Shakespeare has taught me so much and his teaching continues to delve more deeply into my heart as I gain more maturity and with that the ability to swim in the depths of metaphor. Shakespeare did not live in this world; he lived “on high” up in the aether as I often claim to myself. That is to say, he lived in his head. With that aloofness, that cerebral detachment, he could take the liberty of “mis-using” words to convey wisdom but “mis-use” them in such a deft and artistic manner that he could reveal to us so much about the depths of our heart. Just one simple example is in a lovely line from Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy when Hamlet noted that the intense passion and desire of his heart was often “sicklie’d o’er with the pale cast of thought.” First of all, “sick” is not a verb and second how can words make anything sick even if you morph the word into “sicklie.” But by putting it this way he vividly described how one who is given too much to thinking…whose heart is beset with an over wrought inner critic…can find himself stymied by the thinking process itself.
Shakespeare knew that thought and feeling must work in tandem. If either is in too much control, there is a problem. Feeling run amok is lunacy but also thought…or reason…run amok is lunacy, the latter point noted so eloquently by Goethe when he noted in Faust, “They call it reason, using light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.” Just look at our contemporary linear culture and its egregious object lesson in the U. S. House of Representatives.
The Bard, like me, knew about “waging the war we are” as described in the 20th century by W. H. Auden. He was conflicted by myriad voices in his heart but wonderfully integrated by what I would describe as “the Spirit of God” so that he could harness the unleashed energy and convey to generations hence stunning revelations about our heart’s internal machinations. Matthew Arnold noted that the poet has great familiarity with “unleashed energy”, alleging that “the poet, in whose mighty heart heaven hath a quicker pulse imparted, subdues that energy to scan, not his own heart, but that of man.” Shakespeare did that. In terms of linguistics, he harnessed the energy of the “floating signifier” so artfully that many…but not all…can understand.
However, there is a price to pay for this aloof detachment, this cerebral, dispassionate view of the world and even of one’s own self—alienation and the feeling of loneliness…existential loneliness or solitude. But just this past week I discovered through a friend the writing of a contemporary spiritual teacher, Mary Margret Moore, who noted that discovering and embracing one’s solitude was one of the steps one must take in spiritual development. It is closely akin to St. John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Soul” or Dante’s going into “the dark forest”: or as Dante put it, “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”
There one finds he/she is all alone and must explore who and what one really is which always entails a rendezvous with the boundaries of existence itself, an emotional/spiritual experience which in my culture is often described as “God” or by some as “the Ineffable.”