The Cosmological Allegory

in

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by

MATHER WALKER 

 

In A Midsummer Night's Dream you have Theseus, the mythological hero who has somehow became transformed into a duke; Hippolyta the Amazon queen who is ready to marry the big lug as soon as four nights "quickly dream away the time"; mismatched lovers; a wood with a summer night and the full moon shining brightly, which is certainly rather magical since we have just been told the day before that, that the time of month is the new moon, and that it will be four days before the "silver bow" of the moon, "new-bent" will appear in the heaven; a fairy King; a fairy Queen who falls in love with a low born lout with the head of a jackass; a handful of fairies; some clownlike "mechanicals"; four lovers who go to sleep one night and when they wake up the next morning it is three days later; and a dream where strange things happen.

What does it all mean? It means Francis Bacon is up to his old tricks again. He has constructed a magical story on the surface, of fairies, and moonlite nights, with the, by now, familiar two faces underneath. One face looks toward the past, and deals with ancient cosmology, while one looks toward the future and demonstrates the operation of his discovery device in inquiring into a related aspect of knowledge. 

THE FACE LOOKING TOWARD THE PAST 

The play opens with a reference to the pending marriage (four days away) of Theseus to Hippolyta. What is the significance of this? Why does the play deal with Theseus and Hippolyta and their marriage? Theseus says to Hippolyta, "I woo'd thee with my sword, and won thy love doing thee injuries;." This gives us a clue,- the offstage action which took place was the war between Theseus and his forces, and Hippolyta and her amazons.

This was followed by the reconciliation, and the pending event which takes place at the end of the play,- the union, or marriage. This gives the theme of Warfare and Love. And, to anyone who is familiar with Bacon's writings, this points to the Ancient Cosmologies from which Bacon took his own ideas about cosmology.

In Bacon Shakespeare and the Rosicrucians W.F.C. Wigston says,

"So that, as we have seen in our quotation from Creuzer, these are the philosophical principles which, as 'Love and Warfare'-(Venus and Mars)-gave birth to Hermione or Harmonia; in short, the law and harmony of the orderly universe."

Bacon outlined his ideas concerning cosmology in his treatise"On Principles and Origins According to the Fables of Cupid and Coelum", and in the fable " Of Coelum: Or The Origin of Things"in his book, The Wisdom of the Ancients. 

There are some special features we have to take into account in this allegory. First of all, the title of A Midsummer Night's Dream tells us that it is a dream. For those who are asleep at the wheel, Puck makes the point again at the end of the play: 

" If we shadows have offended,
Think but this (and all is mended)
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear." 

India is where this idea of the world as a dream originated. The great god Vishnu lies sleeping. As he sleeps he dreams. The whole universe and everything in it is His dream. When he awakes it will all vanish. There are quite a few allusions to India in the play. 

Bacon, however, gives the idea a special twist. It is not only a dream, it is A Midsummer Night's Dream. In Twelfth Night Olivia observes of Malvolio's seeming frenzy, that "it is a very Midsummer madness." In Elizabethan times the idea of midsummer producing madness was a part of the common folklore. In this context which Bacon places this cosmology, he seems to be saying one of two things, or even both. First, that this world is a world of illusion or madness. Second, that in trying to reach so far beyond the measures of their own powers, the ancient cosomologists have produced not a statement of sober science, but instead a Midsummer Night's dream. And it is well to remember that the moon comes into the mix also. The full moon was traditionally believed to convey madness. The words lunacy, lunatic, looney, all come from luna, the name of the moon. We are not told that it is a full moon in the play, but when the lovers are conspiring to run away, Lysander says: 

"To-morrow night, when Phoebe doth behold
Her silver Visage in the wat'ry glass,"

which implies a full moon, and Bottom, the reflection of Apuleius, who consorts with Titania, the reflection of Isis, recalls that the analogous situation in The Golden Ass was by the full moon. The cosmological connection with the moon and Bacon's portrayal comes through the Ptolemaic universe. In this schema the earth is at the center of a number of concentric spheres. The sphere outside of earth is that of the moon, making earth the sublunary sphere, and therefore subject to the madness which the moon bestows. 

