Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
Journal for the Advancement of the Quaternary Evolution in Shakespeare
This short essay may help those who are reasonably familiar with Ludwig Wittgenstein's (1889-1951) two periods of philosophy to see the connection between his life-long investigation into the logic of language and William Shakespeare's (1564-1616) philosophy articulated in his Sonnets and presented in his plays.
I will be highlighting a critical shift in Wittgenstein's philosophic expectations as he moves from the period of the Tractatus (1) to that of the Philosophical Investigations (2). I aim to show that Shakespeare's comprehensive and consistent philosophy begins at the point where Wittgenstein leaves off. And, to help explain the significance of the transition, mid-way through the essay I will interject the deeply philosophic work of artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968).
Why not atoms and molecules
The common thread throughout Wittgenstein's early and later periods of philosophy is his ambition to articulate systematically the logical multiplicity he believes is the basis for the relationship between the world about and its representation in language (3). He wants to show that the traditional problems of philosophy arise because no one has successfully identified the logical system common to the world and language.
The model Wittgenstein uses on his first attempt in the Tractatus derives from the work of Bertrand Russell and others, who in turn were influenced by the contemporary advances in the understanding of atomic and molecular structure. So the young Wittgenstein believes that because atoms and molecules are the basic building blocks of matter then it should be possible to construct a model of language that demonstrates its dependence on 'atom-like' units or objects within 'molecular' propositions derivable from everyday language.
The Tractatus fails in its task because in some instances things in the world do not readily break down into discrete atomic objects of thought when molecular propositions are fully analysed. The visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum particularly is not readily analysable into component colours since we distinguish colours such as red and orange only by convention. This shows when different cultures name as distinct colours overlapping parts of the spectrum.
The effect on Wittgenstein is devastating. Seduced by the efficacy of atomic physics, he thought because atoms and molecules are the basic building blocks of nature they must underpin the basic units of language. Partly in despair, partly in embarrassment, he gives away systematic philosophy for a number of years as he ponders the irony that even his attempt to formulate the logical relationship between language and the world is foiled by a convention analogous to traditional metaphysical dogmas.
Significantly, it was Wittgenstein's rejection of the claims of traditional metaphysics that led to the Tractatus. However, when he shifts his attention from macrocosmic entities such as creator Gods to microcosmic entities such as atoms, he finds they are no more capable of providing a model with the correct multiplicity to represent the logical relation between language and the world (4).
The grounds for language games
When Wittgenstein returns to philosophy in the 1930s, he begins to characterise the dependence of language on conventions or rules as 'language games'. The implication is that any rule-based belief or knowledge is effectively a language game. Included, then, along with the system of the Tractatus, are the axioms of mathematics such as Peano's definition of equality, the tenets of set theory, the theories of science, and the moral stipulations of the Ten Commandments and particularly the first three commandments that define the idea of the singular Hebrew God. Because we establish conventions or rules by agreement using language, then propositional language is inherently a social phenomenon. Effectively it is impossible to communicate in a private language as all languages are based in public criteria (5).
As Wittgenstein looks to describe the peculiar quality of the rule-bound activities he calls language games, he begins to use such metaphors as a 'bag of tools'. But tellingly, he also compares the interrelationship within and between language games to 'family resemblances' and characterizes them as 'forms of life'.
Wittgenstein is beginning to explain the characteristics of rule-bound language games using metaphors that cognitive scientists such as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson call 'basic level' in contrast to metaphors that are 'super-ordinate' or 'sub-ordinate' (6). Wittgenstein has dismissed the illogic of traditional macro-models and knows through personal experience the inadequacy of micro-models. So it could be said he has no choice but to resort to basic level models from everyday life.
The result is that by the time he prepares the manuscript for Philosophical Investigations he accepts that rule-bound language games are grounded in the undeniable facts of 'nature', 'parents' and 'forebears'. He accepts that such non-conventional facts are basic to the possibility of all language games. As he argues in his last notes (some of which are published in On Certainty (7)), 'nature', 'the earth' and 'parents' are things that 'stand fast'. Just as it is senseless to assert their knowableness, neither are they open to doubt as they form the foundation of all rule-bound languages. While a language game depends on its falsifiability for its usability, facts such as nature and parents are the givens behind all languages.
