In last week’s post, I analysed Shakespeare’s Hamlet as being the tragedy of the archetypal Orphan who fails to make the transition into adulthood. Thinking about it a little bit more afterwards, I realised that all of Shakespeare’s major tragedies can be analysed in the same way. Of course, the other tragedies don’t necessarily feature Orphans, but they do feature characters who fail a different archetypal mission.
Psychologists have been focused on childhood as the age at which arrested development can occur leading to various neuroses and psychoses. The point I made last week in relation to Hamlet is that, from adolescence onwards, purely psychological explanations do not work since the problem has at least as much to do with our interactions with society. A child’s world is psychological to a large extent. An adult’s world is economic, political and even spiritual.
Some theories recognise this and change the locus from the psychological to the sociological and political. Usually, this just extends the same powerless, infantile assumption of parental power onto society in general. We go from being the hapless victims of our parents to the hapless victims of tyrants or abstract social forces.
None of this for Shakespeare. For Shakespeare, we are the authors of our own problems. The huge advantage of literature over theory is that it can highlight the role that flaws in character play in the problems of the world.
But what Shakespeare also shows us, I think, is that arrested development occurs at all phases of life and one way to demonstrate that is via the archetypes. That’s what we’ll look at in this post.
Here is the table I used last week to map each archetype to its prototypical manifestation on each level of being:
|Adult||Maturity||Economic, political, spiritual, sexual||Will|
|Elder||Old Age (menopause)||Mentor, Elder, (Retired)||Soul|
In this post, we’re going to be concerned with the Esoteric column.
The first thing to clarify is that the faculty listed in the Esoteric column is the faculty that needs to be developed during that archetypal phase of life. It might be objected that we have all the faculties throughout our whole life. For example, even young children are capable of exercising their will; usually while walking through the confectionary aisle at the supermarket. Furthermore, children often come out with surprising insights that indicate the activation of the faculty of intellect.
This may be true. But what the table represents is the Esoteric faculty which dominates each phase of life and which should dominate it since it is the natural progression.
The dominance of imagination during childhood should be the least controversial of the faculties listed in the table. Any school teacher or parent knows that trying to teach children to exercise their intellect usually results in the child turning the task into a game. Children turn most things into games, which is the faculty of Imagination in action. This kind of play is perfectly natural in children. In fact, we worry if we don’t see children using their imagination in such a fashion.
There is both an extroverted and an introverted form of imagination. Children’s play, when it involves other children, is extroverted imagination. Any group of children thrown together will naturally begin to use extroverted Imagination.
We might give the name of fantasy to introverted imagination. There is nothing with this in children but it becomes pathological in adults. Carl Jung used the concept of puer aeternus, or the eternal child, to talk of a particular pathology involving an older person who is stuck at the Child level of development. Imagination then turns into dissociation.
Anything goes in Imagination and play and this gives childhood it’s wonderful aspect of infinite possibility. This might be ok for children and for gods, but humans live in a finite world where not everything is possible. The transition from the Child archetype to the Orphan archetype involves the trauma of giving up infinite possibility. It’s because this transition really is traumatic that some individuals seek to avoid it and get stuck in puer aeternus.
At the Esoteric level of being, the transition from Child to Orphan sees the receding of the Imagination and the ascension of the Intellect as the dominant faculty. Back in medieval times, this was called the age of reason and was said to begin around the age of 12.
Just like the Imagination can be introverted or extroverted, so too can the Intellect. Socrates arguing in the marketplace is an example of extroverted Intellect. Because it can make other people look silly, extroverted Intellect comes with social and political dangers. Introverted Intellect is the kind we are more familiar with since reading is a classic example; including reading blog posts!
We can make a general observation about modern society which is that we have seen a big shift towards both introverted Imagination and introverted Intellect and this shift has only become more pronounced in the last several decades. Children are now far less likely to play with other children in their own neighbourhood and far more likely to be looking into a television or computer screen. We have substituted extroverted Imagination for introverted Imagination.
Similarly, the way Intellect is trained in schools is introverted. Children are expected to work on problems by themselves, including at home. To compare notes or try and learn from others is prohibited. Essays and exams are to be done alone. The occasional group assignment is the exception that proves the rule.
We might make another generalisation. If you engage in extroverted Intellect with a person with far more experienced than you, let’s say Socrates, he’s going to make you look like a fool. If you happen to be a young upstart who thinks you’re God’s gift to philosophy, this might be exactly what you need to check your ego.
Conversely, what happens if the same young upstart engages in introverted Intellect especially in scenarios where he or she is rewarded for finding the answer to a problem as quickly as possible? They might start to think they really are God’s gift to the Intellect. It may be this which leads to a phenomenon which does seem to be very modern: the know-it-all teenager.
But this also points to a larger problem with Intellect in the hands of archetypal Orphans. As Intellectual capacity and skill increases, the Orphan may apply Intellect to all areas of life. One outcome is the over-critical attitude which we also see in teenagers. They conclude that the world is completely illogical – like, totally insane.
