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Much Ado About Nothing+ Sun


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An academic paper about the sun, solar energy, heliocentrism and Giordano Bruno inscibed secretly in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing". …

An academic paper about the sun, solar energy, heliocentrism and Giordano Bruno inscibed secretly in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing".

Please help support my research into solar energy themes in Shakespeare's other plays by buying my e-novel "Juliet is the Sun" (about $8 on Amazon). (Thank you very much!)

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  • 1.   “I will die in it at the stake --- Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic” : Giordano Bruno’s fiery execution inscribed secretly in Much Ado About Nothing “If I were to address myself to those who nevertheless seek desperately to attain knowledge and wisdom, I would say that knowledge leads to deceit and artistic talent is the product of much suffering.”---Kenko Yoshida, Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness), no. 38 (1330) Introduction Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing may be compared to each other: both take place in a city and have a kind friar helping an unlucky lady to safely feign death in order to reunite with her lover. But one ends in tragedy and death, the other in a happy wedding for the couple! If we know the secret play about the Sun and Everyman in Romeo and Juliet, (and deduce that Claudio and Hero represent Everyman and the Sun in the comedy) might there be a reason why Shakespeare revised elements of the tragedy and brought the sun and man together again at last? The reason he revised the play was an event which took place in Rome, on the Campo de’ Fiori on February 17, 1600: the execution of Giordano Bruno. It is probable that the title of this play is a direct comment by Shakespeare on his opinion of the justification for the trial and execution of his hero, Giordano Bruno, and one reason that he chose the name “Hero” for the unjustly accused character in the play (“Bruno” and “Hero” also share some phonetic similarities as words). Hero is, like Juliet, a sun figure, by which I mean that imagery of the sun surrounds her and therefore in another way as well 1
  • 2. Hero secretly recalls Bruno’s own mystical heliocentrism. Much Ado About Nothing is very much about Shakespeare’s psychological torment and mental anguish as he watched, from England, the situation for Bruno deteriorate and culminate in Bruno’s burning at the stake. Moreover, Bruno’s execution by fire is directly referenced in a discussion (on another topic of course, cloaking the real agony of the playwright) between Benedick and Don Pedro: Benedick: That I neither feel how she should be lov’d, nor know how she should be worthy, is the opinion that fire cannot melt out of me; I will die in it at the stake. Don Pedro: Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic in the despite of beauty. (I.i.230-5) (my emphasis) With the phrase “obstinate heretic”, I believe that Shakespeare was directly and daringly quoting the Avviso of February 19, 16001, published by the Catholic Church after the execution of Bruno: Thursday morning in Campo dei Fiori that vile Dominican friar from Nola was burnt alive. He was a most obstinate heretic who had capriciously convinced himself of a number of dogmas contrary to our faith…(my emphasis) Probably because Romeo and Juliet was the first play where Shakespeare laid out the vision of a cosmic system, and in this play he took his first major stand to embrace Bruno’s heliocentric ideas (which Shakespeare expressed in coded or allegorical form in the famous line “Juliet is the sun”) and Bruno’s concept of a unified oneness of the universe in this play, he felt that on Bruno’s death, the best strategy to honor Bruno and reaffirm Bruno’s philosophy would be to rewrite or rework the tragic 1 http://www.the’s+Death 2
  • 3. cosmic allegory (a modified morality play) of Romeo and Juliet. This allegory reaffirms the Brunian unity of the cosmic system from a human standpoint because coal is shown to be a disruptive and depleting source of wherewithal when compared with the constant sun. Heliocentrism here is not just a system of equations and mathematical formulas that show the paths of planets, but a Brunian notion of a structural relationship with heat and light as defining qualities that belong to the sun and other stars alone, and not to the planets. In Bruno’s own words: The Earth, in the infinite universe, is not at the centre, except in so far as everything can be said to be at the center.’ In this chapter it is explained that the Earth is not central amongst the planets. That place is reserved for the Sun, for it is natural for the planets to turn towards its heat and light and accept its law. (Bruno, De Immenso III,iii, qtd in Michel, 181) The point of a play written as an epitaph to honor Bruno, would be to change the ending so that the sun figure would not die (or would rather be resurrected), and the Everyman character would then also not die, although he would come close to doing so. The challenge was to create a condition of credible (on some level) dramatic flux where Hero was both dead but not dead, and where Everyman (Claudio) was to come close to death but convincingly swerve away out of danger, rescued by the playwright, at the last minute. Through this strategy, the real death of Bruno could be symbolically, dramatically, radically and publicly, yet in total secrecy, revised in a meaningful and philosophical way. For a philosopher and thinker such as Bruno, the public—though hidden----propounding of his “heretical” ideas would be one ---perhaps the most appropriate and best---way of truly resurrecting and redeeming the most important part of his life (the part of his life he had refused to rescind even as he paid for this noble act with the death of his own body), and Shakespeare must have felt a personal responsibility to Bruno’s legacy to try 3
