On Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
A fellow student under Leo Paul de Alvarez, Nalin Ranasinghe who teaches philosophy courses at Assumption College, and has written on Socrates, has also printed a nice paper on Midsummer Night’s Dream, printed in the St. John’s Review. It contains a breakthrough in the reading of this play, as he considers the moderation of Theseus in light of the turning of tragedy to comedy, avoiding the future tragic marriage of Theseus to Phaedra that is the topic of the Hippolytus of Euripides. Ranasinghe also picks up some nice points from the Alvarez course on the Greek plays and from Harry Jaffa or the study of Shakespeare by the students of Leo Strauss, which is especially the study of Allan Bloom and Jaffa. As a result, I will try to print the old essay of mine from this class and re-integrate an old Jungian study of Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, from undergrad school, adding the embellishments that appear, and will be sure to develop into its own new study.
Reworking the best of my old school papers, and having done my Hamlet study, I have two old MSND papers, the first written for Mrs. Wasserman in her class on Shakespeare (Grand Valley, 1982?) and the second for the class of Dr. de Alvarez at the University of Dallas. If I remember, I did not have the first paper when I wrote the second, as this was left up in Michigan somehow. At present, I have the Mrs. Wasserman essay only in a rough draft, the final copy having been misplaced. I will try then to integrate the two studies for the purpose of an attempt at the psychology of Shakespeare. The final copy of the earlier paper has been lost, and may have been loaned out. I will try to put it together again from the rough draft and notes. Written prior to UD, it is more a work of psychology and less of politics.
The mulberries indeed turn purple on Midsummer night, or did so in 2016, and must often, though in 2017, the date was close, within a couple days. When Bottom and the troop play Pyramus and Thisbe, they perform the story from Ovid in an Ovid-like manner, as if reciting from the book the story that provided the pattern for the story and the death scene of Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare and Ovid are comparable sometimes in thought, but the verse leaves Ovid comical, at least in English.
In Ovid, it is the blood of Pyramus that turns the mulberries from white to purple. Again, human love is a manifestation of the imago Dei. These patterns are not by convention, but by nature, as we might not guess had the Pyramus story not preceded the crucifixion.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream does not occur on midsummer night, about June 21, but rather, as Clemen writes: “…the action takes place between April 29 and May 1, the latter date, being May Day…” (Introduction, Signet edition, p. xv). Alvarez suggests it is the dream dreamt on the shortest night of the year (“Poetry and Kingship,” p. 159, 178-179). On the meaning of the title, Alvarez (p. 160) writes:
…Of course to title it A May Day’s Eve would seem to be awkward. But is there anything in the traditions of Midsummer’s Night that might help us? We know that the festivities of that night are a celebration of the sun, and the main custom observed is the burning of fires on hilltops throughout the night as dawn is awaited. One possible link is that it is a night when maidens might find their true love in their dreams.
Time within the play is a difficult question. Here, the time coincides with the waning and return of the moon, as would occur every score of years or so. An illusion regarding time is set up because the action of the play is constructed with two daylight scenes surrounding the central scenes of night, imitating a single day. Unless we are to understand one night as occurring between Acts IV and V, paralleling the night between Acts I and II, there appears to be a missing day. There is the day of the waning moon, from which Hippolyta counts four days and nights. Act I occurs on the first day, then Act two not that night, but the following night, the night between days two and three. Act II occurs in the dark of the moon that same night, so that all would awaken on day 3, covering April 29, 30 and May 1. Hence, to fulfill Hippolyta’s four days, there is a day between Acts IV and V, and “fairy time” would occur the night of May 2. Midsummer night is of course June 20-22, so the dream is of something that occurred 7 weeks earlier. The reason for this is not yet clear. It may fit with our theme soon to emerge, of correcting the past, or showing in comedy how thing ought have gone, rather than what actually did occur.
Preface Notes: The Greek Plays
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a part of Shakespeare’s Greek plays, while Romeo and Juliet, of fair Verona, is an Italian Play. The Greek plays are MSND, Troilus and Cressida, A Comedy of Errors, Timon of Athens and perhaps Pericles. Though Pericles has a Greek name, and part of the play is set in Greece, he is prince of Tyre, near Biblos, an ancient Phoenician city. The Italian plays are Romeo and Juliet, Two Gentlemen of Verona, the play performed in The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing (Messina), The Merchant of Venice, Othello and The Tempest. We suggest that it is in ancient Greece that Shakespeare finds the principle for turning Italian tragedy to comedy, or a happy rather than tragic conclusion.
This classification according to the nations of the settings of the plays is suggested by Harry Jaffa in his essay “The Shakespearean Universe,” (in Shakespeare as Political Thinker, p. 290), as has been addressed in the previous preface. The apprehension of the Shakespearean universe as a whole, what it is he tries to say or do through these English, Roman, Greek, Italian and other plays, seems to us to be the grail of Shakespearean study. Leo Paul S. de Alvarez of the University of Dallas has famously done a study and a course on the topic of Shakespeare’s Greek plays, publishing on Timon and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Comedy of Errors and including the Troilus and Cressida, and Perikles. These courses, taught at the University of Dallas in the Spring of 1987, would be well worth transcribing, and we will draw upon class notes. Alvarez explains that the classification of the Folio according to tragedies, histories and comedies, is not set by Shakespeare, but rather by the editors. The nations have to do with certain questions, such as France and the love of the beautiful, in contrast with the rough English of Henry V. The Greek, and Theseus may consider the polis or city, the genuine political association. The name of the Globe Theater, alluded to by Hamlet, where memory may be given a seat as an alternative to the tragedy of the Reformation (Hamlet I, V, 96) seems also to allude to this history of the West. Jaffa may be the first to even acknowledge the question, of Shakespeare’s history in the original sense, of inquiry, and the question that aims at the crown of Shakespearean study.
Reason and Love: Athens and Jerusalem
When Titania, afflicted by the flower, tells Bottom the Weaver that she loves him, he answers:
Methinks, Mistress, you should have little reason for that. And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays The more the pity that some honest neighbors do not make them friends. Nay, I can gleek upon occasion.
(III, i, 137-141)
The conflict between reason and love, embodied in the conflict in fairy land between the King and Queen, refers not only to ancient Greece, but also, and perhaps especially, to the modern West. The “West” is the area of what was once the western Roman Empire, and prior, Greece instead of Persia and India. Other modern elements, from the view of 1594, appear in the option of the life of a nun offered to Hermia and accusation of witchcraft, by which Egeus will say Lysander has stolen the heart of his daughter. The connection between the Ancient Greece of Theseus and the modern England of Shakespeare is the question of whether philosophic eros will be permitted. The conflict of reason and love, or Athens and Jerusalem- especially in light of the things said by Bottom reflecting on his translation- appears as the key to the meaning of the play. That, in any case, will be our thesis, and we will see how it comes through a reading of the play.
Quite obviously, what the way of Jerusalem lacks, to avoid the basis of communities on dogma, doctrine and fanaticism, is reason, and specifically the knowledge that we do not possess theo-logy, or the knowledge of God. And what the way of reason lacks is faith, or the ascent, avoiding materialism and atheism. Hence we argue that far from the ways of Athens and Jerusalem being mutually exclusive alternatives in every sense, so that no one is able to follow both, the life of the West, and even of each citizen, is not well without something from both. Hence, the Italian tragedy is avoided by something Shakespeare found in ancient Greece.
Tragedy and Comedy
Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were produced together, and with this act, Shakespeare became the first to write both great tragedy and high comedy. The principle uniting the two is wisdom, or practical wisdom. This pertains to a faculty barely recognized by our psychology, but treated in some detail in Plato’s Republic and the Ethics of Aristotle. Oberon the Fairy King, or Oberon and Theseus together, represent this faculty, lacking in Romeo and Juliet, but present where tragedy is avoided, in both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. Prospero and his spirit Ariel are remarkably similar to Oberon and Puck, while there are significant differences. Prospero, a mortal and both a Philosopher and a Duke, joins in himself something of the abilities of both Oberon and Theseus. Wise rule governs love through potentially tragic circumstances. Aristotle, in his Ethics, follows a distinction between the rational and irrational soul (I. 13, 1102a), and then a division of reason into theoretical and practical faculties (1103a. Both depend upon intellect, the sight of the eye of the soul, for the first principles, and hence their virtue or right functioning (Ethics, Book VI). It is wisdom, addressed by Carl Jung as an “archetype,” called the “child” and the “wise old man,” that is the unity which guides the two or governs love. This faculty may be addressed nowhere else in modern psychology, which as a result literally cannot distinguish between reason and madness.
Wisdom, Tragedy and Comedy
Wisdom or wise rule brings comedy from tragedy in Shakespeare’s new kind of comedy. “Comedy” at first referred to the vulgar, and was not taken seriously (Aristotle, Poetics). But that of Shakespeare is most serious. At the end of Plato’s Symposium– the most famous dialogue on love, Socrates argues to Agathon the tragedian and Aristophanes the comedian that the same writer might excel in both tragedy and comedy. [Note iii] In Romeo and Juliet, a quarrel between the families to which the lovers belong leads to the death of the lovers. in an accidental double suicide similar to that in Pyramus and Thisbe, the story from Ovid which Shakespeare satires in the play Pyramus and Thisbe, performed by Bottom and the Athenian craftsmen for the wedding of Theseus in the final act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The imprudent friar fails to prevent the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, while in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the combined action of Oberon and Theseus brings a happy ending from a love set up for tragedy. The Tempest, at the other end of Shakespeare’s career, is also the best example of the wise man bringing comedy from tragedy, in the re-arranging of the Italian regime by Prospero, the philosopher-duke.
In addition to the general pattern of a conflict between a father and daughter in love and family or paternal rule threatening death, some elements in common between the Italian tragedy and the Greek comedy are, 1) The contrast between chastity and fertile love, 2) The reference to the Fairy Queen, who in the speech of Mercutio is Queen Mab, the cause of dreams in general and of lover’s dreams in particular; 3) The father’s choice of a Paris or Demetrius in conflict with the consent of love, and consequent tragic circumstance; 4) The attempted application of herbs, by Oberon and by the Friar, to attempt to remedy the circumstance, and 5) the attempt to flee the city, and the facing of death by the heroine in order to escape the paternal authority, and marriage to one chosen falsely by the father. There are some obvious suggestions as to what might have been done in Verona to avoid the tragedy, beginning with the persuasion of Paris to remove the claim of Capulet. There is also the possibility of the direct kidnapping of Juliet by Romeo and the Friar, getting Juliet out of the city. But the best suggestion we have ever heard comes from de Alvarez: The Friar should have told the parents that Romeo and Juliet were married.
Shakespeare’s The Tempest is probably the best example of the bringing of comedy from tragedy by wise rule. Jaffa gets at the reason that marriages should be central to the action of wise rule and the unity of tragedy and comedy when he states:
According to Plato, the arrangement of the marriages is the central mystery of philosophic rule. The arrangement of the marriage between Ferdinand and Miranda is the culmination of Prospero’s exercise of that wisdom he has gained by making the liberal arts ‘all my study’
(Ibid, p. 281)
Oberon and Theseus join, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to accomplish something very similar to the dissolution of the tragic forces, the joining of the right pairings, in love, and a civil marriage between conflicting families. There is the re-founding of a regime, which Prospero also accomplishes. It thus appears that Oberon and Theseus embody two distinct aspects or parts of practical wisdom which are joined in the consummate phronesis of Prospero, Shakespeare’s picture of the philosopher-duke. It is Oberon who has knowledge of true love or the right pairings among the Athenian nobility (III,ii, 88-89). He also has the ability, by means of the love potion, to correct not only the division in the fairy kingdom, but also to correct the soul of Demetrius, while it is Theseus who holds power in Athens, and who sees and takes the opportunity presented to him after the night in the forest, to overrule the old law and the claim of Egeus.
Our suggestion will be that there is a Shakespearean correction of history to allow for philosophy, as Theseus’ Athens, in killing Socrates, could not.
A changeling is a child left by the fairies, and so, not a child of its ostensible parents. The changeling is the ground of the quarrel between Oberon and Titania that is the cause of the discord in the fairy kingdom and in the human world- not the physical but psychic world- that is resolved through the action of the play. In both Athens and Jerusalem, that in man which is a changeling is that which completes ethics or morality, the cultivation of character toward virtue that is the goal of both law and education as character formation. In the Republic of Plato, Nous or intellect is begotten (Republic, 490b; 506e-507a; 501b) not made. And as Jesus, apparently citing Isaiah, famously taught: “I said you are gods, sons of the Most High” (John 10:35; 1:13; 3:6-10; Isaiah 41:23? Psalm 2:7, 82:6 Acts 13:33).
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream shows the ruling action of Theseus, the Duke and mythic founder of Athens,[i] and of Oberon, the King of Fairies, bringing harmony and concord from division and discord in Athens and in the fairy kingdom in the days preceding the wedding of Theseus. “It is the only play of Shakespeare’s in which the founder of a city is the character” (de Alvarez, p. 159). The founder of Athens and preeminent progenitor of virtue and free government is assisted by Oberon, that is, by something greater than political man, and wise action is shown to have something centrally to do with love and marriages.
The discord in Athens is introduced in the opening scene of the play. In order to wed his conquered Amazon bride in a mood of revelry, Theseus must resolve a conflict regarding love between a father and a daughter. Egeus enters with a complaint against his daughter Hermia, who refuses to marry the man her father has chosen, Demetrius, because she loves a different man, Lysander. Egeus intends to dispose of his daughter either to Demetrius or to her death as punishment for disobedience to her father’s will. His absolute claim of paternal authority is sanctioned by the old law of Athens. Theseus, then, is presented with a conflict of love and law in which love is threatened with death for its transgression of obedience. These are circumstances set up for a tragedy similar to that of Romeo and Juliet or Pyramus and Thisbe. This circumstance calls for the wise rule of a Shakespearean duke such as Prospero or Vincentio (in Measure) in order to be turned from tragedy to the harmony of Shakespearean comedy.
The division in the fairy kingdom is a quarrel between Oberon and Titania, his fairy queen, over the possession of a changeling boy. The child is a page or squire of Titania’s train, whom Oberon wants to make a “knight of his train to trace the forests wild” (II, i, 25). If it is time, according to the age and nature of the changeling, for his transition from the maternal care of his step-mother to knighthood in the train of his step-father, then Titania’s withholding of the boy is similar to Egeus’ withholding of Hermia from the transition from childhood under the authority of her father without consent to womanhood and the authority of her husband to which her love leads her to consent. Throughout the play we are given other similar dreamlike glimpses in which the fairy world appears to reflect something of the circumstances and events within the human world.
Theseus is enabled to resolve the conflict between paternal authority and the eros natural to the soul only because of a partly accidental side effect of Oberon’s more fundamental solution to the quarrel in the fairy kingdom. By applying the same potion used to remedy the affection of his fairy queen to the eyes of Demetrius, Oberon, called “King of Shadows,” brings about the trans-political correction of the soul of Demetrius, untangling the lovers and restoring concord among the Athenian nobility. The successful statesmanship of Theseus is thus dependent upon the higher kind of prudent action of the Fairy King, who corrects both the discord in his kingdom and the passions of the Athenian citizens. Oberon is related to the prudent action of Theseus.
The action of Oberon enables Theseus to bring about a change in the Athenian regime.[ii]. In Athens, the despotic authority of the father gives way to government by consent and a political liberty necessary- in all but the best regime- to the harmony of law and natural eros of the soul. With the waning of the old moon and the coming of the new, there is a new founding under Theseus by which Athens becomes a genuine polity, perhaps preparing for the future democracy and philosophy.
It is Chaucer, in his Knight’s Tale, who is responsible for the structure of a story focusing on Theseus after his return to Athens with his conquered Amazon Bride, and a conflict of lovers that occurs, here two from the pile in Thebes, rather than two Athenians. These two quarrel over the Amazonian attendant Emylya, when first Palamon and then Arcite see her from their prison room. A note in the Fisher edition of Chaucer explains, “Medieval people looked upon Athens as the fountainhead of secular social and political theory. Theseus in this tale is a mirror for princes.” The reason for Chaucer’s choice of episodes from the adventures of Theseus might tell us something about the play. Within the play, the reference to the Chaucer story is the second option on the menu for the wedding entertainment, the Bacchic story seen by Theseus already, “When I from Thebes came last a conqueror’ (V,i, 51). In Ovid, the preface to the story of Pyramus and Thisbe is that Alcthoe and her sisters stay home while the rest of the city was off worshiping Bacchus, because they worship a better goddess, Athena (Metamorphoses, IV, 1-4).
Plutarch writes of Theseus,
“He brought all the inhabitants of the whole province of Attica to be within the city of Athens.” After the death of his father Aegeus, forming in his mind a great and wonderful design, he gathered all the inhabitants of Attica into one town, and made them one people of one city, whereas before they lived disbursed, and were not easy to assemble upon any affair for the common interest. Nay, differences and even wars often occurred between them, which he by his persuasions appeased, going from township to township, and from tribe to tribe. And those of a more private and mean condition readily embracing such good advice, to those of greater power he promised a commonwealth without monarchy, a democracy or people’s government, in which he should only be continued as their commander in war and the protector of their laws, all things else being equally distributed among them;–and by this means brought a part of them over to his proposal. The rest, fearing his power, which was already grown very formidable, and knowing his courage and his resolution, chose rather to be persuaded than forced into compliance. He then dissolved all the district state houses, council halls, and magistracies, and built one common statehouse and council hall on the site of the present upper town, and gave the name of Athens to the whole state, ordaining a common feast and sacrifice, which he called Panathenia, or the sacrifice of all the united Athenians. He instituted another sacrifice called Metoecia, or Feast of Migration, which is yet celebrated on the sixteenth day of Hecatombaeon. Then, as he has promised, he laid down his royal power and proceeded to order a commonwealth…..Farther yet designing to enlarge his city, he invited all strangers to come and enjoy equal privileges with the natives, and it is said that the common form, “Come hither, all ye people” was the words that Theseus proclaimed when he thus set up a commonwealth, in a manner, for all nations…he…was the first that divided the commonwealth into three distinct ranks: the noblemen, the husbandmen and the artificers, excelling in honor, profit and numbers respectively [which Plutarch calls “exact equality”]. The nobles took care of religious things, chose the magistrates, taught and enforced the laws.
Plutarch, Life of Theseus, Dryden translation
Plutarch then cites Aristotle and Homer. Aristotle wrote that Theseus was the first to part with the royal power out of an inclination to popular government. Then, Plutarch notes that Homer, in his catalog of ships, “gives the name of people to the Athenians only.”
Consent is where governments and marriages become political, in the sense contrasted with despotic, royal or paternal, without consent. Madison defines a Republic as necessarily “derived from the great body of the society,” and so demonstrating the capacity of man for self government. It must be either a direct or representative democracy, and this is very close to the definition of Jefferson, excluding Aristocracy, because this so quickly degenerates into oligarchy, or as was seen in Europe, becomes the government of an artificial and hereditary nobility. But theoretically, genuine aristocracy, the rule of the best, must be included if the word republic is to mean all but monarchy. The word Res Publica in Latin too refers to the people, and is strangely used to translate the title the Plato’s dialogue called politea, meaning simply constitution, or the ordering of a political body. Aristotle too uses the word politea as the name of the kind of government by the many mixed so as to assure that the rights of the few rich are not trampled. The many, in envy of wealth, will fleece the rich in the sort where the many rule aiming at the self interest of the many. And in the strict sense, one would wish to exclude both when either the few or the many rule with regard to their own interest rather than for the good of the commonwealth or community, the politeuma or political body. The Union of Socialist Soviets never was a “republic,” but a tyranny ruled by the heads of the successive politburos of the single party state, if not ultimately by Marx and Lenin, or the single idea that supposedly ruled that state.
There are a number of obvious similarities to the U. S. founding. Our attempt at self government and at the popular form can be said to begin here with Theseus. The first similarity is in the uniting of disbursed elements by consent rather than by war, as Theseus joined the localities of Attica and our Constitution joined the fifty states, if the larger is, suitably, less centralized, preserving the local magistrates. The claim of a founding by reason, as in the constitutional convention (Federalist 1, 38), rather than by tradition, force or necessity, reminds one of the first of the Federalist Papers, as does the claim that the Athenian founding is “for all nations,” a universal concern for mankind. It would indeed be the misfortune of all mankind if the Athenian founding were never to arise or were impossible. The second is in having a government based ultimately on the people, a democracy. The Athenian founding uniquely includes the craftsmen. A third is in the limited executive, limited to foreign and domestic executive matters, with the legislative and judicial concerns somewhat separated. A fourth is in the voluntary setting aside of royal power, and there may not be another example of this until Washington. A fifth is in inviting strangers to become citizens, also a characteristic of Rome, reminds of the poem on our Statue of Liberty. While certain features of our government are similar to the Roman republic, and the Spartan regime itself is better ordered, its warrior education and the dedication of the individual to the city superior, or more extreme, the Athenians are not inferior in war, but led the repulsion of the Persian invasion under Xerxes, with victories at Marathon and Salamis, by land and sea. The Athenian liberty allows for the natural human spirit to emerge and flourish, and for human nature to be cultivated by consent, and so allows for love to work out well, and eventually for Socratic philosophy.
