One of the premises of this book is that we cannot fully understand any one play in isolation from one or more of the others. There is a golden thread running through the whole of Shakespeare that ties in with the same thread of mystical wisdom in the subtext of the Bible. We’ve seen ‘the poisoned chalice’ show up symbolically in Macbeth to be resolved literally in Hamlet. Here, unlikely as it may seem, here’s an exquisite example of another two seemingly unconnected plays chatting away to each other under the surface.
Since biblical times, writers have been using invisible ink: parables, metaphors, fables, symbols, symbols of symbols, secret codes, misdirection, hidden clues: the entire armoury of today’s cryptic crossword setter is as old as the rock of ages. As a species, we, homo sapiens, revel in them. We love nothing more than a mind-boggling mystery or a fiendish puzzle. The cryptic genius of The Master, Shakespeare, is now about to be showcased like never before. Not just for fun, but also that the great secret of the Holy Grail can have the life-transforming impact on you that it so rightly deserves. We’re about to take a look into the mind of God Itself.
Taking a leaf from Polonius’ book, let’s eavesdrop on a conversation between King Lear and The Merchant of Venice.
More ‘heresy’ now — this time from me. Fasten your seat-belts for another shocking paradigm shift: rather than considering there to be thirty-two independent plays (counting the two Henry sagas as two plays rather than seven), consider there is but one play (in the subtext) with thirty-two iterations on the surface. Just be open to it for a moment as we listen to the Master at his most devious!
I believe that NameAlchemy (funny-sounding names) is one of his simplest yet foremost Rosetta Stones for understanding the deep significance of all his other cryptic devices — including the Biblical Motifs.
Hence to Venice, thence to ancient Britain, and to-and-fro between them ’til we drop.
The Merchant of Venice visits King Lear
Venice, the city where the waters dwell amongst us, is the ideal setting for mystical nuance and spiritual axiom. Get into the mind-set. Open your spiritual heart and let your symbol-spotting, paradigm-busting antennae twitch to their hearts’ content.
You can gorge yourself on more forbidden fruits of the play on the website. For now, all we want is to harvest the key to understanding how Shakespeare’s unique, ‘blasphemous’, spiritual psychology is the seed of today’s soul-centred coaching work. We’ll now see how his genius word-smithery and NameAlchemy is the Rosetta Stone transforming archetypes into ‘funny names’; ‘funny names’ into characterisations; and characterisations into sublime, subliminal messages.
The controversial, seemingly anti-Semitic, nature of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice is a brilliant sleight of mind camouflaging the forbidden wisdoms in the sub-text, that, to the orthodoxy, would be shocking, profound blasphemies had they the wit to notice what was right under their noses.
The theme of the play is one huge Biblical Motif of the enigmatic opening text of John’s Gospel.
In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was made flesh – John 1:1
In the beginning, Antonio gives his Word to Shylock. And, notoriously, his Word is made flesh — a pound of flesh!
At the heart of the play we have the irate, affronted Jew, Shylock, bringing the melancholic, haughty, Christian, Antonio, to the court of Venice to be tried and executed for having broken his word. This just has to be a cunning satire of when 1500 years earlier, the irate, affronted Jew, Caiaphas, brought the Christ, Jesus, to the court of Rome to be tried and executed for blasphemy: in his eyes, repeatedly violating the Mosaic Law.
Now, will those 3-circles show up yet again?
Portia’s 3 metal caskets
Yes. Again Shakespeare is using this triune structure: the silent, invisible, forgotten true self, bounded by the two fangs of the mortal coil: good and evil, Abel and Cain. This time it is clearly disguised as ‘plain’ lead, encased by ‘gaudy’ gold and ‘silly’ silver.
To make the gritty main dish of the play more tender, larded into the tougher cuts is an oft-considered frivolous, meaningless, or irrelevant little scene. Of course it is so often in the seeming trivia where the profound is found. Bassanio, Antonio’s dearest friend, for whom he has mortgaged his life to Shylock to raise money for his suit to win the divine Portia’s hand, is subtly tagged as representing ‘the prodigal son’, and is now required to pass a test to prove his readiness to enter into the marriage. If successful, he will receive not only her hand but her abundant dower, and live with her in the blissful estate of Belmont. This wealth she has inherited from her father which art in heaven. If you crank up your viewing point you may also see this little farce as a parable on how to gain the keys to the gates of heaven, and the Ananda of paradise.
Deceptively trivial perhaps, but Bassanio and his two rivals must decide which of three metal chests contains the image of the divine, Portia. If they choose right, they win her hand. If they choose wrong, they are doomed to a life without love. One chest is gold, the other silver, the last is lead.