  • 4. to bend his own artistic genius towards such a stunning goal: to repeal the material reality of Bruno’s death through the power of art. Shakespeare affirmed Bruno’s vision of the cosmos—an infinite system that yet maintained unity, a continuation, materially, of our own earth. There was only one solar body which could continually, unceasingly, give us the sustenance and wherewithal to continue our existence: the sun. Bruno wrote in Lo Spaccio, “sol et homo generant hominem” (“sun and man generates men”) (Spaccio II 246). While the sentiment had also been expressed by Aristotle (Beyersdorff 31), the Brunian cosmos was radically opposed to Aristotle’s geocentric, bounded and finite conception. Thus, we have to see Bruno’s ideas taken together to understand how radically new his vision was. A recent critic has perceptively noted that “taken piecemeal, many of the ideas found in Bruno’s works…were held by other thinkers of the time. Welded together into an organized whole they became not, as Bruno himself underlined, a definite and totally defined ‘system of thought’, but certainly a new ‘philosophy’ centred above all on the autonomous activity of the mind in its continual redefinitions of its own powers and of the nature of the universal whole.” (Gatti 145) Bruno’s philosophy thus stood for “intellectual independence and dynamism” (Gatti 145) because it “recognized no external authority outside that of the mind in its contemplative act” (Gatti 145). And this was exactly the problem, as far as the Church was concerned. Shakespeare could therefore not openly honor Bruno, an executed heretic---by doing so he might put himself or his family into danger, or at least bring scrutiny, bureaucratic oversight, financial difficulties and embarrassments, or unwanted political attention, censorship, and powerful enemies. Besides, in Bruno’s writings, there can be seen the idea of things coming naturally and unhurriedly to fruition and fulfillment, the “arduous working out of a plan of total reform” or “the visualization of a new era” (Gatti 129): when the time was ripe, Bruno’s ideas seemed to promise that they would be given the 4
  • 5. recognition or due that they deserved as they conformed to nature at its deepest level. Shakespeare must have agreed tacitly with this subtle, organic, natural schema that can also be phrased as “a search for a new logic ‘at the meeting point between reasoning about living things and calculatory reasoning, in light of a new unified cosmology’” (Garin, quoted in Gatti 68). To openly demonstrate support for Bruno would therefore be a logical violation of Bruno’s own postulates and principles: the flow of nature, matter and energy changing through time, would merely, (like music played through to the end of a certain piece) be enough to eventually prove Bruno correct (as humans, living things, who, whether they knew it or not or agreed to the prospect or not, were very much a part of Bruno’s cosmology, and reacted and responded to the flow as they embodied it too), if indeed the principles were sound. Shakespeare basically staked his whole opus on the premise that Bruno’s ideas were sound and that time would prove them correct Perhaps at this dramatic moment, also, the influence of Bruno on Shakespeare’s work would become clear. It is especially Dame Frances Yates who recognized this natural, “the-ripeness-is-all” aspect of the BrunoShakespeare connection---that is, it would be recognized when the time was right--- when she acknowledged in 1974 that “the time for writing a book on ‘Shakespeare and the Hermetic Tradition’ had not come, nor has it come…” (Yates MMS 3) (my emphasis) In fact, and sadly, only two critics of the modern era have until now recognized the immense importance of Bruno for Shakespeare, (although many more have recognized influences and allusions). Dame Frances Yates called for a new approach to the “deep” (Yates GBHT 391) problem of Bruno and Shakespeare all the way back in 1964. And it is perhaps only Hilary Gatti who in the 1980s (knowingly or not) followed Dame Yates’ advice to seek out the Bruno-Shakespeare connection in “significant language” (Yates GBHT 391) of the latter, not just mere allusions and phrases that are surface level, but longer exchanges and more subtle plot structures, character development in Polonius and Hamlet, and 5
  • 6. importantly, the device of sustained allegory. Her 1989 study is narrowly confined to the most overtly Brunian (in my opinion) play of all of Shakespeare’s (and not by coincidence also his most psychologically autobiographical), Hamlet. Yet, despite the book’s dominant focus on Hamlet, Gatti heroically stretches to assert a major, rather exciting, and general, truth about all of Shakespeare’s works : we do not know how or why it was that one of the world’s greatest artists faded out of history on a personal level, leaving an opus in which reality appears through so many shifting planes of human and linguistic experience as to baffle us with respect to the identity of its author, who, inexplicably, left to others the task of preparing his collected works for the attention of posterity. It is difficult not to conclude that behind such an opus its author carried out a deliberate erasure of his personality and personal faiths, and with good reason. For had his dramas been fully understood by his public, it is unlikely that he would have been able to pass those yes of prosperous retirement at Stratford where he would be enshrined, shortly after his death, in a statue that shows him as a wealthy, self-satisfied bourgeois citizen. (Gatti 116) (my emphasis) It is fascinating, in idle moments, to speculate with those who wonder “who Shakespeare really was” or to consider whether he had secretly traveled around as a spy in Italy at some point, as I read somewhere, or perhaps to contemplate the esoteric secret religious groups he might have belonged to, as I read somewhere else. But, crucially, Gatti’s sober statement above does not belong to this kind of notorious and feverish “cloak-and-dagger Shakespeare” speculation, which after all might be true or not. 6
