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    The first edition of the 4 volume set William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy [2005] is still available.



    Introduction


    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005


    The possibility of a philosophy in Shakespeare's poems and plays

    The claim William Shakespeare wrote all his poems and plays with a brilliant philosophy in mind should not surprise. Yet in 400 years of commentary and scholarship no one, not even Samuel Taylor Coleridge, has derived a philosophy from the poems and plays in keeping with their greatness.
          Some commentators suggest Shakespeare had little or no philosophy or, despite evidence to the contrary, they decide his philosophy was Platonic or Christian, albeit in a covert form. Others, who sense the possibility of a profound philosophy, readily admit their inability to derive it from his works.
          Just as odd is the traditional treatment of Shakespeare’s complete works. Until recently only a select number of plays were performed, and frequently they were heavily edited or even rewritten. Coupled with these preemptive practices was the denigration of the 1609 edition of the Sonnets as little more than autobiography. While there is now an interest in expanding the traditional repertoire to include all the plays, the Sonnets are still treated as an autobiographical resource, or at best a set of mismatched poetic conceits.
          The commentaries on the poems and plays in this volume are based on the evidence presented in Volumes 1 and 2 that Shakespeare did articulate the philosophy behind all his plays and poems and that he gave the philosophy definitive expression in Shake-speares Sonnets of 1609. The inability of orthodox commentators to appreciate the philosophy behind Shakespeare’s works over the last 400 years has been a consequence of the application of an inadequate level of philosophical understanding. The traditional Judeo/Christian paradigm, particularly, has been found wanting in the face of Shakespeare’s profound natural logic.
          When the prejudice toward the complete works is redressed, and the Sonnets are recognised as Shakespeare’s definitive statement of intent for all the plays and poems, a sense of perspective and even justice is restored. Instead of dismissing the Sonnets as an unauthorised miscellany harbouring some of the greatest love poems in English literature and lamenting their lack of organisation, their consistent and comprehensive philosophy can be appreciated as the foundation for all his works.
          This means it is now possible, after an interval of 400 years, to articulate a consistent and comprehensive understanding of Shakespeare’s poems and plays. In this volume nine plays and poems are considered individually. Each commentary explores the relation of the underlying logic of each play and poem to the philosophy of the Sonnets.

    The uniqueness of the Sonnet philosophy

    In Volumes 1 and 2, the uniqueness, consistency and comprehensiveness of the philosophy structured into the whole set was revealed. The logical consistency and the mythic depth of the philosophy were explored at length. The body of evidence presented demonstrates that the edition of 1609 could only have been assembled by Shakespeare and then published under his supervision. The organisation and the logical structuring of the whole set is definitive and authorial.
          The Sonnets are unique in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. No other work published while he was alive shows such attention to structural detail. As they were published under his direct control, and because the 1609 edition is still available in the form in which it was published, Shake-speares Sonnets is the definitive text for understanding his plays and poems.
          Contrary to conventional scholarship, there are only twenty or so typographical mistakes in the complete text of the Sonnets, and the majority of these are elementary spelling errors. When the text is viewed from the basis of its inherent philosophy it has more or less the same number of typesetting errors as a book produced today. The anecdotes about a text rife with error have gained currency because, since Malone in 1780, the Sonnets have been subject to an inadequate level of philosophical expectation based primarily on the Judeo/Christian paradigm. Consequently, an academic industry has developed to emend, reorder, and generally disparage the credibility and authenticity of the original.
          Besides the Sonnets, only the first editions of the two early poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594), were most likely published in accordance with Shakespeare’s intentions. Like the Sonnets, they present relatively clean texts, but they lack the precision and subtlety evident in the Sonnet organisation and numbering.