To be or not to be?
Beneath the farce of the sitcom, suitors of Portia actually have to make the fundamental, existential choice (to be or not to be?) that also runs through all the plays. As we do if we choose a spiritual path, in choosing their chest, they must also choose who they want to be, to decide between someone who lives a life chasing in vain worldly symbols of wealth versus someone who chooses a life of true spiritual abundance. These are not frivolous, passing choices; they have significant lifetime consequences. Even in this comedic pastiche, all the suitors risk banishment and a life of eternal bachelorhood if they fail to choose the right metal. Bassanio, our hero, is to choose last, after the proud Prince of Morocco, and the arrogant Prince of Aragon try their luck.
I am made of that self mettle as my sister – Regan, King Lear, I.i
To see how the two plays talk to each other, let’s time-travel back-and-forth between Venice and ancient Britain. In the opening scene of King Lear, Lear divides his kingdom into three portions (Portia) to be shared between his three daughters: Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. First, they each have to declare how much they love him. Goneril oozes disingenuous flattery beginning with: ‘Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter…’
Regan, her equally sycophantic sister, begins saying: ‘I am made of that self mettle as my sister ’. Self mettle? Strange term. Could there be a parallel between the father and his three daughters in Lear, with the (deceased) father and his three metal chests in The Merchant?
Back to Venice. Which self-metal would you choose to be if your very life depended on it? What test do you need to pass in order to find the health, wealth and happiness of the inner kingdom? Which of these three boxes is most likely to contain the image of the divine, the image of Portia? Here they sit, like three little ‘selves’ tempting you to choose them? Me, me, or me?
Gold-Self: Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.
Silver-Self: Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.
Lead-Self: Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.
Gold-Self? If, like the proud Prince of Morocco, you chose ‘gold’, you’d not find what you expected; alas, poor Prince, you’d find a skull. Attached is a billet-doux warning you that, All that glisters is not gold… gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Silver-Self? If, like the arrogant Prince of Aragon, you chose ‘silver’ you’ll find The portrait of a blinking idiot presenting me a schedule! In reading the paper – held by the dummy of a jester – he is rebuked with, Some there be that shadows kiss, such have but a shadow’s bliss. There be fools alive iwis, silver’d o’er, and so was this.
Lead-Self? Of course, our prodigal son, Bassanio, with a surprisingly rapid flash of enlightenment chooses rightly, saying to the three self-metals: The seeming truth which cunning times put on to trap the wise… thou gaudy gold worthless as the hard food Midas could not eat… I’ll none of thee. Nor of thee silver, stuff of common coin. But thou, meagre lead, which rather threatens than give any promise of gain, thy plainness moves me …here I choose.
May HEAVEN be my prize.
When he risks and hazards all to choose humble lead what does he find within?
What find I here?
Fair Portia’s counterfeit! What demi-god
Hath come so near creation?
Romeo & Juliet?
The eye of the needle test: the way into heaven
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
This scene with Bassanio’s choosing the lead chest, is indeed another hidden Biblical Motif. In his notoriously cryptic way, Jesus once said, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Far from being anti-wealth, this is a cryptic reference to the self-forgiveness and humility needed to gain enlightenment, i.e. choosing humble lead over gaudy gold or silver. The eye of the needle is a double-whammy cryptic reference by Jesus both to the small entry way cut into the huge gate of the city of Jerusalem and also the third-eye chakra, portal to the inner sanctum of spirit within, opened by the vibration of God’s hallowed name. In order to pass through the gate of Jerusalem (kingdom of heaven), the camel has to get down on his knees and take off its burden. It’s a symbol of how anyone burdened with guilt or attachment to symbols or worldly possessions (You have too much respect upon the world, signor Antonio) has to let go of ego, forgive themselves and others, and show humility. Not grovelling, not literally letting go of all worldly wealth, but letting go the attachment (emotional need) to it. To have deep respect for the spirit within all mankind. Our ‘attitude’ and our negative baggage cannot pass through, only the truth of who we really are. Jerusalem, city of peace, although very much an important physical location, is often also used as a biblical metaphor of the Kingdom of God within.
Likewise, Bassanio has to risk everything to gain everything. He has to let go his pride, his fear of poverty, his attachments to empty, false symbols of wealth and power. He has to eschew the glamour of the world and inside himself kneel down, as does the camel, symbolising humility in order to gain the greatest prize, Belmont, heaven, Eden, Ananda or whatever symbol of paradise you please.
Even if we do possess the sacred name of God, do you imagine it will open the inner gate to the City of Peace unless we call it with due respect and humility?