The rule of Theseus may be a self-knowing which must occur before his marriage can be blessed. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates states:
…and let us not believe or let it be said that Theseus, Poseidon’s son, and Perithous, Zeus’ son so eagerly undertook terrible rapes, or that any other child of a god and hero dared to do terrible and impious deeds such as the current lies accuse them of rather deny that they are children of gods or that they did these. These things are neither holy nor true. For surely, as we proved, it is impossible for evil to be produced by gods. (Republic, 389e-391 e).
In the reading of Ranasingh, there is a correction of history, the history that occurred when Theseus and Hippolyta his conquered Amazon bride failed to marry, the Amazons invaded, and Theseus went on to Ariadne and to the tragic love shown in the Phaedra of Euripides Plutarch leaves it ambiguous whether the Amazon bride was Antiope or Hippolyta, and it may be that Antiope was the seized bride and Hippolyta the peace offering. Shakespeare’s Hippolyta says she was with Hercules and Cadmus hunting a bear on the isle of Crete, which would be just before Minos and the Bull, and would have been when she was very young. The war with the Amazons too seems to have occurred after the Ariadne adventure. Ariadne of course is the daughter of Minos who provided Theseus with the thread by which he found his way out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur after freeing Athens from the horrible tribute payment of seven male and female victims every nine years. Shakespeare and Plato seem not to include this story. Theseus, as is said, abandoned her on Naxos, to be taken by Bacchus.[v] But Shakespeare enacts a correction of the flaw of Theseus that led to great failure, when at about fifty years old, he attempted to seize the adolescent Helen, leading to the revolt of Athens and his exile. Oberon rebukes Titania for having led Theseus about through a series of ravishings, as both Hercules and Theseus were famous for philandery as well as Philanthropy. This is perhaps a Christian correction of Classical Greece. According to the Greek poets, of course, Zeus is a famous philanderer, and Hera is always trying to keep up with his affairs, even with mortals. This is one of the principle elements of the pre-Socratic theology of the Greeks which Socrates and Plato reject, explicitly in Plato’s Republic (II-III) that the gods do not change shape. But the insight of Ranasingh that Hippolyta is a Shakespearean correction points toward the Shakespearen art as a bringing of comedy from tragedy or circumstances set up for tragedy, by this cultivating political phronesis or practical wisdom.
From the story on the west end of the Acropolis, de Alvarez reads that Hippolyta was captured in the second of two battles between the Amazons and the early Athenians.
Hippolyta was wounded and captured in the attack…the play begins immediately after the Amazon’s defeat and withdrawal from Attica. When Theseus promises that although he has begun by injuring her, he will “wed her in another key,” …we are meant to be reminded of the recent Amazon invasion.
(“Poetry and Kingship,” p. 161)
Ranasingh (p. 80) writes:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream signals its comic intent by re-writing the myth of Theseus and Hippolyta….on the eve of Theseus’s marriage to Hippolyta, an Amazon invasion of Attica took the bride’s life- a conclusion contrary to the sunny ending of Shakespeare’s play as any that could be dreamed. It seems…the tragic outcomes of the myth were averted. Hippolyta did not die in the battle against her own people; Theseus did not take another wife, Phaedra; and Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and Hippolyta, did not die misjudged by his father..Shakespeare’s alternative mythology transmutes tragedy into comedy.
Chaucer, perhaps following Boccaccio in his Tesiade, has Theseus returning from “Scythia” with the girls (Hippolyta and Emyle) when he hears of the tyranny of Creon at Thebes. The lovers are two dug out of the heap of casualties after the defeat of Creon by Theseus, so these are not Athenians, and quarrel over a single Amozonian. But the setting of the play begins from Chaucer’s Theseus.
On the temple of Zeus at Olympia, from about 470 B.C., twelve labors of Hercules are picture, though the order is uncertain and much of the meaning is unclear, the first seems to be the acquisition of a girdle from an Amazon, and the eighth the defeat of an Amazon in battle.
The founding of Theseus is arguably superior to that of Romulus and that of Lycurgus. Liberty allows for prosperity and strength, and leads to philosophy. The inclusion of the Amazon Hippolyta would also raise the possibility of the inclusion of the women in the education of the regime, said to be a flaw of Sparta (Republic V, ). Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, is the first to seriously suggest the equality of women, or their inclusion in the regime, if one only in speech. Sparta, while giving the males an aristocratic and warrior training, and attaching them to their city like bees in a hive or like one family, leaves the women uneducated, and they soon corrupt the men with the love of money or private acquisition. The best regime of Socrates includes the same education for the females. The Athenian liberty allows the philosopher to cultivate the aristocratic character within democratic liberty, the very natural aristoi written of by Jefferson. The wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta is the inclusion of the equal or aristocratic feminine element in the regime.
The names Hermia and Helena refer to this difference of character, as between the bride of Aristotle and the Spartan Helena, and these are to be paired with the noble Lysander and the lesser Demetrius, and these are the proper pairings. Lysander is the name of the Spartan general to whom Athens surrendered in losing the Peloponnesian war, while Demetrius too is a name from Plutarch. The lives of Demetrius and Lysander occur in the decline of Athens, following the great events from Pericles through Alexander that are the peak of Athens, arguably destroyed by an incontinence regarding imperialism. This Demetrius is not the Phalerian, but one who came just after, the son of Antigonus and “King of Macedon (307-287), as the kingdom of Macedon was being subsumed in the Seleucid section of the broken Alexandrian empire. Stratocles is a character who arranges flatteries for Demetrius, abusing a position similar to Philostrate in Chaucer and in the Dream. Both Demetrius and Lysander are among the first, following Alexander himself, who made themselves gods (Plutarch, Dryden ed, p. 1078, .) Lysander, the Spartan general to conquer Athens concluding the Peloponnesian war, in the one to institute the thirty tyrants, whom Socrates risked his life to disobey when an Athenian was to be executed unlawfully. Demetrius, son of Antigonus, is in one sense the last king of Athens, flattered with supposed honors, including having himself sewn into the tapestry of Athenian history. Both these characters are suited to the theme of an alternate, comic history for Athens in which the decline is avoided by the conjunction of certain elements of Sparta and Athens that correct the deficiency that was operative in the tragic end of the city- Demetrius is wed to Helena and kept under delusion, while Lysander, the Spartan is wed to the Athenian character of Hermia. The full meaning of the names will be unlocked by a full reading of the play. One is reminded of the suggestion of Socrates in Plato’s Republic of a pan-Grecian nation to prevent the decline of Greece and the subsuming of civilization into barbarism that results from the great failure of the pupil of Aristotle (469b-471c). [The names in the play Pericles, too, Lysimachus, Pericles, Cleon, Antiochus and the city of Antioch indicate a difficult question regarding the tragic end of Greece and Athens in the Alexandrian Empire, what occurred later in Antioch, and the question of Christianity becoming a law and even an Empire, which we will attempt to wonder about beginning from the study of Howard White amid the theme of the alternate history, tragedy turned to comedy, and reason and love. The names of Demetrius and Lysander and the names in Pericles indicate a connection to Pericles and the questions of the end of the city of Athens and an underlying theme of the Greek plays related to philosophy and Christianity. And one notes that it is not reason and “faith,” but reason and love that need be made better friends. Helena, too, or Helen, appears as a theme in Troilus and Cressida, to be considered too below.] But to start, Helena refers to the three-part, law formed, un-erotic soul unaffected by poetry, while Hermia, related to Hermes, is admitted to the union of the two in love, transcending the limits of the city.
Those that were gods in the cosmos of the Greek poets become spirits in the Socratic Cosmos, as we shall see in the Socratic account of love, for the teaching of the Symposium too is that love is not a god but a spirit, a being in between the true divine and the human world (Symposium 202-203a). The English poets, following the general recovery of classical learning through the Italian Renaissance, are able to consider the images playfully, or as images, beings of a psychic human dimension only imagined to have spatial and bodily existence. It is the poet who “bodies forth the shapes of things unknown” (MND V,i, 14-17). But these unknown things which are accessible through the human soul turn out to be the most important things, and in the end the only truly “effectual” being, as even Theseus can barely imagine. For our study of psychology, we will find that Shakespeare’s fairy king and queen give body to the thoughts of Jung regarding the collective aspects of the archetypes or functions he calls anima and animus. The fairy world is “unconscious” to Theseus and all in the play with one exception, yet it is above them, and a partially ruling influence. Queen Mab, the Fairies’ midwife, is only slightly different from Titania, in that she is a bit more general, the cause of dreams. There is again, one is tempted to say, not a single thing discovered by the modern psychology of the unconscious that was unknown to Shakespeare and to Plato.
Act I Scene i
The play begins on the final phase of the moon, with Theseus and Hippolyta conversing in anticipation of their wedding, which is planned to occur in four days, on the night of the new moon. Theseus, impatiently marking time by the moon, tells Hippolyta how slow the old moon appears to wane.[vi] He compares the old moon to a dowager,[vii] a widow with inherited titles who takes a long time to die, thus spending or withering out the inheritance of the son, while he impatiently awaits the fulfillment of his desires. This seems a bit coarse. But with the passing of the old moon and the coming of the new, the old law of Athens is overcome, so that the inheritance of Theseus from the moon may be something like the title to establish the fundamental orders of Athens.
Hippolyta assures her groom that soon enough the four days will pass, “And the moon, like top a silver bow new bent in heaven” (I,i, 9-11) will itself behold the night of their solemnities. Theseus orders Philostrate (friend of heights), his master of revels, to “stir up the Athenian youth to merriments,” turning away the melancholy fitting to funerals. For as he tells Hippolyta, though he conquered her with the sword, doing her injury, he will wed her in “another key,” with pomp, with Triumph and with reveling.” Shakespeare’s Theseus here adopts the mode of Plutarch’s Romulus, who not only, like Plutarch’s Theseus, seized his bride with the sword, in the rape of the 800 Sabine women, but also, “afterwards, by the respect and tenderness and justice shown them,… made it clear that this violence was a commendable and politic exploit to establish a city.”[viii] Shakespeare’s Theseus adopts the combination of conquest and persuasion employed by Romulus.
Egeus and Plato’s Phaedrus
The name of Egeus is similar to the name of the father of Theseus, Aegeus. The reason for naming the father of a separate family after whom in history is the father of Theseus seems to be that the old which must be overcome in founding the city is the despotic authority of fathers in private families, as for Theseus he had to overcome the villages or demes to found a polis. Egeus enters with a complaint against his daughter Hermia which threatens to ruin the revelry planned for the wedding. Egeus accuses Lysander of securing the consent of the love of Hermia by Witchcraft. His evidence is that Lysander has given Hermia love tokens and rhymes, and has sung verses of love by her window in the moonlight, stealing the “impression of her fancy,” or, her imagination. Egeus asserts that by stealing the heart of his daughter, the obedience which Hermia owes to her father has been turned to stubbornness. Despite the story that Medea, the stepmother of Theseus, was a witch, witchcraft was not a common accusation in the Athens of Theseus, and so the question of why this element is imported, together with the quarrel between reason and love, from the medieval world becomes central to the meaning of the play. It is in fact with reference to the unseen spirit world in Shakespeare’s time, as well as that in the time of Theseus, that the play and the Fairy world surrounding Athens has reference. Here, love is identified with witchcraft depriving the will of the father of a rule that is rightly his. Let us examine this, the problem with which Theseus is faced, which endangers the harmony of Athens for his wedding.
The judgment between eros and paternal law depends upon a knowledge of the nature of each, and of the power held by each regarding the soul. Plato’s Phaedrus[ix] contains an account of these two in relation to the two sorts of ruling principle within each of us (Phaedrus, 237d-238b) The account in the Phaedrus may also provide us with the basis for an account of the function of lyric poetry to which the lovers are moved, for which Egeus accuses Lysander of witchcraft.
The third speech of the dialogue Phaedrus is called the palinode of Socrates, which aims to correct the offense against the god of love committed by the second speech. While the second speech treated the god as evil (243a), the palinode of Socrates aims to show that love is a gift of the gods sent from heaven for the benefit or advantage of both the lover and the beloved (245b).
In his palinode, Socrates explains the occurrence of love on the basis of the same faculty or capacity of man on which philosophy is based, the capacity for the recollection of the knowledge of truth seen prior to our present incarnation (Meno 81d-e). According to the speech, the soul, once perfect and winged, traveling in the train of one of the twelve gods, ascended to the summit of heaven and saw a vision of true being, which dwells beyond the Olympian heavens. In this, we were all “initiated into that mystery which is rightly accounted blessed beyond all others” (250b). The soul then lost its wings and descended into incarnation, but only the souls that have beheld truth can enter into a human form, as is evidenced by the capacity of man for language. Because of this mystery, “If a man makes the right use of recollection and approaches “the full vision of the perfect mysteries,” he and he alone becomes truly perfect. Only the soul of the philosopher recovers her wings, because she is “ever near in memory to those things to which a god’s nearness makes him truly a god” (249d-e).
Beauty alone, of all the objects of vision seen, is manifest at all to our senses, through sight, the keenest of all the bodily senses” (250d). When one who saw much and is fresh from the mysteries, beholds a godlike face or bodily form that reflects or images beauty, the stream of beauty entering through the eyes gives rise to a warmth which causes the roots of the soul’s wings, once hardened, to melt and begin to grow. As in Plato’s Symposium, where love is the beginning of an ascent on the ladder of love (210-212), so here, love is presented as a beginning of the soul’s recovery of wings completed only in the philosopher.
Each lover loves in the manner of the god in whose company he once traveled, selecting a beloved according to this disposition. Then, as if the beloved were a god, the lover fashions for himself an image, and adorns this image to be the object of his worship. For example, when the followers of Zeus find a Zeus-like disposition, aimed toward the love of wisdom and the leading of men, they do all that is possible to foster this disposition. The lover sets out on a path of following up “the trace of the nature of their own god within themselves” (252e). Fixing the gaze of their eyes onto the beloved, they reach out after the god in memory and are possessed by him, taking their ways and manners from the god as much as possible for humans (253). But all the while, the lover attributes this not to the god but to the beloved. In this “unconscious” activity of character formation, in which the lover does not know himself, Socrates describes the possessed activity of the lover as a drawing of droughts from Zeus, which droughts they “pour out like Bacchants, onto the soul of the beloved, thus making in him the closest possible likeness to the god they worship” (253a).
This “following up of the trace of the god within and the drawing and pouring of drink from Zeus may be a good description, by analogy, of the activity, source and function of lyric poetry in love, to which the lovers are inspired by the sight of the beloved. The 330 lines spoke between Romeo and Juliet are some of the most memorable of all time, beginning with the Sonnet at the Palm Dance (Romeo and Juliet, I, ii, ). The reaching back in memory of the lover imitates the right use of recollection, by which the philosopher alone recovers the wings of the soul. The “song of dialectic itself (Republic VII, 532d),” unknown to the lover, may yet be the being on which lyric love poetry is based. The capacity of the soul for this sort of love is due not to the body but to the mind, due to the higher, yet unconscious, capacity of the soul of man for knowledge.
Theseus’ drawing together the suburbs into Athens is like Theseus’ overcoming of paternal law, as legislation implies a choice between local customs (Plato, Laws, 681c-d). The city is founded out of the villages by overcoming paternal authority, allowing the lovers to be in the city. The question facing Theseus and Athens is whether or not another source of character formation, other than the father, is to be permitted.[x] The question between natural eros and law is similar to the question faced by Athens in the trial of Socrates, regarding whether the philosophic life could be permitted by the laws of the city. Athens may have allowed Socrates to remain without his love, if he would cease philosophizing. He might also have fled or gone into exile, but Athens would not allow Socrates to remain in the city philosophizing.
In Act I, Theseus is powerless to over-rule the claim of Egeus, and so advises Hermia that she must “fit her fancies” to the will of her father (I,i, 18). In telling her this, the Duke articulates the grounds of the sanction of the claim of Egeus, the ancient privilege of Athens” (I,i,41). Theseus tells Hermia:
Be advised, fair maid,
To you your father should be as a god
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.
As if the father were a creating god, he claims an absolute authority over his child as if she were an artifact whose form had its source entirely in his will or making.[xi]
This claim of the father is inseparable from the claim of the old or the ancestral to the highest place of authority. The claim of Egeus depends upon the supposition that there is no faculty higher than the paternal will nor any authority in being or nature higher than law, so that the judgment of the father, so that the judgment of the father is not answerable to anything higher than itself. Egeus claims a right to figure or disfigure, like the right of the potter over the clay. This is different from the right to care for a being whose origin, nature and end is beyond human making. It is the aversion of ancestral law and paternal rule to any appeal above itself which leads to its enmity and the conflict with both philosophy and this noble sort of love.
The usefulness of the paternal claim- that Hermia ought look not with her own eyes but with the voice and judgment of her father (I,i, 34-37) is shown if we consider the present error of the eyes of Demetrius, and how beneficial it would be if an Egeus were his father and able to tell him to give up his claim to Hermia and to marry Helena. In a fine touch, we learn that Theseus had intended to speak to Demetrius about his sudden jilting of Helena and new devotion to Hermia.
The place of the paternal claim in the course of love is best shown in Shakespeare’s Tempest, by the action of Prospero in arranging the marriage of Miranda his daughter to Ferdinand the Prince of Naples. Prospero purposely appears to the lovers as if he opposes their union, even while all proceeds as his “soul” “prompts it.” This use of appearance allows Prospero to cure the pride which arises at the beginning of love, and to make the prince his willing subject. It also forces Miranda to separate herself from the rule of Prospero as father in preparation for the transfer of his office to her husband, as the principle trial of her love. The opposition of the father, then, appears to be a necessary part of the course of love, a part of the “customary cross” of love, borne in either comedy or tragedy.
While Theseus in act one is unable to overrule Egeus and the ancient privilege of the law of Athens, he is able to moderate the harshness of Egeus by adding the alternative that Hermia become a nun. Euripides Hippolytus too is a follower of Artemis in the hunt, dedicated to chastity, and he suffers the revenge of Aphrodite. Together with witchcraft, then, we have a second element added to the ancient Athenian setting from the medieval world. Hermia may substitute a metaphorical death, to the earthly or fertile desires, for a literal death, as a means of escaping the coercion of the law, by crossing beyond its reach. Even while attributing blessedness to such mastery of the blood, Theseus presents this alternative as difficult and unattractive. He tells Hermia to question her desires and examine her blood to see whether or not she can endure..
For aye to be in shady cloister mew’d
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
Before the contact of the Athenians with the fairies in the woods outside of Athens, the city can offer no middle ground between a fertile subjection to despotic rule and an infertile liberty outside the political or outside of earthly happiness. Hermia is left with no noble alternative other than death, just like Juliet. She therefore agrees to the plan of Lysander to flee the city through the woods by moonlight, aiming to arrive at the home of the Dowager aunt of Lysander “seven leagues” from Athens. This is just about the distance from Athens to Eleusis. The fairies prevent their ever arriving, and make it possible for the lovers to return to the city, which is reformed so as to have a place for love.
An important connection is here established in Shakespearean imagery between the voteress of Diana, the moon, and Christian nuns. This connection is upheld by the description of Rosalind by Romeo as having “Dian’s wit.” (Romeo and Juliet, I. i. 212). Machiavelli, in the opening chapter of his Discourses, contends that there is no practicable middle way between the infertile and fertile extremes, and so he chooses the fertile. Shakespeare finds modernity faced with two extremes similar to those with which Hermia is faced, and attempts to arrange a genuinely political middle way. There is the heavenly, the earthly and the conjunction.
The first scene ends with a Shakespearean display of love theory, as first Lysander and Hermia reflect on the customary cross of true love, and then Helena, surprisingly, delivers a speech on the blindness of love. Lysander has studied literature and history, and from all he has read, the course of true love never did run smoothly. the reason is some accidental difference such as in status, age or “friends,” and if these do not prevent love, “war, death or sickness did lay siege to it,…
…making it as momentary as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
Brief as lightening in the collied night
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth
And, ere a man can say ‘Behold!’,
The jaws of darkness do devour it up;
So quick bright things come to confusion.
The statement might be a commentary on Romeo and Juliet, star crossed by the ancient family hatred. The language reminds of spiritual analogies, first in the comparison of Moses to the other prophets as one for whom the lightening flash is constant, and second for the image of the rolling up of the sky like a scroll, as occurs in the Revelation. “Too like lightening, which doth ceace to be / Ere one can say it lightens,” says Juliet (R&J, ).
Hermia concludes patience, since “true lovers have been ever cross’d,” and hence it is a “Customary cross,” The cross of true love is borne by all true lovers, in Romeo and Juliet a true analogy of the way of the cross.
The solution of Lysander, to leave the city, is one way Romeo and Juliet might have escaped their tragedy (de Alvarez). The only way the Friar can think to get Juliet out is through the dangerous devise of pretending her death. “To that place the sharp Athenian law cannot pursue us-” The cross of love is related to the conflict of paternal law and spiritual ascent. They agree to meet one league outside the city in the wood, just about where the craftsmen by coincidence will meet to rehearse their play.