    The status of the plays

    It was not until seven years after Shakespeare’s death that his colleagues published 36 plays in the 1623 Folio. (Two Noble Kinsmen was published separately in 1633, and Pericles was published in the 1663 edition of the Folio.) Of the 36 plays in the Folio, eighteen appeared in print for the first time. Of the others, anywhere from one to five quarto editions were published during Shakespeare’s lifetime. The quarto texts all vary in some way from the Folio texts. Adding to the issue of authenticity are the traditional suppositions that Shakespeare collaborated with other playwrights on five or so plays. The authorial status of the plays, therefore, is not as certain as that of the Sonnets.
          The differences between the quarto and Folio texts of the plays are due to a number of factors. Changes made by the author to stage scripts to improve or adapt them for different circumstances would have created a number of variant scripts. Then, as there was no copyright for published material, a number of quarto editions were most likely pirated from stage scripts or compiled by actors from memory. To counter the inaccuracies of the pirated versions Shakespeare’s company may then have published an authoritative edition of the plays. The state of the quartos is consistent with one or other of these possibilities. Given the publishing conditions of the day, Shakespeare’s lack of interest in publishing all his plays is understandable.
          If the play texts were all that were available to determine Shakespeare’s philosophy, then the possibility of arriving at a definitive account of the philosophy would always be overshadowed by questions about the authenticity of the quarto texts. In 400 years it has not been possible to determine Shakespeare’s philosophy from a study of the plays. Instead, the conclusion generally adhered to is that expressed by T. S. Eliot in his introduction to Wilson Knight’s The Wheel of Fire (1965) to the effect Shakespeare had no philosophy of his own, or at best a ‘ragbag’ philosophy accumulated from his various sources.
          The Sonnets for their part have been trivialised and dissected with gay abandon. Even Ted Hughes, who at least appreciates that Shakespeare bases his logic in the priority of the female, reduces the Sonnets to an expression of arcane mythology and derives a mythological theory based on Venus and Adonis that he is able to apply to only a third of the plays.
          Under these circumstances it is interesting to consider Love’s Labour’s Lost. Besides being a play of Shakespeare’s invention, it was also the first to be published under his name. If, in the 1590s, he did trial the presentation of his philosophy in this play (Coleridge comments on its didactic tone in his Shakespeare Lectures and Notes, 1907), it seems he gave away the possibility of similar experiments when the prospect of creating a dedicated set of sonnets offered a more appropriate medium for a systematic expression of the philosophy. The authenticity and definitiveness of the Sonnet text provides the measure to assess the way in which the various plays and poems explore aspects of the overall philosophy.
          The analysis of the plays presented here will demonstrate that every play is based on the logic of Shakespeare’s philosophy as presented in the Sonnets. Because the Sonnets present the definitive philosophy, the need to establish a definitive text for each play, or revisit the traditional issues of dating and ordering, is eliminated. Because of the difficulty publishing the definitive text of a play in Shakespeare’s day, he would have been aware of the impossibility of depending on the plays as vehicles for his philosophy. So the philosophy of the Sonnets is the ultimate recourse when there are difficulties in interpretation in the plays. In King Lear, for instance, Cordelia’s response to Lear, and Edmund’s first speech, which have been consistently misunderstood, find their true meaning when examined in the light of the Sonnet philosophy.
          Throughout his playwriting career Shakespeare wrote without regard for the conventional modes of drama. The traditional categorisation of his plays as comedies, histories, tragedies or romances provides no guide to the underlying philosophy. The categories are secondary to Shakespeare’s consistent exploration of the Sonnet philosophy over his lifetime. The categories remain secondary to the way any particular play explores various aspects of his thought. Plays like Troilus and Cressida and Pericles challenge the need to categorise, and a history play like Henry VIII, coming as it does late in his career, upsets the tidy trajectory from history to comedy to tragedy to romance. And any particular play in the course of its five acts has elements of the various categories, much to the chagrin of commentators such as Samuel Johnson who are constrained by orthodox prejudices.
          While Shakespeare’s vision matured with age his basic philosophic outlook remained the same. He could mix dramatic modes because his philosophy transcended such categorisation. This is consistent with the philosophy of the Sonnets being a natural philosophy without apology or prejudice. What shifts from play to play is the point of focus within the comprehensive dynamic of the philosophy, and it is the shift of focus that creates the difference in dramatic, or poetic, intensity.
          The plays, as do the Sonnets, make the same fundamental points again and again. Shakespeare was conscious of the repetitious nature of the argument in the Sonnets due to the simplicity of his logic and the need to include sufficient sonnets to give the logic an appropriate numerological structure. Sonnet 76 and others acknowledge the repetitive nature of the basic argument. Poets such as Wordsworth, who have had no idea of the content of the Sonnets, note the ‘tediousness’ in the sequences (see The Sonnets and the Narrative Poems, 1988). All commentators record their inability to appreciate the role of the more philosophic sonnets. They gravitate toward the mainly lyrical sonnets such as 18, 116 and 129.
          By their nature the plays are unsystematic compared with the Sonnets. For instance, Shakespeare uses humour in the plays much more immediately than he does in the sonnets. In the plays he uses passages of high humour as a deliberate strategy to enliven the performance by counterpointing the underlying seriousness. By interspersing comedic passages he creates a dramatic form at once logically exacting and at the same time readily appreciated by an audience wishing to be entertained. Shakespeare’s common-sense Nature based philosophy enabled him to achieve this without patronisation.

