Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
The Quaternary Investigation into the Evolution Toward the Uniqueness in Shakespeare
The relationship of Shakespeare's philosophy to the American Declaration of Independence & the American Constitution
Thomas Jefferson’s reference to the ‘Laws of Nature’ and to ‘Nature’s God’
in the first few lines of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and his insistence
on the religious and political freedoms guaranteed by the First
Amendment to the American Constitution (1791) ensured that pluralism
became the founding credo of the United States. Yet, despite the widespread
recognition of Jefferson as the spiritual father of the United States, the philosophic
basis of his framework for tolerance has not advanced much beyond
its original enigmatic expression.
These notes will suggest that the philosophy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets of 1609 not only provides a sound logical base for Jefferson’s pluralism, but that Shakespeare’s application of the philosophy in the social/political dynamic of his 40 plays and longer poems provides an opportunity to enrich the pluralistic dynamic. The notes will concentrate on correspondences between
the Sonnet philosophy and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.As Thomas Jefferson was responsible for the wording of the Declaration, it will discuss his understanding of the relation of Nature and God and his campaign to separate Church and State.
So the logical structure of the Sonnets will be compared with the political
structure heralded in the Declaration and legitimated in the Constitution. Then the mythic logic of the Sonnets will be used to identify elements in the
Declaration that could elevate it from being an abstract framework, with little
other than legislative definition in the American Constitution, to a wellspring
for an inclusive mythic logic based in Nature.
Shakespeare's natural philosophy of 1609
These four volumes demonstrate that in the period in which the New World
was discovered and colonised Shakespeare was formulating a philosophy in
his Sonnets of 1609 that set out to critique and correct the traditional attitude
toward biblical mythology. In particular he restores the logical priority of
Nature over mythology and the priority of the female over the male. And
in each of his plays and longer poems he demonstrates how to generate a
mythic expression consistent with the natural logic articulated in the Sonnets.
Although the four volumes are the first in 400 years of scholarship to
present the Sonnet philosophy, many students of Shakespeare have recognised
that his plays and poems are based primarily in Nature, rather than in biblical
mythology. Ironically, though, while commentators admit that Shakespeare’s
plays show no evidence of an adherence to traditional beliefs, many feel duty
bound to suggest he was at least a closet believer (if only in support of his
status as England’s national poet).
But both Shakespeare in his Sonnet philosophy and Jefferson in the
Declaration and Constitution wanted to move beyond the biblical politics of
a pre-global Euro-centric world. The plurality of the Sonnet philosophy,
which derives the logic of mythic expression from the dynamic of the natural
world, anticipated the advance toward plural global politics heralded in the
Declaration and guaranteed by the Constitution. This is despite the fact that
Jefferson, even though he would have been aware of the general regard for
Nature in the works of Shakespeare, was ignorant of the precisely formulated
philosophy of the Sonnets.
In Jefferson’s day the biblical paradigm was fast collapsing as a credible world-view under the philosophical critique of thinkers such as Spinoza, Locke, and Hume. Added to the logical attack was the theoretical critique
by social/political/scientific thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. Their concern for the consequences of allowing a religion to be
instrumental in the politics of a state inspired a new attitude of secularisation
when the American colonies asserted independence from their European
forbears. The memory of Christian intolerance and even atrocities in Britain,
Europe and the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and
the awareness, by those who wrote the Declaration and Constitution, of a new political order emerging in eighteenth century France created an opportunity
to institute a less irrational society.
The philosophy in the Sonnets
As this is one of a series of short essays to be incorporated in the four
volumes that detail Shakespeare’s philosophy, no more than an outline of
the basic elements of his natural logic will be given. It is sufficient to
remember that the Sonnet philosophy acknowledges the priority of Nature
over the sexual dynamic, and that the sexual dynamic entails the logical
requirement for humans to increase if they wish perpetuate themselves.
Then, once the logic of the increase dynamic within Nature is acknowledged,
it follows that the possibility of increase is prior to the dynamic of
understanding or truth and beauty
The relationships of the major elements of the Sonnet philosophy are represented diagrammatically in the complete template.
The linear arrangement of the elements captures the logical entailment beginning with Nature as the given, through to the sexual dynamic and the dynamic of sensations and language. The word ‘beauty’ on the right represents all sensations in the mind including idealised thoughts such the absolute
as God. In the Sonnet logic, Nature is the possibility that encompasses all
else, while the ideal as God is consequential on the development of the
human mind in Nature.
