October 12, 2007
Thoreau said that wild fruits taste better than farm-grown fruits. Likewise, cutting-edge theories are more exciting, more tasty, than textbook theories. Examples of cutting-edge theories are The Prince Tudor Theory and The Ibsen-Hitler Theory. These theories aren’t in any encyclopedias or textbooks — they aren’t even in Wikipedia. Cutting-edge theories are the wild fruits of the intellectual world.
What ever happened to patronage? It seems to have died out completely. Nowadays, billions of dollars are given to colleges, orchestras, and other institutions, but who gives money to individuals — to individual writers and artists? Patronage was important in ancient times, and in Renaissance times; there were even wealthy people in the mid-twentieth century who patronized writers and artists. But where are the patrons today? Have we forgotten that culture is created by individuals, not by institutions?
Government funding of the arts might be regarded as organized patronage. But governments are unlikely to fund those who are truly creative. Can you imagine van Gogh receiving a government grant? Real patronage takes place between individuals and individuals. The best way for politicians to help is to lower taxes, so that at least a few people can become patrons, or self-patrons.
Is patronage always beneficial to those who receive it? Writers and artists are sometimes more productive in the rough-and-tumble of life than when a patron raises them above it. Jakob Boehme, the mystic, wrote best when he was torn between mundane affairs and lofty speculations; once he found a patron, his creativity dried up.1 Jung once advised a wealthy woman that the recipient of her patronage would be better off on his own, and such proved to be the case.2
A Phlit subscriber in New Zealand, Bruce McNeill, wrote to me thus:
I responded thus:
To family, or not to family — that’s the question. It seems like a question worthy of discussion, but it’s such a personal matter that perhaps a treatise can’t answer it. At any rate, if one were to attempt such a discussion, Nietzsche would be put in the “anti-family” group — because of his solitary life, as well as his writings in praise of solitude. Jung, on the other hand, would probably be in the “pro-family” group — because of his life (he was married, and had several children), and because of his pro-family comments.
When I was preparing for my Hotchkiss talk, I looked at a book that I had long been interested in, Shakespeare’s Last Plays: A New Approach, by Frances Yates. Since Yates is an expert on Hermetism, and since I’m interested in the Hermetic Shakespeare, I wanted to know Yates’ thoughts on Shakespeare.
Many modern intellectuals are interested in the occult — Jungians, for example, and those who subscribe to New Age ideas. This interest in the occult is changing our view of Shakespeare; books like Shakespeare the Magus are appearing. Although Yates is a student of Hermetism rather than a Hermetist herself, her own work is part of this trend — part of a new attitude toward the occult, and a new attitude toward Shakespeare. Yates writes thus: “The possibility has arisen that the serious historical and critical approach to subjects formerly dismissed as ‘occult’... might now bring us close to a new understanding of Shakespeare.”5
Sometimes we can understand things in terms of their opposite. Perhaps we can understand Shakespeare’s receptive attitude toward the occult by looking at Ben Jonson, who was scornful of the occult. As Yates says, “Ben Jonson’s adverse attitude to the themes of the Last Plays helps greatly towards our understanding of them and of Shakespeare.”6 In The Tempest, Yates writes, “the student of [the occult sciences] is presented as a noble magus, a religious reformer.”7 On the other hand, in Ben Jonson’s Alchemist, “he is presented as a charlatan and a cheat.” Jonson’s character, Subtle, is “a rogue who uses his pretended skill in alchemy to cheat people out of their money.” One wonders where Marlowe’s Faustus belongs — among the charlatans, or among the noble magi?
The difference between Shakespeare and Jonson, according to Yates, is a difference of attitude toward John Dee, the chief Hermetist of Elizabeth’s reign. Jonson satirizes Dee in his Alchemist, while Shakespeare uses Dee as his model for the wise Prospero. Yates calls Dee “philosopher-in-chief to Queen Elizabeth.”8
Dee was accused of conjuring devils, and fell into disfavor. Likewise, the Rosicrucian movement was persecuted, and forced underground. “After the defeat of the Winter King of Bohemia,” Yates writes, “Rosicrucianism and its literature will be stamped out with the utmost ferocity and savagely caricatured.... The German Rosicrucian literature was proscribed, and, as far as possible, destroyed.”9 The liberal regime of the King and Queen of Bohemia (formerly Princess Elizabeth and the Elector Palatine) was replaced by “the Spanish-Hapsburg version of the Counter Reformation.” James, King of England, chose to appease the Spanish rather than assist his daughter and her husband.
