Thursday, August 14, 2014

Shakespeare and the Creation of Reality

image: Sculpture of Hamlet, Wikimedia commons (link).

The previous post began with an examination of the special character found in certain of the plays of "William Shakespeare," known as the FOOL or CLOWN, and the role of this character in piercing through the artificial constructs of manufactured reality, using the instrument of language to wrench the perspective of those within the play to see the constructed world and its conventions from a different angle -- and to offer the same different perspective to us, the audience.

In fulfilling this role, the Fool or the Clown -- who may seem to be among the "lowest" or least "important" of the characters in the drama, perhaps just a figure tasked to provide some comic relief -- actually becomes the key to the entire endeavor, just as Jon Rappoport has argued that the "trickster god" is actually the most important and even the most powerful god in many ancient myth-systems, because he plays the same role of offering new and unexpected perspectives, challenging seemingly-entrenched paradigms (or "narratives" or "realities"), and revealing that the world is in some quite veritable way fabricated by our own mental and energetic creation of it, which means that the very barriers and chains which we forge to hold ourselves down can in fact be made to drop off like the cords upon the thews of the unshorn Samson, if we only heed the right message.

And, interestingly enough, the trickster-god is often the messenger god -- as he is in Greek mythology in the form of Hermes, god of thieves and divine messenger.

This fact is significant in that, as just mentioned, the trickster-god can be seen trying to convey this all-important message to us, a message which could set us free to create new realities, if only we could receive it. It is also significant in that, as the previous post explored briefly, the creation of realities is often done primarily through language.

But language is a tricky thing -- notoriously slippery, and nearly always capable of being read in at least two different ways simultaneously. Again, this connection should cause us to marvel even further at the ancient wisdom encoded and conveyed to us in myth, where the trickster-god is also the giver of writing and the carrier of language (slippery, trickery language).

This slippery aspect of language was employed with unequalled joy and verve by Shakespeare (whomever "Shakespeare" was), both to create shimmering towers of imagination and "realities" so real that we continue to talk about them today as if they were real places inhabited by real people, and to expose them as mere constructs -- and in doing so to expose the "real world" as very much composed of the same kind of constructed imaginations. After all, in one widely-known line, did Shakespeare not declare that "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players"? (Jaques, in As You Like It, II. 7. 138-139).  

A brief examination of some of the word-play in one of the most famous "fool-scenes" in all of Shakespeare, the grave-digging clown-scene in Hamlet V.1., will demonstrate Shakespeare's ability to call attention to the artificiality of the constructed reality of the play, and in doing so to call attention to the artificiality of the constructed reality of the "real world" at the same time.

The scene begins with the two Clowns entering, carrying (we are told) a spade and a pickaxe, with which (we soon learn) they are digging a grave for fair Ophelia. We meet them in the midst of a discussion of the nicer points of the law, and trying to determine whether or not under the law she is deserving of a Christian burial. After butchering the legalese and imitating the niceties of legal arguments used to find loopholes or justify certain desired outcomes (and in doing so exposing the law as completely artificial and composed of words which can be turned one way for those in one class or category, and another way for those less-well connected), the conversation proceeds -- led by the First Clown, who is clearly the more subversive and perceptive and trickster-like of the two -- to an examination of Holy Scripture (beginning, interestingly enough, in line 33 of the scene).

In that exchange, the First Clown seems to be employing a devoutly literalistic hermeneutic (a word which itself comes from the name of the trickster-god Hermes and refers to the system of finding the message in the text), and yet his arguments undermine his own apparently-literal approach, because they deliberately misuse the second meaning of common words in order to arrive confidently at his skewed conclusions:
FIRST CLOWN: [. . .] There is no ancient gentlemen but gardeners, ditchers, and gravemakers; they hold up Adam's profession. [FIRST CLOWN digs]
SECOND CLOWN: Was he a gentleman?
FIRST CLOWN: A was the first that ever bore arms.
SECOND CLOWN: Why, he had none.
FIRST CLOWN: What, art a heathen? How dost thou understand the Scripture? The Scripture says Adam digged. Could he dig without arms? [. . .] Hamlet V.1. 28-35.
After some more of this, digging all the while, the First Clown gives one final punch-line about the grave-digger being the builder stronger than the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter (because the houses he makes last till doomsday), and then says to the Second: "Go, get thee to Johan. Fetch me a stoup of liquor" (lines 55-56). Some commentators have interpreted this as an immensely comedic line which would bring a roar of laughter from the crowd, since they would have known Johan as an actual bartender in a nearby pub next to the Globe Theater itself (in London) -- and thus we have the First Clown in the play, tired out from all his digging and wishing to wet his whistle, sending the Second Clown around the corner of the theater itself to fetch him a drink!

If this interpretation is correct, it is in fact a truly humorous touch (equivalent to a character in a modern movie that you are watching on the home screen in your living room saying something like, "Isn't Jimmy's Deli right down the street from here? Morpheus -- hold on to those pills for a second, I need to go get a Coke"). It would be funny, and at the same time it would subvert the whole construct of the show, and wrench your perspective right back to the fact that you were watching a film or a play taking place on a screen or a stage, and the character you had been seeing as a character in a far-away world would suddenly be transformed into an ordinary person who just wants something to quench his thirst.

If Shakespeare was referring to a contemporary London pub or bartender there in line 55 rather than to some imaginary bartender in Hamlet's fictional Denmark, then this line is a remarkable example of the playwright calling the audience's attention to the fact that the play itself is an artificial construct -- but the Clowns have been doing that since they came on the stage about the artificial constructs (made primarily of language) which structure the world itself (and their own rather humble place within it).