  • 7. Gatti, like Yates before her, genuinely and, above all, correctly sensed the Brunian soul of Shakespeare’s work. Her point therefore needs to be underscored: the artist, through his work, placed an unlimited yet secret value on the contribution of Bruno to his age and to the ages to come. There is possibly no artistic precedent for this type of extreme secrecy to be maintained through such a major writer’s well-known and famous works for so long and to such depths, with such thorough confidence that historical events would unfold in such a way as to validate and illuminate the very vision that was obscured intentionally through elegant allegories that fully disguise the real standard bearer behind them. To analyze Much Ado About Nothing in light of Giordano Bruno’s suffering in prison and execution is to realize the stunning and profound vision of Bruno’s legacy for the future, akin to a prophecy, that informs the whole play. To understand how such a legacy could exist before and still continues to exist today, credit must go to Dame Yates for her perceptive connection between the imaginative use of magic in Shakespeare’s plays which she posits becomes a vehicle for imaginative solutions of the “world’s problems” , or what she also calls the “miseries of the age” (Yates GBHT 392). “Problems” and “miseries”----mankind faces many, of course, but none is so thorny or so basic or so everlasting as our constant struggle to continually win---on terms that are favorable to us--- food and fuel from what is basically a cold rock floating in space. Mankind started burning simple wood, then made charcoal, then discovered coal and later oil. Fossil fuels have been a tremendous impetus for our advancement, yet their steadily depleting nature, together with our total dependence on them, gives rise to a constant and underlying sense of existential panic; we can compare it to the house whispering, in the D.H. Lawrence story “The Rocking Horse Winner”, “there must be more money!”. In Brunian thought, such suffering is transitory, self-confining, and not compelling; it is founded on 7
  • 8. ignorance, delusion, and confusion because it originates from the mistake of not thinking systematically and long-term about the earth’s position mainly as an acceptor of heat and light from the sun: “when you conform yourself to the celestial forms ‘you will arrive from the confused plurality of things at the underlying unity’” (Bruno qtd in Yates GBHT 219). The celestial forms (the sun shining, the earth receiving the light) tell us all we need to know about constant sources of sustenance for us. What else would a fossil fuel be but depleting? The question is: when people would begin to think in such ascetic Brunian terms? They showed no sign of doing so when Shakespeare was alive, obviously. Structural dependence on coal grew along with coal production. The British Empire got its start exactly because coal production necessitated further trade, commerce and conquest---or the coal, progressively more and more necessary for the survival of millions, progressively deeper and deeper in the ground--- would stay in the ground. “I must go and live or stay and die”, says Romeo, the Everyman, to the sun, Juliet, as Shakespeare demonstrates the logic of ever more dependence on coal as a society builds up population, wealth, complexity and economic superiority. Shakespeare must have reasoned----through the allegory of the Sun and Everyman in Romeo and Juliet, in fact we know that he did reason----that exile from the sun economy would end only with an unplanned, hurried, uncomfortable and misunderstanding-filled journey back to the defunct sun economy (the comatose Juliet). But the journey would at least be educational, in that Bruno’s cosmic ideas would finally get the sufficient and victorious airing that they (in Shakespeare’s mind) deserved. This is the material source of the prophecy that Shakespeare built in to his plays, and very clearly it is Bruno’s cosmos which will be shown to be the revealer of the truth about the supreme importance of the sun. 8
  • 9. Juliet and Hero In many ways, Hero and Juliet, both the sun figures in their respective plays, could not seem more different. Hero is passive and obedient, while Juliet is (at least after she meets Romeo) strong-willed, independent and even disobedient. Juliet’s presence dominates Romeo and Juliet while it is often, even famously, noted that in Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedick, the witty lovers, though their relationship constitutes merely a “subplot” (Evans 327), tend to steal attention from the more conventional couple of Hero and Claudio. (There is a good reason for the subplot to occupy such an important psychic space in the play I will show later.) The imagery that indicates Juliet’s true allegorical role as the sun (the necessary energetic center of a unified cosmic system, where, importantly man is not at the center) is frequent, varied, multi-dimensional and conveyed in no uncertain terms. On the other hand, Hero’s secret status as a sun figure is kept cloaked in shadows, and we can only be truly sure that Hero is a sun figure after her “funeral” when Don Pedro says (to a group of three or four with tapers, and to Claudio, who has recited the epitaph and believes Hero is really dead): Good morrow, masters, put your torches out. The wolves have preyed, and look, the gentle day, Before the wheels of Phoebus, round about Dapples the drowsy east with spots of grey. Thanks to you all, and leave us. Fare you well. (V.iii.25-8) This passage can be understood on the same level as a code in that it secretly references a sunrise in the context of the (soon to come) resurrection of Hero. The only people who would be able to understand this connection would be those who also understood the concept of the sun figure as Shakespeare had developed it in his other plays, and especially those who knew the hidden allegorical 9