    The philosophy in the early work

    Once it is accepted that the Sonnets were specifically structured and numbered to present Shakespeare’s philosophy, and were published by him in 1609 as a definitive statement of his philosophic understanding, then it follows that the philosophy of the Sonnets is the basis for the appreciation of the poems and plays. If, as suggested in Volume 1, Shakespeare had at least the rudiments of his philosophy worked out by the early 1590s, then the development of the philosophy into the systematic expression in the Sonnets of 1609 should be traceable in the plays and poems of the 1590s and early 1600s.
          The most telling example is Love’s Labour’s Lost. As the only early play completely of Shakespeare’s invention, the plot structure anticipates the logical principles later defined in the Sonnets.
          The deliberate creation of a philosophic play in the 1590s, possibly before Shakespeare decided to present the philosophy in a sonnet sequence (a number of sonnet sequences by other poets were published by the mid- 1590s), gives some idea of the development of his thinking at the time. As the experiment was not repeated in later plays, Shakespeare most likely realised the difficulty of articulating the philosophy systematically for a dramatic performance. His decision to create a unique sonnet sequence to present the philosophy explicitly meant the use of the philosophy in the plays could remain implicit. This allowed the dramatic aspects of the plays to be continually developed into tour de force achievements for the stage.
      nbsp;    Also noteworthy is the gradual development of Shakespeare’s philosophic themes in the long poems of the early 1590s and 1601 before they were given their definitive expression in the 1609 Sonnets. Venus and Adonis of 1593, Lucrece of 1594, and The Phoenix and the Turtle of 1601 contain rudiments of the Sonnet philosophy.
          Venus and Adonis is centered on the increase argument in Nature, it mentions both truth and beauty, and subjects celibate Adonis to the audit of the Nature goddess Venus. Lucrece is likewise centered on the natural logic of the increase argument. When chastity and beauty become overvalued objects of masculine pride, the consequence is the tragic inability of the male (or female) to assess the natural logic of truth, or right and wrong. The Phoenix and the Turtle is based on the increase argument in relation to chastity, with the consequent audit by Nature of the two idealistically deluded birds, along with the addition of a direct inter-connection between truth and beauty, and an awareness of the use of numbers in relation to content. Shakespeare takes the early explorations of these basic philosophic themes and give them a precisely structured and numbered presentation in the Sonnets (as discussed in detail in Volume 1).
          So by 1590 Shakespeare had an inbuilt philosophic system against which he was able to critique all other philosophies. He used its logical principles to evaluate and adapt the source material for his plays and poems. Because each poem and play is primarily an expression of his philosophy, he altered the dates and sequences of events in the sources to suit his larger purpose. He used the philosophy with consistency throughout his career to write with unparalleled logic and common sense.
          By contrast, anyone approaching Shakespeare’s works with an inadequate philosophy has great difficulty understanding their inherent meaning. It is only necessary to read the patronising comments of Coleridge, despite his recognition of the possibility of a profound philosophy in the plays and poems, to get a measure of the problem. Coleridge’s religious belief in the ‘inalienable acknowledgement of God’ is inadequate before the comprehensive and consistent philosophy of Shakespeare (see Shakespeare Lectures and Notes, 1907). His comments on the plays inevitably jump from quibbles to hyperbole and back to quibbles because he has no idea of the Sonnet philosophy.

    Significant influences

    The development of the precise logic of the Sonnets out of the experiments in the early plays and poems suggests Shakespeare had the rudiments of his philosophy worked out by 1590. It is possible the process began even earlier. The pivotal experience might have occurred when he fell in love with Anne Hathaway, the mother of his children and his partner for life. The evidence of the Sonnets, with its basis in the priority of the female over the male, its arguments against the excesses of idealism, and its punning reference to Anne Hathaway in sonnet 145, supports the idea that his relationship with her, with its prenuptial pregnancy and her greater maturity in years, was the formative experience for his mature views.
          Shakespeare’s professional life in London was always secondary to his family situation in Stratford. This is evident in his property interests in Stratford and his eventual retirement there. It is significant that Anne is the only female alluded to by name in the Sonnets. As a counterpoint to the mention of ‘Will’ in sonnet 135 and 136 she is invoked in sonnet 145 as ‘hate away’. The experiences of Shakespeare’s younger days most likely crystallised his realisation of the priority of the female over the male, the significance of increase for human persistence, and the limitations of adolescent idealism for the progress to a mature understanding of truth and beauty.
          On the evidence of the Sonnets, Shakespeare’s personal reflections arising from his relationship with Anne Hathaway were a major influence on his deep mythic appreciation of the natural logic of life. A profound sense of Nature, an appreciation of the fundamental logic of increase for human persistence, a deepened sense of the source of love, and an unprejudiced understanding of the logical relationship of ethics and aesthetics, was awakened in the young Shakespeare through his early experiences.
          In Shakespeare’s day the revival of interest in the Classical world and the revelations of science, especially regarding the disposition of the planets, brought about a re-evaluation of man’s place in Nature. For some, the influence of Platonic idealism on Christianity was replaced by a more Aristotelian regard for life. Shakespeare, who does not mention Plato in the plays but does refer to Aristotle twice, located idealism within the processes of life.
          Shakespeare, though, as shown by the appeal of his work across sectarian lines, did not merely establish another point of view. The philosophy articulated in the Sonnets shows the logical relationship between beauty and truth or the senses and language, and bases that relationship in all encompassing Nature and the priority of the female over the male in the sexual process. His is a complete philosophy whose consistent logic accommodates both unity and diversity.
          For Shakespeare, and for anyone brought up in the climate of sectarian prejudice and violence of the sixteenth century, the personal reflections were undoubtedly intensified by the inconsistencies evident in the theory and practice of Christianity out of the Old and New Testaments. What began 1500 years earlier, as an attempt to break the Jewish hegemony on the privileged relation of the Hebrew to the one and true geocentric God, collapsed after the Reformation into an internecine set of contrary expectations tearing at the fabric of English society.
          The Elizabethan England of Shakespeare’s youth may have fostered his non-sectarian understanding. Shakespeare was born after Elizabeth had proscribed and suppressed most sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants. Elizabeth, rightly or wrongly, was the symbol of unity for the England of the first 40 years of Shakespeare’s life. His experience of two idealist systems both claiming absolute right, with the ensuing moral turpitude, and the fostering of the supremacy of celibacy over the natural processes of life by Catholics and the supremacy of the male God over its female counterpart by both Protestants and Catholics, could well have struck the brilliant mind of the young Shakespeare as ludicrous.
          When the poems and plays are analyzed it should not surprise that they all articulate the combination of these influences. The personal experience of the persistence of life across generations, the awareness of a heliocentric model for an understanding of the world, and the effect of domestic politics combine to provide a logical critique of biblical/Christian/Platonic inconsistencies. The positive effect of the critique is evident in the Sonnets. As the greatest love poems in English literature they are not founded on the fantasies of idealism but, to the disbelief of idealists, on the logic of the relation of the human being to Nature. The Sonnets affirm the natural basis of love.
          Throughout his life Shakespeare sought to redress the offence to natural logic represented by the theology and practices of the institutional Church (see sonnet 129). In his day he was partly constrained by the rules of censorship and the powers of the Church. The execution of Giordano Bruno in 1600, and the incarceration of Galileo, his exact contemporary, was symptomatic of the dangers of the period. Shakespeare’s saving grace was a philosophic mind that enabled him to express his deeply felt ideas without taking literally the mythological symbolism of the divided Churches.
          Because Shakespeare’s writings operated at the level of mythic understanding without the traditional mythological trappings, they would not have appeared obviously mythical to an audience used to expecting myths in the guise of the images and symbols of the revealed faiths. Shakespeare probably escaped censorship by making his critique of the Christian Church invisible to the prejudiced eye (the ‘perjured eye’ of sonnet 152).
          So the critique of the above influences in the plays and poems is not just a matter of happenchance. The rigorous and precise logic of the Sonnets articulates the exact relation between Nature, the sexual possibility, and the possibility of understanding or truth and beauty. The inability of 400 years of commentary, interpretation and scholarship to understand the plays and poems is directly attributable to their unwillingness to countenance the possibility of a consistent and comprehensive mythic philosophy in the Sonnets.

