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TWO FORESTS

The written word in the First Folio

 

 

 

The grove, woods, forest, even single tree, bears always in FF the allegoric value of the written word. I document in UDGCB every instance, each of which has its precise place in a tightly constructed narrative of the degeneration and repair of a single psyche. This strategy is likely to have been suggested to Bacon by the Druid grove, on the barks of which were nicked their sacred texts. Certainly, FF gives evidence elsewhere (especially in Antony and Cleopatra) of his deepest familiarity with the ancient Druidic tree alphabet (see Robert Graves, The White Goddess). Let us look at two of the more memorable instances: the Forest of Arden in As You Like It, and Birnam Wood in Macbeth.

 

As with every play of the corpus, the ultimate reference of As You Like It is to the life of Shakespeare, with its Death (breakdown of 1587), and Resurrection through the ministry of Sir Francis Bacon and the Gnostic tradition. It is constantly emphasised throughout FF that Bacon’s principal therapeutic tool was the written word, as descriptive of the world that lies unseen below the surface of things (object of study of the modern scientist, artist, depth psychologist). Shakespeare’s pursuit of wisdom with regard to his own condition and the world is raised in FF to a pitch of religious intensity as a Ring/Grail quest, where the Holy Grail is the wisdom based on knowledge of the unseen world as described in the written word. This is the point of the Ring motif that features so prominently in FF: the Ring and Grail traditions being essentially the same (see Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival; Sir Laurence Gardner, Realm of the Ring Lords (Viking, 2000)). In a detailed explication of AYLI, - which has, like every play of the corpus, its own chapter in UDGCB, - I show the Forest of Arden to represent this written word, and that, remarkably, Melancholy Jacques is a portrayal of Shakespeare as reader, when for “two years and more” (final lines of Mr. Arden of Feversham), from c.1587-9, he pursued a program of intense reading, as prescribed by Bacon; while Orlando de Boys, with his predilection for writing sonnets into the barks of trees, depicts Shakespeare as writer, when he first began to put pen to paper c.1589, which momentous event he felt to mark the burial of his old torment, and the beginning of a new life. This melancholy of Jacques is free of any negative Galenesque connotations, and is rather an expression of the new Neoplatonic melancholy, which was felt to be a quality necessarily to be fostered for the achievement of victory over the unseen world (cf. Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I).

 

Ted Hughes believed Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and so on, all to end in the Puritan subject’s subsidence into irredeemable psychic collapse, even psychosis. I show that, on the contrary, there is only one play, Hamlet, in which this is true; all the remainder being allegories of redemption, as references finally to the life of Shakespeare. Thus, Lear represents the subject as Puritan, Edgar that same subject reborn into Gnostic nobility through the ministry of the written word. Similarly, in Macbeth the Puritan ego is represented by King Duncan, the Boar (libido in negative aspect), agent of that ego’s destruction, by Macbeth, while Malcolm is the wisdom of the written word, even the Gnostic ideal himself; and Birnam Wood is, of course, that written word, as vector of the Gnostic tradition. Thus, when ‘Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane’, the Boar principle is extirpated from the psyche (death of Macbeth), and the subject reborn into new life (rise of Malcolm).

 

Not only the forests, woods, groves, and single trees, but also the numerous letters and Pages represent throughout FF the written word; and their each and every instance is documented in UDGCB.

 

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