So Wittgenstein, despite his residual Catholic beliefs and his unwillingness to accept the full implications of Charles Darwin's (1809-1882) arguments for body to mind contiguity, determines that 'certainty' adheres in givens such as nature and parents. While forms of life differ from culture to culture, human life in nature is the groundedness for the possibility of language.
Yet, probably because of his residual Catholic beliefs, Wittgenstein is in no mind to grasp the full significance of his last thoughts. He is unable to convert his insights into a systematic representation of the logical multiplicity he failed to achieve in the Tractatus. Consequently, he never publishes again and describes the organization of his later manuscripts as little more than an album of notes.
From 'parents' and 'nature' to 'female and male' in nature
We now turn from Wittgenstein to Marcel Duchamp, who was his contemporary. If it can be said that Wittgenstein analysed language in greater depth than anyone previously, the same can be said of Duchamp's analysis of art. Yet what stares Wittgenstein in the face late in life, Duchamp nails magisterially early in his career.
In his large work on glass The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even – aka the Large Glass – (1913-1923), Duchamp shows how to avoid the potential tyranny of conventions yet still act purposefully and meaningfully by recognizing the logic of nature and the sexual dynamic as basic. If Wittgenstein is the analytical philosopher who peeks past the conventional rules of language to its bare roots in 'nature' and 'forebears', Duchamp is the consummate artist who refuses to conform to any language conventions and in so doing reveals the correct multiplicity basic to all languages.
What makes Duchamp seminal is that he analyses the language of art for the deepest level of artistic expression in a culture – mythic expression. By laying out the logic of mythic expression in the Large Glass, he effectively articulates the logic for any language (8). Moreover, it is precisely mythic expression that Wittgenstein ignores. This is no doubt largely because he still remains committed to a belief system based on a mythology – in his case the biblical. He is typical of so many liberal believers who remain in some part constrained by a commandment or dogma to the point of atheism that precludes them from examining the very expression providing the logical connection between the world and the human mind – the mythic.
Duchamp's realises, after he analyses the content of traditional myths through their expression in paintings from the Renaissance and beyond, that the primary dynamic in any mythology is the relationship between female and male in nature. Effectively he agrees with Wittgenstein but instead of seeing just 'parents' he sees 'female and male' as the two interrelated entities basic to the logic of language for sexual beings in nature.
In Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even the one 'Bride' occupies the upper part of the work and the nine 'Bachelors' the lower half. It is clear from the notes written contemporaneously with the development of the Large Glass that the Bride controls the action (9). She both excites the Bachelors and regulates their response.
Once we acknowledge that nature and the sexual dynamic are undeniable grounds for social conventions or language games, the partnership of female and male becomes the logical crux. In nature, from the evidence of chromosomal, genetic and hormonal activity, the female is biologically the default entity from which the male is the secondary offshoot. More pertinent is the evidence that every person begins life in the womb with a proto-female brain that requires testosterone to masculinise it.
Duchamp's representation of the female as the default entity who controls the activity of the male replicates the biology of sexual development. Because, in part, Duchamp's brain seems to be a finely attuned gender mix of feminine and masculine, he sees more keenly through the conventions required to sustain the fictive overly masculinised male-God creator.
Moreover, it is the ubiquitous presence of the female/male dynamic in all myths of origin that provides the clue to their basic level role in the logic of language. The answer is not whether an extra-cosmic God exists or if humans are composed of miniscule atom and molecules, but rather that for humankind the sexual dynamic of female and male is irreducible. In practice, it is humankind who establishes the primacy of the male God of the Bible through self-justifying commandments and in science humankind interpolates constants or generalisations to conventionalise the subatomic particles of physics.
But, while biological priorities are crucial for understanding the logic of language, Duchamp's second realisation explains why traditional mythologies can be male-based so long as they also accept their status as myths or as stories of origins that are not literally true. By not allowing his Bride and Bachelors to consummate their courtship, Duchamp observes that in all mythologies the principal protagonists do not reproduce biologically. The idea that art is not sexual but erotic gets its most complete expression in the world's myths where gods and goddesses are born from clay, spittle, blood, virgins, legs, heads, or any other place than the biological birth process.
This leads Duchamp to formulate his most striking insight. Critically, all mythologies are erotic because they encapsulate the most profound mind-based desire of humans as sexual beings – the unconsummatable impulse to account in language for origins and ends. The erotic core of mythological belief acknowledges self-reflexively both its status as a non-literal story and its logical basis in the sexual dynamic in nature.
