Skip to main content

Chapter 13: Metaphysics of Shakespeare

Chapter 13: Metaphysics of Shakespeare
table of contentsback to books

Page 106

Chapter XIII

IN DISCUSSIONS of Shakespeare and his plays we hear little about what may be termed the by-products of the great dramatist's mind; for usually the dramatic incidents of the plays occupy the attention of the reader to the exclusion of the more subtle threads of philosophy and soul culture. Shakespeare was a great teacher, and his mind grasped the salient issues in the practical world in which he lived and often forged away ahead into realms that modern research and discovery pronounce miraculous.

Psychological insight is essential in discerning the spiritual wisdom of Shakespeare. The intellectual reader will miss entirely the references to a supermind that crop out in all his dramas. Bible readers know that spiritual things are spiritually discerned. This is also strikingly true of Shakespeare's works.

In the fantasy "Midsummer Night's Dream" Shakespeare tells how the imagination gives to airy nothings a local habitation and a name:

I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet

Page 107

Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

In his infancy Shakespeare was baptized in the church, but his little-known history does not testify to his devotion. However his writings betray a very deep spiritual understanding. Neither was he a mystic. The fine understanding of psychology displayed by many of the Shakespearean characters must have been gained by soul development attained by the author in previous incarnations.

We should look for the antecedents of Shakespeare among the early church fathers, where the spiritual man was quickened and the culture of the soul given supreme attention. There is no record that he was taught in any schools except those of the village of Stratford, where he was born. Because of this many have asked, "Where has this man gained wisdom?"

Page 108

The intellectuals have carried this lack of academic background and evidence of great supermind ability so far that they have assumed that some other person, notably Lord Bacon, is the author of Shakespeare's plays. The claim rests on very flimsy proofs and is not at all accepted by those who discern the capacity of the soul to attain understanding and carry it forward from one incarnation to another.

The claim that Shakespeare was not a scholar must be admitted. He made numerous errors of which a scholar would not be guilty. But Shakespeare was a genius of the people, not a pedant. He forged his way beyond the boundaries of the cultured intellect into the realms of fantasy and mysticism, and gave "local habitation and a name" to "airy nothing." Let us be thankful that Shakespeare was not a scholar.

Shakespeare portrayed every form of human character hundreds of years before there was such a thing as psychoanalysis, and psychologists today find in him and the puppets of his brain their most prolific examples of the subtleties of the mind.

Shakespeare did not write about himself, and we have no worldly knowledge of how such an apparently unlettered man could gain such command of language and such familiarity with men and nature. Like Jesus, he knew what was in man. Such discernment comes only with ages of experience, and we are safe in asserting that Shakespeare was a

Page 109

very old soul and that he inherited from previous lives a culture that made him a mastermind. We all have an untapped mind of knowledge in our subconscious mind, and it requires a mastermind to uncover it. Inspiration and rediscovery are the positive and negative poles of the mind. Shakespeare's writings indicate that he drew upon both these sources and concentrated the product in thought of the highest nobility coupled in the same scenes with shocking vulgarity. Shakespeare wrote down both what he got from the memories below and from the heavens above. Many persons whose normal thoughts are pure as snow are often shocked and puzzled at their incongruous and sometimes lascivious dreams. A maturer development will reveal that the I AM has taken advantage of the sleeping conscious mind and renewed associations with things sealed up in the depths of the subconscious mind.

That Shakespeare was familiar with a world beyond the grasp of the sense is quite evident from the words he puts into the mouths of his players. His statements about dreams, visions, witches, and prophecies, and various other references to the unseen world show that he had faith and sight above the ordinary dweller in sense.

In the play "Julius Caesar" Calpurnia, wife of Caesar, has a dream warning her of the impending danger to her husband, and she begs him not to go to the senate on the fateful day. His friends urge

Page 110

him to go, and he explains his reason for wanting to stay at home.

Calpurnia here, my wife, stays me at home:
She dreampt to-night she saw my statue,
Which like a foundation with an hundred spouts,
Did run pure blood, and many lusty Romans
Came smiling and did bathe their hands in it:
And these does she apply for warnings and portents
And evils imminent, and on her knee
Hath begged that I will stay at home to-day.

Decius argues that the dream has been misinterpreted. He says:

It was a vision fair and fortunate:
Your statue spouting blood in many pipes,
In which so many smiling Romans bathed,
Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck
Reviving blood, and that great men shall press
For tinctures, stains, relics, and cognizance.

