Harold Bloom

An interview with the late, legendary, literary scholar recorded shortly before his death.

In this interview, the late, legendary, literary scholar - and native Yiddish speaker -  Harold Bloom recalls his first experience of seeing Shakespeare as a child—watching the towering Maurice Schwartz as Shylock in a Yiddish production of The Merchant of Venice on 2nd Avenue in 1938. Complete with a twenty minute pause while women in the audience threw roses on stage and Schwartz milked the applause!

These excerpts are part of an interview recorded by Christa Whitney, director of the Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project, a few weeks before Bloom's death. Among other highlights, Bloom says "I still dream in Yiddish," recalls that the first book he ever owned (which was brought to his door by missionaries) was the New Testament in Yiddish, and reveals that he had recently been reading Vladimir Jabotinsky's Yiddish translation of Dante. And his favorite Yiddish proverb? "Sleep faster, we need the pillows." Keep an eye on the Center's website for more clips, coming soon.

In the clip below, Harold Bloom recalls, “My three wonderful older sisters steadily took me to the Second Avenue Theater. Unfortunately, Thomashefsky and Jacob Adler were already gone, but Maurice Schwartz was there. The first Shakespeare plays I ever saw were in Yiddish at the Second Avenue Theater, and I will never forget my experience. This is about 1938 and I'm eight years old. The magnificent Maurice Schwartz is Shylock. But this has all been marvelously rewritten, in Yiddish—as they said, farbesert—improved."

"The First Shakespeare Plays I Ever Saw Were in Yiddish": Harold Bloom on M. Schwartz as Shylock

“Funnily enough, the first book I ever owned myself, and it still strikes me as hilarious, was a New Testament in Yiddish," recalls Harold Bloom, in the clip below. "One day, the doorbell rang and a missionary handed it to me. So I read it years later, since I became a classics major at Cornell. We spent a semester reading the New Testament. Even as a child, I conceived a dislike of it, which I've made clear many times, saying that indeed it should be called the Belated Testament and Tanakh [i.e. the Hebrew Bible] the original Testament. One of my many ways of making enemies, of whom God knows I have a plethora."

The First Book Harold Bloom Owned was the New Testament in Yiddish

Please watch here for more clips and for Harold Bloom's full oral history, which we'll be posting shortly.

Learn more about the Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project and view our growing collection of oral histories.