The most famous aspect of the grave-digging scene, of course, comes when Hamlet himself (accompanied by the less mentally-flexible Horatio) come upon the First Clown digging away (the Second Clown having headed off to Johan to bring back a drink), and engage him in conversation -- giving the First Clown still further opportunity to show off his ability to stubbornly select the wrong meaning of key words in any communication, and thereby to subvert the intended message and demonstrate the unreliability of language, and hence the instability of anything that is upheld primarily by language, which of course includes the titles and privileges of the royalty and nobility to whom the Clown is speaking.

To reinforce the artificiality of the differences in the artificial hierarchies of the court and the state, the playwright has the Clown at this moment begin to toss up skulls out of the grave with his shovel, and the conversation turns to the way death and decay collapse most ignominiously all the worldly distinctions, and reduce them to dust.  The First Clown finally falls silent as Hamlet famously takes up the skull of "poor Yorick," and delivers a meditation upon the end of all flesh, including the lines, 
"Imperial Caesar, dead and turned to clay / Might stop a hole to keep the wind away" (V. 1. 196-197).

The image of Hamlet contemplating the skull held in his outstretched is one of the most famous in all of Shakespeare, and is certainly the defining pose of the Prince of Denmark (see for instance the statue above). Notably, we could in fact see this famous pose as ultimately emblematic of all that has been said so far in the foregoing exploration of the "construction of the world" question, for the construction of realities takes place in a very real sense within the "world" that is contained within the dome of the very object Hamlet is holding in his hand. 

If we stop and think about it, all of the outside universe is actually transmitted to the world within the sealed box of our skull by electronic impulses carried by nerves (sight by electronic impulses from the optic nerves, sound by impulses along the auditory nerves, taste and touch and smell as impulses along nerves as well) -- and once there, the the world we see around us, yes the entire universe outside, is constructed by the mind.  

Incredibly enough, Joseph P. Farrell (mentioned in these previous posts: 07/25/2011, 04/02/201304/09/2013, 02/10/2014, and 06/02/2014) as part of the wide-ranging historical investigation he conducts in his latest work Thrice-Great Hermetica and the Janus Age: Hermetic Cosmology, Finance, Politics and Culture in the Middle Ages through the Late Renaissance, has demonstrated, following the work of Frances A. Yates (1899 - 1981), that the Globe Theater itself (scene of Shakespeare's performances) was an esoteric model of the world and -- making further connections of his own based upon illustrations from the esotericist Robert Fludd (1574 - 1637) that its five stage entrances (three on the stage-level and two on either end of the upper balcony-area) might well symbolize the five senses of the human body (the very portals by which we have just seen that "reality" is "created" in the mind!)(193).

In other words, as Joseph Farrell argues, the stage depicts the Hermetic doctrine of the microcosm and macrocosm ("as above, so below") on multiple levels at once -- and he argues that this Hermetic design was very deliberately chosen as an important part of the transformative, paradigm-shifting, alchemical purpose of the Elizabethan plays themselves.

Of course, it need hardly be pointed out that the word Hermetica itself derives from the name of the trickster-god Hermes, the messenger and the transcender of boundaries and barriers, his "Thrice-Great" title a deliberate connection to the Egyptian god Thoth, giver of writing as well as the god of the Moon (among other attributes -- and note that the Moon is probably the most "shape-shifting" entity upon the entire heavenly stage).

All of this has profound import, both historically and as it pertains to our understanding of our own human condition, here in these human bodies upon this globe spinning through the cosmos.  Enough import, in fact, to fill several volumes (and thus far beyond the scope of this already over-extended post!).  But to conclude this brief examination, we can at least state that the self-conscious reality creation on display in the plays of Shakespeare (and the calling attention to that fact by the characters of the Clowns and Fools in many of his plays) was almost undoubtedly intended to awaken us to such reality creation in the world around us -- and in the world we carry around in our skulls.  

That realization is two-edged, in that it should awaken us to the danger of this reality-creation business: if "realities" are so easily created and so widely accepted, the process can be used to enslave, to bind, to restrict, and ultimately to limit human consciousness (the lack of consciousness being a common and crucial ingredient in most of the terrible downfalls depicted in Shakespeare's tragedies).

But, at the same time that the examination of reality-creation opens our eyes to its potential to keep us pinned down with imaginary chains, it invites us to consider our ability to use the reality-creating engine within our same skulls to discard false chains forged by others (and forged by ourselves) and in doing so to transcend them, to walk through the barriers between us and greater levels of consciousness, to step with Truman off the set of the Truman show (or with the Second Clown to step around the corner to grab a quick beer), and to create worlds along with the trickster gods of sacred myth (like the trickster-god Maui who creates the worlds of Hawai'i and Aotearoa when he dredges them up with his magic fish-hook).  

Ultimately (in a brilliant metaphor crafted by Jon Rappoport and described in many of his stories and articles), we can look at the stage-props and sets that others are constructing for our lives and say:
Oh! Oh -- I see: you guys are artists, right? You're artists, and you've got your own museum and your own theater, and you're making reality because you think that's what I want! You think you can sell me your infomercial about the cosmos! I get it! No thanks. Not interested.
Why? Ultimately, because I'm making up my own. Yeah, I'm making up my own. I don't need yours. [. . .] Because, come into my studio -- you see what I'm painting here? Come into my office -- you see what I'm building here? Come into my . . . whatever, my pasture, you see what I'm creating here? Come into my world -- you see what I'm creating here? This is far more interesting to me than what you're making for everybody.
-- Jon Rappoport: Mind Control, the Space Program, and the Secret Theater of Reality, June 29, 2014. Quotation begins at 1:07:38. Cited in this aforementioned post.