In agreeing to meet, Hermia swears by “Cupid’s strongest bow/ By his best arrow with the golden head” and the simplicity of Venus’ doves, in contrast with duplicity, as these mate for life (Arden note, p. 15). Hermia recalls the story of Dido and Aeneas,[xii] and in swearing to meet, she playfully but prophetically swears “By all the vows that men have broke / (In number more than ever women spoke.)” This playful feminism is an admirable quality of Shakespeare’s Athenian woman.
Helena enters, and the lovers make the mistake of telling her of their planned escape, as Helena tells Demetrius. After complaining to Hermia about the change in Demetrius, Helena, the rejected one, is left for a stunning soliloquy that parallels the speech of Theseus at the end on love and the imagination. She briefly recognizes that her own admiration of Demetrius is an illusion like the error of Demetrius in admiring Hermia. On the illusion of love, Helena notes:
Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love transposes to form and dignity;
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.
And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind;
Nor hath love’s mind any judgment taste;
Wings, and no eyes, figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguil’d.
As waggish boys, in game, themselves forswear,
So the boy love is perjur’d everywhere;
For, ere Demetrius look’d on Hermia’s eyne,
He hailed down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt’
So he dissolv’d and showers of oaths did melt…
Helena is a “non-lover” in the sense of the Phaedrus, and presents Shakespearean love theory from the non-lover’s perspective. That Love “looks not with the eyes but with the mind” is a very interesting phrase, and a fine example of a character speaking both for themselves and simultaneously above themselves. ”’Alas that love, whose view is muffled still /Should without eyes see pathways to his will” is the phrase from Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo debated on love with Benvolio, where love is “a madness most discreet.” (R&J I,i 174-5;196). The lover “sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt,” Theseus will say in his demonstration that the imagination is alike active in the lunatic, the lover and the poet. If one will look at the picture of one loved when one is no longer in love, the difference can be astounding, for as Homer says it, Aphrodite casts aspersions on the one loved, perfecting the appearance even to sight, and the lover believes the beloved to appear so beautifully to all, not only to him. The transforming illusions of love are paradoxically the result of the human participation in the faculty called nous, the eye of the soul, which somehow yet is love. Romeo himself is forsworn, when he says he would consider it heresy to hold that one is more beautiful than Rosalinde.
Juliet: By whose direction found’st thou out this place?
Romeo: By love, that first didst prompt me to inquire.
He lent me counsel, and I lent him eyes.
I am no pilot; yet wert thou as far
As that vast shore…
Wings too, of love are that by which Romeo has leapt the wall. Love is paradoxically Mind. The two together, too, are like the mind and soul in thought, as “J” Keyser too, in conversation, noted. And this is just what one might expect if the soul of man had something similar to knowledge within, or a capacity to recollect when the being can be seen. Hence, we say the “archetypes” of Jung, and the “collective unconscious,” are like “knowledges,” rather than “forms,” being permitted, as Jung was not, to distinguish between subject-ivism and object-ivism.
I, ii: The Craftsmen.
The inclusion of the third class of Athenians, the craftsmen adds two main actions to the play, the production of the tragedy within a comedy and the translation of Bottom playing Pyramus into the ass headed beloved of the Fairy Queen. The production of Pyramus and Thisbe provides a comical reflection on tragedy for both the audience of the craftsmen and the audience of Shakespeare’s day, as well as involving the dramatists in a reflection on the art of imitation. The substitution of the ass-headed mortal for the changeling child in the affections of the Fairy Queen raises the question of the relation of this action to that of the comical tragedy and to the action of the play.
The second scene of act one– in which the craftsmen meet to be given their parts and to plan their rehearsal of Pyramus and Thisbe– shows the capacity of the subplot of the craftsmen to provide commentary on the action of the play as a whole. Bottom is given the role of Pyramus, and asks if Pyramus is a lover or a tyrant. Told by Quince that Pyramus is a lover, Bottom asserts that his “chief humor” is rather for the tyrant. Bottom then enters into a display of his powers, reciting a line of “Ercles,” or Hercules:
The raging rocks,
And shivering shocks,
Shall break the locks
Of prison Gates;
And Phibbus’ car
Shall shine from far
And make and Mar
The foolish fates.
(I, ii, 27-34)
In accord with the comic reversal of the meaning of words in the mispronunciations of the craftsmen, the Hercules speech of Bottom is not the speech of tyranny, but of kingship. A part of the joke may be that tyranny lies just beneath the character or humanity of the common man without a great effort of education or the transformation of the original ordering of the soul, in which “reason” serves the ends given by the appetites. But the speech of Bottom here is similar to the speech of the fairy King Oberon regarding the relation of the fairies to the rising sun (III,ii, 388-395). Hercules is later mentioned in the play in relation to hunting (IV,i, 111). As Hercules was thought to be the only mortal ever to go to live with the gods on Olympus, so Bottom will be the only human in the play to see and dwell among the fairies. His perspective is that of the audience, though, so that we know he is the only one who sees. But it is fitting, in the Athens of Theseus, that Bottom would wish to play a hero of the preceding generation, the one whom Theseus particularly imitated. Comically, though perhaps accurate historically, Bottom does not distinguish between the royal and the tyrannical, king and tyrant. This distinction, absent for example in Sophocles, appears first to the Socratic philosophers.
The Hercules speech of Bottom is about the subjection of the fates or furies by Apollo, as occurs through the action of the Orestia, and through the action of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a whole. The fates are overruled, through the action of the play, by the time of the sunrise, contrary to the expectation of Puck (III,ii,92) and to the outcome of the tragedies of Pyramus and Thisbe and Romeo and Juliet (V,i,277-8) [xiii]. Howard B. White shows the similarity between the action of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Aeschylus’ Eumenides, in which Orestes is defended by Apollo from the Furies, who are pursuing him for killing his mother to avenge the murder of his father Agamemnon. Orestes is told by Apollo to go to Athens, where Athena establishes a council of twelve, who over-rule the Furies, freeing Orestes. White states:
Athens, for perhaps the first time, substitutes the rule of law for revenge. The old gods, the pre-political gods, like the household gods whom Egeus follows, and who give him his authority, are subdued, and the laws of the city prevail…the city…becomes a true polity only when justice is represented by the laws.[xiv]
Bottom, wishing to play every part in the play, asks Quince, the carpenter and Director, to let him also play the lion. Bottom speaks of how he will roar “that it would do any man’s heart to hear him roar” (I,i, 64). But Quince warns that if the lion roars too terribly, the ladies will be frightened, and that would be enough to get them all hanged. Bottom then amends his grounds for his claim to the role of the lion, saying that he will roar as quiet as a dove or nightingale, but finally agrees to play only the part of Pyramus. The craftsmen agree to meet in the palace wood a mile outside of town to rehearse by moonlight, for, as Quince says, “if we meet in the city, we shall be dogged with company, and our devices known” (I,i, 91-99). When the craftsmen meet, in the third act, for their rehearsal, Quince has considered problems of two things difficult to imitate, Moonlight and the wall between the lovers, while Bottom has been moved to do some thinking about the dangers to the dramatist that impose limitations on what can be presented on the stage, regarding the Lion and the suicide of Pyramus. The suicides of Romeo and Juliet raise the same questions, seriously, in tragedy. Prior to Shakespeare, suicides were not presented on the stage. Shakespeare’s own imitations, such as that of the fairy kingdom and the translation of Bottom as Pyramus, are in some ways answers to how things difficult to present on stage or through a play may be presented.
The fairy spirits of Shakespeare are often compared to Greek divinities, such as the Titans and Olympians found in the poems of Homer and Hesiod. Like the Greek gods, these fairy spirits look and act much like mortal humans, subject to the same loves, jealousies, potions, quarrels and errors as are the humans. The division suffered by the whole fairy kingdom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is similar to a quarrel of Zeus and Hera. Also like the Greek gods, the fairies look and act much like the causes of human emotions, actions and accidents, similar to the way in which Aphrodite causes loves and visible illusions, or Athena brings a restraining thought to Achilleus or a wise device to Odysseus. One sees for example in Euripides how the gods are the common sense explanations of what we call “psychological” causes that are beyond the individual, as Aphrodite takes revenge on Hippolytus for his chastity. Hera afflicted Hercules with madness, etc., things for which neither Christian nor modern secular orders have any explanation either.
For Jung, the “archetypes” are both parts of the soul and knowledges of the parts of the soul and cosmos dwelling “in” the “unconscious” mind of both particular men and man. Hence, “anima” has both a particular and a general referent. It is never clear whether, for Jung, God is an objective being or the projection of the imago Dei. He is continually under siege by “scientific” psychology, and attempts to defend the enterprise of the study of the higher things of the soul as a study of the phenomenon, as distinct from an objective metaphysics. But we say that the knowledge in the soul is the source also of the collective aspect of dreams and of the great, as distinct from merely personal, dreams. Hence Queen Mab is the source of dreams the cause of love and of the attraction of myth, as demonstrates empirically” by the obvious similarities- amid significant differences- of the many human mythical traditions.
The fairy kingdom of the play sometimes appears as a dreamlike reflection of the daylight world of the mortals in Athens and in their circumstances. Yet they are shown to be wide-ranging, affecting rulers and other mortals as far off as India and encircling the globe. White states: Oberon…is not a god of the city, so much as a universal god. He sees that the rules correspond with natural right (note 1, p. 63). The fairies are more permanent beings, more real than the mortals to whom they seem like a dream.
The fairies of Shakespeare are different from Greek gods in that they are not gods but spirits. They dwell in the shadowy realm of night, somewhere between the land of the daylight world of men in cities and the distant shore of the light of dawn. In their status as in between beings, they are similar to the Greek gods as described in Plato’s Phaedrus, in whose trains they once followed on their journey to the vision of true being. What Homeric poetry presents as the first or highest beings, the imitation of Shakespeare and Plato present as intermediary beings, between terrestrial man and true being, which is higher than the Olympian heavens.
The hierarchic ordering of the Fairy Kingdom corresponds to the hierarchic ordering of the parts of the soul according to nature, headed by the practical wisdom of Oberon. In addition to being nature spirits of the forest and field, the fairies are spirits of nature. The natural royalty of Oberon is what is enabled to rule when wisdom turns tragedy into comedy. Oberon may be, or may personify, the cause of wise action by statesmen who are not themselves wise, acting as by inspiration when no wise man is present in the regime. Does the soul of man, or do the parts of the human soul, somehow exist apart from human contingencies? And is this in-between being able to affect human actions? It may also be that the invisible ruling causes of some beneficial effects among the human and political things are wise poets.
Puck, the jester and servant of Oberon, introduces the quarrel in the fairy kingdom as he is passing through the woods outside of Athens. He meets a fairy of the train of Titania the estranged fairy queen of Oberon. Puck warns the fairy to be careful that the queen not come into the sight of Oberon…
For Oberon is passing fell and wrath,
Because she as her attendant hath
A lovely boy, stolen from an Indian King;
She never had so sweet a changeling.
And jealous Oberon would have the child
Knight of his train to trace the forests wild
But she perforce witholds the loved boy,
Crowns him with flowers, makes him all her joy…
According to the Oberonian opinion, which proves to be correct, the changeling ought leave the care of his fairy stepmother, whose love for her sweetest changeling ever is excessive. Oberon quarrels to break the maternal embrace that would entangle the prince, allowing him to make the transition to knighthood in the train of the Fairy King. One wonders if fairies use the conventional as well as the natural terms for royalty. The forestry, or tracing of the forests wild which is actually, through the forester, the activity of the Fairy King. This activity may connect Oberon, the fairy King, with philosophy.
A changeling is usually said to be a child left by the fairies in exchange for a child taken from mortal parents. But here, the changeling is the child taken from the mortals, whether stolen from an Indian king or entrusted to Titania by the mother of the boy at her death, as Titania tells it. In either case, the child has two different sources of paternal authority, and it is to this condition that the image of the changeling refers.
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates draws an analogy between “the case of the changeling child and those students of dialectic who become “filled with lawlessness” (537-539e). These students are said to be like an adopted child who learns that his parents are not his true natural parents, but is unable to find the true parents, and so comes to be and to associate with flatterers. In the same way, the abusers of conversation have heard the beliefs given by the legislator refuted many times. These beliefs are those about the just and the noble, by which we have been raised as a parent also raises a child. While sensible men “honor the ancestral things and obey them as rulers,” these students that leave their parents the laws fail to find their true parents (538d4). But the philosopher, “obedient” to being and nature, would be no less a changeling.
Similarly, there is a sense in which all men are changelings, having both mortal and immortal ruling origins. Christ, of course, and Christians too are changelings, as are the heroes of ancient Greece as Hercules. When telling Meno the myth of recollection, Socrates, citing Pindar, tells of the origin of true kings and hero’s in what is most like not the intercourse of gods and mortals but a purging of original sin:
“For in the ninth year, Persephone sends the souls of those from whom she has received the penalty of ancient crime back again from beneath into the light of the sun above, and these are they who become noble kings and mighty men and great in wisdom and are called saintly heroes in after ages.”
Meno, 81, Jowett translation
This is said to refer to the teaching of the immortality of the soul and literally reincarnation, but refers rather to the origin of kings and heroes and in the birth of intellect, the crown of true kings. As kings and tyrants are both monarchs, and may even be crowned, the genesis of tyrants has similarities in form, because the same in the soul has been usurped, and tyranny is an ordering of the soul. But the two, king and tyrant are opposite regarding good and evil, the good being the natural form and akin to justice, while the tyrant is evil and akin to injustice. Similarly, the three natural forms of the polis, kingship aristocracy and polity, have opposite forms in “democracy” oligarchy and tyranny, according to whether the rule of the one few or many aims at the good of the commons or rather the self interest of the ruling element. The intelligibility of the perversions of the natural or legitimate forms, in soul and city, are derived from the good. This three part understanding is an archetype, and shows how ancient politics and psychology are inseparable (Republic, Book VIII, 544d). But there is also a two part understanding of the soul, a higher archetype, and their unity appears as a different three. The “Trinity” is still something different, conjoined to the fourth in what is likened by the two part understanding. The bare empirical fact of the archetype or common form does not, or course, tell us whether this is the cause of the myth of the Christ or rather that the truth of the gospel is indicated by its its natural image reflected in the nature of the soul. Lazarus rises.
The prince Ferdinand, in The Tempest, is also a changeling, saying that Miranda makes his wise father in law a “second father” to him (The Tempest, V,i, 195). When Ariel welcomes the prince onto the yellow sands of the island, the spirit sings a song telling him his father is dead, yet suffers a “sea change/ Into something rich and strange” (I, ii, 376-405). Through Miranda, Prospero becomes a second father to the prince, who receives from the wise Duke a “second life.” We not only internalize our paternal images, but also can perfect our mortal parenting and authorities, by intellect and imagination opening to what is always. The suggestion is not that Prospero has no Father in heaven nor that Ferdinand is to be a philosopher king, but that the philosophic Duke is superior to the earthly father of Ferdinand, Alonso.
And so we can see some possibilities for the interpretation of the story about the quarrel in the fairy kingdom regarding the changeling. The issue may, like the wedding Masque, reflect the “unconscious” circumstances of Theseus and the lovers. One might read, following Jung, that the “self” must be freed from the maternal embrace to pursue philosophy in order for Theseus to cease the endless pursuit of the beautiful through the visible image in various women. The changeling story may also refer outside the play, to the changelings of philosophy or Christianity, something in the soul of the West regarding that in man that is a changeling. It would surely be like the transfer of the education of the intellect from the Church to Philosophy, but would also be likened by the ascent of the eros of Theseus. Such an action may allow the poet to show the correction of some confusion in political and human things based on a correction regarding the fundamental orders.
As Puck and the Fairy converse, recounting their activities as spirits, Oberon and Titania with her fairy train converge on the spot in the woods. In their argument, the King and Queen accuse one another of infidelities or affairs with mortals, and in something peculiar about these accusations, an important point is shown about the relation of the fairies to the humans: The effect of an affair between the fairy royalty and the mortals is that the mortals are led about through various infidelities.
Titania accuses Oberon of consorting with a shepherd girl, Phillida, in the shape of “Corin,” and of having come now to Athens from “the farthest steep of India” in order to bless the wedding bed of Hippolyta, whom she calls Oberon’s “bushskin’d mistress and warrior love” (II,ii, 71). The love of Oberon for a mortal woman is not a kind of love that conflicts with her mortal love and marriage, but rather has to do with the blessing of the bed of the mortal love. The character of the love of the Fairy Queen for Theseus is then shown when Oberon asks Titania if she did not lead Theseus…
Through the glimmering night,
From Perigouna, whom he ravished;
And make him with fair Aegles break his faith,
With Ariadne and Antiope?
One beloved of the fairy royalty does not perceive the presence of the spirits, except as effects in their mortal loves, such as blessings or confusions. Whether the particular accusation of Oberon is true or not (and Titania denies it), the character of her love would be to cause in Theseus illusions of sight leading to affairs for which Plutarch criticizes Theseus. The fairy royalty thus appears as aspects of human being, in which particular human rulers participate and by which they are unknowingly affected.
Titania calls the accusation of Oberon “the forgeries of jealousy,” but maintains that the “brawls” of Oberon have disturbed the sport of herself and Oberon.[xv] This is the second time Oberon has been called “jealous,” though he does not show the least bit of jealousy for the love of Titania. She lists the progeny of evils that are the result of the royal “debate.” As Alvarez notes, the proper order, concord and festivities of the fairies keep all nature in harmony (“Poetry and Kingship,” n. 11, p.171). Because the fairy King and Queen do not meet, the winds, piping to them in vain, suck up contagious fogs from the sea.[xvi] These fogs, falling on the land, make every small river so “proud” that it overflows its limits. Agriculture and herding fail. In the plague or famine, the traces of humans on the land, such as the square for a game or the mazes of paths and roads, disappear. “No night,” says Titania, “is now with hymn or carol blessed.” “Therefore the moon, pale in anger,” is caused to “wash the air” so that “rheumatic diseases” break out (II,ii,101-105), and through this “distemperature” of the “governess of the floods,” the confusion of the seasons occurs so that frost falls on the red roses and summer buds are set on the crown of winter.[xvii]
Just as the humans do not notice the fairies in affairs, so none of the disorders in nature are noticed by the mortals in the play, at least in the terms in which the fairies describe them. The discords noticed by the Athenians are not disorders in nature, and the weather appears beautiful throughout the play. There are rather disorders among the human things. The disorders spoke of by the fairies as if these were in nature might refer to the conflict of love and law in Athens, or even further, to the circumstances of the orders of modernity. The Fairies, despite happening by the woods of Theseus’ Athens of Theseus, may be timeless or more permanent beings, as though it were Shakespeare who happened by the woods outside of Athens with the benefit of hindsight.
The disappearance of hymns and carols indicates a disturbance in both the customs of religion and the services of the churches. On the reason that we have a psychology today, Jung writes that when the “unconscious” is properly “projected” in a living myth, there is no need for a psychology. But in the circumstance of modernity now settling to the many of humanity, the unconscious is poisoned (Jung, “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man”). Something like this is what the play references, indicated in the disturbances of what to the fairies is earth or the world, but to us is the human spiritual world.
When Oberon asks Titania why she will not mend the quarrel, leading to all these disorders, by giving up the changeling, Titania gives a different account of her reason for withholding him than the reason that was given by Puck. The mother of the boy was a “votress” of the order of Titania, who, being mortal, died in childbirth. It is for the sake of her friend, rather than some excessive attachment, that she raises the child and refuses to give him up. The two explanations are potentially consistent. Oberon has come from India, and according to Puck, the child was stolen from an Indian King.
The mother of the boy is the second of three votresses mentioned in the play. She is quite unlike the votress of Diana the chaste moon, in the alternative added by Theseus (I,i, 89-90). Like Hippolyta, her love is fertile and like Titania, she is married. Yet this Indian queen is unlike every other mortal in the play, except possibly Bottom the weaver, in that her relation with Titania is described as though she had direct and knowing conversation and companionship with the Fairy Queen. Titania describes their friendship, telling how they would “gossip in the spiced Indian air” and sit on “Neptunes yellow sands watching the sailing merchants on the sea. Titania tells of when they…
Laughed to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
Following (her womb then rich with my young squire),
Would imitate, and sail upon the land to fetch me trifles and return again
As from a voyage rich with merchandise.
The play of the Indian votress of the Fairy Queen is a kind of imitation,[xviii] even as the activity of a knight in the train of Oberon is like philosophy. It may, in a word, describe poetry. The Indian queen, too, pregnant and imitating the sailboats, would fetch trifles from the yellow sands of Neptune. The Amazons- who are the ancient example of the conventional cause of female inequality- and Titania allude to the elevation of women in the democratic orders of Theseus. The royal action of Oberon too shows how this might be governed.
With the quarrel unresolved, Titania exits with her Train. But Oberon has learned how long she intends to stay in “this wood,” the woods outside of Athens, and promises silently to “torment thee for this injury.” Oberon reminds Puck of a flower containing a love potion, and tells him of the plan to make Titania fall in love with some animal, then forcing her to give up the changeling before applying the anti-dote. In reminding Puck of the flower. Oberon describes the occasion on which it acquired its potency. It was when Oberon was sitting on a piece of land jutting out over the sea, and heard a Mermaid who was riding on the back of a dolphin sing so harmoniously that the sea was stilled and certain stars shot out of their orbits. At that time, invisible to Puck but seen by the Fairy King, Cupid flying armed between the cold moon and the earth, aimed his love-inducing arrow at an “Imperial Voteress,” or “Fair Vestal enthroned by the West, but the arrow missed, and was quenched in “the chaste beams of the watery moon,” while the vestal continued on “in maiden meditation,” free of the imagination of the lover. The arrow missing, it fell on a little western flower which maidens call “love in idleness,” we, violet, as it was turned from white to purple with “love’s wound.” And so the juice of this flower laid on the eyelids of a sleeping man or woman leads them to the illusion that they love the next live creature seen upon waking.