    A mythic philosophy

    The mythic depth of the Sonnets has not been understood because the expectation persists that mythical writing should look and sound like the myths of old. This is the mistake made by Ted Hughes in his Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. The philosophy of the Sonnets is not mythological in the religious sense, nor classically mythical in the sense explored by Hughes. Rather it is mythic in its philosophic rigour and precision in identifying the logical conditions for any mythological possibility.
          The characters in the Sonnets are not mythological beings. Nature the sovereign mistress, the Mistress, the Master Mistress, and the Poet, are not cast in a mythical guise. Yet the content of the Sonnets is more purely mythic than any other writing. Because Shakespeare’s philosophy operates at a mythic level of expression, it opens the way for an unprejudiced exploration of the logic of myth.
          As a mythic philosophy it transcends genre and allows the development of characterisation in the plays without prejudice, particularly the prejudices associated with the Judeo/Christian paradigm. The word Bible, for instance, does not occur in the works of Shakespeare except in one mocking instance as ‘pible’. This is a telling slight because humour, except for a particular type of scorn, does not occur in the Bible.
          The Sonnets present the logical conditions for any mythic possibility, including the Hebraic and Christian myths. By basing his mythic understanding in Nature and in the priority of the female over the male, Shakespeare demonstrates the logical distinction between the sexual as biological and the erotic as conceptual dynamic of the mind. As explored in detail in Volume 1, Shakespeare’s realisation that the myths of old are logically erotic because the sexual is prior to the erotic provided him with the basis of a devastating critique of traditional mythological expectations.
          Shakespeare’s consistent erotic logic, based as it is in Nature and the sexual dynamic, imbues every word and phrase of his writings with the mythic level of understanding. He is able to write at a mythic level without confusing the eroticism of his expression with the sexual dynamic out of Nature. This is the fundamental error made by most belief systems based in traditional mythologies. They invert the natural order to give the erotic dynamic undue priority over the sexual. The greatest travesty is the priority given to the male God over the natural priority of the female in Nature. Shakespeare’s works are a logical critique of the psychology of such overweening desire.
          The plays, then, do not require a set of mythological characters to convey their mythic level of expression. Shakespeare’s achievement was to create believable or realistic characters who embody the mythic level of philosophic sensibility. Ironically, the same plays and poems that appeal to many who believe in traditional mythologies, incorporate an implicit critique of the illogicality of believing literally in mythical expression.
          The 400-year ignorance of the Sonnet philosophy is due primarily to the lingering persistence of the Christian/Platonic paradigm in the culture. Volume 1 argued that the Christian/Platonic paradigm is an inadequate tool for the appreciation of Shakespeare’s consistent and comprehensive philosophy. Its inappropriate application to the works of Shakespeare has led commentators to disregard the significance of the Sonnet set and to disparage individual sonnets, and has created intractable problems with the plays and poems.
          The so-called ‘problem’ plays are symptomatic of the malaise. They appear problematic for the same reason the movements of the inner planets seemed retrograde under the Ptolemaic astrological system. The plays as a whole have been viewed from the wrong perspective. Even worse have been the emendation and alteration of the originals where the meaning has not been apparent to the inadequate sensibility. Most of the emendations made by editors have nothing to do with textual problems. Instead there has been an unrelenting determination on the part of most commentators to discredit the deeper meaning of Shakespeare’s works. The reliance on Christian/ Platonic idealism in the interpretation of tragedies such as Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear, has distorted their significance. Their philosophic content has been misinterpreted persistently by commentators who want Shakespeare to be at least a closet religious idealist.
          It is only necessary to consider statements by two commentators, esteemed by the defenders of the old paradigm, to get a sense of the injustice. A. C. Bradley, in Shakespearean Tragedy (1963) acknowledges that there is nothing in the works to support a Christian basis for the plays, yet he still suggests Shakespeare might have held privately to the Christian faith. Similarly, but even more bizarrely, in Themes and Variations, Blair Leishman acknowledges the lack of reference to matters Christian or Platonic in the Sonnets and the other works yet still has the temerity to suggest that if Shakespeare was asked about the omission he would have replied that ‘he just hadn’t noticed’. Such license in interpretation, against the facts, is scandalous yet is typical of the attitude toward the works over the last 400 years.
          By articulating the logical conditions for any mythology, the Sonnets establish the foundation for a consistent understanding of the place of humankind in Nature. They correct the mythological inconsistencies behind the contradictions in traditional apologetics. Shakespeare’s natural philosophy is the logical resolution at the level of mythic expression of the more rudimentary philosophy developed by Aristotle. Only an appreciation of the mythic implications of the natural logic structured into the Sonnets can reveal the intended meaning of the plays and poems.
          As the Sonnets were written purposefully to present the philosophy behind all the poems and plays it follows that the logical elements in the Sonnets are the principal determinants of meaning in the poems and plays. Nature, the sexual dynamic, the increase argument, and the truth and beauty dynamic form the logical architecture within which love, which reaches an unmatched intensity in the poems and plays, has its natural expression.