The Sonnets are unique in the way they reflexively lay out the natural logic of life. As well as articulating natural logic they simultaneously acknowledge their dependence as an expression on the priority of the body
over the mind. Shakespeare’s plays and longer poems have an unmatched
veracity and felicity because they are based in a philosophy that recognises
the sexual dynamic of human increase out of Nature is prior to the erotic
dynamic of the desires of the mind. Writing that expresses the logic of the
priority of Nature and the sexual dynamic over the inherent eroticism of
human understanding is potentially mythic.
The inverted logic of the Bible
Genesis, as a book begun around the time of the transition from oral to
scribal culture, seems, in the eroticism of the relations between God and
mankind, to acknowledge the logical limitations of the written word. Genesis
recognises the erotic logic of the act of writing in that writing is logically
distinct from the biology of the sexual act. While the complete inversion of
the natural order in the mythology of Genesis suggests it was originally written
to acknowledge the priority of life over art or the sexual over the erotic, at
some point in the history of the Hebrew culture the erotic mythology of
Genesis was given priority over the sexual relationships in Nature.
The reduction of the anti-Nature male-based dynamic in Genesis to a
religious dogma, enforced as fact by Hebrew and Christian culture, inverts
for social, political and personal expediency, the natural priorities of life and
art. Because the myth of Genesis is so erotic in its complete inversion of
sexual logic, the doctrinaire belief in Genesis as fact has meant the religions
based on the priority of the male God have become bastions of their own
When the order of events dictated by religious prerogatives is substituted
in the template for natural logic, the result is riddled with inconsistencies
and contradictions (as noted by the philosophers of the Enlightenment).
Whereas in the template for natural logic the priorities follow consistently
from left to right, it is not possible to represent the biblical priorities consistently.
The God template can only attempt to indicate the consequences of
inverting natural logic because the dogmas of faith can be represented only
crudely. Some of the familiar inconsistencies are the priority given to the
erotic God of the mind over Nature, the unnatural priority of male over
female, the confounding of false and true so that evil supplants good, and the
life-defying connection of procreation or birth with the finality of death.
The book of Genesis expresses the mythological awareness of the
Hebrew peoples, and provides the mythological basis for the other books
of the Hebrew Bible. It is not until the New Testament that the erotic logic
of myth is again asserted. The Christian Bible both acknowledges the
mythological dynamic of Genesis but, as the founding myth for a new
religion, expresses the eroticism of Genesis in terms of Jesus Christ. The
eroticism of such doctrines as the Immaculate Conception, the virgin birth,
Christ’s death and resurrection without offspring, and the promise of a nonsexual
heaven, are key indicators that a new religious myth has been
invented. And as with the myth of Genesis, believers in the New Testament
accepted the erotic logic of the myth as fact, so perpetuating the inversion
of the sexual and the erotic in their minds.
Biblical myths, old and new, commit the logical sin of accepting as fact
their own erotic desires. The lack of irony or any form of humour in the
Bible, compared with the pervasive irony and humour in Shakespeare, is a
sure indication of the intent to deceive. Shakespeare demonstrates in all his
plays that the illusions created through language are useful fictions that need
the irony of awareness to ensure they remain useful fictions.
Shakespeare shows in his 154 sonnets, 38 plays and 4 longer poems, how
to create a multiplicity of expressive possibilities with the correct logical
consistency at the mythic level from the basic elements of natural logic.
Because his philosophy is consistent and coherent, his critique in the Sonnets
of over-idealised expectations and his critique in the plays of the tyranny of
the ideal provide the appropriate methodologies for operating in a society
with pluralistic expectations.
The Declaration of Independence
When the relevant statements of the Declaration of Independence and the
American Constitution are compared with the logic of the Sonnets, there is
a correspondence that might be expected if the Declaration was a rejection
of the social/political dynamic of the old world. Thomas Jefferson in
particular was determined to institute a society in which religious dogma
could not play a part in the politics of the State. For Jefferson, the idea of
a religion having a role in government was a violation of the intent
of ‘Nature’s God’. As a deist he believed that God the creator was
immanent in Nature so all one had to do was to act in conformity with
the Laws of Nature.