Even so, the deep irony that Duchamp encapsulates in his art is that even traditional male-based mythologies are logically more exact expressions of the relation between language and the world than Wittgenstein's atomic and molecular Tractatus. Hence, we can see why Wittgenstein was doubly frustrated in his second period when nature and parents were staring him in the face yet he could not see the connection because of the blocking by the male-based conventions of his residual mythological belief. Similarly, Wittgenstein's refusal to acknowledge the un-conventionable biology of the body/mind priority Darwin argues for in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (10) is also a consequence of his blinkers.
Duchamp is notorious for the influence of his ready-mades on twentieth century art. With his various ready-mades he persistently challenges the conventions of good and bad taste to the degree that when later artists adapt to the challenge of some of his ready-mades he sardonically reverts to the previous convention to show just how constrained they are by the need for rules and conventions (11).
Yet Duchamp states a number of times that the ready-mades have their ultimate rationale in the Large Glass (12). Moreover, it is in the Large Glass that he makes his most telling challenge to the sexual inversion of traditional conventions. He recovers the biological priority of the female over the male so rectifying 4000 or so years of male-based usurpation. Yet art history's myopic fascination with the ready-mades prevents an appreciation of Duchamp's most non-conventional move to the extent that he restates unequivocally the natural priority of female over the male in his final work titled Etant donnes (1946-1966) – a tableau he works on in secret for twenty years and reveals only after his death.
A more complete formulation and expression of natural logic
When we turn to Shakespeare's Sonnets (1609) we find that he identifies nature with the whole set of 154 sonnets – there are no other entities that qualify and manifestly not the God of the Bible or in Dante's 100-canto Divine Comedy (1323) (13). Then, as the sonnet literature recognises, the 154-sonnet set divides into two internal sequences. The first sequence of 126 sonnets is to a male and the second sequence of 28 sonnets is to a female.
On closer inspection we recognise the type of numerological structuring evident in the Divine Comedy (where the 100 cantos represent the divine unity: 100 = 1+0+0 = 1) and used regularly in the sonnet sequences of Shakespeare's contemporaries (14). We find that the female (called the 'Mistress': 28 = 2+8 = 10 = 1+0 = 1) is prior to the male (called the 'Master Mistress': 126 = 1+2+6 = 9) and both are secondary to nature (called the 'sovereign mistress': 154 = 1+5+4 = 10 = 1+0 = 1). Simply put the male needs to add the female's 1 to his 9 to gain maturity (9+1 = 10 = 1+0 = 1).
So it seems that 400 years previously, Shakespeare structures his representation of the relationship between the world and language in the manner of Duchamp. Even better, we find he incorporates at the beginning of his set fourteen consecutive sonnets that present a very determined argument for the priority of increase or the sexual dynamic over the dynamic of the human mind, which he characterizes throughout the sonnets as truth and beauty or ideas and sensations. Compared to the sonnets from 15 to 154, devoted to explaining the logic of truth and beauty where Shakespeare's language can be quite erotic, the increase sonnets are very literal.
Shakespeare also acknowledges the priority of the female in the organisation of the Mistress sequence. We find that the first 11 Mistress sonnets from 127 to the beginning of 137 consider only 'beauty' or sensory effects such as 'seeing' and that the sonnets from the end of 137 to 152 consider only 'truth' or the dynamic of language as 'saying'. It is in the Mistress sequence that Shakespeare lays down the logic of beauty and truth or sensations and ideas. Hence, the Poet of the Sonnets learns the dynamic of beauty and truth from the Mistress and then attempts to teach the immature idealising Master Mistress the logic of 'truth' as language and 'beauty' as singular sensations or intuitions induced in the mind through language.
In Volume 1 of William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy, I derive a 'complete template' from the 154 sonnets (15). The template develops naturally component by component out of the logical organisation of the sonnet set. It is both complete in its representation of the basic relationships (and hence the reason why Shakespeare's works are still challenging to modern thinking) and fully capable of accounting for the mythic level of expression – the logical conditions for which Duchamp explores so brilliantly. As the complete template (below) indicates, each of the components above the black arrowheads is fully evident in the Sonnets as published in 1609.
Nature Template (Sonnets)
We can translate the complete template into more familiar terms.