Oberon’s image tells the source of the powers of the herb which enables him to remedy the division in the fairy kingdom and avoid tragedy in Athens. But the object of the image, whether historical or intelligible, is not known. It is said to refer to the virgin Queen Elizabeth, and the extra potent arrow’s fall would accurately describe the effect on English literature. The poetry of sea and land is continued here from the account of Titania and her play with her Indian votress. The premonitory of Oberon is on and even crosses the shoreline. From land, he hears an event at sea. The mermaid is a being, half human and half fish, that inhabits the sea rather than the land, although it is a rational being. De Alvarez states: “The dolphin’s leaping from water to air has been taken as a metaphor of the soul that leaps from the mortal body into an immortal realm” (Loc. cit. n. 11, p.171). The riding on the dolphin and the song of the mermaid remind of the story of Arion in the Histories of Herodotus, saved from lawless sailors at sea when his guitar playing- apparently by its harmonies- calls a dolphin, on which Arion is able to ride in to land. Here the sea is stilled by the song, just as the spirits and ghosts are stilled by the approach of the dawn. (Hamlet, I, iv, , p. below). The harmony of the song which stills the seas and disorbs the stars appears to be the cause of Cupid taking the shot at that moment.
This votress, the third sort mentioned in the play, is both a vestal virgin like the followers of Diana or the mother of Romulus, and a queen, as is the Indian Queen that is the votress of Titania. One wonders if her meditation is related to the music of the Mermaid. Both the particular flower and the votress are especially of the “West,” a thought which implies the contrast of East and West, which goes back through Rome and Parthia to Classical Greece, with the Persian wars against Darius and Xerxes, to Homeric Greece and the war with Troy. The Western Empire would be England, at just this time, after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and here it is also Western in contrast with the new British interest in India. The cure of both the discord in the world-ranging fairy kingdom and, accidentally, of the discord in Athens, is to be found in a particularly Western effect of Cupid or eros.
The vestal is like the Rosilinde of Romeo, who, having “Diane’s wit,” cannot be hit with Cupid’s arrow. One wonders if her meditation is related to the music of the mermaid. The potion may be especially potent due to the difficulty of the attempt. The white flower turned purple with the wound of love is compared with the once-white Mulberries turned purple by the blood of Pyramus in the story told by Ovid. If the change is comparable, and the analogy holds, the potency of the flower turned purple with the wound of love is conveyed by the blood of the hero.[xix]
While Puck is out fetching the flower, Oberon sees Helena pursuing Demetrius through the forest while Demetrius spurns her harshly, claiming not to love her but rather Hermia, yet pretending to threaten her with rape in order to get rid of her. That is, Demetrius, pursuing Hermia, tells Helena that she discredits her modesty to leave the city and trust her virginity to one who “loves her not,” in a deserted place. Demetrius then runs off into the forest, telling Helena that he is leaving her to the wild beasts. Oberon, moved by some philosophic concern for mortals, or a preference for seeing right order in love, decides to remedy the situation in favor of the wishes of Helena, by using the love juice to fix the love of Demetrius onto her. When Puck returns with the flower, Oberon gives him orders to put the potion onto the eyes of a “disdainful youth,” to be known by his Athenian clothing, who is beloved of a “sweet Athenian lady,” and to return by the first cock crow. Oberon then sets off with the herb for the “banks where the wild thyme blows,” where the Fairy Queen sleeps. He squeezes the juice of the flower onto her eyelids. But Puck accidentally finds not Demetrius and Helena but Hermia and Lysander, who are lying apart asleep in the forest, as Hermia says “becomes a virtuous bachelor and a maid”(II,ii, 59). Puck probably does not understand this human custom, and thinks that they lie apart because Lysander is the disdainful youth in Athenian garments described by Oberon. Puck hits the eyes of Lysander, and then Demetrius passes by Pursued by Helena. Demetrius leaves Helena there by Lysander, who awakens and seeing her, immediately is in love with Helena, leaving Hermia alone in the woods. It is interesting that Hermia’s insistence upon the custom provides the opening for accident.
The mediation of Puck in carrying out the intention of Oberon imitates the influence of accident in human loves, while the intention and correction of Oberon shows the purposeful aim of love. The accident to which love is subject is demonstrated when the image is attached to an unsuitable object. And if any two are alone on an island and of the age of coupling, this will occur. Accident occurs so often among the human loves that one wonders whether love is not perfectly accidental, with no relation at all between the image and character of the object. The error of Demetrius in loving Hermia was the occasion of the soliloquy of Helena concluding Act I. There Helena asserts that Love is blind because it sees not with the eyes but with the mind, and a mind without judgment. But in the action of the play, the sighted Oberon brings about the right pairings of the lovers, the very pairings which pertained among them before Demetrius changed to loving Hermia. That there are right pairings in love, and a way these stories ought go, points to an intention of nature regarding the human souls. Wise action can bring this intention of nature to its fulfillment. Upon the discovery of the error of Puck, Oberon tells him:
Thou hast mistaken quite,
And laid the love juice on some true love’s sight;
Of thy misprision must perforce ensue
Some true love turn’d, and not a false turn’d true.
Oberon knows the true or natural pairings. Hence, as de Alvarez writes, in the opening scene, the law is an obstacle to what is fitting, and the question is to what extent the legal and the natural can be brought to coincide . “The fairy charm permits the legal and the natural to coincide (pp.161-162).” Similarly, Puck speaks of the right pairings in terms of each having “his own,” (III,iii, 458-463). There is a truth regarding true love, and what the fairy king means includes the knowledge of true love. The beginning of love is, according to Socrates, based upon a similarity of disposition (Phaedrus, 252 a-b). For man and woman, a natural pairing, there appears to be a natural unity of the two, based both on a certain alikeness and a certain complementary fitting together which makes a particular two especially suited to living together, ruling a household, and raising or educating children. The diversities among the humans as we find them all refer to this natural form, the same as that in saying in the image of God…male and female.” The two are alike in what pertains to each as man, in the way that friends are alike, in their opinion of justice and the good, the first principles they uphold and the hierarchy of the ends or purposes. So, they are alike in the things pertaining to each as man, but complementary in the things pertaining to each as male and female. The character formed by the legislator to see the noble as beautiful receives a crowning completion by the natural character formation that occurs through the right union. This union allows the two together to participate in the harmony from which humans are otherwise removed, available only in the life of philosophy and the ministerial arts. And so the Biblical Proverb reads: “A good wife is the crown of her husband,” while “The crown of the wise is their wisdom” (12:4; 14:24).
The reason for the pairings Hermia with Lysander and Helena with Demetrius is based on the kinds of soul in each case. Lysander and Hermia are alike the nobler of the two, as is shown by the opening scenes in the forest. Demetrius is the legalist whose passions are not limited by any thing other than the force of the law of the city. Hence, the effect of the forest is to move him closer to a Hobbesian-like state of nature, toward the animal of man, while Helena pursues him slavishly. Demetrius is cruel: He allows Hermia, who he supposedly loves, to believe that Lysander is dead, and even that Demetrius has killed him. By contrast, Lysander won the love of Hermia with songs, and Egeus does not see the difference for his daughter. The nobler two are formed by something more than the force of law. Their love leads them beyond the city walls. The nature they experience outside the city is, until Puck introduces the confusion, a state of nature that has to do with love and is not inhuman, nor lawless. So Demetrius is moved by nature toward lawlessness, Lysander toward noble love. Yet he is easily moderated by the modesty that has accompanied Hermia into the forest.
The names of Hermia and Helena provide a key to the question of the kinds of souls involved in the pairings[xx] and possibly also to the difficult question of how these pairings, their confusion and correction, fit into the meaning of the play. White states: “Unlike Helena, who is names for the most beautiful woman of antiquity, Hermia is related, at least nominally, to a god (Copp’d Hills, p. 59). The god is Hermes, mediator between the mortals and the Olympian gods and the conductor of souls into the underworld or afterlife. Of Hermes, Eva Brann writes:
His Egyptian name is Anubis, but to the Greeks he is Hermes the Interpreter, the “psychogogue” (cf. Phaedrus 271 c10) who conducts the souls of the dead and guides those who must descend into Hades while alive (cf. Diogenes Laertius) VIII, 31). He is also the bringer of political wisdom to men (Protagoras 322 c2). In particular, Hermes is known as the guide of the hero Hercules in his famous descent into Hades (Odyssey XI, 626).
(The Music of the Republic, p. 2)
It is Hermia who, upon awakening after the night in the forest, speaks of seeming to see the night’s events “…with parted eye/ when everything seems double” (IV,i, 207-208). White relates this seeing double to a tradition according to which one who sees double is one who sees both the “sacred and the secular,” or the invisible and the visible, at once (Copp’d Hills, p. 59). A note to the listing of the persons in the drama identifies the source of the name of Hermia with the mistress of Aristotle the philosopher.[xxi]
The meaning of Helen in the plays of Shakespeare is to be seen in his Troilus and Cressida. In this play, Shakespeare weaves together the stories of both Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida and the Iliad of Homer in an iconoclastic presentation of both martial virtue and chivalric love. Helen, the cause of the Trojan war, and Cressida are presented and compared side by side, with the poetry of Chaucer and Homer stripped away, leaving only incontinent women. Upon the discovery of the infidelity of Cressida, the faith of Troilus in the “rule of unity-” the exact correspondence of appearance and reality- is shattered. The disillusioning of Troilus, the Christian Knight of Chaucer, is joined at the conclusion of the play by a base portrayal of the conquest of Hector by Achilleus, the action that secured the fall of Troy. So Shakespeare, in an unpopular play,[xxii] treats the destruction of the two great poetries which were the basis of the two great customary orders to rule the West prior to the “Renaissance, or, modernity. Troy, through Aeneas, is connected to the founding of Rome, or at least the union of Trojans and Latins that became the Romans. Rome became the conveyer of Christendom to the West, so that the fall of Troy is connected with the fall of the medieval orders,[xxiii] in what is possibly the most modern of the plays of Shakespeare.[xxiv]
In the tradition of the writers, from Herodotus or even Homer himself, Helen in Troy is an image of the principle on which custom and the rule of custom is based. To say that Helen is in Troy, or was really at Troy- the premise of the poem of Homer- is similar to the assertion of custom that the divine light or divine beauty is really in the image or is in the city. The presentation of Helen by Shakespeare as being not really worth the blood spilt over her achieves the same effect as does the account of Herodotus according to which Helen was really in Egypt during the Trojan war (Histories II.111-123). As Durant seems to suggest, that Helen was in Egypt seems to mean that she went voluntarily, and not that she was not at Troy at all during the war- which would be incredible. The suggestion seems to be that if the entourage of Paris stopped first in Egypt, Helen would have had a chance to escape, or that Egypt indicates that she was not kidnapped, but ran away with Paris. Nor does Homer present her as discontented, either here or later in the Odyssey when she is back with the victor Menelaus. Socrates, again in Plato’s Phaedrus, compares his palinode to the correction of the account of Homer, according to which Helen was in Troy, by the poet Steisichoras. This poet is said to have discovered the cause and cure of the blindness of Homer, and to have cured his own blindness with a Palinode saying that Helen was not in Troy (Phaedrus, 243a). Socrates says he will similarly wash out the two speeches that assume that love is bad by speaking his famous third speech on love. In addition to the comparison of Helen with Cressida and the connection of Troy with Rome, two more pieces connecting Helen in Shakespeare with specifically Christian custom are, first, that the greatest praise of Helen in the play is delivered by a character called “Servant,” who tells Pandarus that he “depends upon the Lord,” and speaks similarly throughout the scene as a Christian would speak (III,i). Second, in the debate among the Trojans about whether or not to keep Helen, Troilus argues against the prudence of Hector (and Aristotle Ethics 1109b) that Troy ought keep Helen, because she is ” a theme of honor and renown,” a spur to deeds by which “fame in time to come will canonize us” (II,ii, 200-204). In the play of Shakespeare, Troy falls because of the refusal to give Helen over to the Greeks.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the meaning of Helena and the reason for the pairings may be especially shown when Lysander falls in love with her under the influence of the error of Puck. Lysander speaks of his conversion from Hermia in Christian terms, as the leaving of a heresy. He speaks of his himself as having become the knight of Helen (II,ii,139-144). He “repents” his former love of Hermia, and argues like scholiast about how he has now attained the age of reason so that his will is now ruled by his reason, leading him to see that Helena is worthier than Hermia by reading in her eyes “love stories,” writ in “love’s richest book”(III,ii,111-122).
But in order to see Helena again as more beautiful, or as the “worthier maid,” Demetrius must be hit with the juice of the flower and remain under its influence, returning to the city under illusion as if dreaming in the daylight (IV,i, 193-4)De Alvarez states that the effect of the juice of the flower is the same as that of poetry, and is necessary for Demetrius in order to dispel his anger and violence (Poetry and Kingship, pp.181; 173). Demetrius is, then, treated with poetry attaching him to lawfulness or custom in order to bring him as if from sickness to health, or to his “natural taste” (IV,i, 172-3). The meaning then of the confusion and correction of the relations among the Athenian nobility appears to be an anti- enlightenment correction of modernity which teaches that not all men can love Hermia, but some must be protected from anger and violence- which would be the natural result of their apprehension of nature– by the veil of illusion involved in loving Helena, the veil of visible or bodily beauty that hides nature. It is the sorting out of the Athenian nobility, then, that is the side effect of the remedy of Oberon for the more fundamental discord in the Fairy Kingdom.
One should not underestimate the strangeness and the terror of Hermia in the night. When she awakens, it is from a simultaneous dream. When Lysander fell out of love with her, under the influence of Puck’s error and the flower, she at the same time dreams :
Help me, Lysander, help me! Do thy best
To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast!
Ay me, for pity! What a dream was here!
Lysander, look how I do quake with fear.
Methought a serpent ate my heart away,
And you sat smiling at his cruel prey.
She then finds that Lysander is gone and she is left alone in the dark forest. Simultaneity occurs in love, and as was noted, is thick in Romeo and Juliet. Lovers know these strange effects, somehow the result of the two literally participating in a single larger soul that is their love. The unconscious mind of each is in simultaneity with the other. In a fine illustration, the unconscious produces a dream which tells the truth to the dreaming lover. The second Act ends as Hermia wanders into the darkness.
When the craftsmen meet in the woods to rehearse their play, in the opening scene of Act III, Bottom has been doing a lot of thinking about how to present a character such as lion while avoiding the danger of being hanged if the imitation is taken too literally. Here, Bottom raises questions about both the presentation of Lion and the suicide of Pyramus, which may not go well with the ladies in the audience. The solution, Bottom suggests, is to turn to prologues which tell the audience that the killing and the lion are not real, but are only pretend, and that Pyramus is not Pyramus but Bottom the Weaver, and Lion is “a man as other men are,”[xxv] and is Snug the Joiner. The comedy plays with the veil of illusion that is the entry of imagination into the world of the play. Next Quince raises two technical questions,[xxvi] of how to present moonshine and Wall, through which the lovers are to whisper. Bottom, called “a great literalist,”[xxvii] suggests that the casement of the theater be opened, so that the real moonlight can be used. But Quince suggests the solution later adopted, which is to have someone enter with a thorn bush and a lantern and say that he “comes to disfigure or present the person of moonshine” (III,i, 51-53). When the play is performed in the final act, the role of Starveling has been changed from the mother of Thisbe to moonshine, and the role of Snout as the father of Pyramus has been changed to wall. These changes are fitting, since it is paternal authority and a quarrel between fathers which keeps the lovers apart, while the moon, like the earth, refers in most cases to a feminine or maternal principle. What is literalism in the play within the play is highly symbolic in the play.
The action of the translation of Bottom can be shown to relate to the question of Christianity which is taken up in the play, although the meaning of this relation is not known. It may be a raucous satire of Christianity, designed to do what Oberon does to Titania. At the same time, it supports the imago Dei analogy argument regarding Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare is following out the meaning of Genesis 1:26 and the New Testament exposition of marriage in the teaching of Jesus. First, as will be shown, the action of the translation during the rehearsal appears to imitate either the Christ leaving the world and returning to redeem it, or the apostolic following of this way through death, as is described for example by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. Second, when Bottom is awakening after his adventure with the Fairy Queen, he attempts to speak about the experience of his translation, and in this attempt speaks a parody of a statement of Paul from 1 Corinthians 2:9.
There is also the instance of the prophesy of Balaam, to whom a dumb ass spoke (1 Peter 2:16; Numbers 22:23-24:25), just before the “Lord opened the eyes of Balaam” (22:31;24:3),” and he speaks to the angel. He is the first prophet recorded, before Elijah, aside from what is written of Abraham and Moses. Balaam was compelled to bless Israel despite the wish of the king Balak that he curse Israel.
Two possible directions for interpretation of the connection between this action and Christianity are, 1) that it is an answer to how to present Christ, or the inner things of the apostle on stage, veiled in satire. Or, 2) That it is an actual satire, critical of the literalism either of Christendom or even the apostle himself. The figure of a man with the head of an ass was a Roman satire of the Christians, apparently referring to their belief in the apotheosis of a man. Who knows? Shakespeare himself may have rejected the divinity of the Christ. He may have followed the way of Athens rather than Jerusalem, Italy or Antioch. The burning of heretics was then recent and local, leading to the obvious question of why such things were occurring. Yet like Rousseau, he obviously chooses poetry over enlightenment natural philosophy, knowing that the violence of some natures are limited by delusion. He may also be making fun of Paul in particular, and the universalizing of Christianity as a poetry and law made by man. And surely these things could have been other than they are. There is though, something of the spirit of Monty Python, in their song “Always look on the bright side of life, which seems to show that absolutely anything, for the free man, can be considered comically, regardless of how tragic, if only from a certain perspective. And it may be noted how privately speaks, as few have seen this in 400 years of the reading and production of this play! Jaffa writes that the ultimate comic perspective is the cosmic perspective (loc. ct., p. ). But, in each of these two actions, the imitation (III,i) and the parody, (IV,i), the theme of the tension between philosophy or reason and Christianity or love is indicated. Alvarez famously notes that The passage from Corinthians is “one of the New Testament’s most important treatments of the tension between philosophy and Revelation (p. 177).” What appears most likely is that the Fairies are put in the place of the worldly literalism in which Christianity must appear if it is to simply cover over the imagination and opinion governing mankind in the cave. The play transformed the understanding of the fairies and the place of these folk beings in the Christian imagination (Alvarez, class 1987). Where, for example, the divine things are used as instruments to one’s self interest guided by the ends of the body, it may worse rather than improvement to call this by a new name in place of Zeus.
Bottom playing Pyramus translated into an ass-headed mortal is somehow a fitting object for the correction of the love of Titania for the Indian boy, as Oberon agrees (III,ii,35), and Bottom, like the changeling, is crowned with flowers. It seems important that Puck refers not to Bottom but Pyramus as the mortal transformed for the Fairy Queen to love (III,ii 32), a bit as if Puck were in the world of the imitation in the play. As has been noted (p. 13 and note 5 above), certain lovers can in a way be called changelings, and the tragic love of Romeo and Juliet in some ways the images of higher beings. The action of the translation of Bottom does appear to be an answer to a problem of how to imitate a certain object that is dangerous and / or difficult to present. The changeling himself, though he be in India, apparently cannot be imitated for he never appears on stage. So let us first look at the scene in some detail.
As the craftsmen begin their rehearsal, Puck enters the scene attempting to arrange some vile thing for the Queen to see when she awakens nearby. Puck, aside, says that he will be an auditor or hearer, and perhaps an actor, as he settles in for the performance. Bottom, as Pyramus, recites his first lines, of a scene in which Pyramus, while reciting poems[xxviii] in praise of Thisbe, hears a voice, and tells Thisbe to remain, and that he will soon re-appear. Quince, as director, tells Flute, as Thisbe, that he must speak now, because he is to understand that Pyramus “goes but to see a voice that he has heard, and is to come again” (III,i, 81-82). In the next lines of Thisbe, spoke while Pyramus is out seeing the voice, she speaks of “Most radiant Pyramus, Most Lily-white of hue / Of color like the red rose on the triumphant briar.”[xxix] The red rose on the triumphant briar is of course the Christ on the cross overcoming death. She also calls Pyramus “Juvenal,” and “most lovely Jew.” Alvarez, in class, notes the reference to the Jews in Nineveh, as in the Book of Jonah, and the possibility even occurs that Pyramus is not an Assyrian but a Jew, as the Northern tribes were being captured. But the reference is to Jesus. It is while Pyramus is out, having left with the promise of return, that Puck transforms his head into that of an ass, so that the translation of Pyramus corresponds in analogy to the Christian transcendence of the world through death.[xxx] When Bottom returns, his companions scatter in fear. Bottom thinks this is just a trick to scare him, and so he sings to show that he is not afraid.[xxxi] As a comical creature of two realms, the song of the translated Bottom parallels or parodies the song of the dolphin-riding mermaid in the story of the origin of the potency of the flower. Titania, awakening, hears the song of Bottom and, even before she sees him, believes she hears an angel singing. She tells Bottom that she loves him, to which he answers:
Methinks, mistress, thou should have little reason for that. And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company nowadays, the more pity some honest neighbors will not make them friends. Nay, I can gleek upon occasion.