Because Dee and the Rosicrucians had fallen into disfavor, Yates thinks it was bold of Shakespeare to take their side. She calls The Tempest, “A Rosicrucian manifesto infused with the spirit of Dee.... The Tempest was a very bold manifesto.”10
In The Tempest, Prospero uses white magic for benevolent ends. Yates calls Prospero, “the moral reformer, bent on freeing the world of his island from evil influences.”11 Shakespeare contrasts Prospero with Sycorax: “Shakespeare makes very clear in The Tempest how utterly different is the high intellectual and virtuous magic of the true magus from low and filthy witchcraft and sorcery. Prospero is poles apart from the witch Sycorax and her evil son.”12
Yates has a keen interest in Rosicrucianism, and wrote a book on the subject. She links Shakespeare backward to Bruno and Pico, and forward to Rosicrucianism: “Shakespeare’s thought in [his last plays] belongs to the evolution of the Renaissance Hermetic-Cabalist tradition into Rosicrucianism.... There is a profound philosophical significance in the [last] plays, a magical sense of interaction between man and nature. The magical atmosphere is also a deeply religious atmosphere, productive of ‘theophanies’, or new revelations of the divine.”13
Yates says that Francis Bacon’s thought is also Hermetic/Rosicrucian: “Bacon’s New Atlantis is full of Rosicrucian influence.... [Bacon’s] philosophy was so largely drawn from the Renaissance Hermetic tradition....”14
Yates includes Henry VIII among Shakespeare’s last plays. She says that Henry VIII depicts a Protestantism “in which the old hardness and intolerance has been done away in an atmosphere of love and reconciliation.”15 Knight also groups Henry VIII among Shakespeare’s last plays.
There seems to be one major problem with Yates’ book: it’s based on the Stratfordian view that Shakespeare lived and wrote for several years under James I. In other words, Yates dates the last plays too late (1610, perhaps, instead of 1602). “Shakespeare’s Last Plays...” Yates writes, “were probably written from about 1608... to early in 1613.”16
Knight’s first foray into Shakespeare criticism was an essay called “Myth and Miracle,” published in 1929, when he was 32. It’s a superb essay. It attempts to justify Shakespeare’s Final Plays. It argues that these plays aren’t the product of declining creative powers, and they aren’t partly written by an “incompetent coadjutor.” Rather, they’re Shakespeare’s crowning achievement — hence the title of the book, The Crown of Life: Essays in Interpretation of Shakespeare’s Final Plays.
True, these Final Plays contain incidents that seem improbable, unrealistic — the dead coming back to life, etc. Knight insists that these incidents are “myths and miracles” that represent a mystical wisdom, a mystical affirmation of life. The Final Plays aren’t fantasies designed to entertain; rather, they’re religious works, presenting a Hermetic “religion of the world.” Knight speaks of,
Knight stresses the importance of music in these Final Plays. The poet uses music to represent joy, affirmation, immortality. Knight divides Shakespeare’s work into
(He seems to regard the early comedies as unimportant.) After the problem plays and the tragedies, “The third group outsoars the intuition of tragedy and gives us plays whose plots explicate the quality of immortality: the predominating symbols are loss in tempest and revival to the sounds of music.”18
In one of the Final Plays, however, Shakespeare attempts to make his point through direct speech:
Jupiter says he has caused suffering only to make joy more intense. Does Jupiter’s attitude remind you of God’s attitude in the Book of Job? According to Knight, Job has “striking parallels to the anthropomorphic theology of Cymbeline.”20 Again, Knight attaches a religious significance to Shakespeare’s work.
Knight views Hamlet as one of the problem plays.
At this stage of his career, the poet didn’t yet possess the mystic vision that can overcome Time.
When we’re young, we turn against life, as Hamlet does. As we approach death, however, we accept life, we take a more positive attitude. Knight calls this “a universal rhythm”:
This progress from despair to joy is discussed by Kübler-Ross in her book on death and dying. Shakespeare seemed to complete this progress while still at the height of his powers. He died at 54, and he knew he was dying, he didn’t die unexpectedly. For purposes of literature, he died at the perfect time. His last three years seem to have been extraordinarily productive — his physical powers ebbing away, but his creative powers at their zenith, and his spiritual progress complete.