  • 10. play within Romeo and Juliet. Such people might be very few, however. The esoteric construction, parallels, allegories and messages of these plays are firmly embedded in the Renaissance Hermetic tradition. Those wise enough to parse the messages were entrusted to keep the secret; others would be able to enjoy or interpret the play only on the shallower level. Shakespeare’s plays are also therefore a form of strategic social action. The philosophical ideas of Bruno, touching on the cosmos, are also religious, and this inspirational aspect of them must have inspired Shakespeare to base his whole art on them. (We are not aware, particularly, of the presence of the cosmos as a background for the everyday activities that we undertake: eating an apple, mailing a letter, buying socks. Yet the cosmos---its physical rules, laws, material history, conditions, and our planet’s situation in it---- undeniably frames and underlies our everyday experiences in a unified way because there are no exceptions for anyone on earth to this unity of a cosmic context----we are always part of it as long as we are alive, and even in a sense, after that, as Bruno himself said.) Shakespeare, who was obviously interested in the parallels between the globe and “the Globe” (the theater) was then also, esoterically, open in both his drama and in his thinking to a much wider horizon than Planet Earth. Shakespeare’s secret plays are therefore a form of “steganography”, which is defined as “the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message, a form of security through obscurity.” (Wikipedia, “steganography”) Only someone who understood the key idea that “Juliet is the sun” refers to Bruno’s conception of heliocentrism---a unified dynamic system informed by a sun at the center----could hope to understand the other related messages that Shakespeare concealed in other subsequent plays. Friar Lawrence, Friar Francis and the Sun Figure We know that through his special position as an articulator (in allegorical form in his Act II, scene 3 10
  • 11. opening speech) of Shakespeare’s main message (mainly the playwright’s worry about the capability of coal to destabilize the ancient sun-based human economic system), Friar Lawrence is privileged above other characters in Romeo and Juliet. His special status in the drama shows up in a few ways. First, he is allowed to share a brief scene with the couple, as no other character is (Romeo and Juliet otherwise play alone when they are together and their scenes in sequence constitute the secret allegory), and this reveals Friar Lawrence’s special access (this is not the same thing as knowledge or awareness; it is more like a partially shared ontological status) to Romeo’s and Juliet’s secret identities, which parallels the playwright’s own privileged knowledge. Second, Friar Lawrence is allowed to organize and formulate strategies to keep the couple together. (His actions parallel Shakespeare’s strategic attempts through his professional dramatic productions to reunite, in a thematic and philosophical way, the sun and man together in a future resilient economic system: Romeo and Juliet is indeed like the letter that Friar Lawrence sends to Romeo informing him that Juliet is alive. Perhaps Shakespeare privately hoped his play would have more success than the letter did and be able to warn man, as fossil fuels became depleted and a return to the sun became necessary, that the sun economy was not really “dead”). In Much Ado About Nothing, Friar Francis, besides being a Friar who is supposed to marry the couple, as Friar Lawrence married Romeo and Juliet, also has special ontological access to Hero’s esoteric roles as 1) a sun figure and 2) a symbol—or a sort of a double--- of Giordano Bruno. Friar Francis is therefore also a stand-in for Shakespeare, who also “knows” of the secret status of Hero. What Friar Francis says, what he does and what he proposes, therefore has special significance because it will have parallels in Shakespeare’s own actions as a playwright who also “rescues” and rehabilitates Hero/Bruno. Friar Francis has the only other lines (Besides Don Pedro’s) that point (ever so gently) to Hero’ status 11
  • 12. as a sun figure: “I have marked a thousand blushing apparitions to start into her face” (IV.i.259) , “in her eye there hath appeared a fire to burn the errors that these princes hold…(IV.i.162-3)”. (We may note that this reference to fire and burning, besides referencing the sun, also resonates with the burning at the stake of Bruno, also a victim of the errors of different powerful “princes” in Venice and Rome)). Second, Friar Francis strongly defends Hero and calls her innocent, as Shakespeare wishes to defend Bruno in his own coded way in this play. Finally, Friar Francis proposes that Hero pretend to be dead in order to effect a successful reunion with her lover, which is notably---crucially---- the same strategy that Friar Lawrence devises for Juliet. Thus, in Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare has a plan to stop time, freeze-frame the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet that he so carefully crafted and thought through, and go back and change, utterly, the outcome in a dramatically convincing way. To this end, it is very interesting that Friar Francis intends that only Claudio (and not some more worthy individual!) will eventually marry Hero, after, according to Friar Francis, Claudio (whose secret allegorical role, like Romeo’s, is Everyman) will come to regret his rash and unjust accusations of her and realize that they have been wrong: “but on this travail look for greater birth; She dying, as it must be so maintained, Upon the instant that she was accus’d, Shall be lamented, pitied, and excused Of every hearer; for it so falls out That what we have we prize not to the worth Whiles we enjoy it, but being lack’d and lost, Why then we rack the value; then we find The virtue that possession would not show us 12