This is the center of the play.
It is possible that Bottom, who later speaks prophetically, speaks here by a kind of inspiration, referring to a lack of rational harmony among the lovers and orders of the human realm, or to the quarrel in the fairy kingdom, both of which are unknown to him. He may also refer outside the plot, to the dis-accompaniment of love and reason ion modernity- where reason is passionless and love irrational. For his great statement, Titania tells Bottom that he is as wise as he is beautiful. Bottom tells her plainly that this is not so, though if he had “wit enough to get out of this wood,” he would have enough for his own concerns (III,i, 142-144). But Titania tells him he is forced to remain with her:
I am a spirit of no common rate,
The summer sun doth still attend my state;
And I do love thee…
She adds reasons for persuasion, that she will fetch him “Jewels from the deep,” “And I will purge thy mortal grossness so/ That thou shalt like an airy spirit go.” The parody may be of the attempt to purge mortality and the body in a most literal sense, or it may say that the belief in the resurrection of the flesh is a myth without substance. Bottom is then introduced to the attendant fairies, one of whom is named “Mustardseed,” from the parable of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew ).
Perhaps like Gyges in the Inquiries of Herodotus, the experience of the queen makes Bottom despotic or tyrannical (IV,i, 11-14), and it is lucky that his desires, as an ass, are simple.
As Titania exits, she strangely says :
The moon, methinks, looks with a watery eye,
And when she weeps, weeps every little flower
Lamenting some enforced chastity.
These lines connect what is occurring to the enforced chastity that was the only alternative Theseus had to offer. Christian custom makes those who are not by nature solitary lead lives of enforced chastity. The first to attempt to make the eye see with the voice was that of Egeus, contrary to love.
Was the experience of Bottom a dream, or did it occur? His companions do not speak of seeing Bottom translated with the Fairy Queen, but do see him re-enter on cue with the ass’s head. As at the conclusion, we the spectators see the truth of the fairy kingdom. Except for the stage directions and the fright of his companions, it would be possible that he fell asleep and missed his cue upon re-entry into the play practice. Though it did occur, Bottom convinces himself that it was a dream. Later, in the fourth act, Bottom, slowly awakening from his night in the forest, is dreaming that he is playing Pyramus in the rehearsal, and is about to re-enter the play on his cue, when suddenly he remembers his translation and adventure with the Fairy Queen as though it were a dream. As memory and wakefulness dawn upon him, Bottom says:
I have had a most rare vision.
I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was- there is no man can tell what. Methought I had-but man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had.
Bottom then continues his soliloquy with his famous statement confusing the senses:
The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.
This is Bottom’s parody of the slightly altered quotation of Isaiah by Paul. Isaiah writes:
From of old, no one has heard
or perceived by the ear
No eye has seen a God besides thee
Who works for those who wait for him
While Paul writes:
But as it is written:
What no eye has seen, nor ear heard
Nor the heart of man conceived
What God has prepared for those who love him,”
God has revealed to us through the Holy Spirit.
(I Corinthians 2: 9-10)[xxxiii]
Paul, or the Christian saying, adds the conception of the heart, and the assertion that God has revealed this to “us.” THAT, far more than doctrine, would be revelation. The reference may be especially to the resurrection of the flesh and the things of paradise, such as to eat from the tree of life, the meaning of which is never revealed. Another example of the statement of Paul is shown in what may be an earlier text, the Epistula Apostolorum, paralleled on Wikipedia with a citing from Clement of Alexandria:
|Testament 11 in Guerrier.
And the righteous, that have walked in the way of righteousness, shall inherit the glory of God; and the power shall be given to them which no eye hath seen and no ear heard; and they shall rejoice in my kingdom.
|Clem. Alex. Protrept. ciii.
But the saints of the Lord shall inherit the glory of God, and his power.
Tell me what glory, O blessed one.
That which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it come upon the heart of man; and they shall rejoice at the kingdom of their Lord for ever. Amen.
So both the old and new testament rendering of Isaiah may be older than Paul. The saying also appears in the Gospel of Thomas among the sayings of Jesus (#17). But for the eye to see and see is to see double, and the ear to hear and hear is its proper function.
The two previous mentions of a confusion of sight and hearing in the play are first when Hermia was told to see with the voice of the judgment of her father, and then when Pyramus went, in the practice for the play within the play, out to see the voice that he had heard. In the play performed by the craftsmen in Act V, the confusion is transferred to Pyramus hearing the face of Thisbe through the wall (V,i, 190-192). There is a confusion of sight and hearing involved in speaking of revelation as that which we are given for faith and belief by hearing, rather than as that which was once hidden but comes to be revealed by sight. Paul, as cited above, began his message to the Corinthian Greeks by denouncing divisions that arose among these Christians when each said he belonged to a different apostle, such as Peter or Paul. Paul then states that he is not sent to preach with “eloquent wisdom” of the sort which gains followers for oneself, and cites the inspired prophetic statement of Isaiah: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” (Isaiah 24:4; I Cor 2:9). Paul asks, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” He continues:
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.
(I, Cor. 2: 20-23)[xxxiv]
Perhaps the vision ought not be presented to hearing, the belief according to a reported account which secures the law. It is the Christians too who say belief can save, because of the example of the cross. To the worldly wisdom sought in order to be thought wise, Paul contrasts the wisdom which the Christians impart among the mature (2 Corinthians 2:2-16). This is not a wisdom “of this age or the rulers of this age” but a “secret and hidden wisdom of God,” a wisdom taught by the Spirit which involves interpreting spiritual truths (2:13). Paul concludes with the assertion: “we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16). Paul also says now we see as through a glass, darkly, but then face to face (I Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor 12-18).
Paul never read Plato. This seems quite clear from his career and from the things he says, repeatedly some of the gems of Christian explanation. If Socratic or Platonic philosophy does not seek a “wisdom of this world, “nor practice eloquence for the sake of gaining followers, if Socratic philosophy does not seek a wisdom “of this age or of the rulers of this age,” then the critique of Paul misses Socratic philosophy. The love of wisdom or the friendship with wisdom is the meaning of the word, however it is practiced in the world, and wisdom may be called by Solomon “A tree of life to those that lay hold of her” (Proverbs 3:18). Those who hold her fast are called happy: Wisdom is the source of the principle of comedy over tragedy. Socrates is notorious for teaching the Athenians, as shown in Plato’s Apology, that wisdom is the possession of “the God,” while what he has might be a kind of little wisdom, a human wisdom consisting in his knowledge that he knows nothing. From Pythagoras, philosophy is the quest for wisdom, from the recognition that we are not sophoi or wise. This Western Koan about human knowledge is at the root of Socratic philosophy, which is moderate. In some ways, Socrates may be similar to Abraham, in seeing through the many gods. This is much the pose of Justin Martyr, one of the few early Christians to read Plato, in the second century, a generation or two after the last of the Apostles, St. John. The Holy Spirit, too, Paul would admit, goes where it wills, not where we think it must.
Bottom thinks of getting Peter Quince to write a “balett” of his dream, which will be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no Bottom.” (IV,i, 212-213). The name Bottom comes from the bottom or “core of the skein on which the weaver turns the yarn” Alvarez, 176-177). He plans to sing his ballad before the Duke, at the death of Thisbe, to make it “more gracious.” De Alvarez states: “Bottom knows that it is “past the wit of man to say what dream it was” that he had, and he also knows that it should only be presented as a ballad (“Poetry and Kingship, p. 177). It may be that music with her silver sounds, or lyric poetry is the only proper way to present accounts of the transcendent things. And why is this the ballad to be sung at the death of the heroine in a love tragedy? One suggestion is that at the death of Juliet, all tongues are silenced. As at the death of Cordelia, she does not rise to be taken away with Romeo to Mantua. Is Christendom not chided for the attempt to cover death and tragedy with comforting illusions about the purgation of the mortal? And does this embarrassment not cause Christendom to give over the education of the changelings to be Knights in the train of the Fairy King?
When Bottom returns to his companions, he temperately says “not a word,” although he tells them “I am to discourse wonders; But ask me not what, for if I tell you, I am not a true Athenian,” and then, “I will tell everything, right as it fell out (IV,ii, 26-28)” He then tells them only a prophecy, that “Our play is preferred.” Bottom the character has perhaps been in touch with the King of Shadows, and knows ahead of time what is to happen in Act V!
The source of the knowledge of Bottom of what the human faculties have perceived is his translation and association with the Fairy Queen and the fairies. The fairies and fairy lsand are perceived by no other mortals in the play. Similarly, the apostle’s apprehension of something of the secret and hidden wisdom of God is related to his ascent up to heaven, in which he “heard things that cannot be told, which men may not utter” (II Cor 12:2-4). When Paul writes in the letter about this experience, he first speaks in the third person, as if he were speaking of another, in order to avoid boasting, and then admits that is himself of whom he speaks. So Bottom is similar to Paul also regarding whether or not to tell the vision.
The action of the translation of Pyramus and the statement of Bottom about reason and love, together with the parody of the account of Paul of what the human perceptions could not find but is revealed through the Spirit, points to the possibility that this tension between reason and revelation in the orders of the West is related to the fundamental theme of the play. Why is Bottom in an ass’s head playing Pyramus in analogy with the Christ the object chosen for the affections of the Fairy Queen to torment her into the releasing of the changeling? The taunting of the Fairy Queen for her translated beloved allows for the transfer of the changeling from Titania to Oberon, as well as the resolution of the divisions and discords into harmony and a triple wedding. One possibility for the object that the transfer of the changeling imitates is the transfer of that in man which is a changeling from Christendom to philosophy. The action of this transfer might serve to make philosophy less destructive of custom, as well as serving to find a middle way between the infertile moon and fertility under despotism.
While Titania loves Bottom in fairy land, in Act III, the peak of the confusion among the Athenian lovers occurs. First Lysander pursues Helena under the influence of the error of Puck, then the discovery of the error and the correction of the sight of Demetrius completes the reversal of the original quarrel of Lysander and Demetrius into a quarrel over Helena While the action in the Athenian woods began in bright moonlight (II,i, the second scene of Act III occurs during the dark of the moon, and is without a single reference to moon or moonlight. Hermia, looking for Lysander, must find him by the ear, or by hearing, because of “Dark night, that from the eye his function takes” (III,ii, 177). Near the end of the scene, when the Athenians are near to killing one another, due to influences of which they know nothing, Oberon orders Puck to “overcast the night” with “Fog as black as Acheron,” hiding even the remaining starlight in order to prevent disaster. (III,ii,355-359). Here, approaching the darkest moment in the play, Oberon arranges for the turning of the action from dark confusion to the scenes of the curing, entering the awakening of the Fourth Act. Looking forward from dark to dawn, Oberon and Puck hold a dialogue in poetry on the nature of the fairy spirits which rivals the poem of the source of the flower as the highest poetry of the play. In his discussion,
The Account of the Spirits, or Spritology
Oberon’s understanding of the nature of the fairy spirits serves to distinguish the Shakespearean presentation of these in-between beings from the Christian of Augustinian understanding of these things. Oberon’s Spirits of another sort” are a response to a presentation in the city of God according to which spirits are most likely bad, indeed connected with drama, and implicated in the “obscenities” of the Roman theater. Puck presents a more Augustinian view, corrected then or remedied by the explanation of Oberon. “As for Oberon, Alvarez (citing Olson and Herbert) writes,
…his name recalls the medeival romances in which tradition he appears as a pre-christian spirit who yet obeys God and helps the Church.”
Puck first tells Oberon that their remedying must be done with haste, because the dragons of night already cut the clouds, the harbinger of the dawn is shining, and the spirits who return to their confines at the approach of dawn are either now returning or have already gone. These spirits are of two kinds, ghosts, who return to Churchyards, and “damned spirits,” who are refused burial in churchyards and so return to “crossways and floods.”[xxxv] Puck says that these damned spirits have already gone from fear that day should look upon their shames. For…
They willfully themselves exile from light
And must for eye consort with black-browed night
These spirits are damned because they do not make the sacrifice necessary to show their shames to the light, by which they would be cured of their torment and inner division. An account of the relation of the spirits of night to the light of the dawn is delivered in the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Hamlet,[xxxvii] which clarifies the cosmology involved in the Shakespearean poetry of the place of the spirits within the whole. Horatio, attempting to understand the exit of the ghost of the father of Hamlet at the crowing of the cock, relates an account he has heard according to which:
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day, and at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air
Th’ extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine….
(Hamlet I,i, 150-155)
To this explanation, Marcellus adds:
Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our savior’s birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long,
And then, they say, no fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm
So hallowed and so gracious is the time.
(Hamlet, I,i, 158-164)
Horatio then announces the first appearance of the sunlight on the dew of an eastward hill. In these sayings, the crowing of the cock connects the light of dawn with the birth of the savior and the light of being, which harmonizes the distinct and lower realm of the spirits and fairies. Oberon responds to the statement of Puck about the ghosts and damned spirits by adding a third kind of spirit, their own kind, and making a distinction between two kinds of spirits, on the basis of their relation to the light. This nature of spirits and this distinction is unknown to Puck, Marcellus, and Horatio. Oberon tells Puck:
But we are spirits of another sort:
I with mornings love have oft’ made sport;
And like a forester the groves may tread
Even till the east gate, all fiery-red’
Opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams
Turns into yellow gold his salt green streams
According to Oberon, he and Puck are exemplars of another sort of spirit who, unlike the ghosts who flee at dawn, are ruled by one who often makes sport with the “mornings love,” tracing the forests wild or treading the groves like a forester[xxxviii] even till the light of dawn graces the sea. The spirits under the fairy king Oberon are the friends of true being which dwells beyond the heavens (Phaedrus, 247b-c). By the kinship of wise rule with being, the action of Oberon brings his realm into the rule of being, so that his kingdom is graced with the harmony as is the sea with the golden light of dawn, extending even into the city– by the correction of the Athenian discord and the rule of Theseus– to the harmony and fairy-blessed marriages of Shakespearean comedy.
Sometimes the connection of the poetry of the plays to the Sonnets seems to show a nearness to the heart or center of the poet himself, as is the case with these lines, which are similar to Sonnet 32:
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Guilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy.
The Oberonian understanding of the nature of the fairies amounts to a major contribution to a perennial discussion on the nature of these in-between beings. Upon the revelation of true being, the beings previously thought to be gods come to be understood as “spirits,” because these no longer appear to be the highest ruling In Phaedrus, due to the Socratic revolution, then gods are presented as intermediaries guiding the ascent of the soul to true being. Christianity too understands the gods to be spirits or beings of an in-between realm, though not as intermediaries. Regarding the adoption into sonship of those who had been slaves, and the redemption of those who were once under law, Paul, like Horatio, relates the gods to the elements, telling the Galatians:
…when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are no gods. But now, knowing God, or better yet being known by God, how is it that you are turning back again to those weak and beggarly elements to which you want to be enslaved once more? You observe days and months and festivals and years…..
St. Augustine takes up the question of the nature of the spirits in a dispute with the Platonists regarding whether or not there ought be a civil religion or a civil theology (city of God, VIII.12-IX.23), St. Augustine implicated the demons of the air in the production of plays, or the “obscenities of the Theater” and mentions Plato’s depriving these of the pleasure of theatrical plays (City of God, VIII. 14). What is interesting is the common assumption that there is a relation between plays or imitations and spirits. Augustine identifies the good gods of the Platonic purification of the Greek gods, with the angels, as blessed immortals (VIII.25), but doubts that there are any spirits between heaven and earth that are not wicked spirits (IX, 2-3).Augustine asserts that Christ “Has destroyed, by the humility of his death and the benignity of his blessedness, those proud immortals…He has freed us from their impure dominion” (IX.15). Under Christendom, the understanding of the angelic divinities on one hand and the diabolical demons on the other shows the polarization of the imagination toward two extremes of light and dark, without a middle. There are no spirits like Shakespeare’s fairies who do not try to divert worship to themselves or usurp the rule of being, but hold a place and function within a harmonious order.
The Augustinian argument implies that Christianity can and should replace the ancestral custom and the political or civil religion, as if the vehicle for communicating the gospel ought to be tradition and custom, and the political realm of appearance. The realm of appearance provides images of intellectual or genuine virtue, such as the crown of a king, and images regarding the first principles on which ethical virtue is based. The aim of a lawgiver or poet is a service to humans, allowing some participation in the divine things and in virtue, for us where we cannot see, and even for those who hear but cannot see for themselves. Its aim is the formation of the passions and not the salvation of the soul, which would pertain more to trans-political, intellectual virtue. The result of the attempt to replace political religion with Christian gospel or a tradition of Christianity is not that the need for civil religion is done away with,, but that Christianity comes to have much to do with the observance of days and months, festivals and years, like a pagan calendar, to keep holidays. It becomes a custom, emphasizing the origins, like Homeric custom, and the resultant literalism is alike vulnerable to the discovery of nature. Jesus never once mentions Adam or the fall in all of the canonical gospels, and Paul barely does so in describing Jesus as the second Adam. But there is an increasing emphasis on The Fall in the medieval and Protestant imagination. Christianity itself becomes a moral law, having more to do with the beliefs which govern the passions through imagination. It becomes a religion of law much like that with which it was contrasted at its origin, as a faith of Grace.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream appears to teach that Christianity cannot hold the realm of appearances, or that it cannot replace the civil religion, at least not entirely. Bottom, like a “true Athenian,”[xxxix] does not reveal his experience in the woods, but rather decides to write a ballad to be sung at the death of Thisbe. Howard White identifies the Ballad of Bottom with the epilogue that is offered by the craftsman but rejected by Theseus at the end of their play (Copp’d Hills, p. 62). White conjectures that Theseus rejects the epilogue because he knows something of what has occurred in the woods, and enabled him to overrule Egeus, but that he hides the tale of Bottom just as he ridiculed the lover’s tales (Ibid., p.62). White explains:
Whatever happened had to be secret or unreal, for the truth about the sacred things, the Veneranda, is dangerous to rule. Like the ancient mysteries, it is something which men do not reveal.
Shakespeare inherited a crisis of the imagination in the West, or a crisis in the soul and in the orders of the West. It is the soul and the things of the mind that is between man and the divine, and the knowledge in the soul that is the cause of the spirits behind drama. Poetry or myth has common forms because the knowledge in the soul of man is common, but humans do not see it. The Human soul, in an expanded sense, is, the source of dreams, and is also the source of poetry, songs and drama. Technically, this would be the object of psych-ology, the science of the psyche, but this too is studied as a part of politics, assisted by History and literature or poetry. The Collective and individual soul of man, including psychological effects as Eros and the royalty in some sense nascent in each, and a capacity for self knowledge, the recollection of the image of God in man
In the Augustinian understanding, only Christ can be a mediator between humans and the divine, while the demons block the access of men to the divinity by attempting to divert worship due to God rather to themselves. No gods, fairies, poems, plays, knowledges, daimons or elements can be mediators to the light and its rule, but these are competitors against the Christian faith for the allegiance of its members. Opinion,beliefs and allegiances take on an exaggerated importance, as though political things and even household things were of divine significance. The faith is used as a flagpole for the nations. The effect for example of the conversion of the Roman Empire from the persecution of Christians and Jews to the Christian religion, from 313-339, is on the one hand to spread the gospel, while on the other to change from martyrdom to persecution and the making of martyrs. seems to be to incite the contrary. The “New modes and orders” initiated by Machiavelli appear to attempt to depose Christianity and attempt a recovery of ancient Roman politics, except without the Roman gods and civil religion. Modernity after Machiavelli saw the replacement of the worship of god or gods with science, and a project to “conquer nature, justified as for the “relief of man’s estate.” This is an attempt to “master and possess nature” by means of the study of the “elements,” or physical nature, using mathematics for mechanics, in just the way Plato -thought an impure use (Plutarch, Life of Marcellus, p. 376). This project included or came to include the destruction of custom and the attempt to enlighten” the West by replacing the poetic or mythical account of events with causal explanations that appeal not to gods but to nature. Philosophy become entirely prosaic, and the images, and music, disappear. Men without poetry take the place of the noble. Such a study, as is modern science and bourgeois or worse, “Darwinian” politics, based wholly on animal self interest, cannot comprehend the human soul, nor can it consider the purposes toward which one bends the new powers of science. To many, the life of the tyrant seems best. Modernity ignores the intellect and amputates the function of the imagination, which is to mediate between the things of the intellect and the things of human choice, such as that of partners in weddings.
