Doubt has been not only thrown on the identity of Shakespeare,but whether a single person could possibly have written the plays (BBC Radio 3 "Breakfast," last week). This is all part of a massive crisis of identity in the post-imperial English nation, which has led to a blizzard of self-destruction. The clearest proof that one individual wrote the plays is that Shakespeare tends to write in segments of 4 plays. His mind is not only incredibly fertile, but it is characterized by a distinctive symmetry. one
Mark Rylance of the film Anonymous complains that people are only getting "the mindful part" of the Bard. But that is the whole point of the man, and I speak as someone who has directed and worked with two of the greats of modern theater - Stephen Joseph, great pioneer of `theater-in-the-round`, and Hugh Hunt from the Abbey Theater.
So the peak of Shakespeare`s early work are the two historical tetralogies. Later there are the 4 great Tragedies where his heroes and heroines meet their fate in 5-Act worlds. These are interwoven with 4 Problem Plays followed by the 4 Last Plays.
Keats`s much quoted perception of Shakespeare`s biographic parabola can be seen anew in the light of these paradigms: “A Man`s life of any worth is a continual allegory — and very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life — a life like the scriptures figurative — which such people can no more make out than they can the hebrew Bible. Lord Byron cuts a figure — but he is not figurative — Shakespeare led a life of Allegory; his works are the comments on it.”
Working from this analogical method, the following reveals itself:
1. The Egg (the History Tetralogies — 3 Parts of Henry VI, Richard III, and then Richard II, 2 Parts of Henry IV, and Henry V)
2. The Larva (The Problem Plays — Much Ado About Nothing, Troilus and Cressida, All`s Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure)
3. The Pupa (The Tragedies — Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear)
4. The Imago (The Last Plays — Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter`s Tale, The Tempest)
In Shakespeare, the creative process can be seen as a fourfold helix associated with the parallel processes of metamorphic evolution. He is the most thoroughly evolved individual of the species homo sapiens.
That is why for Henry James, the culmination and cessation of Shakespeare`s artistic career in The Tempest is a mystery whose “power to torment us intellectually seems scarcely to be borne: “What manner of human being was it who could so, at a given moment, announce his intention of capping his divine flame with a twopenny extinguisher, and who then, the announcement made, could serenely succeed in carrying it out?....[It] puts into a nutshell the eternal mystery, the most insoluble that ever was, the complete rupture, for our understanding, between the Poet and the Man.”
But Shakespeare clearly sensed he had completed his series of fourfold helices. It was not a conscious thing, but so perfectly natural and spontaneous was Shakespeare`s art that it had reached a perfect conclusion over the vast canvas of his overall development.
Schelling grasped this when he wrote that “Shakespeare never portrays either an ideal or a formal world but always the real world.” But when he goes on to say that the ideal element manifests itself in the construction of his plays,” Schelling has turned the world upside down positing the ideal for the real, since the construction unconsciously conceals an entirely natural and material fourfold significance.
As James implies, Shakespeare the ordinary citizen then wanted release from the exigencies of his art:
“Here at last the artist is, comparatively speaking, so generalized, so consummate and typical, so frankly amused with himself, that is with his art, with his powers, with his theme, that it is as if he came to meet us more than half-way, and as if, thereby, in meeting him, we were nearer to meeting and touching the man.”
This was artistic resignation, or death, the dramatic poet earthed at the last.
Henry James`s hand on his deathbed was still making the motions of writing with a pen. But Shakespeare had already achieved what James and the novelists continue to strive for, “some copious equivalent of thought for every grain of the grossness of reality...the joy of sovereign science.”
George Steiner`s pontification is quite erroneous when he announces that “Shakespeare`s manifold and secular humanity is unreceptive of systematic unification,” which echoes Schelling`s criticism that “he is too diffuse in his universality.” The spontaneity and naturalness of the dramatist seems to annoy the critical theorists. Again Steiner writes irritably, “In most writers, Shakespeare representative among them, the compositional process seems to show no correlations with what we know of the methods of discovery in mathematics. But in some poets (Poe or Valéry, for example), as in musicians, painters or architects, the affinity to mathematical means and ideals is significant. They feel, they construct more geometrico.” The basis of medieval psychology has already broken up by the time of Shakespeare, the structure of the four humours set upon the four elements absorbed, but the whole is transformed and extended in relation to personality almost beyond recognition.
So, for example, Ben Jonson`s plays, despite all their dexterity and wit, plod in comparison, tied to an already surpassed concept of temperament. Shakespeare`s plays embody in their full span a scientific apprehension of the creative mind grounded in an unrivalled understanding of human motive and action. What remains is to link it with the universe.