Knight argues that, while the problem plays often display a negative spirit, the tragedies display glimpses of affirmation:
Knight regards The Tempest as the crowning achievement of Shakespeare’s final period. He says that many of the characters and incidents recall earlier Shakespeare plays. “In Antonio and Sebastian, the tempter and the tempted, plotting murder for a crown, we can see more than traces of Macbeth.”24 Ariel recalls Puck, Caliban recalls Falstaff, etc. Knight says that, in The Tempest, Shakespeare doesn’t follow any existing story, history, or play. (But those who subscribe to the Tempest-Cuttyhunk Theory might say that Shakespeare was following Gosnold’s account of his shipwreck.) Shakespeare brings out all his old themes, and sums up his work.25
Like other Shakespeare characters, Prospero is a scholar who is unfit for politics. He is betrayed, and retreats to his solitude, like Timon. One wonders if this theme of “Betrayal and Retreat” had a personal meaning for Shakespeare. Didn’t he retreat from the court in his last years? This retreat, this solitude, probably made him more productive.27
Prospero is a magus, a Hermetist, hence he speaks of “being transported/And rapt in secret studies.”28 He practices white magic, benevolent magic, and tries to purge his island of evil; he opposes the malevolent magic of the witch, Sycorax (is this the ancient theme of magician vs. magician?). Prospero works by conjuring; he conjures Ariel, who does his bidding.
Knight offers the following synopsis of The Tempest:
Note the benevolent nature of Prospero’s magic.
Hamlet also radiates power, and controls circumstances, but Hamlet’s power is negative, destructive, hence the play of which he’s the protagonist ends with a pile of corpses, unlike The Tempest. The idea that mind, spiritual power, can control circumstances is the “core idea” in inspirational literature, self-help literature, as we argued in an earlier issue. The theme of inspirational literature is, “get your mind on track, your intentions on track, and your life will get on track, too.”
Knight points out that Prospero’s name fits his benevolent role:
I wish I could tell Knight that the real Shakespeare wrote a preface for a translation of Castiglione’s book. Was Castiglione’s philosophy Platonic idealism, as Knight says? Perhaps Renaissance Platonism should be viewed as Neoplatonism — that is, Hermetism. Should Castiglione be called an idealist/Platonist, or should he be called a Hermetist/Neoplatonist? As for the phrase “super-state”, it was probably influenced by Nietzsche’s Superman; Knight was a student of Nietzsche, and often refers to him.
Knight thinks that Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is a close relative of Shakespeare’s Prospero. He points out that Zarathustra’s companions, Eagle and Serpent, are comparable to Ariel and Caliban. Knight overlooks an important fact, namely, that Shakespeare was receptive to the occult, and endowed his Superman with magical powers, while Nietzsche wasn’t interested in the occult. Nietzsche scoffed at astrology and alchemy.
Knight’s vast erudition includes Eastern literature; Knight compares The Tempest to
Summing up The Tempest, Knight says “The wonder of myth and magic of ritual collaborate to produce a consummation ‘more than nature was ever conduct of’; and yet the very agents of the miraculous are natural elements. Nature and miracle become one.” Isn’t this one of the deepest truths of philosophy — that nature itself is miraculous? Isn’t this the essence of Hermetic wisdom?
|1.|| Lectures on Jung’s Typology: The Inferior Function, by Marie-Louise von Franz, ch. 2, “The Introverted Intuitive Type,” p. 45 back|
|2.|| C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, “1954: The World of James Joyce” back|
|3.|| III, 7 back|
|4.|| #197 back|
|5.|| preface back|
|6.|| preface back|
|7.|| Ch. 5 back|
|8.|| Ch. 1 back|
|9.|| Ch. 5 back|
|10.|| Epilogue back|
|11.|| Ch. 4 back|
|12.|| Ch. 4 back|
|13.|| Introduction back|
|14.|| Epilogue back|
|15.|| Ch. 4 back|
|16.|| Introduction back|
|17.|| Ch. 1, iii back|
|18.|| Ch. 1, iv back|
|19.|| Ch. 1, ii back|
|20.|| Ch. 1, v back|
|21.|| Ch. 1, ii back|
|22.|| Ch. 1, v back|
|23.|| Ch. 1, ii back|
|24.|| Ch. 1, iv back|
|25.|| According to Knight, “The most careful and important study of The Tempest hitherto is undoubtedly Colin Still’s Shakespeare’s Mystery Play.” Also called The Timeless Theme. back|
|26.|| Ch. 1, iv back|
|27.|| Knight over-emphasizes Shakespeare’s objectivity; he speaks of “the grand objectivity that characterizes the life-work.... This selfless artistic world....”(ch. 5, ii) back|
|28.|| I, ii, 72 back|
|29.|| Ch. 5, i back|
|30.|| Ch. 5, iii back|
|31.|| Ch. 5, iii back|
|32.||Ch. 5, ii back|