Modern philosophy from its beginning rejects as if with the same argument, the images of both the best regime and and the Kingdom of God (The Prince, XV). In this, it turns away from the natural intellect, intelligible being and the images that connect the apprehension of being to to effectual human choice.The question of the place of the imagination in the spiritual orders of modernity begins with The Prince of Machiavelli, and the rejection of the Socratic and the Christian “imaginary” “republics and principates.” …And many have imagined republics and principates that have never been seen or known to be in truth…”(Prince XV).[xl] Because one who wishes to profess the good cannot maintain himself among those not good, Machiavelli says he goes behind to the effectual truth to teach the prince that it is necessary to use the good according to necessity. …Omitting then, the things about an imagined Prince and discussing those that are true…one might avoid the infamy of vices that would cost a Prince his state, but not concern himself about the infamy of “those vises without which it would be difficult to save the state.” He replaces the imitation of the god-man with the imitation of the beast and the man, and of beasts, the fox and the lion (The Prince, XVII).
The use of Chiron the centaur, if not his writing of drama, shows that Machiavelli is not himself without use for the images, the “modernity” which he more than any introduced: The secular science and secular science of the state. In three waves, following Hobbes and then Rousseau and Nietzsche, the place of the imagination in modernity becomes increasingly difficult. Machiavelli’s new modes and orders are presented as a recovery of the Roman orders, but the part which he aims to recover leaves behind the Roman piety and civil religion The thinkers who followed Machiavelli, and began to set the orders in a new way, led to a wave of “iconoclasm, “a smashing of the images, in what is called the “enlightenment.” All myth and images are treated as belonging to a kingdom of darkness, and from the rejection of imaginary republics, poetry is expelled from modernity by the natural philosophers.[xli] As Bloom comments, “The bourgeois man of modern science criticized by Rousseau has no poetry corresponding to himself (Introduction to Rousseau’s Emile). In contrast with the rich images of the Homeric Greeks and the Medieval Christians. Shakespeare and Plato, both in similar circumstances, attempt a restoration of the function of imagination.
That the iconoclasm of the enlightenment left a void in the imagination. As Tocqueville explains, the void in the imagination led swiftly to utopianism, in three waves: first in the French Revolution, then in Communism or socialism, then in the Third Reich, or fascism. In Nietzsche, as in the thought of Marx and perhaps Machiavelli, it is clear that the imagination returns with a vengeance in various ways. Poetry returns from banishment to be ministerial not to the royal intellect, but to the will to power, where willful creation and making replace contemplation. Utopias appear, to be achieved by vast schemes of ideological murder. The Euripidean “hymns to tyrants” become intellectual perversions that seize significant portions of the effectual truth of much of the globe, the gift of Western philosophy to the “less developed” world. Bloom opens his Shakespeare section in Love and Friendship citing Arnaldo Momigliano: “If Shakespeare had only become dominant before the beginning of the nineteenth century, we would have been spared Rousseau.” (Love and Friendship, p. 269).
The difficulty with both the Christian and the modern rejection of the imagination and political or civil appearances may be that these things are natural to humans, and a part of natural right (Aristotle, Ethics, V.7), and so cannot be done away with. The imagination and poetry, banished in the “enlightenment,” returns in the West with a vengeance, in German philosophy, or in the extremes of German thought, where it becomes a mediator not to the principles apprehended by the intellect nor to the divine, but to the bestial and the diabolical. When Goethe’s Faust is assisted by Mephistophiles in the journey back to pre-Socratic Greece, to bring back Helen of Troy, the union of Faust and Helen leads to the birth of the child Euphorion, a Mordred-like creature who speaks of the supremacy of the will and of showing his strength by a rape (Faust, Part II,.iii). Soon Faust and Mephistophiles sit talking on the inverted pits of hell, which have, as in the anti-Christian anti-Socratic thought of Nietzsche, become the peaks of mountains. The capacities and faculties of man intended by nature for great theoretical and practical virtues, even as St. John, in being a fellow servant with the angels, or Shakespeare himself, these very capacities seem to allow for the perversions of each in the greatest vice. The result of the perversion of the mind in modernity is modern totalitarianism, whether that of Lenin on the left or of Hitler. It appears that a part of the function of Shakespeare is to restore the natural function of the imagination, opposing the direction of the modern project and supplementing the Christian tradition not with “gods” but fairies playfully presented.
The transfer of the changeling from Titania to Oberon occurs offstage, probably at the same time that Puck is curing Lysander of his misprision in loving Helena. Puck leads the Athenian lovers through the fogged night until each fall asleep, then applies the remedy for the love potion to the eyes of Lysander. Then Oberon, standing with Puck near the sleeping Fairy Queen, tells of how he achieved the compulsion of his queen when he met her lately in the woods seeking favors for her “hateful fool,” and how he taunted her for having crowned him with flowers until, tormented as fairies are by such things, she agreed to hand over the Changeling. Oberon then applies “Dian’s bud” to the eyes of Titania to remedy “Cupid’s flower.” Titania awakens, and the whole adventure seems to her, as it will to Bottom, like a dream of visions seen. She takes the hands of Oberon to rock the ground where the lovers sleep, and joins Oberon in his train with all her train in blessing the palace and the marriages at the end.
The action then turns to Theseus and Hippolyta at the edge of the woods, where, with Egeus and all the train of Theseus, they have just completed their observation of the rite of May. “Go, find out the forester,” Theseus tells Philostrate. The name, from Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, means “lover of the heights.” Theseus hunting is related to Diana, whose followers are chaste, and this hunting is in turn related to philosophy. That is the symbolic meaning of the transfer of the Changeling to Oberon: Theseus will no longer seek the things that fill the empty heart in the phantasm of love, but in philosophy, Theseus, before stumbling across the sleeping lovers, plans to let Hippolyta hear the music of his hunting hounds up on the mountain top, and sends an attendant to go find the forester. Hippolyta recalls having heard the music of the Spartan hounds of Hercules and Cadmus[xlii] when they hunted a bear in the woods of Crete. He praises the “musical discord” and “sweet thunder” of the hounds. He tells Hippolyta to judge between these Spartan hounds hunting in Crete and his Athenian hounds, which are bred “out of the Spartan kind,/ And matched in mouth like bells/ Each under each” (IV,i, 118 Sonnet 8). The result is a more “tunable cry” than was ever celebrated in Crete, Sparta or Thessaly.” We do not hear this tunable cry of the hunting hounds in the western valley, but instead the concord of the Athenian nobility achieved by the remedy of Oberon, properly matching each couple under each in hierarchic order. This is what Plutarch writes that Theseus did in hierarchically ordering a regime that allowed for the political participation of the craftsmen. The hierarchy is according to nature. Beginning from a Spartan aristocratic element, Shakespeare’s Theseus has raised this in Athenian liberty, producing the best, surpassing previous aristocracies. In the wedding, the female too, and even the Amazon female, is to be integrated into the regime, returning his heart to the natural bounds of marriage and preventing his future tragedy.
Regarding Crete, it is quite interesting that there is not in this play the slightest reference to the story of Theseus saving Athens from the tribute of the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne, though she is listed among the previous affairs of Theseus. This is similar to the omission in Plato’s Laws, where a Cretan, Kleinias, participates, and Crete is the birthplace of Zeus, and Minos their ancient lawgiver. Legislation like that of Theseus is discussed without reference to either he or Hercules. Theseus is discussed without reference to the story of the Minotaur (681c-d). Perhaps he does not wish to speak of past adventures on his wedding day.
The final movement of the play, from the darkened moon through the morning star, heralding the dawn, and then the horns awakening the lovers, coincidental with the dancing of the fairies, is like the coming of the kingdom as described in the New Testament.[xliii] Thus the harmony in the city and the fairy kingdom appears also as like the wedding of the bride and Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9).
Theseus, famously, responds to the stories of the lovers of the strange events that have occurred in the woods of Athens with the speech of “cool reason” on the imagination of the lunatic, the lover and the poet. “I never may believe/ These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.” Theseus is similar to Jefferson in his enlightenment view of miracles. Rational men simply do not believe in things like fairies and ghosts, either. But like Helena, Theseus ironically speaks over his own head in addressing the things of the imagination from the perspective of the poet or dramatist simultaneously and by analogy.
Three kinds of imagination are said to be similar, and these are three kinds of waking dream, or union of the conscious and unconscious mind. Theseus describes the lunatic as seeing “more devils than vast Hell can hold,” linking madness with the lower third aspect of moon, though there seem to be other kinds of madness.[xliv] The lover, as has been addressed, enters into a conjunction of his own anima or soul, in union with the beloved, and this is one way of accounting for the enthusiasm and idealism of love. He sees “Helen’s beauty in the brow of Egypt,” as Aphrodite casts her illusions, or one sees the true beauty of the human soul, or the angel of the beloved, mistaking this for the beauty of the beloved. Regarding the poet– and Theseus, again, is not a poet– he states:
The poet’s eye, in a 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 the Apology, Plato’s Socrates argues that if he believes in offspring and effects of gods, he must then believe in gods, must he not? The poet embodies the unknown heavenly things and the things of the human soul too that bring joy, and the things that effect the soul. A bush can be seen as a bear because perception itself is creative, yet closer inspection can reveal the bear to truly have been a bush. The place of the poet, looking from earth to heaven and back again, makes the poet too, like eros in the Symposium, an in between being. The philosopher, though, or philosopher-duke, looks to the good of each thing, and then returning to earth, can see how to make things better (Republic, VII).
But of all Platonic accounts, the four forms of “divine madness” (244a-245c) distinguished in the Phaedrus is most to the point. In addition to the lover and the poet, Socrates distinguishes the mantic and oracles and those who find the cures for ancient crimes, such as Tiresius in Oedipus. The waking dream in each case is due to what is like a memory of all truth once seen prior to our incarnation, or the presence of knowledge in the unconscious mind of mankind (Phaedrus, 249c). The myth of Recollection is told in in Plato’s Meno (81a-d) and Phaedrus, but not in his Republic. The joining of the allegorical line and the myth of recollection might show the basis of Plato’s Philosophic psychology including the mind, where eros is not abstracted.
Reflecting upon the double seeing of Hermia and dreaming, Alvarez recalls that in the Republic, dreaming is described in terms of “believing a likeness of something to be not a likeness, but rather the thing itself to which it is like (476d). The ordinary man, Socrates explains, is law abiding while awake, but when he sleeps, the beastly and wild awakens and dreams of doing anything without shame or prudence. But the good man, moderating the desiring and spirited parts of the soul, sets the rational part in motion. Alvarez continues, citing Socrates:
…Such a man has fair (kalon, noble or beautiful) dreams, and “in such a state he most lays hold of the truth. The good man’s dream is like a vision of the good. But, what the ordinary man only dreams of, the tyrant dares to do while awake. Are we meant to think of the counterpart of the tyrant, i.e., the one who sees while awake what the good man can only lay hold of in dreams? Is the counterpart of the tyrant then the philosopher? The actualization of dreams or the bringing of dreams into the awake life would then be the work of the tyrant and the philosopher.
(Poetry and Kingship, p.178)
So there are 5 kinds of waking dream: madness, love, lyric poetry, tyranny and philosophy. The seeing of “more devils than vast hell can hold is said to characterize madness, which in its effects upon the mind is a sort of dreaming while awake, or being submerged in a dream world, similar to what is imagined while actually dreaming, when one almost without exception assumes that the experience is real. Why the mind should do this to us regularly, and almost nightly, is a question on which no one has ever made much progress, except perhaps to suggest that the purpose of dreams is self knowledge. But madness is a waking dream if not a nightmare. Indeed, if dreams can ever once teach us something or make us better, it is shown that these are more purposeful and rational than has been assumed. The prophesy of those at Delphi and the uncovering of collective forms of guilt, events past but hidden, as opposed to those future, are called forms of divine madness, as is lyric poetry “glorifying the countless mighty deeds of ancient times for the instruction of posterity. In the Republic, Socrates at first agrees only to allow hymns to gods and praises of excellent men.” The fourth kind of divine madness is romantic love, as described in Plato’s Phaedrus, but especially in the drama of Shakespeare. The four kinds of divine madness then are prophecy, history, poetry and love.
The fairies of Shakespeare are related to plays as well, for Theseus says that the best of plays are “shadows” (III,ii, 347), and Oberon is called “King of Shadows.”[xlv] Theseus is presented a list of four entertainments from which to choose the entertainment for the evening of the wedding celebration. Three seem to be singers and songs, but the fourth is the drama produced by the craftsmen of Athens, and starring Bottom the Weaver as Pyramus. The first of these is a lyric poem about the battle of Hercules and the centaurs.[xlvi] Theseus says he has told Hippolyta all about this. The second of the four choices facing Theseus is called “The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals / Tearing the Thracian singer (Orpheus) in their rage.” The Athenian tragedies were funded and performed as a sort of public worship of Bacchus, and came about as a part of the Athenian religion. But his “Spirits of another sort” are different from Bacchus in their association with Being, and so we arrive at our final possibility for the identification of the object of the action of the play. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the names used by the followers of Bacchus to refer to their god associate him with the theme of the changeling. Bacchus is called the “Twice-born, the Indian, the “offspring of two mothers,” “god of the winepress” and “night hallowed,” so that, according to his followers, he is an Indian changeling.” Hesiod calls Bacchus the “Bringer of Joy,” because of the spirits of the vine. (Theogony, 491; V,i, 20). In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, after the story of Pentheus and Bacchus, Ovid tells of the daughter of Menyas, Alcthoe, who “would have no part in Bacchic orgies,” and was “further, rash enough to say the god was really no son of Jove.” (Metamorphoses, IV, 1-4; Euripides, Bacchae 25-35). While the rest of the city was off worshiping Bacchus, she and her sisters, who worshiped Athena, a “better goddess,” stayed home weaving, and decided to lighten their task by telling stories. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe, or of how the mulberries changed from white to purple, is chosen by these ladies from among four stories, just as it is chosen from among four by Theseus for the wedding entertainment which concludes Shakespeare’s play (V,i, 43-75). The third selection is rejected for being keen, critical satire, as the old comedy, proposing to show the nine muses “mourning the death of learning, late deceas’d in beggary.” The action of Shakespeare’s play, then, may imitate the transfer of the dramatic art to the train of one who makes sport with the morning’s love and traces the forests wild, saving learning and the enterprise of the Muses. Under the rule of intellect, or in service to philosophy, the dramatic art is transferred from Athenian tragedy to Shakespearean tragedy and comedy. Theseus, like Alcthoe of Ovid, chooses to view the love tragedy, but for the wedding entertainment, comically produced, instead.
In place of his Epilogue, Bottom assures Theseus that the wall is down that parted their fathers,” as is reported too in the epilogue of Romeo and Juliet. As de Alvarez indicates, Egeus is simply gone, having apparently not been invited to the wedding. Shakespeare’s new kind of comedy, tightly based upon the avoidance of tragedy and the achievement of happiness by wise rule, just in time for “fairy time.”
Shakespeare addresses his new comedy in the preface to his play about the Trojan war, a play not intended to be so pleasing in drama, but to prepare and summon thought. In this, he will address the causes of the Tragedy of Troy and the prudence necessary to turn this to comedy. Oberon and Puck are also obviously like Prospero and his spirit Ariel, in the presentation of wisdom that is the Crown of the Italian plays of Shakespeare and of his works as a whole. Oberon and Theseus together do what Prospero does alone, turning the Romeo and Juliet tragic circumstances toward Shakespearean comedy. This correction of Italian politics and the orders of the West is made possible by something that is found in Ancient Greece, specifically in the founding of the Athenian polity.
As occurs regarding the question of Natural Right, it is not surprising that we arrive again at an amazing similarity between the thought of Shakespeare and that of Leo Strauss. These are both among the greatest of the Socratic philosophers- usually listed as Plato, Aristotle Xenophon, Plutarch and Shakespeare. From a certain ending point of modernity in German thought, Leo Strauss and Jacob Klein of St. John’s College began a recovery of the ancients which continues as a project to this day, For Strauss, this was the recovery of Natural right for political theory and the recovery of Socratic political philosophy. Late in his career, he had arrived at the opposition of Athens and Jerusalem. Famously, Strauss concluded that the life of the West is a tension between Athens and Jerusalem, our philosophy and faith, reason and Revelation. Neither can refute the other, but, it is said, one must choose one or the other, and cannot be both. We say that this opposition is assumed on the premise that the Christ or the messiah and the things said about Him are false. But as Strauss admits, we could not possibly know this. One cannot know there is no God without looking into every crevice of the cosmos, and this is not going to occur, except in illusions based upon unexamined hypotheses. And is the mere ridicule of a Craftsman, in a play playing Pyramus, likened to St. Paul who is likened to the messiah, translated to and ass headed lover of the Fairy Queen and promised the purgation of his mortal body- is this mere ridicule sufficient for the rejection of Jerusalem or of Italy, that is of Christianity? It may, however, be sufficient for the rejection of the assumption of certainty that attends the mythic cosmos on which every legislation seems to have been based, and in place of which we hold the First Amendment.
If the Christ is true, it may be possible to pursue both philosophy and faith. In Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, the opposition is that of reason and love, but it is the same opposition, if stated in more generous terms, allowing a love that is not an emotion but an intellectual virtue or the completion of the intellect. Strauss writes that these two agree regarding the importance of “morality,” and that morality or ethical virtue is not complete, but disagree regarding what it is that completes virtue or what it is that fulfills the law, and how this is pursued, by such persons as do not wish to waste our brief time upon this earth. Machiavelli, again, famously rejects these two together, the imaginary republics and principates,” in favor of worldly goods, vice, profit and power, introducing the modern reaction to the ethical tradition. But is it not odd that these two agree upon the importance of justice or righteousness? Further, is it not odd, from the perspective of Athens, that Jesus knows so much about the ground of justice, and that the Bible generally, for example, is not silent or dumb upon such questions as the male and female or the basis of the law against murder Genesis 1:26; 9:6), not to mention the clarity of the teaching of Jesus regarding the love of the neighbor, laying down one’s life for his friends, all the parables and all the sayings, not robbing others or living in the perpetual faction which governs most uncultivated lives. Odd, that is, that the way of Jerusalem, for one based upon hearsay rather than seeing for oneself, should have so much intelligible content to be seen for oneself, and nowhere else but in the Bible. There is a place in the scripture where all the apostles are about to leave Jesus, because the teaching of the Eucharist sounds so incredible. Peter says, “…but where would we go? You have the words of life (John 6:68)” Things that the Greeks barely arrived at in the peak of philosopher appear in the scriptures to have always been there, and Athens of course cannot account for this anomaly. If Christ is true, but Plato right about the Allegory of the cave, and many appearances cover over both Athens and Jerusalem, with ascending meanings of the terms faith and reason- then, who knows? Perhaps we have indeed seen the Fairies at the theater with Shakespeare on the night of the performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
On the imagination: On Poetry in Plato’s Republic, or
What Imitation in General Is.
Prior to attempting to write on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Colin Still writes an essay on the imagination, explaining how great poetry sees the universal human meaning reflected as in a mirror. His work, printed in 1936, is much like Jung, seeking the common or collective knowledge embodied in the particulars of the products of the imagination. Still assumes a refreshing objectivism, arguing that a great work of art is a reflection seen as through a mirror: “…it could not exist at all without the reality of which it is a mirrored reflection.” p. 4 “Every genuine work of imaginative art is thus a visible reflection of invisible realities, seen through the mirror of the artist’s psyche.” It is, though not his peculiar consciousness, but “a reflection of realities existing in the universal consciousness” (p. 6). Still refers to St. Paul, who writes that now we see “as in a glass, darkly,” but then “face to face” (I Cor. 13:12), and Still writes:
“The magical periscope of imaginative genius is the glass in which we may see an enigmatical reflection of ultimate reality– or, as St. Paul puts it in religious terms, the glass in which we may behold the glory of the Lord
(P. 12, II Cor. 3:18).
“As in a glass, we are seeing the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, and are being transformed into that image,” says Paul. The key Greek words are “es-optou” and “Kat-optridzomenoi,” we see obscurely, or in an enigma (eis ainigmati),” but “as in a mirror.” Still also writes that the word mystery is derived from muo, to shut, because the artist perceives inwardly. A mystic,” as a noun, is “one initiated.”
Still writes: “Every genuine work of art is thus a reflection of something contemplated by the artist, and there is no such thing as a work of art which is a reflection of nothing at all, (p. 17)” though “The degree of conscious purpose in a work of imaginative art can never be accurately determined, even by the artist himself, and perhaps by him least of all, since his work may quite well express ideas of which he is not definitely aware of possessing.” So Socrates in the Apology, when he questioned the poets, found that almost anyone present could comment on their works more clearly than they (22b-c). A work of art can even teach the author, if it is a process of bringing to contemplation knowledge or thoughts from within the soul.
Socrates, in a reconsideration of the expulsion of the poets from the best regime, takes up with Glaucon a study of “What imitation in general is.” He undertakes, by means of an image, to examine the relation between poetic imitations and tyhe originals of which these are the imitations. After the discussion, Socrates reaffirms the expulsion of the poets, because, the discussion claims to show, the poets do not make their poems from knowledge, or even right opinion, and produce a bad regime “in the souls of each private man” by making “phantoms that are very far removed from the truth and by gratifying the soul’s foolish part” (605b) or “by watering the passions when they ought to be dried up” and “setting them up as rulers in us when they ought be ruled (606d). It is here that, after the discussion, Socrates says that if poetry has any argument to give which shows that it should be in a city with good laws, we should be delighted to receive them back from exile.” It has been argued, as by Barbara Tovey,[xlvii] that Shakespeare considered his plays, especially The Tempest, to answer this Socratic challenge, set here in the tenth book of the Republic.