More definitively than Darwin, Wittgenstein or Duchamp after him, Shakespeare bases his philosophy in the undeniable givens of nature and the female/male dynamic. He shows in the unrivaled comprehensiveness and consistency of his poetry and drama that, as long as he observes the natural logic of the givens, his understanding of the dynamic of ideas and sensations requires no further justification. This enables him to explore throughout his oeuvre the multitude of religious, political, social and scientific conventions that constitute a culture without succumbing to a belief in any of them.
Shakespeare's legendarily unconventional approach to poetry and drama with its integrated moral seriousness is a consequence of accepting the natural logic of nature and the female/male dynamic as primary. He then uses conventions at will – as they should be. As Wittgenstein insists, when language games are not in use, like unmeshed cogwheels they have no traction.
What makes Shakespeare's plays seem so enticingly philosophical even to a trained logical mind more familiar with traditional agents and effects, such as the self and causation (16), is that he keeps fluid the whole equation from nature (the LHS or Body dynamic of the template) through to the sensations generated in the mind by mental processes (the RHS or Mind dynamic of the template). He moves well beyond Wittgenstein's interest in surface sensory effects generated in the mind such as the difference between 'seeing' and 'seeing as' represented by the famous duck/rabbit diagram (17). Shakespeare goes to the limit of the mind's imaginary capacity to examine the natural logic of mythopoetic effects deep in the heart of any culture.
By comparison, Darwin focuses principally on the LHS of the template with little more than an inkling of the deeper reaches of human cognition and expression. For his understanding of ethics and aesthetics, he leans on Kant with his reiteration of the Golden Rule (18). But Kant's residual Christianity means he gets the template largely about face. Wittgenstein focuses on the center of the RHS of the template with only formative statements about its connectivity to nature and parents. Duchamp focuses on the RHS of the template as well and particularly on the final set of components but at least he appreciates the correct order of the other components even if he does not include them in the Large Glass.
Even to a cursory view, the larger structures in the set of 154 sonnets are patently and blatantly there. Their presence alone is cause for serious investigation because it seems that 400 years ago Shakespeare articulates the logic of the relation between the world and language sought so futilely by Wittgenstein. The distinctive isomorphism of the two sides of the template ('Body' to 'Mind') suggests that this is indeed the representation of the correct multiplicity so vividly anticipated and then despaired of by Wittgenstein (19).
So, Shakespeare not only encompasses the more recent forays into natural logic by Wittgenstein, Darwin and Duchamp by having his Poet give expression to each of the components in his Sonnets, he demonstrates his command of the complete template in all his plays and long poems. The brilliant irony of his achievement is that the organization of the 154-sonnet set illustrates how the traditional biblical paradigm based on the convention of the male God completely inverts the natural body/mind structure Shakespeare recovers in his Sonnets. We can approximate the inversion by running the components of the complete template somewhat backwards.
The elaborate conceits developed by Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard and many others to apologetically justify the traditional inversions to natural logic have side-tracked philosophy for a few millennia. Hence we can see why attempts to penetrate Shakespeare's plays, using the traditional conventions of first cause, the mind/body problem, the knowable self, etc., fail because apologetic philosophers have generated the conventions to distract from or justify the illogical inversion.
But, the apologists not only divert philosophy into infinitely regressing cul-de-sacs, they also ban or discredit works that argue for natural logic. Hence, we find that the Catholic Church/State places Galileo under house arrest and bans him from publishing his findings about the heliocentric solar system. Similarly, they put Darwin's evolutionary works on a list of proscribed books.
Moreover, more than for any other author, we find that apologists alter and emend Shakespeare's works, or reattribute them to other authors as a way of distracting from their challenging natural logic. Shakespeare moved well past the musings of Montaigne, Bacon, etc., so that by 1609, twenty years after writing poems and plays, he was able to put together the most systematic expression of natural logic ever devised.
The complete template gets a practical workout
When we turn to Shakespeare's poems and plays, we find throughout all his works he deliberately and constructively challenges the injustices perpetrated when conventions contravene and override natural logic. His challenge is deliberate and constructive rather than arbitrary or willful. He grounds his plays and poems in the fundaments of nature and the sexual dynamic of female and male as the logical basis for a just and pervasive ethics and aesthetics.
If Shakespeare's plays famously hold a mirror to nature, then it should not surprise that all but two of them mention nature frequently (20). And those two are early comedies where, even to a cursory reading, nature-based logic guides the action. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Julia dons a male disguise to rectify male-based infatuation and in The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio uses his feminine/masculine maturity to save Katherine from her intemperate reaction to her father's patriarchal strictures.
