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Bloom Interpreting Johnson Interpreting Shakespeare

In Measure for Measure, Act 3, Scene I, the Duke gives a quote:

Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But, as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep,
Dreaming on both; for all thy blessed youth
Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich,
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
To make thy riches pleasant.

(I’ve extended the quote beyond what Harold Bloom has on p. 199 of The Western Canon.) Bloom then quotes Samuel Johnson:

This is exquisitely imagined. When we are young we busy ourselves in forming schemes for succeeding time, and miss the gratifications that are before us; when we are old we amuse the languor of age with the recollection of youthful pleasures or performances; so that our life, of which no part is filled with the business of the present time, resembles our dreams after dinner, when the events of the morning are mingled with the designs of the evening.

-Samuel Johnson (though I can’t find the citation in Bloom)

The beauty of Bloom’s book (so far) is finding rich threads between one member of the canon and another — this is what makes it a canon.

This thread is profound. As Bloom goes on, “Shakespeare’s exquisite imagining reveals our total inability to live in the present moment.”

Published inBooksWisdom

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