Socrates asks Glaucon: “Can you tell me what imitation in general is? For I myself can scarcely comprehend what it intends (Bouletai) to be” (Republic, 595c). Glaucon defers to the sharper sight of Socrates, In order to examine the work and products of tragedy and its leader Homer,” Socrates presents a three tired image of a painter, a craftsman and “the god,” who each make a picture of a couch, a couch, and the “idea” of a couch., according to their customary procedure of setting down one “some one particular form for each of the particular “manys” to which we apply the same name.” Like the painter of a couch, the poet is “third from what is” (599e1). But this is not third from the idea, as of a couch, the ideas that are the causes of the literally visible objects and invented artifacts, but, in the analogy, third from “A king and the truth,” a “craftsman of a phantom.” The poets are “imitators of phantoms of virtue,” (601e5) not of literally visible things. The analogy should be pictured and drawn out,[xlviii] as there are two different sets of three levels:
The god[xlix] The idea of a couch “A King and Virtue”
The craftsman a couch Legislator Ethical virtue
The painter a picture of a couch Poet images and actions
Bloom writes that in the discussion of poetry in Book X, Socrates “elaborates the problem of the prisoners ascending toward truth, and reveals the essential character of the cave.” (Int. Essay, p. 428). The three on the left correspond to the lower levels of the divided line, those on the right to the Allegory of the Cave, which, we say, contains a secret account we call the allegorical line. Bloom p.398 writes:
The poetic images should be used as the geometers use representations of circles, to understand something of which the particular circle is only an image. Poetry characteristically causes men to forget that its images are only images.
Bloom (p. 404) asks,
…”who regularly believes that images are real things; who mistakes reflections for what is reflected? …The answer seems to be that the cave is the city …we do not see men as they are but as they are represented to us by the legislators and poets.
Second from a king and virtue, as the couch of the craftsman is second from the idea, is the one who is “able to recognize what sort of practices make human beings better or worse in public and private,” thanks to whom one of the cities is better governed, as Sparta was thanks to Lycurgus (599d). The legislator, in his concern for deeds, is the craftsman of ethical virtue and the cause of noble actions. These actions and dispositions are what is imitated by the poet, since poetry is the imitation of actions (603 c3-4); Aristotle, Poetics, II.1; IV.2, .5; VIII.4). As Bloom shows, what Socrates means by treating the poet as an imitator of artifacts is that while in one sense, man is a natural being, in another sense he is a product of nomos, law or convention. “Civil men, dwellers in the cave, are in the decisive sense the artifacts of the legislator. Their opinions are formed by them” (Interpretive Essay, p. 432). Opinions are a combination of beliefs and images, the objects of trust and imagination (511 e1-2; 533 e- 534a). These are the artifacts reflected in the light of the cave fire in shadows onto the wall of the cave. The poet’s imitations are the phantoms of virtue, which are the opinions, characters and actions produced by the craft of the legislator. The original, of both the products of the legislator and the poet, is “a king and the truth” (597a), about “what is” (599a), “the truth about virtue” (599e; 600e). Poetry as an imitation of actions thus refers to an original beyond the products of the legislator since the original of both the poem and the action is the nature of man. This would be shown in or exemplified by the men outside the cave. The nature of man would even be shown most fully by showing the philosopher king ruling in the best regime.
Taken literally, the divided line has no place for the images of the poets and the artifacts of the legislators. Or are we to say that the images of poetry are reflections of literally visible objects? The tree and the watering can, the pen and paper? It is interesting that drama does convert poetry, images and thought into literally physical spectacles, though it is not mathematics or Pythagorean arithmetic metaphysics that takes us to the originals in the soul of man and what this is like. Though there be a one, a dyad, a trinity and a fourth, the numbers themselves are limited as images. Socrates compares the poet to one who “makes” all the things that the craftsman makes, and natural objects too, by carrying around a mirror. Bloom writes:
The difference between the mirror held to nature and the product of the imitative Sophist is parallel to the difference between the lowest level of the divided line– where things are seen reflected in water or on smooth surfaces– and the wall of the cave– where prisoners see the reflections of artifacts– only some of which have natural models” (428). “Only by constant reference back to the divided line can one understand the cave” (403).
Hence, sense can be made of why the lowest two sections of the divided line are called “imagination” and “trust: The line refers by analogy to a true account of which the common reading is an image. The images of the poet and the beliefs of the law refer to intelligibles, but not those of mathematics and traditional metaphysics, but originals that appear only to the mind that ascends from the cave. Otherwise, as Benardete noted, there is no place for political philosophy in the divided line at all. And transcendence of the cave is no more than trying to read Euclid. But all men have access to the intelligibles of mathematics, and to concepts or thought, such as “Being.” Nor is transcendence of the cave only a matter of rejecting ethical tradition and becoming a materialist: that is what happens when one is released from the chains but does not ascend. The meaning of myth becomes most apparent, and the one who ascends will be though mad. There is an allegorical line. The account of philosophy as based upon the mathematics and universals of literally visible objects is based upon what Socrates calls the “fraudulent” account of the offspring of the good. “Be careful I do not somehow unwilling deceive you, in rendering the account of the interest fraudulent (Republic, VI, 507a).” The true account leads, just as does the Bible, to the image of God in man, and this in turn is our access to true “metaphysics,” the contemplation of the things known by “God.” In modernity, it is much more common for the account to end up with people saying that man IS God, taking support from the Indian thought regarding the Atman and Brahman, etc. And it may be partly true, or true in a way, if our consciousness and personhood, for example, are “sparks of the divine.” And the “Bride” may be what the accounts intends. But it is even said in our “philosophy” that the individual so possessed is what the image is of- an error enshrined in our emerging diabolic age by Nietzsche.
Two places where reflections or mirrors appear in the Republic, in addition to 596 in Book X are 402b, where images of writings appear in water or mirrors, and 516a, where the entire pattern of the divided line is repeated outside the cave. As Seth Benardete indicates, there are no artificial things outside the cave, and so only the natural mirror. The “shadows” and “phantoms” seen outside the cave are distinct from those seen inside the cave, and both refer for their originals to the human beings and other things outside the cave. Outside the cave there would appear “the divine appearances in water” (532).
Hamlet, famously, reverses the mirror image of Plato to explain the true purpose of Drama. Beginning from or digressing upon what is wrong with excessive, or histrionic actors, Hamlet tells:
…for anything so o’erdone is from the purpose of playing,
whose end, both at the first and now,
was and is to hold a mirror up to nature;
to show virtue her own feature, scorn
her own image, and the very age and body of the time
his form and pressure.
Elsewhere, we have argued, for example, that Hamlet is a reflection upon the Reformation, and Lear about the fall of the orders in the Renaissance repetition of the ancient Greek discovery of nature. Hamlet produces a play, and comments on the purpose of drama, in a way hard to distinguish from auto biographical. The answer of Shakespeare for drama, on a Socratic basis, is true and astonishing, and so we will have drama!
According to Socrates, “it is necessary that the good poet, if he is going to make fair poems about the things his poetry concerns, be in possession of knowledge when he makes his poems, or not be able to make them” (598d). What the poet must know in order to make poems in the best regime is “the truth about virtue,” but the imitator “understands nothing of what is, but rather what looks like it is (601a). In illustrating how the imitators, including the craftsmen, do not have knowledge, and indicating what such knowledge would be, Socrates again enters into the lower three tiered image, based on the arts, but this time with a different example, more suited to analogy with the legislator, of the bridle of a horse. While a painter might paint reins and a bit, and the smith, leather worker or shoemaker will join each part, only the horseman– the user of the implement–will have knowledge of how the reins and bit must be. Of the three arts, those of the imitator, the maker and the user, only one who uses each thing is said to have knowledge of how it must be. This is because “the virtue, beauty and rightness of each implement, animal and action” are related to nothing but the use for which each was made or grow naturally” (601d). Thus the user, who knows, reports to the maker, who then has right opinion, while the imitator will have neither knowledge nor right opinion. He will imitate “whatever looks fair to the many who don’t know anything (601e-602b). Bloom explains: The user’s art is political science or Socratic political philosophy which aims to know the soul and man. The knowledge of the function or work for which man was intended by nature is the knowledge of the principle in light of which the human passions ought be bridled, by the legislators.
The attempt to ascend from opinion to knowledge turns out to be the following out of the intention of the law, because law “wishes to be the finding out of what is.” (Minos, 315 a 2). Indeed, the messiah comes to fulfill the law, and corrects Mosaic teaching in the sermon on the Mount on 5 important points. Indeed, it may not be the intention of God that we sacrifice animals or stone the adulteress. The attempt to read the New Testament as a book of law rather than its fulfillment leads to absurdity. Jesus is not a legislator, but the savior.
It is most revealing to follow the larger and smaller, the greater and smaller, and shadow and phantom throughout the Republic. It would appear as a godsend to be able to read small letters in larger ones (Book III) as they set out to study the soul in the city. Tales are in two forms, the “greater” and “lesser,” but it is for the legislators or founders to know the models of the tales. The Republic itself can be read in terms of the line and cave. The city in speech is Socrates’ replacement of the cosmos of Homer with the Allegory of the cave.
The way in which ethical or legislated virtue is an artifact of “a king and virtue” may be seen from the description of the philosophic legislator at 499c- 501b. The philosopher, “keeping company with the orderly and divine, becomes orderly and divine to the extent that it is possible for a human being” (500d).” It is repeated that the many will not be harsh or distrust them when they say “that a city could never be happy otherwise than by having its outlines drawn by the painters who use the divine pattern.” The philosophic legislator would take both the city and the characters of humans, wipe them clean like a tablet, and outline the shape of the regime. After that, like the Theseus’ poet’s eye in fine frenzy rolling,…:
Filling out their work they would look frequently in both directions, toward the just, fair and moderate by nature and everything of the sort, and again what is in human beings; and thus, mixing and blending the practices as ingredients, they would produce the image of man, taking hints from exactly that phenomenon in human beings which Homer too called godlike and the image of God (Theoeides te kai theoeikelon).
This divine pattern from which the image of man is produced in either city or soul is itself “in the soul (484c, or perhaps in heaven ((592b2). It is related to the knowledge of what each thing is (484c) or is the same as “intelligence and truth (nous kai alethes), the part “akin” to what each thing is, that is fit to grasp a thing of that sort. That in man which is godlike and an image of god may be intelligence and truth begotten when the erotic lover of learning is coupled with what is. As that in man from which the image of man is produced is called theoeides, nous and gnosis are called “agathoeiges,” “good-like, even as the eye is called the most “sun-formed” (ilio-eides-taton) of the senses.
Thus it would appear that where the sun is the light of the visible world, in the fraudulent account of the offspring of the good (506e- 507a), nous is the true offspring begot in proportion with the Father (508b-c). The use of the good itself as a pattern by which the philosophers who are over 50 and see the good itself govern in ordering the city and private men and themselves, and educating other like men (540 a5-b5; 497 c 6-9) Hence, the light by which the images and beliefs appear in opinion is itself the shadow of a phantom. (519).
An example of the image of God in man as the basis of legislation is evident in Moses. Both the law concerning murder or anger and the law regarding marriage, or love are based upon the image of God in man (Genesis 1:26; 9:6). The reason for the law against murder is: “for God made man in his own image.” The image of God in man is the cause of the laws.
By showing what might happen, drama, which is an imitation of an action, is able to embody wise action, a combination of theoretical and practical wisdom. Aristotle explains that by universal here, he means “how a person of a certain type will on occasion speak or act,” as is sometimes embodied or suggested by the names of the characters. And here, in explaining that the universals are kinds of men, he echoes an earlier passage of the Poetics which addresses the pleasure of learning, found most fully in the contemplation of the things imitated. There Aristotle explains:
The reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, “Ah, that is he.” For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due, not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, coloring, etc.
“The original,” we say, refers to the thought embodied in the particulars, and not the historical action imitated. Aristotle praises Homer for showing, in his Iliad, not the history of the Trojan war, but the unity of the action of the anger or wrath of Achilles. Poetry, then, can select particulars which show the meaning of an action. The thought embodied is of course regarding the soul of man, and, hopefully, the most important concerns of man.
Aristotle, in his Poetics (IX), reflecting on Herodotus and the difference between poetry and history, famously writes:
…one relates what has happened, the other what may happen. Poetry, therefore, is a thing more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to show the universal, history the particular.
What has happened is history, and usually tragic. What may happen includes the best, and so the statement of Aristotle points toward Shakespearean “comedy-” a new sort dependent upon wise rule, or the principle of the philosopher-king. The Aristotelian statement of the reflection of the universal in the particulars of poetry raises the question of the relation to Aristotle’s discussion of the perception of the particular in prudent action, in his Ethics The “ultimate” particulars are the actions to be performed (1142 a 25), i.e., the one right thing to be done in each situation. This is seen, though, not by the deliberative faculty (logistikon, or reason), but is perceived by the eye of the soul, It is this which sees, both the first principles in theoretical wisdom and the ultimate particulars in deliberation or practical wisdom: philosopher and king (1142 a 35-b5).
Poetry shows what may happen, history what has happened and so, as Shakespeare perhaps discovered, poetry is capable of showing wise rule, if not of showing the best circumstance. We will consider a place where Shakespeare may directly address his new comedy, in the preface to the second of his Greek plays, Troilus and Cresida.
In considering Athens and Jerusalem, too, the Aristotelian account in which both theoretical and practical virtue are dependent upon nous for the seeing of first principles is interesting because particulars can be intelligible, and the good seen in the circumstance, i.e., the divine can be incarnate in this sense, for nous sees only the intelligible. The particular of the Christ- If it is true- would then be that that- the gospel which awakens the image of God in man, and attachment to this particular would in that sense lead to salvation. Indeed, the Bible is not a matter of will, obedience and belief without reason until, after 300, Christianity becomes an artifact in the cave as the religion of the Roman Empire. The word “will” does not even occur in Genesis.
Poetry or drama might even be the sort of three dimensional geometry sought by Socrates as a study capable of lifting the mind out of the barbaric bog (Republic, 528b-c). It is especially the human things, including those imitated in dramatic poetry, that are the matter of the philosophic ascent. The plots of Shakespeare are without exception political plots, showing kings and dukes ruling in various polities in difficult circumstances. Each difficulty concerns the rulers or the city. Each solution, found or missed, is a political solution. Socratic political philosophy is distinct from pre-Socratic philosophy in that it attempts to see what is through the human or political things, using poetry as geometers use circles drawn to see things about the circle. The human things are the key to understanding “all things,” just as one would expect if it were true that the soul is an image of God. Intelligence,[l] Aristotle notes, is not active at every stage of life, but is acquired at a certain stage, which means that nature is the cause (1143 b 6-10). Nous may be understood to be rare, though common in the sense that all men participate in seeing and doing the good. Its emergence is said to bring into completion the dispositions toward virtue that we have by nature. There is no practical wisdom in the full sense without Nous, the sight of the eye of the mind, and all intellectual virtue depends upon this. And here we find a connection between this principle and tragedy, as Aristotle states:
…As in the case of a mighty body which, when it moves without vision, comes down with a mighty fall because it cannot see, so it is in the matter under discussion. [If a man acts blindly, i.e., using his natural character alone, he will fail;] but once he acquires intelligence, it makes a great difference in his action At that point, the natural characteristic will become that virtue in the full sense (kurios arete) which it previously resembled.
(Ethics, Book VI, 1144b 10-15)
Hence it is said that in every tragedy, there is one right thing that ought to have been done, unseen or unchosen due to the tragic blindness that is the Achilles’ heel of the tragic hero. Priam ought have returned Helen, assuming that she was in Troy (Aristotle, Ethics, II.9, 1109b 10-11), as the Trojan elders advised. The sight of the particular depends upon a comprehensive knowledge. Oedipus suffers a tragic blindness, and in anger kills the man on the road who turns out to be his father. Humans suffer an inner faction, especially if education does not cultivate their souls. The relation of the Lordly virtue to the lordly knowledge, kurios episteme, is of course the big question, especially complicated because humans do not have divine knowledge. But the question is whether there can be practical wisdom without theoretical wisdom, and if so, how? But these are the questions of the crown of the philosopher-king, and we have seen Oberon and Theseus rule in Athens.
The Socratic statement misinterpreted by Aristotle or his readers may be “Through pity purging fear,” rather than purging pity and fear, as read by the compassion-less Stoics. Classical tragedy does not make us pitiless, but by sym-pathe,” suffering along with the hero” (605 d) with the hero or protagonist, drama does make us fearless, as the consequences of doing the one right thing, are evident. Socrates does speak of the tragic poet enflaming sorrows and the comic a buffoonery, indicating a vicarious enjoyment of our own repressed passions in drama, passions that ought be repressed, and in general fostering and watering all the desires, “when they ought be dried up, and sets them up as rulers in the us when they ought be ruled, so that we may become better and happier instead of worse and more wretched.” What is purged would be not compassion, but sorrow. Whether Sophocles and Aeschylus are guilty as charged, the account makes sense in considering a Socratic critique of Euripides.
In the old quarrel between philosophy and poetry, (607b), Socrates culminates the argument of philosophy when he says that the poets, not knowing the nature of man, the poets make imitations which produce a bad regime in the soul. Mentioning Euripides by name (568a), Socrates expels the poets for “making hymns to tyranny” (568b). In the Socratic argument, the disagreement of the philosophers, who always appealed to the nature of things that is always, has in common with the poets the concern with the human things, and points to a basis in nature from which human justice can be defended. The culmination of Greek poetry in Euripides. Euripides characteristically takes the side of the repressed appetites, as in his Bacchae and his Hippolytus, where Aphrodite has her revenge upon a follower of Dianna. In opposition, the Socratic poetry of Shakespeare demonstrates the justice of its return from banishment in the Republic, if not the city in speech, at least in the Republic of letters and education.
Benardete, Seth (On Tragedy and Sophocles’ Oedipus).
Bloom, Allan. Interpretive Essay to Plato’s Republic.
___________. Love and Friendship.
Cantor, Paul. “Prospero’s Republic,” In Shakespeare as Political Thinker, pp. 239-242.
de Alvarez, Leo Paul S. Poetry and Kingship: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Bucknell Review, v. 29, no.1, 1984.
Jaffa, Harry V. “An Interpretation of the Shakespearean Universe.” In Shakespeare as Political Thinker, edited by John Alvis and Thomas G. West, Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1971, p. 282.
Meyers, Henry Alonso. “Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Tragedy and Comedy.” From Tragedy: A View of Life. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1956. Reprinted in the Signet edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, edited by Wolfgang Clemen. New York: New American Library, 1963, pp. 155-170.
Ranasinghe, Nalin. “Ass, You Like It? Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Political Philosophy.” The St. John’s Review, pp. 79-106.
White, Howard B. Copp’d Hills Toward Heaven: Shakespeare and the Classical Polity, The Hague: Martnus Nijhoff, 1970, pp. 43-64.
Timechart History of the World. Third Millenium, 1997. Based on a rare Victorian wall chart from 1890, in the British Library at the British Museum. This is surely the best comprehensive view of human history, by an hypothesis raising the possibility of a comprehensive view, as does Holinshed.
Plato Symposium, Republic, Phaedrus.
Plutarch, Lives. Translated by John Dryden, New York; Modern Library, (no date).
