On Shakespeare

On Shakespeare
Raymond Li BSc Pharm

One of the most severe forms of brainwashing humans have had to endure over the past few centuries is the idea that Shakespeare is divine.  In my opinion, Shakespeare’s divinity is on the same level as scientists’ worship of quantum mechanics: a form of “cathedral worship” where people instead of going to church for sake of piety choose to discuss the architecture of the structure and worship the greatness of its “divine” construction.

I think four people stand out as significant figures within such a discussion (at least for me:) Harold Bloom, George Orwell, Leo Tolstoy, and Emily Dickinson.

Unfortunately, any serious discussion on the issue elicits a raging tantrum out of a specific faction of human beings.  One particular example would be George Orwell who (in my opinion) threw a childish fit when Tolstoy merely gave his opinion regarding Shakespeare’s authenticity as a true artist.  Orwell, who complained about the stamping out of certain realms of human thought and groupthink in 1984, basically attempted to do the same to any criticism of Shakespeare.

“Forty years later Shakespeare is still there completely unaffected, and of the attempt to demolish him nothing remains except the yellowing pages of a pamphlet which hardly anyone has read, and which would be forgotten altogether if Tolstoy had not also been the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina.”

Orwell tries to use the cheap tactic of “if no one sees it, it doesn’t exist.”  His need to make sure not a hint of dissent is heard is both disturbing and hypocritical.  Furthermore, that he implies that groupthink is acceptable when it comes to the subject of Shakespeare is disturbing and laughable (in my opinion.)

Harold Bloom is also someone who advocates for the dogmatic worship of Shakespeare.  Bloom knew he wanted to discuss high poetry from the ripe-old age of eleven years old.  At this age, what genuine maturity or depth could Bloom have had except advanced language skills?  Thus, it wasn’t poetic content so much as poetic execution he was enamoured with (which isn’t wrong but doesn’t come close to capturing the true picture of what poetry should be in my opinion which is the transmission of a deep, indefinable experience without so much obsession over “the rules” of poetry.)  Bloom admits Shakespeare’s work touches little upon the spiritual or the political.  In my opinion, the need to turn Shakespeare into a God is a reaction to spiritual deprivation in society and the natural tendency of academics to “play it safe” and speak little of anything that truly confronts any type of political power.  With Shakespeare, just like with quantum mechanics, many intellectuals have hit the gold-mine because they have a lot to do and discuss without any real need to enter into that realm which allows them to see the true viciousness of state power or experience the more genuine nature of that which regular humans traditionally uphold as “divine.”

Bloom also ascribes “the invention of the human” to Shakespeare ignoring monumental achievements such as the Mahabharata, written thousands of years before Shakespeare’s time, which has not only captured multiple facets of human experience in their timelessness, but was not afraid to delve into higher spiritual realms and those of higher consciousness not even scratched upon in Shakespeare’s work.  Bloom states that there is no aspect of humanity not captured in Shakespeare.  In my opinion, this only serves to expose how narrow a realm of experience men like Bloom are able to fathom.  Even worse are the men who feel the need to stamp out the validity of higher level transcendental states such as Buddhist-style enlightenment, Hinduistic Nirvana, or even the martyr’s experience of divine conviction (not necessarily with any religious affiliation) merely because these ideas confuse them and tarnish the sophisticated self-image they try to create for themselves and impose onto society.

Nowadays, any discussion amongst men working in the literary arts concerning Shakespeare’s Godly reputation alternates between one party suggesting that our reverence of Shakespeare is adequately pious and another suggesting that his religious-level status is still not on par with what it should be.  I find such discussion particularly disturbing and it’s no surprise that it was two figures whose work put them far closer to humanity’s traditional notion of the divine that were particularly perplexed by the reverence that scholars gave to the Bard.

Leo Tolstoy was obviously one; (it’s no surprise he was increasingly attracted to religious texts.)  Emily Dickinson was another in my opinion.  She definitely had phases where she was very impressed with Shakespeare’s work.  However, her poetry suggests that she went through multiple stages of awakening during her life and did eventually become perplexed by the deification of the Bard.

