There have been accounts of important messages which were encoded in letters to transmit information other than the visible; as for example in war time. Many people view the stories of the Bible in a similar manner. The stories stand on their own and yet they also have an inner or esoteric meaning. The longevity of the Bible is cited as one proof of this. It is similar with the writings of Shakespeare.
This is not theoretical; this inner content is of the utmost practical significance for us. There are reasons why ideas are conveyed in the form of a story or Play. With our outer viewpoint we see things in a certain way; the the difficulty is that we each see things differently. However, we also have an inner or spiritual understanding. As Hamlet says ( 1:2:85 ): " I have that within which passeth show " The essential ideas of the Bible, or the Bhagavad Gita, or Shakespeare speak to this inner understanding.
Along this line there is a warning in the Play Measure for Measure against viewing this world of the senses as the only one: ( 5: 1: 485 ) " thou art said to have a stubborn soul, That apprehends no further than this world, And squarest thy life accordingly " It is left to each of us to make what we can of this life.
There are many ideas in Shakespeare's writings which may be compared with other esoteric teachings. One idea which is used in many Plays is the concept of marriage. This adds an element of drama to the plot of the Play in the outer or exoteric aspect. There may be another meaning to marriage; it may be connected with our inner life, with what thoughts we consent to or couple with. Consider the lines from the Play : Much Ado About Nothing: ( 3:1:100 ) " when are you married madam? Why, every day, to-morrow " or the words of Richard II ( 5:5:6 ) " My brain I'll prove the female to my soul, My soul the father; and these two beget A generation of still breeding thoughts " In the Play: The Taming of the Shrew there are references to the inner qualities of a spouse as compared with the outer qualities.
In the Shakespeare Plays we are given examples of marriages which lead to the growth of the characters and matches which go badly, and lead to their destruction. Keeping with the analogy of our inner life we certainly find this on large and small scales. We are married every day as Hero says in Much Ado About Nothing: we marry with thoughts and emotions constantly. We hear a piece of slander about a person, and we may be caught by it for some time. Or we think of an idea for a vacation, and run with that. Thoughts come from external and internal sources. This is our life, and some advice on how to approach marriage in this respect is useful. One beautiful thing about the Shakespeare Plays is that we usually see the result of the actions of a given character, sometimes later on in the Play, but it is there. There are many practical ideas which may help us in our own lives. This is what sets esoteric teachings apart from other writings; they " not only reflect the human condition, but answer it ".
In this light lets look at two Plays which include marriage as a theme, with different outcomes: Othello and Measure for Measure.
In Othello we have a story of a hasty marriage at the beginning of the Play which ends tragically. In Measure for Measure we see the successful union of the protagonists as the result of a long and difficult struggle. We do not want to miss the significance of this; often we get into trouble because we too quickly join with a thought or feeling. To properly assess a situation usually takes effort and time.
An esoteric teacher of the last century; Dr Maurice Nicoll speaks of marriage used allegorically in ancient knowledge; one aspect being the marriage of truth and goodness. We need a union of both for a proper understanding of anything. Lets look at the female characters in these two Plays; Desdemona and Isabella, as representing goodness, and the male characters: Othello and the Duke, as truth or knowledge.
Desdemona is praised repeatedly as goodness itself:
2:1:61 " a maid That paragons description and wild fame.
2:1:73 "The divine Desdemona"
2:1:254 " she's full of most blest condition
However her actions speak differently. The Play opens with Desdemona in a marriage against her fathers wishes.
Isabella is not praised highly, yet at the opening of the Play we find her in the process of entering a nunnery and looking for even more discipline than afforded: ( 1:4:4 ) rather wishing a more strict restraint"
Goodness must be reflected in actions. Truth lies in knowledge. The union brings understanding.
It is almost a red flag in the Shakespeare Plays when a character is highly praised, they may not be so virtuous as they appear. What need praise? We may remember the warning in the Play Pericles: ( 2:2:56 ) " Opinion's but a fool, that makes us scan The outward habit by the inward man."
An interesting example of this is found in the Play: The Winters Tale. Perdita is often praised, yet we find a different side of her when we study her actions. Her name is also a clue.
Looking for truth represented in the male characters, we see Othello presented at the opening of the Play as a wise conquering General. The Duke at the opening of Measure for Measure appears to be putting Angelo in his place to fix his mistakes as ruler: ( 1:3:31 ) Friar T: It rested in your Grace To unloose the tied - up justice... Duke: I have on Angelo imposed the office..." These are the opening perceptions, yet as the Play unfolds we find a much different story.
The Duke has a reason for putting Angelo in his place; to teach Angelo a lesson, or to advance his understanding of himself. A line of the Duke concerning Angelo: ( 1:3:53 ) " hence we shall see, If power change purpose, what our seemers be " The Duke has the most important quality of truth: adaptability. When he encounters setbacks he does not spend any time lamenting or being negative, he adapts to the new situation and carries on. On one occasion when Angelo has acted badly the Duke says: (3:1:190 ) " but that frailty hath examples for his falling, I should wonder at Angelo " This shows higher truth.
To describe Othello as he develops in the Play is painful. IF you know the Play not much is needed here. He represents an apparent truth with no deep roots. After one of Othello's speeches in which he justifies himself the reply is: ( 5:2:357 ) " All that's spoke is marr'd."
There is one important aspect of the Play Measure for Measure which indicates that the match of Isabella with the Duke has a far deeper meaning than physical union. Isabella is intending to go to a convent and the Duke in speaking of himself says: Act 1 scene 3: " Believe not that the dribbling dart of love Can pierce a complete bosom " This may give strength to the idea of phscyological union rather than physical.
This only scratches the surface of the topic of marriage in Shakespeare. I would be interested in comments.
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