In striking contrast, the plays vary considerably as to whether they mention the Christian God or instead reference the pantheons of Hebrew, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, or other pre-Christian Gods. Only the ten history plays, which examine the iniquities of Church/State collusion, exclusively mention the Christian God. So, even to a cursory view, Shakespeare's works take nature as a given or constant and subject the multifarious conventions of male-God priority and dominance to a thoroughgoing critique.
When we look to the next level of certainty, we find that all the plays and poems except Timon of Athens explicitly examine the female/male dynamic. (Timon of Athens, with no substantive female parts, does so implicitly by parodying disingenuous Christian charity.) Throughout the plays, the natural default status of the female relative to the male begets and directs Shakespeare's plays and poems.
This is evident in the organisation of the thirty-six plays in the 1623 Folio. All the fourteen comedies grouped at the beginning of the Folio are case studies in conflict resolution. Eleven females – Viola (Twelfth Night), Julia (The Two Gentlemen of Verona) the Princess (Love's Labour's Lost), Portia (The Merchant of Venice), Rosalind (As You Like It), Hermia (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Helena (All's Well that Ends Well), Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing) Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page (The Merry Wives of Windsor), the Abbess (The Comedy of Errors), and Hermione (The Winter's Tale) – challenge male-based prejudices and determine the resolution in their plays.
Significantly, three males with matured feminine/masculine sensibilities – Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, Vincentio in Measure for Measure and Prospero in The Tempest – take charge of the action in their plays. In each of the fourteen comedies, the eleven females or three mature males direct the action and the outcomes to bring immature idealising males or overly masculinised females (such as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew) into alignment with the Sonnet logic.
The three males in charge of their own comedies have learnt, like the Poet of the Sonnets, how to control and apply the logical dynamic between female and male sexuality and their feminine and masculine personae. We watch and learn as Petruchio, Vincentio and Prospero stage-manage their own plays to an outcome consistent with the Sonnet logic.
In stark contrast, in all the ten histories and the twelve tragedies, which follow the comedies in the Folio, males perpetrate the conflict and mayhem. Significantly, the histories examine the fortunes and fates of seven male Kings of England – four Henrys, two Richards, and a John. For their part, the tragedies track the disastrous consequences of blind idealism for the befuddled males eponymous with their plays. As with the histories, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Timon of Athens, Anthony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida and Julius Caesar all name the principal male in the title.
Shakespeare examines the deadly consequences for the dysfunctional males in the twenty-two histories and tragedies. All the males hold an undying faith in a male-based God and/or religiously enforce injustices against natural logic such as male primogeniture and arranged marriages or culturally sanctioned misogyny. Admittedly, Hamlet and Romeo are not so much protagonists in their own hells-on-earth but victims of the male-based prejudices of their kin.
Hamlet particularly, while attempting to exert control over his play (a masterliness Shakespeare's three males in charge of their comedies exemplify) fails under the weight of male intransigence and its susceptibility to superstition. When Hamlet consigns Ophelia to a nunnery, or lets Claudius live simply because he is praying to 'heaven', or scolds his guileless mother, he reveals his residual resort to male-based dominance with its subjugation of the female.
In contrast to the eponymous titles of the histories and tragedies, each of which identifies a specific historic or fictional male culprit or victim, the titles of all the comedies in the Folio are generic. Because each of the comedies enacts Shakespeare's nature-based philosophy and demonstrates its power of analysis and problem solving it is the philosophy that triumphs rather than any particular character.
When we turn from an overview of the plays in the Folio to Shakespeare's longer poems, we can see that Venus and Adonis (1593) is an early essay in the Sonnet philosophy. For a start, Shakespeare inverts the male-based dynamic that dominates its source in Ovid's Metamorphosis. Shakespeare has a mature female bring an idealistic male youth to audit, the same audit the Poet applies to the Master Mistress in sonnet 126. Then, part way into the poem, Venus addresses the issue of increase – as do the first fourteen sonnets – and signals her appreciation of the logic of 'truth' and 'beauty' as she argues against the celibate and overly idealistic predilections of Adonis.