To learn the Transport by the Pain
As Blind Men learn the sun!
To die of thirst – suspecting
That Brooks in Meadows run!

To stay the homesick – homesick feet
Upon a foreign shore –
Haunted by native lands, the while –
And blue – beloved air!

This is the Sovereign Anguish!
This – the signal woe!
These are the patient “Laureates”
Whose voices – trained – below –

Ascend in ceaseless Carol –
Inaudible, indeed,
To us – the duller scholars
Of the Mysterious Bard!

Emily Dickinson likely experienced what Leo Tolstoy experienced which is what many people experience but are never allowed to say – that there are states closer to more genuine notions of the divine that cause certain pieces of work to fall flat in compare to that experience.  My personal example would be my visit to the Louvre when I was experiencing that which in my opinion is traditionally considered closer to the divine.  In my opinion, the inner beauty of such an experience far exceeded the beauty of the works of the Louvre – many of which have been man’s attempt to capture this exquisite experience.  It made me understand the frustration of not being able to worship the art that others love to worship.  I thought Emily captured that frustration very adeptly in this poem.  However, she blames herself as being too dull a scholar to see what made Shakespeare such an idol of worship.  Tolstoy also displayed an inability to see the lustre of many great works of art (likely also as a result of a deeper sense of what should truly constitute divine experience.)  As stated previously, Shakespeare’s divine status over the past few centuries coincides with extreme spiritual and social degradation on the part of society.  Thus, one should take into account the poor state of society as well as the poor state of the humanities in modern times before using Shakespeare’s enduring status as a near-religious symbol of worship as unquestionable confirmation for such.

Again, I’m not surprised that execution is considered more important than content by people currently working within the humanities.  Obviously people will say the two should fit together like a glove, but it’s clear which one is sacrificed when one’s priorities are put to the test (at least in our modern era.)  Society having turned their backs on “divine” intuition is not something confined to those working in the literary arts.  Those involved in the sciences (and society at large) seem to have very little respect towards any use of intuition despite Albert Einstein stating clearly that he felt the intuitive mind was all that really mattered with the rational mind being its faithful servant.

In the Old Testament, “God” states that one shall have no Gods before him and that social degradation befalls people when they worship false idols.  Everyone has their own interpretation of religious texts.  In my opinion, these texts were not referring to strange Pagan or Hindu idols and deities, especially since many characters within the Hindu pantheon merely represent different aspects or traits associated with deeper human experience or higher level consciousness.  In my opinion, what is being referred to is the sacrifice of purer states of consciousness in order to worship that which makes men feel enabled.  Men often worship that which makes them look or feel useful or god-like.  Bardolatry and the notion that the intellect of Greek philosophers are on par with genuine divinity are, in my opinion, some of the best examples of turning one’s back to purer realms of intuition in order to worship that which boosts one’s own ego and self-image.

Dickinson also discusses how disturbing it is that men will sacrifice breadth, truth and simplicity in order to look enabled and how despicable it looks in comparison to a more genuine symbol of purity:

He preached upon “breadth” till it argued him narrow, —
The broad are too broad to define;
And of “truth” until it proclaimed him a liar, —
The truth never flaunted a sign.

Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence
As gold the pyrites would shun.
What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus
To meet so enabled a man!

The world has benefited greatly from Shakespeare’s work the same way the world has benefited greatly from quantum mechanics and the technological applications associated with its development.  Execution is still important whether it be in the literary arts or in the sciences.  However, to sacrifice deeper levels of purity and more “sacred” levels of intuition in order to maintain one’s aura of skill and enablement should be considered anathema.

However, more “divine” states of intuition do elucidate why desire for absolution is such a redeeming quality – notably that to experience guilt and to desire forgiveness for transgression already separates the good and wicked so much so that it means one is already absolved.

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