A Personal View



Michael Buhagiar


The great Australian poet Christopher Brennan (1871-1932) memorably commented that 'poets should read more philosophy, and philosophers more poetry'. The neglect of this axiom continues to blight the practice of creative writing and philosophy, and the modern university departments devoted to them. The reasoning behind it is that poetry, and all art worthy of the name, explores the world that lies hidden below the surface of things: in the macrocosm, the 'skull beneath the skin', finally the quantum world, then the void; in the microcosm, the collective unconscious, which does not just consist of the instincts, but may hold a record of the entire early history of Man, as Jung observed. These are the inalienable and inexorable substrates of the merely visible world, the Dionysian basis to the world perceived by Apollo; and only their engagement by the nous can bring kingly control over the given world, and a priestly sense of the unity of humankind.

Sir Francis Bacon could stand as a model to all modern poets and philosophers, had they only wit enough to appreciate him. His real love of poetry, conceived at an early age, informed his mature philosophy; and his philosophy incredibly enriched his poetry, as evidenced in particular by the high style of the plays of Shakespeare. An important aspect of Bacon that has previously gone unremarked, but which I have demonstrated in my book, is that Bacon was the godfather not only of modern science, but also of modern depth psychology, anticipating Freud and Jung by three centuries. The psychological depth of the plays of Shakespeare has of course long been appreciated; but the strict organisation of it has gone unnoticed. I show, in a detailed examination of every play, that the First Folio is a massive and unified allegory with a dual theme: the criminal inadequacy of Protestant Puritanism as a philosophy of life, as in denial of the Dionysian world, and Bacon's psychotherapeutic healing of Will Shakespeare of a massive nervous breakdown, which caused his flight from Stratford to the metropolis, and of which the Puritan world-view is named as the principle causative agent. Bacon and his circle were obsessed by the mortal threat posed to the Western tradition by Puritanism; and their battle could only be waged as allegory, such was the inevitability of the gathering flood.

The First Folio is a phantasmagoria of archetypes of the collective unconscious. For example, the sword or dagger always represents the phallos, symbol of the unseen world; the act of stabbing, the traumatic eruption of that world into the ego which has denied it. The figure behind the arras (there are four instances) always represents the Freudian principle repression of libido. Thus, Hamlet's stabbing of Polonius, to bring him out from hiding, symbolises the activation of the long-repressed libido, as phallic tumescence supervenes. No doubt any an Eng Lit. academic would laugh at this sort of thing; but it's all utterly familiar and routine for readers of Freud, Jung, R.D. Laing, and so on. There are many Queens of Hell in the plays. Their realm is the unseen world, and they are also Grail Queens, as guardians of the Holy Grail of wisdom, which can only derive from knowledge of their world. Thus, Cordelia's banishment, and silence throughout much of Lear, signifies 'like the silences of Hippolyta, Hero, and others' that the Queen of Hell is not speaking to the Puritan hero; or, more precisely, that she is rather bawling at him to listen, but he has closed his ears to her. Lear, for one, will come to know the malignant Freudian potential of that act. These examples are the merest scraping of the surface of the First Folio as a treasure-trove of symbols.

Christopher Brennan, the subject of my new book, was a symbolist poet, whose principle mentors in this regard were Aeschylus and Stephane Mallarme. He remarked that poets of the past had often practised symbolism, well before the movement formally known as such, the significance of which lay in the symbol's power to draw the contents of the collective unconscious into the ego in a tractable form. The name of Sir Francis Bacon can now be added to the list Brennan gives. It is Aeschylus to whom Bacon was perhaps most closely akin. There can be no doubt at all, I believe, that the high style of the First Folio, and perhaps even the earliest instances of Elizabethan blank verse, were inspired by the magical and majestic quadrisyllabic metre of the great speeches of Aeschylus, and that the vector of transmission of his spirit into English was Sir Francis Bacon. This is entirely consistent with the fascination with Greek metres as models for the new English poetry expressed in Sidney's Old Arcadia, which is graven deep with Bacon's hallmark. Any raised eyebrows out there? The evidence is strong, let me assure you; but it must wait for another time.


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