I have long been hesitant in writing about Shakespeare, because it seems almost inconceivable that something new could be said. However, in writing a series about the visions of English poets, to leave Shakespeare out would obviously leave an enormous gap.
In trying to think of a new angle, or at least to approach Shakespeare in a way that would provide some fresh ideas, I was inspired by something Harold Bloom said in Genius, his provocative and illuminating account of inspired writers. Naturally he has Shakespeare at the top of the list, and I suspect no one would disagree – though I cannot but recall here a virtuoso performance by the American critic George Steiner, called ‘A Reading Against Shakespeare’, which he delivered with aplomb at the annual literature seminar that the British Council used to run in Cambridge for many years.
His thesis, or rather one of the most important criticisms he made amongst many, was that there was really no order in the way Shakespeare constructed his world. I still remember the example he used to make this point, his account of the death of Cordelia in King Lear, which he said occurred simply because the message to save her went too late. He contrasted this with the failure to save Antigone in Sophocles’ play of that name, which he noted occurred because Creon the errant protagonist, had to reverse the wrongs he did in order, rather than rescuing Antigone first.