Whereas Shakespeare sets Venus and Adonis in the imagination, he sites The Rape of Lucrece (1594) near historic Rome at the time of the Tarquins. We can note that it is probably no accident that he repeats the relationship between an imaginary place and the Italian mainland twenty years later – after the publication of the Sonnets – in the first play of the Folio. In The Tempest, Prospero creates an imaginary island to teach his compatriots from Milan and Naples a lesson in the Sonnet logic. As Prospero recounts to Miranda early in the play, it is a lesson he learns through study after he rejects her as a female first-born (Tempest 1.1.148-151).
In The Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare examines the consequences of male-based pride and domination on the fate of a woman cloistered by her husband from appreciating the natural logic of the world. When Lucrece is raped by a Tarquin who was incited to his lust by male boasting, she is defenseless and with terrible irony resorts to suicide to save the 'honour' of her braggadocio husband. The poem enacts the consequences for the idealising Master Mistress of the Sonnets if he fails to heed the attempts by the Poet to rectify his male-based drive toward brutalizing dominance of the female/feminine sensibility.
Shakespeare's shortest poem, The Phoenix and the Turtle of 1601, is a crystalline celebration of the ascendancy of natural logic over imaginary reincarnation. In short, the two birds, the phoenix and the turtledove, ignore the logic of 'posterity' and 'truth and beauty' when they futilely immolate themselves. Their ill-conceived undying love turns very deadly.
While this is not the place to examine individual plays in any detail, it is worth considering Love's Labour's Lost, the only other play besides The Tempest that is most likely completely of Shakespeare's own devising. For all the other plays, Shakespeare borrows from historical chronicles or from the classics and contemporary fiction. What is telling is the adjustment he makes to the originals. He both corrects their male-based convention-bound plots and provides thirty-four instances (in the Folio) of his nature-based philosophy in practice.
It is not difficult to see that Love's Labour's Lost, written around 1595, is a direct expression of the Sonnet philosophy. In it four females correct four misguided males who imagine that monastic celibacy can lead to deeper understanding. Berowne, the most alert of the four lords, paraphrases sonnet 14 (with its precise demarcation of increase and truth and beauty), and slowly accepts that Boyet, the male companion of the four ladies of France, has a maturity that exceeds his own. In the juvenile sonnets penned by each of the males, Shakespeare parodies conventional attitudes toward love. By writing four inferior poems, he highlights his own natural maturity as the Poet of the Sonnets.
We find that, besides acknowledging the Sonnet logic based in nature and the female/male dynamic and adhering to the logic of truth and beauty consequent on that dynamic, Shakespeare examines in his plays and poems the religious, political and social commandments, laws and conventions to show when they are appropriate and when their enforcement leads to injustice and/or tragedy. In Measure for Measure, for instance, Vincentio disguises himself as a monk to resolve Vienna's excess of celibacy and whoring and discards the religious guise unceremoniously when the job is done.
Even the organisation of the Folio into 'Comedies', 'Histories' and 'Tragedies' does not respect the traditional use of the categories – as so many commentators over the last 400 years have noted or complained. Instead, it places Shakespeare's plays in the three categories because the first set of fourteen plays groups those that use his natural logic to effect a resolution. Then follow the ten plays that examine the iniquities directly attributable to England's God-based monarchy. Finally, it groups the twelve plays that end in mayhem and death because of the intractability of male-based dominance unmoderated by the natural dynamic of female/male partnership.
In William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy, I analyse five plays and the four longer poems at length to show that they conform to the complete template. As I can show that the pattern holds for all the other plays, then Shakespeare's critique provides comprehensive triage for the perpetually terminal male-based mythologies that usurp female/male partnership.
It seems evident, then, that Shakespeare, even more than Duchamp, articulates the logical conditions for any mythic expression in his Sonnets. He not only understands the logic of the world/language relationship, he exploits it in the preternatural profusion of language we witness in every play and the four longer poems. We experience Shakespeare's decided celebration of it as the basis for global living.
Home free – appreciating how nature rules
How timely, then, is this revelation of a highly structured nature-based philosophy in Shakespeare's Sonnets as the early twenty-first century enjoys/debates the implications of global awareness? At the very least, we now have some answers as to why Shakespeare is proving ever more popular in a genuinely edgy sense in a world on the earthy cusp of its own global village.
If we are right about the interrelatedness between Darwin, Wittgenstein and Duchamp and their connectedness to Shakespeare's comprehensive accommodation of their individual achievements, then we have in Shakespeare's works a profound expression of the natural morality of life uncorrupted by the unilateral or monotheistic enforcement of partisan conventions, commandments, rules and laws.