Just as Bacon gives his own twist to the idea of the dream in which the players live, he also added a twist to the twist. Not only are the players caught up in a Midsummer Night's Dream. They carry out their actions in this dream by moonlight. Bacon referred to the sun as "direct light" and the moon as "reflected light."

The allusion in the context of the play is to the concepts of Plato. Most of the action in the play takes place in the wood right outside of Athens. This was the location of the Academy of Plato, pointing by allusion to the philosophical concepts of Plato.

According to Plato the world in which we live is not real, but is related to the real world as a shadow is related to that which casts the shadow. The wood where the action with the lovers and the fairies takes place represents the reflected phenomenal world, therefore, all of this action is by moonlight. The court of Theseus, on the other hand, is the real world, and is depicted as at the "new moon", which means the "no moon". 

Plato called the real world the world of the IDEAI or EIDE. "A horse is a horse, of course, of course" but according to Plato, a horse is not the Real Horse. The Real Horse is the Ideal Form of all horses which exists on a higher plane, and all horses in the phenomenal world are only approximations in some degree, shadows of the Ideal Form. When Puck tells us the play is a dream, he also clues us in on the idea that it is a shadow world: 

" If we shadows have offended, Think but this (and all is mended) That you have but slumbered here, While these visions did appear." 

In his famous analogy of the divided line in The Republic, Plato predicated not just two levels, but four levels in the composition of things. Just as there was an upper level which was related to the lower, as the object is to its shadow, so said Plato, both the upper and lower are divided into two parts, each having the same relationship as the upper to the lower. This scheme of things gives four levels, and it is significant that in the play the characters and the actions are comprised of four levels. There is the uppermost level of Theseus and his court; then there is the reflected part of the upper level which is composed of the fours lovers. In the lower level there are the fairies, and the reflected level which is the "mechanicals." 

In the treatise of COELUM, OR BEGINNINGS Explained of the Creation, or Origin of All Things, Bacon says: 

"The meaning of the fable seems to be this: Coelum denotes the concave sapce, or vaulted roof that incloses all matter, and Saturn the matter itself, which cuts off all power of generation from his father; as one and the same quantity of matter remains invariable in nature, without addition or diminution. But the agitations and struggling motions of matter, first produced certain imperfect and ill-joined compositions of things, as it were so many first rudiments, or essays of worlds; till, in process of time, there arose a fabric capable of preserving its form and structure.
Whence the first age was shadowed out by the reign of Saturn; who, on account of the frequent dissolutions, and short durations of things, was said to devour his own children. And the second age was denoted by the reign of Jupiter; who thrust, or drove those frequent and transitory changes into Tartarus-a place expressive of disorder. This place seems to be the middle space, between the lower heavens and the internal parts of the earth, wherein disorder, imperfection, mutation, mortality, destruction, and corruption, are principally found.

While that former system of generation lasted which had place under the reign of Saturn, Venus, according to the story, was not yet born. For so long as in the universal frame of matter discord was stronger than concord and prevailed over it, there could be no change except of the whole together; and in this manner did the generation of things proceed before Saturn was castrated. But as soon as this mode of generation ceased, it was immediately succeeded by that other which proceeds part by part only, the total fabric remaining entire and undisturbed.
Nevertheless Saturn is represented as thrust out and overthrown only, not as cut off and extinguished; because it was the opinion of Democritus that the world might yet relapse into its ancient confusion and intervals of no government
But now, when the world was compact, and held together by its own bulk and energy, yet there was not rest from the beginning; for first, there followed notable commotions in the heavenly regions; which, however, by the power of the Sun predominating in those regions, were so composed that the world survived and kept its state; afterwards in like manner followed convulsions in the lower regions, by inundations, tempests, winds, earthquakes of more universal character than any we now have; and then these likewise were subdued and dispersed, things settled at last into a more durable state of consent and harmonious operation." 

