CLEOPATRA by Harold Bloom


I Am Fire and Air
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A wise inquiry into an “erotic and yet transcendent” play.

The uber-prolific Bloom (Humanities/Yale Univ.; Falstaff: Give Me a Life, 2017, etc.) now has his own book series: Shakespeare’s Personalities. The first book explored Prince Hal’s loyal friend, Falstaff, one of the Bard’s most complex characters. Bloom continues to instruct and entertain with this in-depth look at the “most seductive woman in all of Shakespeare,” the Egyptian queen who describes herself as “fire and air.” Bloom fell in love with actress Janet Suzman’s portrayal of Cleopatra in 1974, and her image “lingers” with him still. In 1607, just one year after Macbeth premiered, Antony and Cleopatra was first performed. “Without the fierce sexuality that Cleopatra both embodies and stimulates in others,” writes Bloom, “there would be no play.” As usual, the author expects a lot of his readers as he meticulously provides a close reading, quoting extensively as he examines the text. For him, the play is “a brilliant kaleidoscope, a montage of shifting fortunes, places, personalities, excursions into the empyrean.” Shakespeare’s Cleopatra “beguiles and she devastates,” and “no one else in Shakespeare is so metamorphic.” She is “radiant” at age 39 and instantly puts “Antony’s heart in her purse.” Bloom loves to ponder over certain words—e.g., Cleopatra’s use of the “rich” word “oblivion” or the subtle “sexual implication” of “Do.” The “law” of her personality—“ebb, flow, ebb, return”—is about renewal and vitality, while Antony’s is “ebb, flow, ebb, and do not return.” Bloom often references other Shakespearean characters as he delves into what makes Cleopatra, Antony, Octavius Caesar, and other characters tick. His discussion of Shakespeare’s “unique mastery at portraying the art of dying” is especially fascinating.

A masterfully perceptive reading of this seductive play’s “endless wonders.”

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-5011-6416-3
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2017


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