Back to ancient Britain
When Lear divides his kingdom into three portions, consider that on the surface it is his outer kingdom he is splitting up, but in the sub-text it’s the archetypical structure of his inner kingdom Shakespeare is alluding to. Just like Bassanio, Lear has three choices. Unlike Bassanio, he does the opposite. He does not choose wisely, he chooses foolishly. He chooses ‘gold and silver’, symbols of outer riches. He loses everything. He is like the foolish man who does not build his house on the rock, but on the sands, and when the winds and the rain come and beat upon it, it falls.
Before assigning to his three daughters their individual portion he demands they each declare in turn how much love they have for him.
As we saw, Goneril begins with: Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter…
Regan says: I am made of that self metal as my sister.
Cordelia, his favourite, his most-beloved daughter, honestly tells the truth from her heart: I love your Majesty according to my bond, no more nor less.
(Note the interesting usages of ‘word’ and ‘bond’: the key words also in The Merchant! )
Cordelia refuses to flatter him. Lear is outraged. He asks for more. She says there is nothing more. He erupts with petulant anger, yelling: nothing will come of nothing… thy truth, then, be thy dower. Now here comes the ‘banishing of the soul’ motif: in a fit of rage, Lear banishes her, cutting her off from his bloodline and her inheritance. With yet another nod towards Bassanio’s soul-led choice of ‘plain lead’, Lear concludes his tirade with: Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her.
Lear eschews the detached, impersonal, non-emotionally swollen nature of true love, the unconditional love of the soul, and chooses the self-metals that merely symbolise love: flattery and approval. He is immediately betrayed. He banishes his soul, the rock within, and builds his house on the lies of his two ‘false selves’, Goneril and Regan. They turn on him, betray him, and show no mercy in banishing him to the even-handed justice of the tempest. As a consequence, Lear enters a veritable whirlwind of self-destruction.
Anagrams – the clues in invisible ink
On the surface, it’s easy to see the beginnings of a possible pattern linking Lear to Bassanio: three daughters, three choices, three metal chests. But what about under the surface? If we ask the Master why he has made this pattern, what might he say? Is he really representing our fundamental existential choice about whether ‘to be or not to be’ true to our own soul-self? How do the choices of ‘gold’, ‘silver’, and ‘lead’ correspond to the choices of ‘Goneril’, ‘Regan’, and ‘Cordelia’?
Shakespeare was notorious for making up words and phrases that have now become enshrined in the vernacular, so it’s no surprise he flouts all conventions to make his unique ciphers. It is often through subtle use of anagrams, part-anagram-part homonym, look-alike combos, and other befuddling wordplay, Shakespeare codes his hidden messages. Remarkably…
REGAN is an anagram of ANGER
GONERIL is an anagram of RELIGON (looks like RELIGION)
KING LEAR is an anagram of REAL KING
KING LEAR also forms the word GREAL as in SANG REAL (Holy Grail)!
CORDELIA is an anagram of… LEAD, LEAR… but only partly so. What could CORDELIA be an anagram of?
It’s not. It’s even more exquisite.
As we did with Fortinbras, if we listen to the sound of the name (the sound of the hallowed name that opens the ear of man):
CORDELIA sounds like… COR-DE-LIA…COEUR DE LEAR (heart of Lear, heart of real king, soul of man!)
Thus, in one fell swoop, we have not just seen signs of a secret code that may well apply to key names in other plays, but gained more insight into what he is telling us in his sub-text, and how: as well as Biblical Motifs, he also uses puns, anagrams, homonyms, and let’s see what else, to charge his quill with invisible ink.
Here’s the triune pattern again — this time with very little doubt about his intention:
The deeper significance of NameAlchemy
You can explore the sub-texts of the full plays: The Merchant of Venice and King Lear in detail on the website; right now we’re looking for the Master’s breadcrumb trail revealing how we can decode his other significant names. But, briefly, looking into King Lear, for a possible bottom-line meaning: suppose Adam, say, the original soul, was the real king (king lear) of our consciousness? As are we in this world, he was sucked into the delusion that being worshipped ‘as a god’ will bring something of great value. But it doesn’t. Far from it. It banishes love. It banishes paradise. It brings religion and anger: the false promise of glory, and its disappointment and rage. Lear forfeits his eternal jewel, his pearl of great price his Coeur de lear, places his trust in religion and rails in anger at what he gets in return: his religion and his emotion immediately betray him and leave him to die in the wilderness.
Funny names? Trivial farces? I don’t think so. What other priceless gems does the Master have tucked away in his code? Let’s see if he once more seasons his 3-circles cauldron with anagrams, puns, and homonyms in the same way in The Tempest and see what we can learn from it.