In the first few lines of the Declaration, the rejection of the theistic belief in
a God who actively intervenes in the world in favour of a deistic God who
creates the natural world and whose intent is evident in natural law is given
precise expression. Jefferson reflects the shift in sensibility by mentioning the
word ‘Nature’ twice before he mentions ‘God’. To emphasise his belief that
the creator’s work is evident in Nature, the phrase ‘Laws of Nature’ precedes
‘Nature’s God’ (just as the word ‘Nature’ precedes ‘God’). For deists it is not
possible to know God or the creator of the world otherwise.
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people
to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,
and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal
station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a
decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should
declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these
truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. (1)
Deists like Jefferson believed that once God created the world he did
not intervene in its progress and destiny. All ‘men’ were created equal and
endowed with ‘unalienable Rights’. Even though, like most of his contemporaries,
Jefferson understood the world in pre-Darwinian terms (he
believed in the immutability of species, even hoping to find living examples
of old world fossils in the American West or elsewhere) he intuitively grasped
the Darwinian logic that mind-based rights were derived from Nature.
Jefferson (and his colleagues) were determined to reject a society based
on a belief in a theistic God, who could be petitioned for favours and who
made his intentions known through personal revelation. Their experience
was that the theistic basis of Judeo/Christian belief led inevitably to a proliferation
of feuding sects and to the persecution of atheism, its logical
Because the attributes of theism and atheism are psychological attributes
from within the human mind, like gnosticism and agnosticism, they are
perpetually opposed. The pluralistic advantage of Jefferson’s adherence to
deist logic is apparent in the illogic of coining words like adeistic or anature.
The soundness of his philosophic insight into the distinction between the
natural logic of deism and the psychology of theism provides the logical
precondition for a pluralistic society.
The formulators of the Declaration wished to remove themselves from
all they considered iniquitous and injurious in the English unification of
Church, Crown and parliament. Because the sectarian injustice and violence
in the old world was seen as a direct consequence of the Church as an arm
of the State, Jefferson and his colleagues wished to subscribe directly to the
laws of the natural world, which lack the absolute evil of Christian schism
and retribution. So in their desire to emphasise the implications of their
insight into natural logic, the Declaration appealed to ‘Nature’s God’.
So it is not surprising that the First Amendment to the Constitution
reinforces the Declaration’s emphasis on Nature by forbidding Church
involvement in the running of the State. The appeal to the Laws of Nature
has a logical significance for the establishment of the State. The pluralism
inherent in Jefferson’s deism through Nature meant that logically he was
one step away from demoting God the creator to his correct place in
Unbeknown to Jefferson the move had been made by Shakespeare 200
years earlier in the natural logic of the Sonnets. The first few lines of the
Declaration, which prioritise Nature over God in human affairs, point in the
direction of the Sonnet logic. The significance of Nature in the plays and
poems of Shakespeare finds a resonance in a New World that wished to put
behind it the worst effects of unbridled idealism, as they showed themselves
in the Reformation and Puritan excesses in England and Europe.
The intent of the Declaration, though, (as in the works of Shakespeare)
was not to deny the importance of the psychology of belief for individual
citizens. Hence, in keeping with the relationship of Nature and God, the
writers of the Declaration talk of the ‘Creator’ providing for individual human
hopes and aspirations by guaranteeing ‘certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’. And the First
Amendment of the Constitution was enacted in part to protect those who
resorted to the psychology of theistic belief.
The reference to ‘Nature’s God’ is the one mention of God by name in
the Declaration. The only other allusion to a deity in the lives of ‘men’ is at
the conclusion where ‘the Supreme Judge of the World’ is invoked to ensure
the ‘rectitude of our intentions’. Again the Supreme Judge is evident through
Natural Laws and Rights. Significantly, against Jefferson’s vehement
objection, Congress then added the words ‘with a firm reliance on the
protection of divine Providence’ to the Declaration. Jefferson retained his own
version, which he would show in protest.
Jefferson and his colleagues quarantined the iniquities in religious dogma
by subjecting the beliefs based in the God of the Bible to the Laws of Nature.
The plurality of the young American nation was guaranteed by relocating
the male Gods of idealistic theisms within the laws of Mother Nature.
Jefferson had correctly identified the removal of the male Gods of the Bible
to their appropriate place in Nature’s logic as the primary logical requirement
for a nation to exist in harmony and justice. (The wording in the Declaration
recalls Shakespeare’s critique of the idealising Master Mistress in the Sonnets.