  • 13. Whiles it was ours; so will it fare with Claudio: When he shall hear she died upon his words, Th’idea of her shall sweetly creep Into his study of imagination, And every lovely organ of her life Shall come apparell’d in more precious habit, More moving, delicate, and full of life, Into the eye and prospect of his soul, Than when she liv’d indeed. Then shall he mourn; (IV. i. 213-230) The basic idea is then that Shakespeare will also use this strategy: Bruno of course dies on one level (the level of “reality” in that Bruno actually was burned at the stake); the epitaphs will be published, but then, through the miracle of art, Shakespeare will secretly bring Bruno back to life. The plan is daring, indeed. Instead of the catastrophic rupture that takes place between Romeo and Juliet (as Man leaves the sun then dies in an economic collapse of his own devising), Hero and Claudio will reunite, their relationship better than ever. When Hero unites with Claudio, then the symbolic union of mankind and the sun is complete. But this is shown to be in the future: “So will it fare with Claudio”. Shakespeare is here predicting that mankind will one day make a sort of a collective philosophical turn towards Bruno’s ideas of a magical unified heliocentric system and realize its mistake in executing him as a heretic. (Perhaps, as we observe the Gaia hypothesis, as well as the environmental and “green” ideas gaining popularity, we might reason that Shakespeare’s allegorical prediction of the vindication of Bruno’s heretical ideas, made hundreds of years ago, was indeed correct.) Statues, the Asclepius & The Winter’s Tale: Hermione and Hero 13
  • 14. Hero’s magical return to life also sets a precedent for another unjustly accused (by her husband rather than by her intended husband) Shakespearean heroine, Hermione (whose name resembles Hero’s too), of The Winter’s Tale. Both Hero and Hermione come “magically” back to life (or so it seems to the men who so ignorantly wronged them). In Majesty and Magic in Shakespeare’s Last Plays, Frances Yates asserts (I believe correctly) that the fact that Hermione is thought to be a statue comprises “a most pointed and precise allusion to deep Hermetic magic” (Yates MMS 89): Let us think again of that strange scene. Hermione is believed by her husband to have died long ago. Paulina says that she has a statue of her which is a remarkable likeness. She shows this supposed statue to the King and the assembled court. “O royal piece”, cries the King, “there’s magic in thy majesty”. Paulina claims that she can, if the King wills it, “make the statue “move indeed, descend, and take you by the hand”. But then, she adds, “you’ll think……I am assisted by wicked powers.” The King urges her to try her art. Paulina commands all to stand still, but those who think she is about unlawful business, let them depart. “Proceed”, commands the King. “No foot shall stir”. Thus authorized to do magic which some may think unlawful, Paulina orders music to sound, and adjures the supposed statue to descend. The statue comes to life, being, of course, really the living Hermione. Thus Paulina did not really do magic in breathing life into 14
  • 15. a dead image, for the statue was a living woman….Nevertheless, Shakespeare undoubtedly alludes to magic in this scene, and, I believe, to a particular kind of magic. As is now well known, the writings attributed to the supposed ‘Hermes Trismegistus’ had an immense influence in the Renaissance and were associated with Neoplatonism as the Hermetic core of that movement. Of the writings supposedly by Hermes Trismegistus, some teach a vaguely pious ‘religion of the world’ but some are overtly magical, particularly the Asclepius, the dialogue in which the ancient Egyptian priests were supposed to infuse life into the statues of their gods, by various rites and practices, including musical accompaniment. Many Renaissance admirers of Hermes as a religious philosopher excluded the Asclepius from the Hermetic canon because of disapproval of the magic. But an all-out religious Hermeticist, such as Giordano Bruno, includes the magic of the Asclepius as a base part of his message, the announcement of a coming magical-religious reform in which the world will return to a lost better state. Bruno’s preaching of this magical-religious mission, in his Italian dialogues published in England, is full of echoes of the god-making passage in the Asclepius, interpreted as a profound understanding of nature, and of the divine in nature. (Yates 89-90) 15
  • 16. Yates goes on to wonder if the Hermetic life-infusing magic is “a metaphor of artistic process” (Yates 90), and asks, “how does Shakespeare intend the allusion to be taken?” (90). My assertion is that we can answer her very good question only by reading across his other plays, such as Much Ado About Nothing (which has a similar wrongly accused woman who comes magically back to life), As You Like It (which features Rosalind claiming to perform magic which resolves the conflicts) and Romeo and Juliet (whose heroine is aided by a friar and who is a sun figure wedded to an Everyman character), and by grasping firmly the notion that Shakespeare was constantly and artistically consistently faithful to Bruno’s vision of a unified magical cosmos with the earth going around the sun and an infinite number of other suns (stars) stretching to infinity. (Shakespeare simply used Bruno’s ideas to deduce that no other light source would be of energetic use to mankind on earth: the sun was all we would have in the end. Coal is therefore disruptive, temporary, a depleting energy source which is irresistible but in the end destructive). The life-infusing magic which brings Hermione back from the dead in The Winter’s Tale (and which---as far as Claudio is concerned----- also brings Hero back to life in Much Ado About Nothing) is not, therefore, directly about the artistic process, as Yates speculates vaguely. It is truly in line with Bruno’s own heliocentric cosmic vision, and depicts this vision symbolically and perfectly. This vision, different aspects of it, with different features emphasized or de-emphasized, is repeatedly found at the center of all the plays of Shakespeare that I have investigated thus far. It owes much to a technique called The Art of Memory that Bruno wrote copiously about in a few works, only some of which survive. In On the Shadow of Ideas (De umbris idearum), Bruno “describes the practice of artificial memory as ‘clever application of thought’ to ‘presenting, modeling, noting, or indicating in the likeness or painting or writing, in order to express or 16