    Nature

    Shakespeare based his philosophy in Nature, which he characterised logically as female. His regard for Nature is evident throughout the poems and plays, and is apparent from the evidence of the commendatory prefaces and poems written between 1600 and 1640 by those who knew him personally (see appendices in Volume 1).
          The familiar comment that Shakespeare held a ‘mirror up to Nature’ is typical of the general recognition of his sensitivity to the inextricable place of Nature in the lives of humankind. While this recognition has been given freely it has most often been conditional on the expectation that Shakespeare adhered in some way to the ascendancy of the male Christian God over Nature. Commentator after commentator has struggled with this expectation against the lack of evidence for it in the plays. Coleridge’s Notes and Lectures provide one of the more notable instances of the ludicrousness of the expectation. Worse, for Coleridge, is the evidence to the contrary. In keeping with the Aristotelian basis for his natural logic, Shakespeare acknowledges the primacy of Nature in all of his poems and plays. His natural logic allows him to avoid the contradictions of the old faiths.
          The evidence of the Sonnets suggests Shakespeare’s disposition was profoundly philosophic. He had no need for the psychology of religion. For this reason his understanding escapes the prejudices and contradictions of the traditional faiths. Because he appreciated the natural logic of life, with its regard for the primacy of the female in Nature, he had no need for a faith, even a personal one, in the male God of the Bible.
          There is no evidence for such a belief in Shakespeare’s works. He was not unsympathetic, though, to individuals with a psychological need to believe in a male God. In the plays he does not ignore the importance of such an entity in the lives of individuals who are religious. It remains obvious, however, that the male God is represented as an aspect of the psychology of the individual character. The male God is a psychological element within Shakespeare’s philosophic overview based in Nature. The contextualisation of the word God in the plays, frequently in the mouths of characters of a religious disposition, or as a common phrase of exclamation or abuse, identifies the word God as the expression of the ideal within the human mind.
          As Nature is prior to the possibility of a male God, the characteristics of such a God are considered in the sonnet sequence to the youth. The youth sequence spells out the benefits and the limitations of the idealised male as a psychological condition.
          As Nature is the primary entity in Shakespeare’s logical pantheon, all the plays are based in the priority of Nature. The philosophy of the Sonnets is unequivocal about the priority of Nature. The precisely organised and structured philosophic declaration in the Sonnets removes any doubt about Shakespeare’s philosophic sensibility. Nature is the determining state of being, with the whole set of 154 sonnets representing Nature the sovereign mistress. Nature, though, does not have the status of a goddess, as the originary female or the ‘sovereign mistress’ is logical not religious. Her female characteristic is a consequence of her logical status as the determining state of being for humankind.
          The Sonnets articulate the conditions for a consistent logic between Nature as the world about and the dynamic of the human mind. Nature is the prior condition out of which all other possibilities derive. When the plays are examined one by one it will be seen that the logical relation of Nature to human expectations is a constant theme.

