‘I’ FOR ‘AY’ AS A QABALISTIC SYMBOL IN ELIZABETHAN DRAMA
I have demonstrated exhaustively in my Ugly Dick and the Goddess of Complete Being, and on www.thegreatpesher.com—examining literally hundreds of instances in the plays of Shakespeare and the apocryphal plays—that the remarkable substitution in the texts of ‘I’ for the expected ‘Ay’ has a specific symbolic purpose. This discovery should come as absolutely no surprise to students of Sir Francis Bacon—it is hardly a paradigm shift, in the context of the massive and extensive esoteric symbolism of the Shakespeare plays. In the course of reading for the first time the Zohar, the foundational text of mediaeval Qabalism, it became clear to me that Bacon’s use of ‘I’ in this way was inspired by the Qabala: specifically, that it does not in fact represent the English ‘I’, but the Hebrew Yod, which is of immense significance in the Qabalistic Tree of Life.
Let us first look at one notable instance among literally thousands in the plays. In King Lear IV, Edgar is about to lead Gloucester, his father, now blinded, his eyes bound up in bloody rags, to the cliffs of Dover, where Gloucester will undergo a ‘virtual’ fall, and survive. In UDGCB I give a full exegesis of the play as an allegory of psychic transformation. Briefly, Lear himself represents, like so many of his pesher (psycho-allegorical) kin throughout the plays, the Puritan ego, which is doomed to breakdown, only to be reborn through the offices of the broadly Gnostic tradition, the chief vector of which is the written word. This theme, the elaboration of which is the raison d’etre of the Shakespeare plays, and the concern of every one of them without exception (although Hamlet alone lacks the phase of rebirth, the ego sinking into untreatable psychosis) had its origin in the case history of Will Shakspere, whom Sir Francis Bacon treated after the breakdown which drove him from Stratford, successfully, to save him from his torments, and give him a meaningful and worthwhile life as the chief factotum—though certainly not principal author—of the plays that came to bear his name. (His close association with them in the eyes of the public would have made the ruse all the more easy to sustain, both in his lifetime and in subsequent centuries).
Gloucester Dost thou know Dover?
Edgar I Master.
Gloucester is here the aspect of the ego that is undergoing transformation, just as did Will Shakspere under the aegis of Bacon and the Gnostic tradition. His blindness makes of him a Teiresias—also Oedipus—figure, a master of the inward vision. The principal philosophical theme that Bacon enshrines in the Shakespeare plays is that the unseen world—the hidden dimension of things, the realm that lies below the merely apparent surface of the phenomenal world—must be engaged to enable the growth of the ego into wisdom. Dover here represents that underworld (which is anathematised by the Puritan); and Gloucester will descend into it with the imagination fully active (the fall), to be reborn. Edgar, Gloucester’s son, will bear the pesher value of this reborn ego. (Ted Hughes, whose Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (faber, 1992) inspired my own work, concluded that there is no rebirth in King Lear, because the eponymous hero dies; but in fact it is Edgar, who is crowned king in the final scenes, who bears this value).
‘I’ therefore bears here, as always in its every appearance without exception in the plays, as a phallic symbol, the allegoric value of the unseen world. On one level it is the underworld of the collective unconscious, the world of the libido, and the primitive archetypes and symbols that have accrued during the whole experience of Man; and on another level, the unseen dimension of the greater universe, to create a single, unified allegory of immense richness and power.
This symbolic value of ‘I’ in the Shakespeare and apocryphal plays is precisely the Qabalistic value of its Hebraic analogue Yod, as described in the Zohar. This is not the place to give a detailed history of the Zohar; it would certainly have been thrust firmly before Bacon’s attention, and it is hard to imagine a man of his voracious intellectual curiosity not reading it, at least in the Latin translation current at the time. A collection of books forming a mystical commentary on the Torah (first five books of the Old testament, claimed to have been written by Moses himself, although this has been proven to be almost certainly not the case) written in mediaeval Aramaic and Hebrew, the Zohar first appeared in Spain in the 13C, published by a Jewish writer named Moses de Leon, who was in fact almost certainly its author. The enthusiasm felt for the Zohar by Jewish poets and philosophers was shared by Christian writers, amongst them Pico della Mirandola, Johann Reuchlin, Aegidius of Viterbo, and others.
In light of the above, the following passage is of striking relevance:
The mystic allegory in the Zohar is based on the principle that all visible things, including natural phenomena, have both an exoteric reality and an esoteric reality, the latter of which instructs Man in that which is invisible. This principle is the necessary corollary of the fundamental doctrine of the Zohar. According to that doctrine, as the universe is a gradation of emanations, it follows that the human mind may recognise in each effect the supreme mark, and thus ascend to the cause of causes. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zohar)
The aspect of the Hero that quests in the invisible world of nature is represented in the plays by, for example, Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, while the aspect that moves in the visible phenomenal world, but now with new understanding of it, is represented by Lucentio. Kate Minola of course bears the pesher value of the invisible world or underworld.
When we turn to the Zohar itself (trans. S.L. MacGregor Mathers), we find the following:
I, Yod, which is the symbol of the member of the treaty [circumcision], and herein denoteth the actual combination with the female… (Book of Concealed Mystery, 1.42)
…by the letter I, Yod, is understood the fundamental member by which the world is preserved in existence. (BCM, 1.42)
And therefore is I, Yod, the most concealed of all the other letters. For I, Yod, is the beginning and the end of all things. (Lesser Holy Assembly, 244, 245)
And therefore is Chokmah called the Perfection of all; and to it is ascribed the name of Truth. (Lesser Holy Assembly, 465) [Chokmah, the second Sephira of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, is identified with Yod in the Tetragrammaton IHVH]
In addition, the editor S.L. McGregor Mathers comments on BCM 1.42: “In this sense I, Yod … has a symbolical phallic signification.” These aspects of Yod—as the phallus, that which is concealed in nature, and the beginning and end of all things—are continually emphasised throughout the Zohar, in many various and sometimes bewildering ways.
The next step in proving conclusively the influence of the Zohar on Sir Francis Bacon would be to examine the texts that would have been available to him, through the library of John Dee amongst others. The first would have to be Pico della Mirandola, who wrote an extended commentary on it in Latin. From the startling relevance of the letter Yod to the pesher strategy of the First Folio and so many other plays of the period, this would seem to be a step eminently worth taking.