The male as Master Mistress, who is second to the female as Mistress, is
governed by Nature as the sovereign mistress.)
The Constitution and the First Amendment
The Declaration’s determination to remove the theistic God from political
power is given direct expression in the Constitution. No mention is made of
the idea of God in the seven Articles of the Constitution or the ten
Amendments of the Bill of Rights. Instead, in the First Amendment in the
Bill of Rights, the logical divide between the State and the Church is stipulated.
The express intention is to forbid any one religion from becoming
the religion of the nation. As with the Declaration, though, the right for any
individual to exercise their psychological right to believe what they will is
defended, on condition that their religion is second to the logic of the State
based in Nature.
A comment is added in the World Book from which the above text was
Freedom of religion, speech, and the press;
rights of assembly and petition
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the
freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably
to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.
Many countries have made one religion the established (official) church
and supported it with government funds. This amendment forbids
Congress to set up or in any way provide for an established
church. It has been interpreted to forbid government endorsement
of, or aid to, religious doctrines. Congress may not pass any laws
limiting worship, speech, or the press, or preventing people from
meeting peacefully. (1)
The Declaration of Independence and the Articles and Amendments of the
American Constitution create a nation in which no religion can become the
established power of the State but in which all religions have freedom of
expression and assembly. The obvious intention and effect is that if any
religion (all the major religions prioritise the male God over the female) were
to assume control, the consequence would be a return to intolerance and
so to sectarian bloodletting.
Of immediate interest then is the logical status of the structure or framework
provided for by the Constitution, which has successfully contained the
sectarian tendencies of the multitude of religious denominations active in the
United States of America. The issue is a profound one for a country whose
citizens frequently voice their belief in a male God, even when the belief
leads to bizarre expressions of self-interest. It is not uncommon for Americans
to thank their God for small miracles but excuse him the responsibility of
overwhelming disasters, natural or man-made. And, despite the injunction
of the First Amendment, theistic practices, such as prayers in schools and in
Congress, have accrued political sanction in American public life.
What, then, is the logic of the structure of the Constitution that guarantees
a peaceful co-existence in a veritable Babel of beliefs. If the intent of Jefferson
and others was to base their nation in the Laws of Nature, a philosophy is
required to articulate the natural logic of their hopes at the mythic level.
Beyond singular mythologies to Shakespeare’s mythic logic
Other than for the philosophy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, there is no philosophic
system based in Nature with the appropriate logical structure that
fulfils the pluralistic expectations of the Constitution. All other philosophies
in some measure explicitly or tacitly conform to the idealistic programme
of the Judeo/Christian paradigm or, having rejected the illogicality of such
beliefs, espouse if not scepticism then at least pragmatism.
The Constitution as it stands is a very pragmatic document that outlines
the role of Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary. Other than for the
Declaration of Independence, and the First Amendment, it creates a bare
framework under which the various belief systems and moral attitudes of
the nation are then constrained to co-exist.
Somewhat ironically, the Declaration and Constitution are enshrined in
Philadelphia and Washington, effectively superseding the biblical Commandments
or the dogmas of the Churches. And Jefferson is regarded as the
political, poetic and spiritual father of the nation. Americans look to the
founding documents as if they were more than abstract principles even
though they might wish their own religious beliefs had priority.
If the acknowledgement of the logical relation of Nature and God was
integral to the establishment of the nation, then the current level of religious
belief across the nation seems retrograde. But because the Declaration and
the Constitution do not elaborate on the pan-mythic intent to establish a
nation under the ‘Laws of Nature’, is not surprising that the populace seeks
psychological consolation in the old mythologies.
The continued belief by many Americans in the illogicality of biblical
transcendence has coincided with the absence of an expressive elaboration
of a logico/mythic basis for the Constitution. And the absence of a philosophic
paradigm capable of doing justice to the intent of the founding
documents and providing for the mythic needs of citizens has created a
vacuum in which constant public avowal in the old beliefs is required.
Compared with the retrograde persistence of biblical dogma within the
American culture, the interest in Shakespeare’s plays is growing exponentially.
Whereas once only a select few plays were acted irregularly, there is
now a virtual competition to stage or film every play, even those plays once
considered traditionally obscure or offensive to the old beliefs.
