looking at an early electronic galley, so hopefully that word male will be removed. As it stands, it is jarring. It almost forces the female to reader out of the book. A strange feeling considering the subject is a woman.
It’s true to note that Shakespeare’s audience would have been male, so Bloom is undoubtedly correct on a basic level. Yet, the narrow focuses weaken his point, especially the level point in connecting Cleopatra to the water.
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