While many people are in varying degrees responsive to the natural world, only Shakespeare, and to a lesser extent Duchamp, explores with rigour and sensitivity the implications of natural logic at the mythic level of expression. Moreover, only Shakespeare articulates a precise philosophy that lays down the natural conditions for effective morality in his Sonnets and provides over forty case studies in his plays and longer poems of his naturally moral philosophy in practice.
If we ask why Shakespeare's systematic recovery of natural logic has escaped the notice of the sharpest minds over the last 400 years we need turn only to the comments of T. S. Eliot. Eliot writes that he much prefers Dante's hierarchical structure evident in The Divine Comedy to the 'rag-bag' philosophy he discerns in Shakespeare's plays. He rates by far Dante's moral system, bemoans the absence of one in Shakespeare's works and does not understand why others claim to find moral guidance in them (21).
The convention-bound and Christian male-God believing Eliot does not see that the unsound commandments and dogmas he prefers are constructs of limited and dubious validity compared to the comprehensive and consistent natural moral logic Shakespeare presents in his works. Whereas the dogmas of faith constrain Eliot to accept the mortgage of immortality against his life and poetry to compensate for their limited utility, Shakespeare requires no post-mortem pension because he is home free with the soundness, fecundity and generosity of his nature-based poems and plays.
Why then am I heralding males such as Duchamp, Wittgenstein, Mallarme, Darwin and Shakespeare ahead of the challenges to male-based conventions and prejudices by female writers whether ardent feminists or more gender-neutral advocates for female/male rights and natural justice such as Riane Eisler (22).
The most likely answer is that Shakespeare and the other males are taking responsibility for millennia of male-based priority and consequent mind-driven injustices. They see right through the unilateral male-based conventions and practices imposed over the last 4000 or so years to the point where they realise that urgent recovery of the natural female/male partnership constitutes intellectual maturity.
If the male, as an offshoot of the female, is intended to achieve goals that the female alone could not achieve, then it seems appropriate that the mature male should act as a mirror for the logical multiplicity of the female/male sensibilities in balance. On his return to the female, a male such as Shakespeare brings with him a heightened awareness of the female/male dynamic and an exacting and poetic expression of his findings.
As the Poet in Shakespeare's Sonnets and the females in his plays argue, it is together that the female and male most enjoy common sense and natural justice. The recovery of natural logic by the male to gain parity with the female, which the Poet argues for so extensively and equitably in the 126 Master Mistress sonnets, is not an achievement but a natural right.
And there is already in place an example of Shakespearean-type morality in practice. After the internecine bloodshed and torture amongst the Christian sects of Reformation and Puritanical Europe, as they battled to establish the dominance of their conflicting religious laws and conventions, Thomas Jefferson seizes the moment in nascent America. He drafts a Declaration of Independence and sees through a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that gives priority to the laws of nature over the man/God-made commandments and dogmas imposed for millennia in the name of the fiercely competitive and divisive male-based theistic religions and monarchies.
Two hundred years before Jefferson separates Church and State, Shakespeare already articulates the logic of the relationship between nature and man-made conventions. But importantly, Shakespeare also anticipates the emancipation of women and their struggle to recover their natural rights from a patriarchal church and state. He goes further in restoring natural justice by insisting in his Sonnets and plays and longer poems that only by acknowledging the biological priority of women can a just global society expect to reject male dominance and regain the natural interrelationship of female/male partnership (23).
So we can see that Shakespeare obviates the atomism of the early Wittgenstein and brings to fruition the implications of Wittgenstein's later philosophy of ordinary language with its distinction between nature and rules. There are two telling symptoms of the difficulties facing Wittgenstein. For one, he cannot see why others consider Shakespeare great but presumes he is because those like Milton say so (24). Secondly, Wittgenstein thought that ethics along with aesthetics is beyond language and claims that 'ethics and aesthetics are one and the same' (25).
From Shakespeare's perspective, Wittgenstein is toying distractedly with language, with his religious beliefs crippling his ability to recognise a philosophy that resolves his problems. Further, Shakespeare understands that ethics (truth) is the dynamic of language and that aesthetics (beauty) – whether of incoming sensations or mind-based sensations – are singular effects that lack the discrimination of language.
Just as nature and the sexual dynamic of female and male are basic to human nature, ethics and aesthetics are both distinct and intimately interrelated. Because philosophers and others do not fully accept the primacy of the 'Body' dynamic of the complete template, they fail to get it right about the 'Mind' dynamic.