It should be noted here that Bacon is careful to embody the ancient principle of 'as above so below' in his description of the process that takes place in both the upper and lower regions.

In addition, this also conveys Plato idea of the lower world reflecting what takes place in the upper world. The allegory in the play begins at the point where Saturn has been thrust out. It is four days before the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. There is a period of adjustment before the rule of concord can begin. It is important to note that there are two levels of adjustment before the state of consent and harmony can be achieved. There is the adjustment in the upper level which concerns the four lovers, and the adjustment in the lower level which concerns the dissension between Oberon and Titania. We first look at those "notable commotions in the heavenly regions." Helena is in love with Demetrius. Hermia is in love with Lysander. But both Demetrius and Lysander are in love with Hermia. It is necessary for the imbalance to be corrected before things can settle at last into a more lasting harmony, and consent of things.  

In order to understand the allegory we need to know what these characters represent. Hermia is another form of Hermione who was the daughter of Venus and Mars. Hermia is the daughter of Egeus. Egeus apparently comes from a root which means to burn, or fire.

This fits into the allegory, since Bacon said,

"Therefore this kindling or catching Fire, Heraclitus called peace; because it composed nature and made her one; but generation he called war, because it multiplied and made her many."

In, Bacon Shakespeare and the Rosicrucians W.F.C. Wigston say, "Harmonia, or Harmony, Hermione, was the daughter of Mars and Venus. Mars and Venus is another expression for War and Love, or Strife and Friendship. Creuzer writes that Mars and Venus were always to be found placed ogether in the Temples of Antiquity:-

'Mars and Venus begot or brought forth the harmony or order of the universe. These are the well-known principles of Empedocles and Heraclitus out of the Orphic Theology from which they developed and transferred themselves to the latest philosophical schools."

Helen means "light", and Demetrius derives from Demeter which means "earth." Light must be married to earth because it is the sun, or light which is the source of all vegetable and animal life on earth. Lysander means "Liberator." And Lysander must be married to Hermia because this union liberates nature making her one. A passage in Bacon's "Description of The Intellectual Globe" deals with this liberation of matter: 

"...so that as a general rule, the nearer bodies approach to the nature of fire, the more do they lose of variety. And after they have assumed the nature of fire, and that in a rectified and pure state, they throw off every organ, every property, and every dissimilarity; and nature seems as as it were to gather to a point in the vertex of the pyramid, and to have reached the limit of her proper action.
Therefore this kindling or catching fire Heraclitus called peace; because it composed nature and made her one; but generation he called war, because it multiplied and made her many. And that this process (by which things flowed and ebbed, like the tide, from variety to unity, and from unity to variety) might be some way explained, he maintained that fire was condensed and rarefied, yet so that its condensation was a kind of retrograde action or failing of the same. Both of these he considered to take place by fate, and (in the sum of things) at certain periods; so that this revolving world would some time or other be set on fire, and afterwards renewed again, and that this series and succession of conflagration and generation would go on for ever. Only the inflammation and the extinction were according to him (if one studies diligently the scanty account which has come down to us of the man and his opinions) to take place in a different order. For as to the process of inflammation, he no way differed from the common opinions; that the progress of rarefaction and extenuation went from earth to water, from water to air, from air to fire. But the way back was not by the same stages; the order being directly inverted." 

A little later in the drama we are shown "convulsions in the lower regions." We see, in the play, the dissension between Oberon and Titania who represent the forces of nature. This dissension is described by Titania as having the following effect:

"Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea Contagious fogs;
which falling in the land Hath every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents.
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud;
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable.
The human mortals want their winter cheer;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.
And through this distemperature we see
The seasons alter. Hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose;
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter change
Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which,
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;" 

Since Oberon and Titania are King and Queen of the fairies, that is, of the nature spirits, then their dissension implies a dissension in universal nature.

