For a long time I have thought that the Shakespeare Plays were connected with Esoteric tradition. This would mean that ideas to do with out possible inner growth are contained within the Plays. I have been studying other esoteric teachings, and find many similar ideas.
To each of us inner growth means something different. We may view this life as complete in itself, and in that case growth will mean expansion of wealth, position, etc. However we may feel with Hamlet that we: " have that within which passeth show " 1:2:72 From that point of view there is more to us than is contained in this life . For some reason we do not know what life after death will be ; " the undiscover'd country, from whose bourn No traveller returns - puzzles the will " Hamlet 3:1:77
This is not to say that this life is not real, " this too, too solid flesh " Hamlet 1:2 It is real and for practical purposes it is all that we have. Our attitude to life will determine all for us. If we think that we are immortal, as Hamlet says, then within this life we may grow or improve our immortal part, or degenerate and end in a worse position than when we were born. Esoteric teachings have always been connected with mankind, which speak of methods which lead to inner growth, with the aim as one Esoteric teaching says " to hand back our life at the end not all messed up "
We may call this ascending and descending in our inner life, or immortal part. In the Shakespeare Plays there are ascending and descending Plays. In an ascending Play the main character or characters end the Play in a better position than when they started, represented as a union or reunion with their love. In a descending Play the protagonist ends in a worse state, usually ending in suicide.
Examples of ascending Plays are: Alls Well That Ends Well, Pericles Prince of Tyre, Cymbeline, Measure for Measure. Examples of descending Plays: Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Troilus and Cressida, Richard III, Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus.
Looking at the Plays from this point of view gives us much to reflect on. In an ascending Play the protagonist has to overcome great difficulties, both within and without, in order to attain their aim or goal. In a descending Play the character falls through some inner weakness. Often a descending character knows what he should do, but does the opposite. For example Macbeth is told that he will be king by the witches. He says " If chance will have me king, why chance may crown me Without my stir " Act 1 scene 3. He knew this, however he went off and killed Duncan and anyone who stood in his way of being king. Hardly ' without his stir ' Or Othello when told by Iago that Desdemonna was unfaithful says " think'st thou I'ld make a life of jealousy... no " Act 3 scene 3. But Othello did make a life of jealousy. Looking at Plays as ascending and descending helps us to understand more of our human condition; what may go wrong and how to make effort to overcome inner difficulties. This is one function of Esoteric teaching.
To the idea of exits and entrances: I read in Esoteric literature a phrase; " Going out as they came in " referring to our life on earth. As one studies the Shakespeare Plays one sees characters who make effort and end having attained something; characters who fall inwardly and end tragically; and many characters who do not change at all. There are those people who have a great desire to change for the better:the Duke in ' Measure for Measure ' " the love I have in doing good " Act 3 scene 1 or Helena in ' Alls Well That Ends Well' , Posthumus in ' Cymbeline '; Hamlet; Basannio in ' The Merchant Of Venice ' ; Marina in 'Pericles' for example. There are those characters who desire to do evil, who change for the worse. Richard III " I am determined to prove a villain " Act 1 scene 1 or Arron in ' Titus Andronicus ': " ten thousand worse than ever yet I did, Would I perform , if I might have my will; If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very soul " Act 5 scene 3 - This just before his death.
Also there are the characters who do not change at all in the Plays; they are like the backdrop to a stage production. They are best exemplified in the Play: Timon of Athens. Timon is very generous at the opening of the Play, and his false friends flatter him frequently. When Timon falls out of favour with fortune his false friends prove their worth; they abandon him. Even when they are confronted with the fact they do not understand it, they make excuses. When Timon is enraged at them, in Act 3 scene 6, they say " Lord Timon's mad " and " One day he gives us diamonds, next day stones " These men could not see any fault in themselves, and do not change at all. Also in this scene we are given the phrase ' Old Man ' This idea is also to be found in the Bible: " Put off the old man " Ephesians 4:24 Timon changes greatly during the course of the Play. ( I assert that it is an ascending Play, because Timon gains great knowledge and wisdom by the end of the Play.) Timon literally ' puts off the old man ' , and retires to a cave, like a hermit. When Timon's false friends think that Timon has not changed they say " this is the old man still " Act 3 scene 6; but it was not; Timon had changed. Even when he finds gold and is tempted to return to his former life he refuses, saying " I am no idle votarist " 4:3:141 This idea of putting off the old man is well displayed in the Play Henry IV Part 2 Prince Hal had been in the company of Falstaff for a long time ; the lower element of life, a false-staff to lean on. When the Prince becomes King Henry V he confronts Falstaff and denies him utterly, never to fall back into his old ways. King Henry says to Falstaff " I know thee not, old man ' Henry IV Part 2 Act 5 scene 5.
To see our weaknesses and to try to overcome them in this life may be a worthy aim, and give real meaning to our lives. To change, to put off the old man, means something different for each of us. One danger may be to not grow in this life. An interesting interchange in the Play ; ' Measure for Measure ' may refer to this: In Act a bawd is brought before the judge who says: " because he has some offences in him that thou wouldst discover if thou couldst, let him continue in his courses till thou knowest what they are " the constable then says to the criminal: " Thou seest, thou wicked varlet, now, what's come upon thee: thou art to continue now, thou varlet; thou art to continue " In this life which we are given we may grow or degenerate. Esoteric teaching tells us that we must see our own faults and stop blaming others constantly before we can hope to ' put off the old man '. To continue in our courses... maybe not so much.
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