    The sexual dynamic

    If the Sonnets and the poems and plays are based in Nature, the next logical element that determines their content is the possibility of the sexual dynamic in Nature. The Sonnets are structured to represent the biological division in Nature between female and the male. The whole set as Nature the sovereign mistress divides into two sequences representing the female and the male.
          Numerologically the 154 sonnets to Nature contain 28 Mistress sonnets and 126 Master Mistress sonnets. The arrangement represents the logical basis for the mythic event at the heart of all cosmologies where the female and male separate within the unity of Nature.
          Every play bases its mythic content on the logical relation of the female and male out of Nature. The Sonnets, as the expression of Shakespeare’s philosophy, establish the logical conditions for the mythic dynamic of the plays. The logical relation of female and male out of Nature generates the basic elements for the mythic drama of the plays.
          The role of each character in the plays is an expression of the logical dynamic of female and male. The fate of each character exemplifies the consistent application of natural logic. Shakespeare explores the complex range of possibilities throughout the plays. The logically archetypical female and male are comic or tragic depending on the degree to which they conform to natural logic. The greater the disparity the greater the tragedy.

    Increase

    The dynamic of increase is the logical consequence of the division of the sexes in Nature. The logic of the sexual dynamic entails that humankind persists through increase.
          The first 14 sonnets of the youth sequence present the increase argument. Logically, if no one increased then there would be no human beings (sonnet 11). Human nature would no longer be differentiated within Nature. The development of the sexual possibility from Nature and its persistence through increase, establishes the logical precondition for human existence.
          The division of the female and male in Nature and the consequent requirement for increase provides the motive force behind the delineation of characters in the plays. Every play explores the consequences of the logical requirement to increase. Some consider the implications of the abrogation of the increase possibility. The persistent themes of posterity, hereditary and genealogy, and the critique of celibacy all derive from the dynamic.
          As the biblical faith, in its literal application of mythological expression to natural logic, denies the significance of the increase possibility it is not surprising that it is the primary target for criticism in Shakespeare’s plays. Most plays begin with the rupture of the logical requirement to increase and examine the consequences. The plays either effect a resolution of the contradictions that gave rise to the rupture, as in the comedies and romances, or examine the consequences of their irrecoverable loss, as in the tragedies.
          All plays are object lessons in the fate (or ‘doom and date’, sonnet 14) awaiting those who ignore the natural logic of their human nature. Even the history plays track through the genealogical patterns of hereditary from the available records of the chronicles. The persistence of a particular line of descent is not a logical issue, but the persistence of at least some lines of descent is essential to natural logic for humankind, even amongst lesser mortals. The frequent concern of commentators that the end of a play seems to give succour to a minor line or a marriage of convenience reveals their blindness to the logic of Shakespeare’s philosophy. Shakespeare never sacrificed the integrity of his logic for the sort of idealised dramatic resolution expected by his apologists.

    Truth and beauty

    Having established the logical relation of Nature to its possibilities of sexual differentiation and sexual increase, the Sonnets then demonstrate the logical dependence of the possibility of sensation and ideas (beauty and truth) in the mind on the sexual in Nature. Because human understanding derives from Nature and because the human possibility is logically dependent on sexual persistence, all processes of the conscious mind are conditioned by the sexual possibility.
          The mind, because it is conditional on the sexual process, cannot perpetuate humankind without recourse to the body. As the logic of the mind is predetermined by the need for sexual increase, it is characterised by desire or the erotic. The erotic is the logical condition for the possibility of understanding. In drawing a logical distinction between the sexual and the erotic Shakespeare establishes the logical distinction between persistence in life and art. Significantly, only the increase argument of the first 14 sonnets contains no deliberate erotic allusions.
          In the Sonnets, the logic of increase generates the erotic dynamic of understanding or truth and beauty. Truth and beauty, or the dynamic of language (saying) and sensations (seeing), derives from the logic inherent in Nature (sonnet 137). Because Shakespeare has a philosophy consistent with the processes of life, the logical relation of truth and beauty in all his works rings true to life. This is evident even to those who believe in a religious faith contrary to natural logic. When such minds approach the works they do so with the expectation that the incredible veracity to life will be consistent with their illogical beliefs. But invariably they reveal their religious prejudices when they find fault with and change passages or words in the poems and plays that are relentlessly consistent with natural logic.
          The fundamental distinction in the logic of human awareness between the sexual and the erotic gives Shakespeare’s poems and plays their acute sense of artifice. Because artifice is logically erotic, the erotic pervades every aspect of his work. This is much to the annoyance or disgust of minds determined to view the world illogically out of Platonic or Christian prejudices. They characterise the erotic in the plays with the euphemistic term ‘bawdy’. While there are passages in the plays that include the bawdy dimension of human experience (as in Pericles, Prince of Tyre), to misrepresent the profound eroticism of other passages as bawdy belittles their logical function.
          The logical relationship of Nature, increase, and truth and beauty is very evident in the two long poems of the early 1590s and The Phoenix and the Turtle of 1601. Because this natural dynamic is at the heart of Shakespeare’s philosophy, it can be said categorically that failure to appreciate the natural logic of truth and beauty out of Nature will result in the failure to understand the plays. As the following commentaries reveal, every play explores the consistent dynamic of truth and beauty evident in the poems and articulated precisely in the Sonnets.
          All the plays take Nature as the prior condition for humankind. All the plays acknowledge the sexual dynamic and the logical requirement to increase. But because the plays are presented in the medium of written and spoken language, or the dynamic of truth and beauty, it is the dynamic of truth and beauty that is explored in all its possibilities throughout the 38 plays. Through his understanding of the logical relation between the three possibilities Shakespeare is able to create plays of a mythic depth of expression without recourse to traditional mythological characters.
          The erotic logic of the plays is an expression of Shakespeare’s awareness of the logical conditions for drama as a mythic expression. In the Sonnets, where Nature and sexual differentiation are represented by the overall structure, and the increase argument occupies only one eleventh of the set, truth and beauty is by far the most significant issue to be addressed at length.
          In the plays countless examples present the Sonnet understanding of the relation of truth and beauty. The ‘endless jar’ between ‘right and wrong’, the relation of the red and white roses, the notion of degree in responsibility, the failure of idealised expectations, the confusions of twinning and cross-dressing, and the unrelenting erotic puns are all manifestations of the logic of truth and beauty. There are also many instances in which the inconsistencies of traditional understanding are parodied in the plays.

