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.

1. Patronage

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

2. To Family, Or Not To Family

A Phlit subscriber in New Zealand, Bruce McNeill, wrote to me thus:

You say in “My Journey” that Nietzsche “warned his disciples against marriage and children.” What writings of Nietzsche did this come from?

I responded thus:

I thought Nietzsche said that in Zarathustra, but he doesn’t quite say that. In Part I of Zarathustra, there’s a section called “Of Marriage and Children.” As I remembered, he advised against marriage in that section, but actually he says, “You are young and desire marriage and children. But I ask you: are you a man who ought to desire a child?” He seems to think that marriage could be something positive, though it often isn’t. So I remembered wrong.

Elsewhere, however, he seems to take a more negative view of marriage. For example, in Genealogy of Morals, he says, “What great philosopher hitherto has been married? Heraclitus, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Schopenhauer — they were not; more, one cannot even imagine them married.”3

In The Wanderer and the Shadow, he says that “cultivated spirits” aren’t suited for procreation: “The meager fruitfulness of the highest and most cultivated spirits and the classes that pertain to them, the circumstance that they are frequently unmarried and are sexually cool in general, is essential to the economy of mankind: reason recognizes and makes use of the fact that at the outermost point of spiritual evolution the danger of a nervously unsound posterity is very great.”4

In Twilight of the Idols, he says “To live alone one must be an animal or a god — says Aristotle. There is yet a third case: one must be both — a philosopher.”

In Human, All-Too-Human, he says, “Will free spirits live with women? In general, I believe that, as the true-thinking, truth-speaking men of the present, they must, like the prophetic birds of ancient times, prefer to fly alone.”

And then there’s teaching by example: Nietzsche himself was single. Furthermore, he wrote panegyrics on solitude.

So perhaps my remark wasn’t entirely wrong, though I mis-remembered the Zarathustra passage.

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.

3. Notes on The Tempest

A. Frances Yates

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

B. Wilson Knight

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,

these miraculous and joyful conquests of life’s tragedy.... These plays do not aim at revealing a temporal survival of death: rather at the thought that death is a delusion. What was thought dead is in reality alive. In them we watch the fine flowers of a mystic state of soul bodied into the forms of drama.17

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

  1. problem plays
  2. tragedies
  3. Final Plays

(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:

In the Vision of Jupiter [in Cymbeline] we have Shakespeare’s clearest statement in terms of anthropomorphic theology of the significance of the themes I have been analyzing in the final plays.... It has been often allotted in the past to the “incompetent coadjutor.”19

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.

It has often been observed that Hamlet reflects a mind in pain and perplexity.... In Hamlet we are confronted by that mode of the spirit which sees the world of men and nature as an ‘unweeded garden’; bereft of vision, tortured by too much thinking, obsessed with love’s impurity and death’s hideousness.... The thinking in these plays is essentially a time-thinking. Immortality of the spirit in time and decay of the body in time are both fearful to Hamlet; the inability of love to stand the test of time is a torture to Hamlet.... All higher values [are] enslaved, and ‘injurious Time’ enthroned supreme, their antagonist and victor.21

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”:

The progress from spiritual pain and despairing thought through stoic acceptance to a serene and mystic joy is a universal rhythm of the spirit of man. William James, in Varieties of Religious Experience, quotes, among other instances, the doubts and inner torments that preluded the prophetic zeal of Tolstoy’s later years. His description of the state of the “sick soul” reads like a commentary on Hamlet, and it should be clear that the progress of other of his subjects from the state of sin to conversion and the conviction of salvation is but another expression of that rhythm which is to be found, too, in the progress from the hate-theme in Shakespeare’s problem plays to the mysticism of Pericles and The Winter’s Tale.22

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:

It is a mistake to regard such plays as Macbeth and Lear as in essence pessimistic.... All these plays are to the reader what they must have been to the author, revelations of profundity and grandeur: the mystery of human fate — though still a mystery to the intellect — is intuitively apprehended.... Our understanding is a mystic understanding, and our sense of victory a mystic joy. Tragedy and our religion are inter-significant. The Christian cross is only the symbol of the greatest of tragedies.23

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 accounts of Gosnold’s voyage.) Shakespeare brings out all his old themes, and sums up his work.25

The Tempest is at the same time a record of Shakespeare’s spiritual progress and a statement of the vision to which that progress has brought him.... There is thus now no barrier between the inward and the outward, expression and imitation.... The Tempest is thus at the same time the most perfect work of art and the most crystal act of mystic vision in our literature.26

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:

Prospero uses his tempest-magic to draw his enemies to the island, and there renders them harmless. He wrecks and saves, teaches through disaster, entices and leads by music, getting them utterly under his power, redeeming and finally forgiving.29

Note the benevolent nature of Prospero’s magic.

In the last issue, we noted that Proust’s narrator doesn’t have a definite character, and in an earlier issue, we noted that Hamlet doesn’t have a definite character. The same is true of Prospero:

He has been weathered by suffering, but we scarcely speak of his ‘character’. He is scarcely a man in that way; he strikes one as being all mind. Nor can we speak properly of his dramatic situation, since he is not the slave of circumstance, but rather creates his own circumstances, himself still, in grave repose, yet radiating power.30

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:

Prospero is well-named. He is a god-man, or perhaps the god-in-man, causing yet negating tragedy for his purpose as he draws man towards vision despite inertia and retrogression. He is no literary enigma, but a logical conception, implicit in that textbook of contemporary idealism, Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano [The Courtier], wherein humanism grades by Platonic ascent into the divine. He is the accomplished personification of that super-state hinted in Hamlet, but which Hamlet himself never attains.31

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.31B

Knight’s vast erudition includes Eastern literature; Knight compares The Tempest to

a fascinating Chinese story of the sixteenth century, recently translated by Mr. Arthur Waley under the title Monkey, in which a hero-saint, Tripitaka, is accompanied on a pilgrimage by two servants, Monkey and Pigsy; the one, according to Mr. Waley, standing for ‘the restless instability of genius’, and the other symbolizing physical appetite, brute strength, and a kind of cumbrous patience. The analogy to Ariel and Caliban is clear. Correspondences bristle.32

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?

© L. James Hammond 2007
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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. Owen Barfield described Hermetism as “that philosophical and theosophical stream of thought which has not ceased to irrigate the culture of the West, and in particular its literature, art and theory of art, since it first began to flow, though it has percolated underground for much longer periods than those during which it has watered the surface.”(What Coleridge Thought, Ch. 6, p. 72) Barfield refers the reader to three books on Hermetism:
  1. The Platonic Renaissance in England, by Ernst Cassirer
  2. The Redemption of Thinking, by Rudolf Steiner
  3. Romanticism Comes of Age, by Owen Barfield (especially the chapter “Man, Thought and Nature”)
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
31B. While Nietzsche was contemptuous of the occult, he was also contemptuous of scientific-rationalism. Consider this passage:
“To The Realists:
You sober beings, who feel yourselves armed against passion and fantasy, and would gladly make a pride and an ornament out of your emptiness, you call yourselves realists, and give to understand that the world is actually constituted as it appears to you; before you alone reality stands unveiled...” (Gay Science, #57) There are many similar passages in Nietzsche’s works. back
32. Ch. 5, ii back