 To reiterate, we begin with this discord present in the higher sphere in the relations of Helena, Demetrius, Lysander, and Hermia; and a little later in the play we are shown it is present in the lower sphere in the relations of Oberon and Titania. What force can bring about concord? In the system of Bacon it can only be love. His concept of love as the formative force in the universe came from Plato, and had a wide following in the renaissance. In his Orchestra or a Poem of Dancing, John Davies used the tale of the gallants wooing Penelope while Ulysses was away and told of the efforts of one Antinous (that fresh and jolly Knight) to persuade her to dance. To her refusal Antonious extolled dancing and said: 

Dancing, bright lady? then, began to be,
When the first seeds whereof the world did spring;
The Fire, Air, Earth, and Water did agree
By Love's persuasion (Nature's mighty King)
To leave their first disorder combating;
and, in a dance, such Measure to observe,
As all the world their motion should perserve.

And in Love's Triumph Through Callipolis, Ben Jonson said: 

So love emergent out of chaos brought
The world to light!
And gently moving on the waters, wrought
All form to sight!
Love's appetite
Did beauty first excite:
And left imprinted in the air
Those signatures of good and fair,
Which since have flowed, flowed forth upon the
sense,
To wonder first, and then to excellence,
By virtue of divine intelligence!  

Oberon commands Puck to place on the eyes of the sleeper some ofthe juice from the flower of love. This has the peculiar quality that they fall in love with the first thing they see upon opening their eyes. This has Bacon's signature written all over it, for in the Treatise on "Cupid" in The Wisdom of the Ancients, Bacon says: 

"Cupid, Love, or appetite of the world seems to have very little foresight, but directs his steps and motions conformably to what he finds next to him, as blind men do when they feel out their way; which renders the divine and overruling Providence and foresight the more surprising; as by a certain steady law, it bring such a beautiful order and regularity of things out of what seems extremely casual, void of design, and, as it were, really blind." 

A significant portion of the allegory in A Midsummer Night's Dream has to do with the transformation of Bottom so that he has the head of an ass, and his Romantic and/or sexual dalliance with Titania. This episode demonstrates that allusion is alive and well in Bacon's fantasy land. The episode manifestly has its roots in the celebrated "Golden Ass" of Apuleius. In order to unfold its meaning it is necessary to examine both the figure of Titania in the play, and the bizarre story of Apuleius. The name Titania means daughter of the titans. The titans, of course, were the elder gods who were the children of heaven and earth, and sprang from chaos. They included Saturn, Rhea, Oceanus, Hyperion, and others. In Ovid's Metamorphoses Titania is another name for Diana, as well as other goddesses of the night, queens of the shadowy world, ruling over its mystic elements and powers. Like Isis, who personified the feminine, generative principle of universal nature, Diana and the others are all nature goddesses.

In "The Golden Ass" of Apuleius, Apuleius is transformed into an ass by a sorceress. In his form of an ass Apuleius undergoes a multitude of adventures until finally he is restored to his human form by the goddess of many names. The account of Apuleius in this aspect is very interesting. He saw the moon arise full and bright, and offered up his prayers to her, as the one who makes all things grow upon the earth, to restore him to his human form. So Bacon uses the symbol of the moon not only to symbolize the lower, reflected world, but also to symbolize the feminine, generative principle of universal nature.

Apuleius then saw the body of the goddess, bright and mounting out of the sea until she stood before him. The goddess said:

"Behold, Lucius, I am come; thy weeping and prayer hath moved me to succour thee. I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of the powers divine, queen of all that are in hell, the principal of them that dwell in heaven, manifested alone and under one form of all the gods and goddesses. At my will the planets of the sky, the wholesome winds of the seas, and the lamentable silences of hell are disposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world, in divers manners, in variable customs, and by many names. For the Phrygians that are the first of a men call me the Mother of the gods of Pessinus, the Athenians, which are sprung from their own soil, Cecropain Minerva; the Cyprians, which are girt about by the sea, Paphian Venus; the Cretans which bear arrows, Dictynnian Diana; the Sicilians, which speak three tongues, infernal Proserpine; the Eleusians their ancient goddess Ceres; some Juno, other Bellona, other Hecate, other Rhamnusia, and principally both sort of the Ethiopians, which dwell in the Orient and are enlightened by the morning rays of the sun, and the Egyptians, which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustom to worship me, do call me by my true name, Queen Isis." 

