Shakespeare, Jung, and the Unconscious

Hamlet was moping about the castle one day, disgruntled and surly, the very picture of depression to those watching.  Suddenly aware of the object lesson he was providing he declared, “I have within me that which passeth show.  These are but the suits of woe.”  Hamlet was saying, “Hey, you guys think I’m depressed.  Hell, you don’t know the half of it!  You think this is despair, you oughta know what’s raging down inside this ‘foul rag-and-bone shop’ of my heart.”

Shakespeare had a brilliant grasp of the human unconsciousness, that murky domain beneath the surface of life which terrorizes us into this “civilized” behavior that we call reality.   In this scene Hamlet was wallowing in a despair that Shakespeare knew was beyond the grasp of words and deeds, finding faint expression…mercifully for all parties…only through behavior and words.  He knew that without the gift of sublimation, the phenomena known to philosophers as “the thing-in-itself” would violently irrupt and the social body would have more to deal with than a morose malcontent moping through the castle breathing out “threatenings and slaughterings.”

The Bard knew about the terrors…and delights…of the unconscious.  We don’t know the details of how he acquired this knowledge but it was not in school or books but in dealing with the daily grind of a relentless reality.  And, as he went about this “daily grind” he found an ability to look into his own heart and learn what the Universe was trying to teach him then so that he could eloquently and artfully present it to us in his poetry and plays.  Matthew Arnold recognized this hard-earned talent of gifted souls, noting, “The poet, in whose heart heaven hath a quicker pulse imparted, subdues that energy to scan, not his own heart, but that of man.”

But modern life does not want to recognize these subterranean depths and for good reason.  It would be painful.  But we ignore them at our own peril for these demons which we haunt us will always “out” in some fashion.  This is currently glaringly apparent in my own country (the United States) as I watch intelligent and well-educated men and women in our Congress take ridiculous positions without even a doff of the hat to “the pauser reason” which would allow them to be more moderate in their stances.

It is important to note that these subterranean depths offers more than ugliness if we would deign to go there.  Shakespeare knew very well that beauty and joy could be found there as we acknowledge and embrace what Carl Jung called our shadow.  His work presaged what Ranier Rilke would note, “the heart has its beastly little treasures” which, if acknowledged and embraced, can introduce us to the refreshing breath of Wholeness which, in my spiritual tradition is called the Spirit of God.


One thought on “Shakespeare, Jung, and the Unconscious

  1. alohaleya

    Delving into the shadow is painful (to say the least) and requires much courage…and faith that the beauty and jewels are indeed there, waiting to be discovered. In my own process I’ve found that there is peace and relief in finally being authentic with what’s really going on beneath the surface. Once the shadow is acknolwedged, it’s hard to ignore it! Our traumas really want to be felt…they’re waiting for us to feel them because that’s the only real place of healing.

    Technology is a double-edged sword! I struggle with the distraction/time-wasting aspects of it, yet I’ve connected with many like-minded souls who are going through this process. Thanks Lew! Aleya

    Liked by 1 person


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