  • 17. signify’.” (Howland 123) Elsewhere in the same book, we find important ideas could be put into “what Bruno called ‘a distilled and developed order of conceivable species, arranged as statues, or a microcosm, or some other kind of architecture… focusing the chaos of the imagination’” (Howland 123) Shakespeare is well known to have followed the technique of allegory in his sonnets, and allegory lies at the center of his plays as well, though well-disguised. However, the cosmic ideas or entities he wanted to present are the “true identities” of the allegorical figures in the secret plays. The only way that Shakespeare can be said to stray from Bruno’s vision is that Shakespeare, by writing “Gregory, on my word, we’ll not carry coals” in line 1, scene 1, Act 1 of Romeo and Juliet, was inserting a unique particular historical technology (coal burning for fuel) into the vision and thereby historicizing, particularizing and dating the process (the “return to a lost better state” that Yates mentions, which I believe for Shakespeare is the historical and geological depletion of fossil fuels and return to the sun) that Bruno saw more vaguely in an outline that might be explained in the Brunian idea of the “Calm Spirit” from the Spaccio: It is to be desired---said Jupiter---that this sovereign virtue, called Calmness of Spirit, appear in the heavens, as it is that which balances men against the upheavals of the world, renders them constant against the buffets of fortune, keeps them away from the care of governments, prevents them from pursuing every novelty, makes them of little annoyance to enemies and of little trouble to friends, quite untouched by pride or conceit, unperplexed by the vagaries of chance, not irresolute at the prospect of death. (Bruno quoted in Gatti 156) Does Bruno mean here (even if only in a proto-scientific way) to predict an eventual energy crisis for Western Civilization? The whole idea is quite fascinating, but a bit beyond the scope of this paper, as a study of 17
  • 18. civilizations that have faced energy crises, such as the book by Joseph Tainter The Collapse of Complex Societies, is almost 400 pages. We can simply imagine that Bruno must have wondered what any possible inflection point would look like, and pictured it like this scene from the Spaccio. Shakespeare, in a sense, applied Bruno’s cosmological ideas to the conditions man faced on earth, and found that only the sun would be of lasting benefit, and a lasting source of wherewithal or the means to get other things (what we call energy today). Other bodies in the sky were not light-giving, like the planets, or they were too far away, like the other stars. Benedick and Beatrice Benedick, like Friar Francis, is another stand-in for Shakespeare. In fact, he is one of the most vibrant, passionate and fully realized Shakespearean stand-ins whom Shakespeare ever conceived to represent aspects of his own persona and psyche in a play. The closeness of Benedick to Shakespeare’s own psyche (the two can be thought of as vibrating together, creating a luminous zone of fervency and earnest inquiry which powerfully claims the mental attention of viewers or readers) is the reason why Benedick’s and Beatrice’s subplot notoriously dominates the main plot of the Hero-Claudio story. Through Benedick’s strutting, posturing, and tormented questioning of where his real loyalties lie (to Beatrice his love, or to Claudio, his friend), Shakespeare is expressing in artful allegory the stylized results of an inspection of his own tormented feelings of isolation, hostility, disillusionment and misanthropy as he contemplated Bruno’s suffering---at the hands of his fellow men--- from afar. Shakespeare, as a playwright, felt tempted to “kill Claudio” (as Beatrice strongly advises)---that is, he felt that he really should pay mankind back for the ignorant act of executing Bruno by writing a tragedy that showed the Everyman character (Claudio) getting his just desserts, perhaps being slain in a duel or 18
  • 19. committing suicide. However, Shakespeare retained hope for the longer term prospects for Bruno’s ideas, and saw an opportunity to dramatize the process of coming to terms with (what he saw as) humanity’s limited and fallible perspective. The drama of Much Ado About Nothing is therefore as much about Shakespeare’s own inner psychological battle as it is (esoterically) about the main idea of a resurgent Giordano Bruno. It is this dynamic which puts the Beatrice and Benedick subplot into the foreground; here we have the playwright identifying with a character, Benedick, for an extended period. The (relatively) huge role of Benedick as a sharply defined and textured allegory for Shakespeare’s own thoughts and emotions is (for me) the most thrilling aspect of Much Ado About Nothing. Through Benedick, we can come closer to Shakespeare the man than we usually can through usual Shakespearean stand-ins. Only Edmund, in King Lear, can compete with Benedick in this particular expressive, indeed explosive, and emotional way. In his other plays (that I have investigated) Shakespeare was usually content to let characters with smaller parts speak for him. Friar Lawrence, Friar Francis, the Old Man (in Macbeth): all have relatively small parts, though philosophically important ones, since they state the position of the playwright. Even Edmund, such a passionate and defensive Shakespearean stand-in, in King Lear, does not have a really major role compared to Benedick’s. Theseus, Oberon and Peter Quince, Shakespearean stand-ins in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, also do not have nearly as many lines or such central roles as Benedick does. What makes Benedick a Shakespearean stand in? And second, what makes Benedick’s role as such so much longer, so intriguing and therefore so different from other Shakespearean stand-in characters who in comparison, merely may be said to dabble (although importantly) in performing Shakeapeare’s own sentiments (in disguise)? The name “Benedick” is one clue to the character’s role as a window into Shakespeare’s own soul. In Latin, “Bene” means “good” or “well” and “dicere” is “to speak”. It is clear that Benedick has a magnificent verbal talent and wit; we know that Shakespeare was justly proud of his own abilities to craft poems and plays. 19