Shakespeare establishes the groundedness for a comprehensive natural philosophy in his works that reveals the logical path from nature to rules for humankind. Yet his philosophy has remained unappreciated for 400 years. There is now an opportunity to study the philosophy given expression by Shakespeare 400 years ago in the Sonnets and in the theatre he and his colleagues call the Globe. Because Shakespeare gets it right at the Globe, there are significant implications for our global sensibility.
Notes and references
1 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961.
2 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1968.
3 See Tractatus, propositions 4.04 to 4.0412.
4 Neo-Darwinians such as Richard Dawkins, who see genes/memes as the basic units of human nature, understanding and morality, have not learnt from Wittgenstein's error.
5 See Philosophical Investigations, paragraphs 243 to 363.
6 George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1987, p .46.
See also: George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1980.
7 Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1974.
8 Octavio Paz, Marcel Duchamp or The Castle of Purity, Trans. Donald Gardner, London, Cape Goliard, 1970, pp. 32-3.
Paz makes the insightful comment that Duchamp's Large Glass provides a criticism of myth and formulates the 'myth of criticism'.
9 Marcel Duchamp, Notes and Projects for the Large Glass, Selected, ordered, and with an introduction by Arturo Schwarz, New York, Abrams, 1969.
Duchamp published his notes during his lifetime to provide the rationale behind the Large Glass and the ready-mades.
10 Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, London, John Murray, 1909.
Darwin not only argues for the evolution of 'mental powers' and 'moral sense', because of the influence of the sexual dynamic on the constitution of the mind he devotes two-thirds of the book to discussing secondary sexual characteristics.
11 An example is the ready-made L.H.O.O.Q from 1919 featuring a print of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa with moustache and goatee added. Duchamp reissued it in 1965 as L.H.O.O.Q., shaved hence sardonically reverting to original.
12 See (i) Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, New York, Abrams, 1969, p. 140 and p. 143.
(ii) Jerry Tallmer, 'A Toothbrush in a Lead Box; Would it be a Masterpiece', Village Voice (N.Y.), vol. IV, no. 24, 8 April 1959.
(iii) Rosalind Constable, 'New York's avant-garde and how it got there', New York Herald Tribune, N.Y., May 17, 1964, pp. 7-10.
13 Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, London, J. M. Dent, 1908.
14 Philip Sidney, Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, Edmund Spenser, and other sonneteers used numerological systems to structure their sets. Unlike Shakespeare's highly philosophic arrangement, theirs support psychological appeals to beloveds or other conceits.
15 Roger Peters, William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy, (4 volumes), Kaponga, Quaternary Imprint, 2005.
Sample pages at: www.quaternaryinstitute.com
16 Colin McGinn, Shakespeare's Philosophy, Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays, New York, Harper Collins, 2006.
McGinn at least recognises that Shakespeare's works are worthy of serious philosophical attention.
17 See Philosophical Investigations, p.194.
18 David Loye, Darwin's Lost Theory of Love, Lincoln, toExcel, 2000.
Loye discusses in detail Darwin's resort to the Golden rule.
19 There are many other features structured into the 154 sonnets that follow logically on from these larger structures. I explore their significance in detail in the four volumes of William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy.
20 Because the organisation of the 36 plays by Shakespeare colleagues in the 1623 Folio has some interesting implications, we will restrict this discussion to those plays. This is not to say the other two plays, Pericles, Prince of Tyre and The Two Noble Kinsman, at least, are not part of the Shakespearean canon.
21 T. S. Eliot, Introduction, G. Wilson Knight, The Wheel of Fire, London, Methuen, 1965.
22 There is an extensive literature by women that relates female psychology, women's social role, feminist ethics and social theory.
23 See the writings and activities of Riane Eisler and David Loye relating to partnership.
(i) Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, San Francisco, Harper Row, 1987.
(ii) Riane Eisler, Sacred Pleasure, Spirituality and the Politics of the Body, San Francisco, Harper, 1996.
(iii) Riane Eisler and David Loye, The Partnership Way, Brandon, VT, Holistic Education Press, 1998.
24 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, ed. G. H. von Wright, trans. Peter Winch, Chicago, University of Chicago, 1980, paragraph 48.
25 See Tractatus, proposition 6.421.
Roger Peters Copyright © 2008
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