Harold Bloom #3: What does he mean by “self-overhearing”?

He means something similar to self-awareness. Many of Shakespeare’s characters are able to see what they look like from an external point of view and then change the way they behave accordingly. Bloom describes this as “the process of self-revision”; the ability “to change by self-overhearing and then by the will to change”. He is quite clear that this is different to the process of creating the self: “Not self-fashioning but self-revision; for [the 20th century French philosopher Michel] Foucault, the self is fashioned, but for Shakespeare it is given, subject to subsequent mutabilities. The great topos, or commonplace, in Shakespeare is change…”

Illustration by Eleanor Davis and Katherine Guillen (picture source)


Bloom’s book had a mixed reception when it was published, but most critics agreed with its central premise: that Shakespeare changed the way we know ourselves. Talking to the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, one of his fiercest critics, Professor Jacqueline Rose, conceded: “I find myself agreeing with Bloom… that Shakespeare invented a certain concept of the human which has been enormously influential, and it’s the one in which we still recognise ourselves. And I would go further… by saying that I think he develops a certain notion of interiority or inwardness… and that that way of experiencing oneself is central to the psychology of what one would want to call, by way of shorthand, Western man.”

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