After this the initiates of the goddess gave him the mystic roses to eat, and after he had eaten them he was restored to his human form. Apparently, through the allegory of the weaver who represents the basic mechanical power of nature and his dalliance with Titania Bacon intends the allegory that the weaver is initiated into the mysteries of Isis, or into the mysteries of the generative principle of all nature in order to have the knowledge necessary to work the weaving that he must effect through all of nature.

 There is a period of adjustment. This adjustment must take place both in the upper and lowers regions. That is, the adjustment takes place among the four mismatched lovers who represent the upper regions; and also between Oberon and Titania, who represent the lower regions. The action first shows both Demetrius and Lysander in love with Helena. But as Love continues to work its effect, everything is sorted out, and Demetrius loves Helena, and Lysander loves Hermia, as the order is intended to be. In addition, there is a reconciliation between Oberon and Titania. And it is significant that following the reconciliation between Oberon and Titania they dance.This expresses the same idea used by John Davies in his

Orchestraor a Poem of Dancing:  

Dancing, bright lady? then, began to be,
When the first seeds whereof the world did spring;
The Fire, Air, Earth, and Water did agree
By Love's persuasion (Nature's mighty King)
To leave their first disorder combating;
and, in a dance, such Measure to observe,
As all the world their motion should perserve. 

And one notes also that at the end of the play, after their presentation of Pyramus and Thisbe that the "mechanicals" dance. The "mechanicals" have an important role in the play. They are made up of Nick Bottom, a weaver; Peter Quince, a carpenter; Francis Flute, a bellows-mender; Tom Snout, a tinker; and Snug, a joiner. These allegorize the mechanical processes in cosmology.

Matter is woven together or joined together. A bellows-mender implies the operation of heat in the process, and a tinker the various adjustments which are necessary in the evolution of matter. The carpenter is one of the time honored allegories for the building of the universal structure of things. 

Another feature of the allegory which requires explanation is the "little changeling boy." In the cosmology Oberon and Titania represent the nature powers. But the ancient idea of a cosmos was that it was like a growing plant, which at some point would begin to bud and produce the cosmoses of the next lower level. The next lower level in this case would be humans. And this is apparently what the "little changeling boy" represents. When the cosmos which is the earth has reached a certain point in its growth, it produces microcosmoses which are replicas in miniature of the great earth.

These microcosmoses are the "changelings", i.e. the humans. The play ends in two parts. There is the May day observation, and the play of Pyramus and Thisbe which is acted out by the "mechanicals." The May day celebration was a fertility festival which celebrated the fertility with which which spring endowed crops, cattle, and women. The allegory in the play is that the cycle of cosmology is complete and the earth is now fertile. 

At the end of the play the "mechanicals" present their play of Pyramus and Thisbe. The play of Pyramus and Thisbe could be a replica in burlesque of Romeo and Juliet. But here it seems to represent a drama which takes place within the microcosmos. In the story of Pyramus and Thisbe in Golding's translation of Ovid (a work which seems to be often reflected in the plays) we are told that: 

Dwelt hard together two yong folke in houses ioyned so nere
That vnder all one roofe well nie both twain conueyed were.

The physical body is often symbolized as a temple or house. And the idea here seems to be of the soul and the personality which only communicate as it were through a "crannied hole or chinke" in the wall which separates the two. It is worthy of note also that in the play presented by the "mechanicals" the moon plays a large part, but in the story in Golding's translation of Ovid there is no mention of the moon. The allegory of Pyramus and Thisne also conveys the idea of death which takes place when the soul and the personality leaves the "house" or physical body.

By making this a burleque performance Bacon, apparently, wanted to show the minor significance that he placed on death. 

THE FACE LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

The particular idea under investigation by Bacon's discovery machine, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, appears to be love. This is appropriate since love is the primary force in Bacon's cosmology. The "form" of love appears to be union as denoted by the marriages at the end of the play.

 

comments can be sent to Mather Walker

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