The growing recognition that the works of Shakespeare have a mythic
resonance for the modern spirit, suggests his works contain an understanding
that might develop the abstract guarantees of the Constitution into a
consistent expression of mythic logic. When it is realised that Shakespeare’s
Sonnets articulate the philosophy behind all his plays and longer poems, and
that the philosophy articulates the logical conditions for any mythic possibility,
the significance of the philosophy for the contemporary pluralistic
American society should be evident.
The mythic depth of Shakespeare’s plays has been acknowledged by a
number of commentators. The plays have frequently been compared with
the Bible for their profundity of insight into the psychology of the human
condition. Many commentators prefer the works of Shakespeare because
they lack the self-serving dogma of the male-based Bible. They are aware
that Shakespeare’s works, with their true to life characterisations, faithfully
represent the dynamic of life and art.
Until the discovery and elaboration of his Sonnet philosophy in these four
volumes, the relationship between the works of Shakespeare and the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution has been restricted to the
allusions made to him or his works by thinkers such as Jefferson, Emerson,
and Thoreau. It is not surprising, though, that the efforts of the thinkers of
the American revolution created a framework that expressed a more
consistent attitude toward humankind’s place in Nature, and simultaneously
enacted Articles and Amendments that forbade any religion, and particularly
the male-God based religions, from any association with the State. Since
the late 1700s, however, there has been no development of their insights
into the logic of life and the illogicality of male-based beliefs.
The tendency in American philosophy to look to Nature for succour,
especially in the natural philosophy of Emerson or Thoreau, has been overly
romantic in its rejection of idealism. Shakespeare’s logic in contrast shows
precisely how to contextualise the romantic and idealist temperaments
within the mythic logic of life. But because commentators have gravitated
to either an idealist or romantic approach to myth, Shakespeare’s articulation
of the logical conditions for all human thought out of Nature has remained
insuperably difficult for them to understand.
A pluralistic society in a pluralistic world
Jefferson gave physical expression to the disestablishment of theism when
he designed the University of Virginia. By insisting the University be funded
by the State, and by putting its library instead of a chapel at the centre of
the campus, he created the world’s first secular university.
And 200 years previously, Shakespeare and his colleagues had staged plays
across the Thames to escape religious intolerance. In all his plays Shakespeare
argues against the injustices that arise when the idealising tendency in
humankind overreaches the logic evident in Nature. Each play begins with
a situation of gross psychological posturing and ends with the restoration
of philosophic balance. To demonstrate the applicability of his logic to a
complete social dynamic his characters range from kings and cardinals to
lovers and beggars, any of who is capable of destructive self-delusion.
Because Shakespeare’s plays and poems express a consistent mythic
philosophy, which specifically addresses the negative consequences for
individuals and societies that exhibit excessive religious idealism, they seem
purpose made for a society in which the intentions of the founding
documents are so often subsumed in an excessive faith in religious transcendence.
The Sonnet philosophy, and its practical exercise in 40 plays and
poems, provides a natural antidote to the psychological excesses of malebased
faith. As the most profound and extensive set of deliberations on the
logic of myth out of Nature ever written, the plays give detail and colour
to Jefferson’s bare intention to ensure Church and State are separated for
the good of the State.
The present legislative status of the Constitution proscribes religious
hegemony so that the logical inconsistencies behind the mythological beliefs
of the Hebrews, the Christians, the Muslims, and others, are controlled to
ensure their peaceful co-existence within the State. But, because of the
headstrong tendency of theism to place itself above the Constitution, the
advantage of having a comprehensive mythic philosophy that provides an
overview of all mythic possibilities should be obvious.
The works of Shakespeare not only foreshadow the framework of the
Constitution as an abstract of the natural logic of life but, by recovering the
status of Nature as logically female and the priority of the female over the
male, and by generating a consistent understanding of aesthetics and ethics,
they give added legitimacy to the Constitution, and enhance its philosophic
potential as a mythic recourse that can mitigate the psychological differences
in a society that accommodates competing beliefs.
The global world has not yet caught up with the pluralistic philosophy of
Shakespeare. But neither has it appreciated the mythic logic in the art of
Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp, a naturalised American of the twentieth
century, is the only other artist to create work at the mythic level and note
the logical conditions of its operation. Duchamp’s pervasive influence on
American and world cultures is considered elsewhere in this volume.
1 See 'Constitution of the United States', World Book Encyclopedia, Chicago, World Book Inc., pp. 996-1016. Back
Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
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