    The mythic Poet

    Shake-speares Sonnets were written to articulate the philosophy behind all the plays and poems. The above account considers their logic out of Nature, the sexual dynamic, the increase argument, and the relation of truth and beauty, but as yet the logical role of Shakespeare as poet and dramatist has not been considered.
          Commentators acknowledge the significance of Nature in Shakespeare’s plays, yet the increase argument and the truth and beauty dynamic escape their attention. Just as critically, the role of the Poet in the Sonnets is completely misrepresented. Shakespeare’s plays, particularly, are distinctive for the ubiquitous presence of an author who never lets his reader or audience forget they are looking at effects generated by Shakespeare as author.
          In the Sonnets, Shakespeare delineates the logical characteristics of a Poet capable of writing plays and poems at a mythic level of expression. The author of the plays and poems is given a logical status in the Sonnets as the person who understands the philosophy behind all the other works. The Poet of the Sonnets is author of the plays who is capable of operating at the mythic level. In the Sonnets he articulates the logical conditions for any mythic expression. The Poet gives the logical conditions that enable Shakespeare to write with a consistent philosophy of life.
          From the perspective of Nature, the Poet is logically the last possibility in the line of succession. Whether or not the Poet writes his verse is dependant on the a priori conditions for human persistence, and this is reflected in the attitude Shakespeare has to the worth of his writings. The Sonnets, as poetry, can only provide the most limited form of immortality to the youth. From the perspective of the Poet, though, the ability to articulate a consistent philosophy and give it mythic expression is his greatest contribution to the possibility of human truth and beauty. As a human with the capacity to express truth and beauty, the least the Poet can do is give his poems and plays a consistent expression.
          And this more than anything is Shakespeare’s contribution to the wellbeing of humankind. The fact that no one has yet recognised his accomplishment is a telling comment on the unpreparedness of humankind to act with a maturity befitting a quaternary species with an advanced capacity for language.

    Personae

    The logical structure of the Sonnets presents the correct multiplicity between the world about and the operations of the mind. The entities in the Sonnet philosophy, Nature, Mistress, Master Mistress, and Poet, have their logical equivalents in the mind. The external characterisations or persons give rise to corresponding internal personae. Throughout the Sonnets continual reference is made to the logical interaction of the entities. They are representatives of logical states in the world and they are representatives of logical states of the mind.
          As suggested in Volume 1, the persons and personae of the Sonnets are the logical underpinning for all the characters in the plays. The characters in the plays can be seen or read as both persons on the world stage and as personae in the human mind. Each play can be read as a description of the logical relationships in the world and as the logical relationships in the workings of the mind.
          In particular, the logical distinction between female and male, characterised as the Mistress and the Master Mistress in the Sonnets, is the basis of all the gender interrelationships in the plays. The potential confusion between the feminine and the masculine aspects of the characters, which drives all the plays, is resolved by considering the logical implications of sexual differentiation in Nature.
          The Poet of the Sonnets has a corresponding presence as the ubiquitous author in the plays. The characterisation of the author in the plays forms their dramatic backbone. Each play explores the trajectory the Poet travels between adolescent idealism and a mature mythic expression based in natural logic.
          Nature has a role both as the elemental force that creates the external conditions for the dynamic of the drama and the setting in the mind of human nature. The likelihood of a character resolving the dilemma presented early in the first act of a play depends on their willingness to reconcile external Nature with their internal nature (as explored in sonnets 67 and 68).
          Increase and truth and beauty are also personified in the characterisations of the plays. The difficulty traditional commentary on the plays has with ‘problem’ plays and characterisations is due largely to the ignorance of the logical relationship of increase and truth and beauty in the Sonnet philosophy.

    The logical template

    The complete logical template derived, in Volume 1, from the organisation of the sonnets in Q can be applied to the individual plays and poems to reveal their particular philosophic focus within the complete template. Even though the template encapsulates the implicit philosophy behind all the plays and poems, no play gives full expression to all aspects of the template. Shakespeare articulated his philosophy in the 154 sonnets because it was not possible to do it justice in a long poem or in the theatrical dynamic of a play.