Here Shakespeare reveals an acquaintance with both the literal and the allegorical meaning of dreams. Modern metaphysicians have discovered by experience that the interpretation of dreams requires the finest kind of discrimination. Some dreams are cast in the phenomenal and are given for enlightenment of the dreamer about outer events, while others are parables. Calpurnia has the discerning mind, and in the same context remarks,

There is one within
Besides the things that we have heard and seen.

Page 111

The developing soul meets many situations in mind that require superior wisdom to handle. Helps of a limited character may be had from without, but the final and only safe guide is the Spirit within. The breadth and depth of Shakespeare's mind proves that he had in many lives cultivated the habit of drawing upon the fount of all wisdom within his own soul.

Spiritualists claim that spirit guidance was discovered by the Fox sisters in Hydesville, New York, less than a century ago, yet we find it portrayed in a dozen of Shakespeare's plays. Hamlet is infuriated by the graphic description by his father's ghost of his murder by the king, Hamlet's uncle. He prefaces the gruesome details with the often quoted prelude:

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

That Shakespeare has a certain knowledge of the status of those who have left the body is evidenced by the regrets of the ghost of Hamlet's father at his untimely violent demise.

Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatched:
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel'd, disappointed, unaneled;
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head.

Page 112

That departed ones continue to live in a realm very near to that in which we live Shakespeare accepted as a matter of course. He makes them a vital part of so many scenes that we cannot help concluding that their existence to him was not open to question. The only place where there is any doubt suggested is in Act III, Scene 3, of "The Winter's Tale," in which Antigonus says:

I have heard, but not believed, the spirits o' the dead
May walk again: if such thing be, thy mother
Appeared to me last night, for ne'er was dream
So like a waking.

Then follows a vivid description of the mother, who "in pure white robes ... thrice bowed before me."

Although spiritualism is not accepted by metaphysical Christians in the terms in which it is presented by its exclusive followers, it is a question of psychology and must be explained by those who teach Truth. Shakespeare did not teach religion but the facts of life as he saw them. The continuous existence of man after death of the body is one of the facts of man's spiritual life and should be so recognized and its place defined in psychology. Religion is concerned primarily with spiritual things, the psychical world is secondary.

Although he may not have applied the law of spiritual healing to himself he saw the possibility, and in many forceful phrases and subtle inferences

Page 113

he exalted the inherent power of man. Although Macbeth was cast in the role of a man of desperate and unsatisfied ambition, Shakespeare put into his mouth a proclamation any man can make and be strengthened by:

The mind I sway by and the heart I bear
Shall never sag with doubt nor shake with fear.

Shakespeare saw what was coming in true healing; that is, the restoration of the mind through right thinking. On this point he says:

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?

Shakespeare was familiar with all the superstitions of his age. His characters are witches, seers, soothsayers, astrologers; he shows familiarity with forces that in our day are considered occult and spooky. They believed in signs and omens, the control of men by the sun, moon, and stars — astrology. Yet the fallacy of such concepts of mortality was usually pointed out. In "King Lear" Edmund is made to say:

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune — often the surfeit of our own behavior — we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers,

Page 114

by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars and adulterers, by an enforc'd obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the change of a star.

In "Julius Caesar," where Brutus and Cassius are discussing the dominance of Caesar, Cassius says:

Ye gods! it doth amaze me
A man of such feeble temper should
So get the start of the majestic world
And bear the palm alone. ...
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

The oft-discussed metaphysical question of the origin of evil and the source of good is settled in a concise statement by Hamlet:

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Many years ago the London Times announced a contest to test the value that the English people placed on Shakespeare. The subject voted on was, in substance, What do you consider of the greatest value to Great Britain, Shakespeare or the Empire of India? Shakespeare won!

People the world over will readily concur in this estimate of the mind supreme in Shakespeare.

Page 115

He was "not for a season, but for all time." He excelled as a dramatist, but as we have shown by these few extracts, he was also a metaphysician, a prophet, and a poet. The plots of his many plays are largely adaptations from other authors, but their glorification by Shakespeare's genius transformed them and may be likened to the glorification of the natural man by the genius of Jesus. For example, Pythagoras taught that the universe was harmonized in a masterful symphony, with suns, stars, and planets as notes on the staff supreme. Shakespeare evidently got from this his cue for the exquisite lines uttered by Lorenzo:

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here we will sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.