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The ‘brainstorm’ of reason




Much ink has been spilt over the question of the numerous storms in the plays of Shakespeare, to little effect thus far: for they can only be understood in light of the Shakespearean allegory. They all without exception represent the “brainstorm” of reason summoned by the ego against the “charge of the Boar”, - so memorably isolated for the first time by Ted Hughes in his SGCB, - when the libido in negative mantle has threatened to flood the ego which had thought to have defeated it, to effect a psychic trauma of varying severity.


We know from Troilus and Cressida, Henry the Eighth, and elsewhere, that, although the Boar would never again charge to such tragic effect as in the breakdown of 1587, thanks to the healing ministry of Sir Francis Bacon and the Gnostic tradition, yet Shakespeare would continue to be afflicted, throughout his London phase, with comparatively muted yet still painful episodes of a similar kind, which he would now however have the resources to deal with, to prevent the plunge into the hell of psychic collapse. HVIII and The Tempest both describe how this pattern was broken at the end of his creative career, to enable the final return to his wife, the immediate cause, through absolutely no fault of her own, of the coup which changed the course of Western literary history. Very briefly: Prospero represents Shakespeare himself, empowered now with the resources of the Gnostic tradition; his isle, the reasoning ego as the net into which the Boar charges, to restrict the depth of the wound. The occupants of the boat, driven ashore by Ariel’s storm, represent the complex that now takes form in the ego, prominent in which are the Boar (Alonso), the wounded ego (Sebastian: see below), the libido (drunken Stephano-Trinculo), and so on. Ariel is, of course, the high mentation which draws, through its magic, the pathogenic principles into the clear light of reason, where they can be dealt with, as was so tragically not the case in 1587. Ted Hughes was only partly right in interpreting Ariel’s tree as the Mother Goddess: for it represents, in truth, like all the other trees, groves, woods, and forests in FF, the written word, whence the Ariel principle has been drawn – the source most plausibly being the Druid grove, on the barks of which were nicked their sacred texts. Fascinatingly, Francisco represents, like his namesake in Hamlet and Friar Francis in Much Ado, none other than Sir Francis Bacon, and, by association, the Gnostic tradition. Francisco’s little gem of a cameo speech in II, i, glistening like a diamond sewn into velvet, would seem to have been inserted by Bacon into the otherwise Shakespearean scene. Francisco’s presence in the complex reflects, of course, the crucial importance of the Gnostic written word in the defence against the Boar. Yet this Baconesque mentation is now in the process of being shed, as Shakespeare prepares for his return to Stratford: hence the extreme paucity of Francisco’s lines in TT. His speech in I, i. emerges from all of this as a deeply poignant parting wave from the genius, though not the hero, of FF.


The storm which opens Twelfth Night likewise represents the intense mentation which draws the complex from the darkness of the unconscious into the realm of reason. Here also is a Sebastian, and he is associated with one of the most striking pieces of symbolism in the plays:


Captain                      I saw your brother

              Most provident in peril, bind himself

               … To a strong mast that liv’d upon the sea,

               Where, like Orion on the dolphin’s back,

                I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves…


There can be not the slightest doubt that this refers to the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, a favourite theme of Renaissance artists, who generally depict him lashed to a cross, and transfixed with arrows. The phallic symbolism of these arrows has been well discussed by Ted Hughes in his Winter Pollen (Faber, 1994). He represents here the (Puritan) ego traumatised by the inrush of libido; while his sister Viola, also a castaway on the shores of Illyria  (cognate with Prospero’s isle), is the Goddess of the Visible World. TN is yet another allegory of psychic degeneration and repair, in which all the usual suspects are identified. Maria is the Queen of Hell-Grail Queen, Goddess of the Invisible World, whose realm – the world that lies unseen below the surface of things, object of study of the modern scientist, artist, depth psychologist – must be engaged by the reasoning mind before the visible or phenomenal world can be understood. This principle was absolutely the central pillar of Bacon’s philosophy. Here also we have the familiar figures of the Puritan (Malvolio), libido (Sir Toby Belch), ithyphallic principle (Aguecheek), Fool (Feste), visual imagination (Fabian), and so on. The name ‘Fabian’ was undoubtedly sourced from Plutarch’s Life of Fabius Maximus, which mentions one Fabius Pictor, who consulted the Delphic oracle. Pictor in Latin means ‘painter’; and Fabian is cognate with the Painters in Timon of Athens and an Addition to The Spanish Tragedy (Appendix 1), who bear the same allegoric value, of the visual imagination. This sort of symbol-mining of Plutarch is a common technique in FF: another example in TN being Antonio, as the libidinous lover of the Goddess of Love, and associated throughout therefore with Sebastian, - as sourced from the Life of Marcus Antonius. The suppression of the visual imagination is a sine qua non of Puritanism, and its revival by the ego-in-healing is therefore a key theme of FF.


Buckingham represents throughout the histories the principle of the unconscious: again, to anticipate Freud by some centuries. The storm that cripples his forces in RIII IV, iii, at a critical point in the ego’s repair, bears of course the same meaning as those in TT and TN. The storm in Othello in somewhat different, as the ‘brainstorm’ which attempts to deal with the problematic libido by Puritan reasoning. Othello is, of course, the doomed Puritan figure. Fascinatingly, the character of Iago serves to identify him as a (Gnostic) Christ: for his name, the Spanish for ‘James’, is undoubtedly a reference to James the Just, the brother of Christ (cf. the cathedral of St. Iago de Compostella, which features in All is Well, and was dedicated to this James). The spirit of Christian Cabalism permeates FF: for Shakespeare himself was crucified on the Cross of the libido, in 1587, whence he rose again into eternal life.


These storms, and the several others in FF, are discussed in detail in UDGCB.


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