  • 20. In a direct way, then Shakespeare uses the name “Benedick” to point to the importance of his talent at this time. He must use his skill to defend and redeem Bruno (he does this through the drama of Hero being unjustly accused and then shown to be innocent) and articulate Bruno’s position (this he does through the cross references to Romeo and Juliet), yet he must also write a play that should succeed absolutely as a fanciful popular entertainment that was accessible across many social levels, and, moreover, the real goal had to be a total secret. The most witty lines that pertain to the Shakespeare-Benedick connection are the ones that Beatrice voices when Benedick (in a mask, although she knows it is him speaking to her) asks her to describe himself :“I pray you, what is he? (II.i.136): Beatrice: Why, he is the Prince’s jester, a very dull fool: only his gift is in devising impossible slanders. None but libertines delight in him, and the commendation is not in his wit, but in his villany, for he both pleases men and angers them, and then they laugh at him and beat him. (II.i.137-42) The self-deprecating aspect of the lines comes into view when we understand that Shakespeare is here bitterly ---in shadowy terms that nevertheless bite---characterizing his own role in London as a popular playwright of the time---“the Prince’s jester” alludes to Shakespeare’s popularity among members of the Court. He had to deal with the structural limitations of his position: plays were considered lower entertainment and the theaters were in areas where brothels and venues for bear-baiting and other more “popular” entertainments were also found. Shakespeare may have found his position, therefore, curiously and frustratingly double-edged: powerful in that his work could anger men (other playwrights who may have been envious, political or other powerful figures who thought they recognized their own selves artistically 20
  • 21. rendered in some character or other); yet at the same time, he was powerless (since his art was popular entertainment, in a different sphere entirely from political power) to openly defend someone like Bruno, a figure who he had great respect and admiration for. No wonder these carefully coded lines of Beatrice’s sting Benedick so much. The truth peering out from behind them must have been a constant source of frustration for the playwright himself. A “benediction”, moreover, is a blessing. In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare, who always seems close to religious figures (allowing Friar Lawrence and Friar Francis special access to sun figure awareness) is also attempting to say a blessing—a prayer that will redeem or bring about positive change--over the tragedy of Bruno’s execution. Benedick is his major voice in this play. The play is therefore largely a sort of prayer ritual or blessing. It contains a ritual song and dance (or procession around the monument), very related to a prayer, which are recited at the “tomb” of Hero. I shall return to this ritual song and procession later. Beatrice and the Greek Goddess Ate If Benedick is the playwright in allegory, then who, indeed, is Beatrice? We know a few basic things about her; she seems prickly and intelligent. In her most dramatic moment, she urges Benedick to “kill Claudio” (IV.i.289). Besides this key comment, of which more later, Benedick spends many lines wittily describing her in Act II immediately after her “Prince’s jester” comment. Benedick’s lengthy speech about her (Beatrice is not present to hear it, luckily) is worth examining for clues to Beatruce’s “real” (i.e allegorical) identity: …..I would not marry her, though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgress’d. She would have made Hercules turn spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire too. 21
  • 22. Come, talk not of her; you shall find her the infernal Ate in good apparel. I would to God some scholar would conjure her, for certainly, while she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a sanctuary, and people sin upon purpose, because they would go thither; so indeed all disquiet, horror, and perturbation follows her. (II.i.250-61) The references to ancient and pre-Christian figures, such as Adam (from the Old Testament), Hercules (from Greek mythology) and Ate (also from Greek mythology) bring about an overall impression (captured in dramatic performance, where these names uttered aloud on the stage bring resonances of “tragedy, lack of mercy, and the Fall of Man” (through the word “Adam”), “epic strength” (through the word “Hercules) and “destruction” (through the word “Ate”)) of Beatrice. She is very strong, she is not merciful, and she is also possibly a wreaker of (some sort of) havoc. The image of the Goddess Ate, in particular, needs to be examined. Wikipedia gives this description of her: Ate was the spirit (daimona) of delusion, infatuation, blind folly, rash action, and reckless impulse who led men down the path to ruin. Her power was countered by the Litai (prayers) which followed in her wake…According to Hesiod, Ate was a daughter of Eris and according to Homer, she was a daughter of Zeus, who led both gods and men to rash and inconsiderate actions and to suffering. When Beatrice later urges Benedick to “kill Claudio” then the role of Beatrice becomes clear. She is that universal human urge for vengeance. If Benedick had followed her suggestion the play would 22