1 Plutarch Theseus: Theseus is a generation younger than Hercules his cousin, and a generation older than Odysseus and the heroes of the Trojan war, where the Athenian contingent of fifty ships was headed by Manestheus, son of Patreos, the 11th king of Athens. According to Homer, Athens was a strong citadel, the deme of Erechtheus, who was born by the grain giving fields and tended by Athena and established to be in a temple of Athena there. Nestor knew Theseus (Iliad, I. 265). The story of Theseus is quite impressive. Raised at Troezen, the offspring of the visiting Aegeus and his mother Aethra, he moves the rock to take the sword and shoes left by his father, and journeys by land to Athens. On the way, he uses wrestling or martial arts, and never his sword, as W. H.D. Rouse describes in Gods, Heroes and Men of Ancient Greece, to overcome three monstrous robbers, clearing the highway for civilization, as Hercules too had done. Then, upon his arrival, overcoming the opposition of his stepmother, he is acknowledged by his father upon seeing the sword. (This may be the source of the sword in the stone of Arthurian legend, from the fifth century A. D.) He then undertakes the famous mission to free Athens from tribute to Crete, leaves Ariadne on Naxos, and accidentally causes the suicide of his father when he fails to fly the white flag upon his return. The war with the Amazons must come after, when Theseus is himself king of Athens. The Timechart History of the World, taken off the mural on the wall at the British museum, lists 9 predecessors to Theseus, making him the tenth king of Athens: Aegeus his father was 9th, then Pandion II eighth,, Cecrops II, Erechtheus is 6th, Pandion I, Erichthonius, Amphyctyon, Cranaus and then Cecrops I, the founder of Athens as distinct from the rest of Greece, about 1556 B.C. Later, about 1490, Lacedaemon marries Sparta and founds Sparta. In 1485, Danaus came from Egypt and deposed Gelanor after marrying his daughter Hypermnestra. Hellen the mythic ancestor of all the “Hellenes” or Greeks, succeeded Danaus, followed by Lynceus. Helen the wife of Menelaus is no doubt descended from the king Hellen, 6 kings earlier. The Pelasgi, from Arcadia or Thessaly, also settled Italy (about 1770 B. C.) as the Latins, and this is the deeper root of the similarity of the Roman and Greek gods. Ovid includes stories from the times of the ancient Athenians, Pandion, Erechtheus and Erichthonius, and in these we can see how primitive the time is, prior to the civilizing work of Hercules and Theseus. Ovid takes up the Greek stories with Greek geography because these are also the Latin stories. The Athenians are Ionians, apparently one of the three tribes of the Pelasgians. But Argos seems to be the most ancient Greek city, founded by Argus about 1712 B.C., fifth from Inachus. Inachus, the father of Io, came from Phoenicia, just prior to the flood that laid Attica waste for 200 years, from the 1800’s to the 1600’s B.C. While Io is the daughter of Inachus, Europa is the daughter of Agenor, king of Phoenicia. A Phoenician settling at Argos would require a knowledge of boats that can cross the Mediterranean, by Inachus, perhaps allowing Deucalion to survive the flood, as it is said he rowed to Mount Parnasus with his wife. Deucalion and Phyrrah then crawled down from Mount Parnasus, and Delphi too reveals an ancient Boetian source of Athenian tradition, near Hesiod’s Mount Helikon. Thebes was founded from Athens (about 1665 B. C), and Corinth later came from Thebes. Cadmus then brought fifteen Phoenician letters into Greece, about 1400 or 1350, and it is at the same time that alphabetic writing begins among the Hebrews with Moses, in the early style with no vowels. The Three Arcadians, Ionia, Attica and Sparta, are descend from prior to 2200 B.C., perhaps from Javan, the son of Japhet the son of Noah, (here dated about 2955-2005, with the flood at 2348). Noah is tenth from Adam. Javan is John or Ion, and hence the Athenians are Ionians. Mount Olympus is North of Greece, in the North of Thessaly, and so setting geography by myth and history, the Arcadians are likely to have come into Greece proper from this area. A later flood would cause civilization to be disrupted and then come down from Mount Parnassus, just as Noah and company come from Mount Ararat, though these be two different floods. The memory of Crete was dimming just as Greece was emerging, and the things regarding Minos are from the end of Cretan civilization, Crete is somehow related to the early development of Mycenian kings leading up to Agamemnon. The script Linear B deciphered in 1953 is said to be a form of ancient Greek, and the relation between Crete and Mycenean civilization is a bit of a mystery, but Cadmus, are said to have come into Greece from Egypt and Argus from Phoenecia, long before Hercules. Hercules is said to have begun the conflict with Troy, when he takes a side excursion from the expedition of Jason to be revenged on Leomedon, killing all the sons of the king of Troy excepting Priam. Leomedon, descendant of Ilius and Traos, had promised to pay Hercules horses from Zeus which he was given in exchange for Ganymede. As Alistair Blanshard tells the tale, from Ovid, Apollodorus and Diodorus Siculus, Hercules had rescued Hesione, the daughter of Leomedon, who was offered to a sea monster when Leomedon was plagued by floods in building the walls of Troy. Leomedon had apparently jilted Apollo and Poseidon of gold promised to them for building the walls, causing the flood and the requirement that he sacrifice his daughter to the sea monster (Hercules, 2005, p. 99, 184; Ovid, Metamorphoses, XI. 192-226). Homer in the Iliad alludes to this background of the Trojan war V. 636-651, without explaining it in detail. Theseus is of the generation following Hercules, and Menestheus follows Theseus, and goes with the Greeks in the war to Troy, about 1192 B.C. Hence, going back, from the Trojan war through Theseus to Hercules are only three generations, and it is the civilization surrounding Hercules, imitated by Theseus, that is responsible for Homeric and Socratic Greek civilization, the only rival to the Hebrews for the claim of the greatest of all peoples in the history of mankind.
[ii] The connection between Theseus as the founder of Athens and the overcoming of the father Egeus is made by Howard B. White in the third chapter of his Copp’d Hills Toward Heaven: Shakespeare and the classical polity, 1970, pp. 43-64. White compares the chance which brings Oberon and Theseus together with the chance which brings together the Athenian stranger, who has some knowledge of founding and legislation, and the Cretan Kleinias, who has the opportunity to found a city (p. 48).
[iii] Meyers, Henry Alonso. “Romeo and Juliet and a Midsummer Night’s Dream: Tragedy and Comedy.” In the Signet edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, edited by Wolfgang Clemen. New York: New American Library, 1963, pp. 155-170.
[iv] Harry V. Jaffa, “An Interpretation of the Shakespearean Universe.” In Shakespeare as Political Thinker, edited by John Alvis and Thomas G. West, 1971, p. 282.
[v] Consider the poem prefacing The Artist as Thinker by George Anastaplo.
[vi] Unless we are to understand one night as occurring between Acts IV and V, paralleling the night between Acts I and II, there appears to be a missing day. An illusion regarding time is set up because the action of the play is constructed with two daylight scenes surrounding the central scenes of night, imitating a single day.
[vii] The widowed aunt to whom Lysander intends to flee is called a dowager, and Lysander, like Theseus, is in line for this inheritance. Her home seven leagues from Athens, about 15-30 miles, might be at Marathon or Eleusis.
[viii] Plutarch. The Comparison of Romulus with Theseus. Translated by John Dryden, p. 48. Theseus is here being criticized by Plutarch for the affairs which Oberon accuses Titania of having caused. If Oberon is correct, then the cure of the discord in Athens would correct this fault of Theseus.
[ix] Some of the similarities between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Plato’s Phaedrus are, 1) That each occurs outside the walls of Athens; 2) The divine madness considered in Phaedrus is like the Midsummer madness associated with the Dream; and 3) In both, the work of the author contains a reflection on the mode of writing of the author in relation to the question of love.
[x] Leo Paul S. de Alvarez, Poetry and Kingship: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, p. 163. In Plato’s Republic, too, legislation and character formation are based upon the image of God in man (500-501b; 484c; or on the good itself, 540a-b).
[xi] In Plato’s Crito, Socrates has the Athenian laws state that because the citizens are children of the laws, born, nurtured and educated by them, the laws are their masters, and the citizens the slaves of the laws (50e). It is interesting to compare the argument of Paul in Romans (9: 21), and to consider the response, “shall to potter say to the clay, why are you thus made?” The assumption is very close to Locke on property, and the saying that labor creates a right to property. The language of rights is very strange in Paul, as is the assumption regarding the Creator: Paul is the legalist among the apostles. Jesus rather uses clay in a different way (John 9:6-15), to heal the eyes of a blind man. There the interesting thing is that Jesus does not work magic like ex nihilo, but uses matter. Making is different from cultivating what is made by the Creator and the making of the Creator again more like the way an apple tree “makes” an apple than the way a potter shapes a vessel.
[xii] In history, Aeneas occurs about two generations after Theseus, but here the Athenians have the story.
[xiii] Another possible reference to the overcoming of the fates is at II, i, 153, where certain stars are said to have shot madly from their spheres at the song of a mermaid. Stars are spoke of in Romeo and Juliet not in the sense of what is constant in its orbit or perfectly rational, but in connection with fate. For example the lovers are called “star crossed,” (R&J, Prologue, line 6), and Romeo speaks of “some consequence yet hanging in the stars (I,iv, 107). On shooting stars, see also Mark, 13:25; Revelation 9:1.
[xiv] White, loc. cit., note 1, p. 45. and 50.
[xv] Titania may mean that Oberon has disturbed her sport with Theseus, with whom she has not met “since the middle summer’s spring,” or the beginning of midsummer. In a play titled thus, which occurs not about June 21 but some time in May, an explanation of the title must be found, and might be sought here. Midsummer night would be at the equinox and shortest night of the year, after which time it takes the earth a while to warm up into summer- otherwise, the equinoxes and the seasons would coincide.
[xvi] Carl Jung, in his essay titled “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man,” (Portable Jung, ed. by Joseph Campbell, pp. 461-462) describes the modern psyche as having been poisoned by contents of the unconscious which would not be harmful if these contents were “projected,” as the beliefs of a “living or healthy tradition. Something similar does seem to be described here regarding the contagions sucked up by the sea.
[xvii] The causality implied by the “therefore” in line 103 and “through this” in line 106 is not completely clear. Is the moon as governess of the floods angry at the lack of Christmas carols, as though there were a breech of piety? Or is the moon angry because the fairies do not meet? On the effect of the song of the rooster heralding the dawn upon the spirits of night, see Hamlet I,i, 149-164 and pp.  below.
[xviii] In Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, Troilus speaks a poem according to which Cressida is a pearl whose bed is India (the farthest shore), while he himself is a merchant, and Pandarus the mediator is his ship (I,i, 94-100; also I,ii, 71). Troilus later describes Helen as a pearl whose price has “launched a thousand ships / And turned crowned kings to merchants” (I,ii, 82-83). Troilus later alters his imagery, so that Pandarus is to be like Charon, the ferryman of souls across into Hades, giving him “swift transportance to the fields where he may “wallow in the Lily beds / Proposed for the deserver” (III, i, 9-12). The crossing of the sea by merchant sailors, over the surface of the element in between, or “bounding between” the two moist elements (Ibid, I,iii, 40-41) The image refers to the journey of the soul in pursuing the acquisition of real treasure, which is wisdom. journeying “Till it hath traveled and is married there, / Where it may see itself (Ibid, III,iii, 109-111; Romeo and Juliet, II,ii, 83-84).
[xix] Ovid, Metamorphoses, IV, 51-165. Shakespeare may suggest these allusions by the purple dye used for the beard in which Bottom is to play Pyramus (I,ii, 85) and the mention of mulberries together with purple grapes ((III,iii, 153).
[xx] Plutarch’s Lysander, a Spartan with the Spartan education, is similarly superior to Demetrius, who is Athenian and, like Shakespeare’s Demetrius, prone to cruelty and incontinence. Lysander is the Spartan general to whom Athens surrenders in the Peloponnesian war, and there is something of the significance of these two that we do not yet have. The Spartan hounds, whose baying is matched like bells, is somehow related. These figures from the decline of ancient Greece, two prominent figures, one from each city, both subject too to self deification, relate to the Ranasingh idea of the avoidance of the tragedy of ancient Greece by the Shakespearean correction- mixing the Athenian and Spartan, male and female, high and low.
[xxi] edited by Harold F. Brooks, Dramatis Personae, n. 3.
[xxii] Troilus and Cressida is the second of the Greek plays of Shakespeare, the second of five plays set in ancient Greece. Theseus lived two or three generations before the Trojan War. It’s position following A Midsummer Night’s Dream may be alluded to by the epilogue of Puck, in which he says that if by unearned luck they have escaped the Serpent’s tongue of censure for their play,, the fault will soon be amended V,i, 409-422).
[xxiii] Hamlet, considering the question of the care of the gods for men, compares a scene from the fall of Troy, Pyrrhus slaying Priam, with the slaying of his father by his uncle (Hamlet, II,ii, 480-539, with 238-9).
[xxiv] West, Thomas G. The Two Truths of Troilus and Cressida, in Shakespeare as Political Thinker, ed. by John Alvis and Thomas G. West, p. 142.
[xxv] King Henry V says, “The king is but a man, as am I.” King Henry V and Romeo and Juliet are two of four of the plays with prologues ( with Henry VIII and Troilus and Cressida). Two begin with “Inductions,” II Henry IV and The Taming of the Shrew, and Perikles opens with the “chorus” of Gower. Something about this sort of King and this sort of love may require prologues to remind of the imitation.
[xxvi] De Alvarez states: “The question of how one presents moonshine may be said to dominate the play” (Poetry and Kingship, p. 175). Traditionally, there was thought to be three feminine aspects of the moon, as “Triple Hecate’s team” (V,i, 373). These aspects are a heavenly or chaste moon, and earthly moon having to do with love, and an under worldly aspect. A Midsummer Night’s Dream contrasts the cold moon Diana to which virgins chant faint hymns with the fertile moon, as that under which Theseus and Hippolyta await their nuptials, or which seems to Titania to lament some enforced chastity. The Chaste moonbeams quench the fiery arrow of Cupid, and the antidote to the purple flower is called “Diane’s bud” (IV,i,72). Two aspects of the moon arise also in Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo in the garden scene wishes for Juliet to cast off the vestal livery of the envious moon (II,i, 1-9), and when Juliet will not accept the vow of Romeo made by the “inconstant moon.” Romeo, and Browne in Love’s Labors Lost, are as lovers followers of the sun and not the moon. The songs sung by Lysander at Hermia’s window were by moon light. The character of Moonshine shows the place of Moon in the love tragedy, subject to chance. The self-contemplating moonbeams under which Lysander and Hermia plan to flee Athens appear to be a mixture of love and chastity in a temperate love, or the modesty of yet to be married lovers (I,i, 209-213). The moon is an object of knowledge outside the cave in Plato’s Republic (516b). The moon as ruler of the sub-lunar sphere of changing things subject to accident is related both to time itself and to the government of the changing human and political things. (De Alvarez, Poetry and Kingship, p. 171-2; and Howard White, Copp’d Hills, pp. 51-53). In the first and last appearances of Prince Hal or King Henry V, in Shakespeare’s English History plays, two aspects of the moon are also contrasted, in relation to the sun, and the chaste moon Diana is related to forestry and good government (I King Henry IV, I,ii, 1-31; 185, 205; King Henry V, V,i, 60-63).
[xxvii] de Alvarez, “Poetry and Kingship,” p. 174
[xxviii] The Arden edition notes connect the “savors sweet” and odorous to 2 Corinthians 2:15 and Ephesians 5:2, p. 56, note to III, i, 78-9).
[xxix] The red rose on the triumphant brier is of course Christ on the cross in triumph over death.
[xxx] This reading is strongly supported by the comments of the audience of the craftsmen during the performance of the play in Act V. When Pyramus dies, Demetrius and Lysander joke about how he is “no die but ace,” and then “less than ace, for he is nothing” (V,i, 300-302). Theseus adds that “With the help of a surgeon, he might yet/ recover, and yet prove an ass.”
[xxxi] The song of Bottom is about the song of songbirds. It focuses on the “plain song cuckoo grey,” whose song many men hear, yet none answer nay.” Bottom breaks off his song to ask: “Who would set his wit to so foolish a bird? Who would give the bird the lie, though he say cuckoo never so.” The Arden edition notes (p. 59, III, 129-131) states that “cockoo” is the cry of “cockold.” Is this plain bird one who offers an alternate explanation for the immaculate conception? Or is the foolish bird to which none will set their wit somehow the apostle or the reigning custom which prevents men from using their wits?
[xxxii] The Oxford translation is used throughout. (New York, Oxford University Press, 1977). A saying of Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas (#17) reads: “Jesus said: ‘I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind.'” Matthew 13:13 reads: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing, they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says:
‘You shall indeed hear, but never understand
And you shall indeed see but never perceive
For this people’s heart has grown dull
And their ears are heavy of hearing
And their eyes they have closed
Lest they should perceive with their eyes
And hear with their ears
And understand with their heart
And turn for me to heal them.
But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.”
[xxxiii] Socrates, in his Palinode in Plato’s Phaedrus, states that the term immortal is applied to the composite of body and soul without reason, because our imagination pictures the god “whom we have never seen nor fully conceived” as being “an immortal living being possessed of a soul and body united for all time” (246 c-d). The word translated as conceived is anebe, referring to that which has “risen up” into the heart of man. As such, it is less a confusion of functions than to describe the heart rather than the mind as receiving the conception of the intellect. At the death of Pyramus in the play, Lysander says that Pyramus is less than an ace, man, for he is dead, he is nothing,” to which Theseus responds “With the help of a surgeon he might yet recover, and prove an ass” (V,i,
[xxxiv] On one hand, the question is raised as to how the logos that was in the beginning and is always could, on the ground of the Platonic teaching, become incarnate, so as to walk the earth. But this difficulty for Christianity seems to apply equally to Socratic teachings such as the begetting of intelligence and truth (Republic 490b), the thought that there is something divine in man, and even the ultimate or intelligible particular described in the treatment of practical wisdom in the Ethics of Aristotle (VI). Jacob Klein refers to the timeless object and temporal act of knowing (On Plato’s Meno, p. 166). Socratic philosophy and the Christian gospel are apparently the only two ancient teachings that refer to a transcendent good, a happiness of man beyond the earthly or worldly things, the gods and the “elements” Only these use the word “nature” to refer to the divine in which man participates (2 Peter 1:4. There is no hyper-physis or “super-nature” in the Bible.). It appears that what Christendom attributes to merely natural reason involves a failure to follow the Socratic distinction between nous or intellect and logistikon or “calculation” (Republic IV, 431c). Christendom then appears to have misjudged Socrates, and therefore itself, on the basis of the supposition that the revelation is such as to be the possession of a traditional way or a particular mission. It appears that the ascent of philosophy and the following through death of the Savior are two different and mutually verifying accounts of the same in nature and in the nature of man.
[xxxv] Arden edition notes to lines 381-387, p. 80. See also Hamlet, V,i, 231-232, 1-32.
[xxxvi] The emendation of exile to exiled in line 386 appears unnecessary because the temporality which leads to the appearance of a contradiction (Arden ed., note 382-7, p. 80).
[xxxvii] Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream contain both imitations of the production of dramas and accounts of the nature of the spirits. The relation of these two is discussed below. Regarding the spirits and the things of night, Hamlet contains also the description of the ghost of his purgatorial walking in the night and his statement that he is forbidden to discuss the secrets of his prison house (I,v, 12-22). The Fifth soliloquy of Hamlet, addressing the diabolical aspect of the night, begins: “Now it is the very witching time of night / When churchyards yawn and Hell itself breathes out contagion to this world” (III,iii, 396-398). It also includes a sort of prayer by Hamlet, that the soul of Nero not enter his bosom.
[xxxviii] The forester is sought by Theseus when he plans to let Hippolyta hear the noise of his hounds, in the very first thing said when the action returns to the Athenians on the edge of the forest of primitive Athens (IV,i, 102-110). See also I King Henry IV, I,ii, 23-25, note 29 above. The change there wished for by Falstaff is described in terms which could correctly be applied to the effect of the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
[xxxix] King Lear calls Edgar “Athenian” because he is the “philosopher to whom Lear addresses the question of the cause of thunder.
[xl] De Alvarez translation of Machiavelli, the Prince, p. 93.
[xli] The use of the Lady Liberty in the French Revolution, and the attempt to recover the Greek Hercules, is an interesting exception, from whence comes our statue and Liberty on our early coins.
[xlii] Cadmus was the father of Semele, whose “son of thunder” was Bacchus. He is said to have brought letters to the Athenians, and to be the offspring of Innachus, who founded Argos from Phoenicia. See note 1 above.
[xliii] Mark 13:24; trumpet, Revelation 9:14; morning star, Revelation 2:28.
[xliv] Al Farabi writes that the mad see the first principles, but see them wrongly, though happiness is possible, in one important sense, only when the mind first sees the first principles. To understand what is occurring in madness regarding the knowledge that is in the soul of man is the key to understanding madness in general and the manifestations in particular. But it is important to know that most men are like Theseus, oblivious to the world of the human unconscious and the possibility of the knowledge of which Shakespeare allows us, the audience, a glimpse, for we have seen that at the very least, Hippolyta has a point, and as she says, the minds of the lovers are “transfigured.”
[xlv] Shadows may be a technical term from the allegory of the cave in Plato’s Republic. The prisoners are bound to viewing shadows of artifacts, which are the characters held up by the poets and the legislators. The plays are exactly like projections on the wall for the pleasure and benefit of the prisoners.
[xlvi] The centaurs were drinking at a wedding, and started fighting, in a scene made famous on the pediment of the temple of Zeus at Olympus, flanking the labors of Hercules. One notices that those who see centaurs do not yet ride horses, until Chiron taught riding and medicine in the generation of Achilleus. In the time of Hercules and Theseus, the Greeks, one notices, do not ride, and do not yet have chariots, as they will in the war with Troy. After the flood, the Greeks were visited by a people that did ride, and at first and from a distance mistook these for centaurs, much as Neanderthals from a distance would appear to have one large eye, like a Cyclops.
[xlvii] Shakespeare’s Argument for Imitative Poetry, pp. 278-280, etc.
[xlviii] The drawing out of the line and cave is essential to a reading of the account of political philosophy and psychology contained in the line and cave images. Jacob Klein follows the division and then division of the line in unequal segments, and notes that it is not clear which of the unequal segments is larger, though they are not equal (On Plato’s Meno, p. ) From the analogy in Book X, the work begins to move revealing what is like a ladder for ascending and descending contemplation. Among many astonishing features, there is a repetition of the whole divided line in the segment outside the cave.
[xlix] The inventor is at least the passive cause of artificial things, such as the wheel, the screw and couch, though the wing was invented by nature and copied. Strangely, the god is called “phuto-ergon or nature-begetter, gardener of the ideas. Inventions are a problem for the usual equation of the eternal forms with linguistic universals or categories.
[l] Our words reason and intuition are not sufficient to comprehend the Greek Nous and Noasis, intellect and “intellection.”