    Complete Template

    Complete Template

    In the terminology of the Sonnets:

    Complete Template (Sonnet numbers)

    Complete template (Sonnet numbers)

          One of the beneficial consequences of using the template as analytic tool is the elucidation of the meaning of passages in the plays and poems that have been disparaged by commentators operating out of the inadequate paradigms of idealistic Platonism and Christianity.
          As the commentaries unfold, the frequency with which the poems and plays mention the terms in the template will become apparent. At the end of each commentary the relationship of the logical dynamic in the poem or play to the complete template will be examined.

    Shakespeare's place in literature

    Two considerations place Shakespeare in relation to his peers. The first is the profound failure of authors such as Wilde, Johnson, Coleridge, Keats, Eliot, Joyce, Pound, and Shelley to recognise the philosophy structured into the Sonnets. In their attempts to understand the basis of Shakespeare’s achievement they exhibit a fatal dependence on the inconsistencies of the traditional Platonic/biblical paradigm. The failure of such great minds to appreciate Shakespeare’s profound articulation of the natural logic of life indicates the inadequacies of the corrupt paradigm.
          The second is the abysmal level of critical and literary expectation authors and commentators alike have had of Shakespeare’s writings. He is treated frequently as an idiot savant who does not deserve serious literary or philosophic consideration. After an initial flurry of academic theorising most commentators dive directly into autobiographical and historical speculation. But the diversion is no more than a substitute for their inability to fathom the nature of his ‘genius’. Jonathan Bate's The Genius of Shakespeare is a typical instance of the genre.
          The common problem is the inability of commentators to see past their prejudices to the commonplace profundity of Shakespeare’s achievement. When they write about Shakespeare they are caught between a high esteem for his work and their unwillingness to admit openly that the error in their assessment is rooted in the inconsistencies of the traditional paradigm.
          Ironically, both the Sonnets and the poems and plays are designed to be helpful to such minds. The Sonnets and plays they so vainly pontificate about contain within them a critique of their difficulties. The logic of the Sonnets and many of the characters in the plays parody in advance the frustration of the critics.
          For obvious reasons then, the commentaries presented here have a logical independence of all previous attempts to understand Shakespeare. The few references to the existing literature illustrate the effect of the crippling prejudice inherent in the traditional Platonic/biblical approach.

    The order of commentary on the poems and plays

    There is no consensus amongst scholars as to which of the early plays was written first, nor the exact year they were written. And neither is it possible to determine definitively the order in which they were written. Some plays can be dated with reasonable accuracy because of records of performance and publication or other contemporary accounts. The rest of the plays are inserted in the gaps according to stylistic or other criteria.
          Because the Sonnet philosophy is the ultimate determinant of the meaning of the poems and plays, the approach adopted in these commentaries is to first consider the poems and plays that were deliberately written to articulate Shakespeare’s current state of philosophic understanding. Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Phoenix and the Turtle and Measure for Measure will provide the benchmark for considering all the other plays.
          By demonstrating the logical coherence between the five poems and plays and the Sonnets, from the period 1593 to 1604, the presence of the Sonnet philosophy in the other plays will be obvious. The greater percent of the problems traditional scholarship has had with Shakespeare’s works will evaporate. The residue of prejudice and frustration commentators harbour toward the works should then be turned on the inadequacies of their orthodox approach.

    The Folio text

    The failure of commentators over 400 years to understand the logic of the Sonnets has led to the reinstitution of the 1609 edition as the default text. Similarly, the failure of the Judeo/Christian paradigm to do justice to the poems and plays has led to a greater respect for the Folio texts despite their discrepancies with some earlier quarto versions of the plays. Some recent performances of the plays have been based on the Folio texts and have been acted using Elizabethan/Jacobean theatrical methods.
          The Original Shakespeare Company is one such group, and one of its principals, Patrick Tucker, has been associated with the publication of a paper-back version of the Folio text to enable as many as possible to read the originals uncorrupted by 400 years of prejudiced commentary and editing practices. While the OSC is no more aware of the Sonnet philosophy than their predecessors, their discomfort with past interference is symptomatic of current trends.
          Because all edited texts make changes to the wording of the Folio and alter the original stage attributions and directions at whim, it is impossible to give act, scene and line numbers that are universally accepted. And because all such versions are corrupt it is unseemly to use any one of them as a standard. While they are useful for incidental word meanings and historical information their ignorance of Shakespeare’s philosophy taints them irredeemably. Even the Alexander Text that returns to the ordering of the plays in the Folio persists with corrupt emendations.
          To encourage the trend back to the Folio, the commentaries in this volume will use the line numbering provided in the Norton Facsimile, Second Edition, 1996. The changes of act and scene will be indicated in parenthesis but the line numbering will be continuous from beginning to end of the play.

    Bibliographical references

    Bibliographic details for most of the occasional references to other authors in this volume can found in the selected bibliography in Volume 1 of William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy.


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    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005


    Introduction    Venus and Adonis    Rape of Lucrece    The Phoenix and the Turtle
        A Lover's Complaint    Love's Labour's Lost    Measure for Measure
    Macbeth    Twelfth Night    Henry VIII


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