  • 23. have become a tragedy. In fact, Shakespeare’s only other use of Ate as an image is in the tragedy Julius Caesar, where Antony includes her in his famous monologue that starts with the lines “O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth” (III.i.1): And Caeasar’s spirit, ranging for revenge With Ate by his side come hot from hell Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war (III.1.270-3) Ate is associated, in Shakespeare, with the urge for revenge. By urging Benedick to “kill Claudio”, Beatrice almost seems to come near to being a Vice figure, like Mercutio (who makes Romeo attend the fateful party and then whose death precipitates Romeo’s revenge slaying of Tybalt) or Lady Macbeth, who urges Macbeth to kill Duncan, the sun figure? We know that Shakespeare experimented with older dramatic forms, such as the old morality plays, and hid them successfully in larger more modern dramas. But is Beatrice, like Lady Macbeth or Mercutio, a true hidden Vice figure, strictly speaking, as are Goneril and Regan, for example, in King Lear? The answer is very clearly “no”. Although Beatrice seems to be tempting Benedick to sin, the larger structural form and bipolar tensions are missing. The hidden Vice (coal) figures in Shakespeare’s tragedies, such as Lady Macbeth, Iago, and Goneril and Regan, are always arrayed against the hidden (virtuous) sun figures, while Beatrice seeks to defend Hero. Even Mercutio is structurally opposed to Juliet---he desires Romeo to be committed to revenge and violence—and it is his death that indirectly brings Romeo’s exile. The Everyman figures (Macbeth, Romeo, Lear, Othello) are caught between the Vice (coal) and the Virtue (sun figures) characters---the structure is unmistakable in Shakespeare and if it is not present, the Vice figure is also not present. Thus Beatrice cannot be a Vice figure. 23
  • 24. Beatrice is, therefore, not evil in the sense that Lady Macbeth or other hidden Shakespearean Vice figures are evil, or maybe we should say that they are within their dramas “unvirtuous”. These hidden Vice figures represent the external choices, away from the sun-based economy, man has had to make in order to increase his prosperity on the earth, choices which Shakespeare felt (rightly or wrongly) were sure to bring catastrophe later. On the other hand, Beatrice is an internal force, an impulse, a natural reaction, a dimension of the human psyche, and one that may have regrettable aspects, but not an evil or “unvirtuous” force. The resolution of the problem that she poses happens when Benedick, a persona allegorically representing a dimension of Shakespeare himself, unites with her and she is symbolically incorporated, acknowledged, and recognized, (welcomed because she has been disarmed through the ritual prayer action of the play) into the psyche of the sufferer. (It is important to recall once again that in Greek mythology, the Litai, (the goddess Ate’s sisters), are prayers, and countered her destructive power by their action.) When Benedick says to her, “Peace, I will stop your mouth” (V.iv.97) and kisses her, the power of the prayer (the “Benedick-tion”) is allegorized in a most merry, erotic and effective way that also ingeniously and implicitly acknowledges the importance of the body in prayer and ritual action. Benedick must perform an action with his body at this key point of the play. That this action is a kiss can truly help us to understand and appreciate the exciting, vital, passionate and complex artistic vision of Shakespeare, unafraid of blending the sacred with the sexual and the profane yet also maintaining the separation of these on another level. This kiss of this “Benedick-tion”, the prayer or ritual action, like the Litae, has silenced Ate and countered her destructive action. And, in fact, after this kiss Beatrice has no more lines and does not speak again. The prayer was thus a complete success! Ritual and Prayer Benedick’s kiss, an allegory for a ritual which will unite him with part of his own soul, is not the 24
  • 25. only “Benedick-tion” in this play. Much Ado About Nothing is a larger macrocosmic prayer and accompanying ritual that also contains a microcosmic prayer. This happens when Claudio, the Everyman, reads the epitaph for Hero (as it is his fault, in a way, that she is “dead”): ‘Done to death by slanderous tongues, Was the Hero that here lies, Death, in guerdon of her wrongs, Gives her fame which never dies. So the life that dies with shame Lives in death with glorious fame.’ Hang thou there upon the tomb, Praising her when I am dumb. (V.iii.3-10) Shakespeare is “dumb” to be able to relate his solidarity with Bruno in any other way than obliquely. It is impossible, once one knows how Bruno’s ideas figure in Shakespeare’s work, to not read these lines as an epitaph for Bruno, also: “the Hero that here lies”; “done to death by slanderous tongues”. A ritual is then enacted, with music and a song, which is also significant. This song and ritual dance (a slow circular walk it seems since the mourners utter “round about her tomb they go”(V.iii.15)) seems to imprint the death as real: the song includes the words “grave”, “midnight”, “tombs”. The moment is dark, in other words, and frightful. Ghosts might appear: “Graves, yawn and yield your dead” (V.iii.19). In a theatrical, emotional, experiential way, the death has at least occurred, though the audience knows full well that Hero is still alive and perfectly well. This is how Bruno’s death may be ritually announced and mourned in this play: 25
  • 26. as a dramatic action that intentionally fails to refer epistemologically to the real execution that took place in Rome, but that successfully refers in a secret way, ontologically and dramatically, to this event. Claudius (Everyman) thinks Hero is really dead, just as the public thinks that Giordano Bruno is really dead. (On one level he is of course, dead---it is his ideas that are not dead, in Shakespeare’s mind.) The play combats the feelings for revenge and despair that might have seemed natural to supporters of Bruno; it heralds a rebirth of his philosophy. It celebrates his life and reaffirms the power of his thought. Much Ado About Nothing, both as an eloquent epitaph and as a faithful harbinger of hope for a world that would one day be more receptive to Bruno’s ideas, could not be more appropriate. Works Cited: Evans, G. Blakemore, ed. 1974. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. Gatti, Hilary. 1989. The Renaissance Drama of Knowledge. London: Routledge. Howland, Ingrid. Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2008. Michel, Paul Henri. 1973. The Cosmology of Giordano Bruno. Paris: Hermann. (Originally published in 1962 in French as La Cosmologie de Giordano Bruno). Translated by R.E.W. Maddison). Yates, Frances C. 1964. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Oxon, U.K.: Routledge. Reprinted 2010. Yates, Frances C. 1975. Majesty and Magic in Shakespeare’s Last Plays. Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Publications. 26