The flip side of this is the worship of theory which leads to blind idealism. Blind idealism is the same problem as the puer aeternus only the individual is now trapped in introverted Intellect instead of introverted Imagination. The latter is arrested development at the level of the Child and the former is arrested development at the level of the Orphan.
There’s yet another pitfall with Intellect, however, and this brings us back to Hamlet. Hamlet is the Orphan who is failing to make the transition to the Adult archetype. Using our table from above, we can translate this to say that Hamlet has become stuck in introverted Intellect by failing to develop his Will, since Will is the dominant Esoteric faculty of the Adult.
This leads to a more general observation about archetypal development. We can say that the failure to progress from one archetype to the next is the failure to develop the Esoteric faculty of the new archetype. This failure manifests as the corruption of the existing Esoteric faculty. Thus, introverted Imagination indicates the failure to develop the Intellect and introverted Intellect indicates the failure to develop the Will.
There is no doubt that Hamlet knows how to use his Intellect. He is, in fact, one of Shakespeare’s most philosophical characters. But there’s the rub, because Hamlet is also a procrastinator. The tragedy of Hamlet is the tragedy of a man who cannot summon up the Will to do what needs to be done. In archetypal terms, he is the Orphan failing to become an Adult.
As Shakespeare often does, he has his hero describe his own failings. Hamlet’s famous soliloquy is an exercise in introverted Intellect. Hamlet is all alone pondering the meaning of life when he should be justly avenging his father’s murder. Hamlet, the man incapable of making a decision, is meditating upon the difficulty of making decisions. Should one kill oneself or not? Hamlet concludes that the reason we don’t is not because of a fear of death itself but of the unknown which death entails.
What faculty gives us the courage to step into the unknown? The Will.
Hamlet says so himself:
“The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.” [emphases mine]
Paraphrasing into the terminology we have been using, the introverted Intellect throws the pale cast of thought on the enterprises of the Will. It turns people into cowards. Hamlet tells us this and then shows us the consequences. Had he killed Claudius when he should have, his own destruction and the destruction of the Hamlet court would never have happened. Instead of using his willpower to act, Hamlet was sitting around philosophising.
If the exercise of Will gives the courage to step into the unknown, it follows almost by default that the exercise of Will is an offense to the Intellect. The Intellect wants to formulate a perfect plan that is logical and rational while the Will to step into the unknown is the Will to act “illogically” and “irrationally”.
Since the consequences of any action of significance can never be known in advance, acting wilfully seems irrational. That is why the intellectual sees irrationality everywhere in the world, because in the real world things must be done and not just thought about.
The use of the Will invites the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But to be brought down by such slings and arrows is not failure since no action is without risk. The failure of Will is the failure not to act. One way to do that is to escape into introverted Intellect as does Hamlet.
Just as there are decadent forms of Imagination and Intellect, there are decadent forms of Will. Shakespeare provides us with numerous examples: Claudius, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Iago, Othello, Edmund, King Lear.
These characters have all transcended the Orphan archetype. They are not just Adults but highly accomplished Adults. Their transgression of Will is not the failure to use it but the misuse of it. Each is brought down by the fixation of the Will on what it should not want.
In all these cases, however, the failure of the Will is indicative of a broader failure of archetypal progression. Will rightly belongs to the Adult archetype, but these characters need to transcend from Adult to Elder. They need to allow the Soul to become dominant over Will.
Carl Jung believed that it is in the second half of life that we come to face our Soul. In men, this is the anima and in women the animus. If Will is about ego, Soul is about Self i.e. the larger integrated psyche.
It is perfectly written by Shakespeare that he has Regan say of King Lear “he hath ever but slenderly known himself”. Know thyself is about Soul. Lear’s rash actions imply a man who has learned to wield his Will but never to temper it with Soul. The same is true of Macbeth, Othello, Iago and others.
Since a man’s soul is represented by the feminine anima, it’s fitting that King Lear has no wife, Othello and Iago kill their wives, and Macbeth is led astray by his wife. All this symbolises men who have failed to come to terms with their Soul. Correspondingly, they fail to transcend from Adult to Elder since the Elder’s archetypal mission is to confront the Soul (I use the word confront here deliberately since each progression from one archetype to another is difficult and painful).
The progression from Adult to Elder requires the tempering of the Will by Soul. That is what is missing from the character of Lear, Iago, Othello and Macbeth. Let’s take Macbeth as an example.
Although there is no specific indication of his age, we can surmise that Macbeth is in his 40s or 50s. He is an accomplished general having just won a great battle for his king. Duncan duly rewards him with a thaneship.
This is the highest position to which Macbeth can legally hope to attain. He has Willed his way to the top. The catch is that once Macbeth accepts the position, there is nothing more to Will for since he is already at the pinnacle. He needs to temper his Will and accept that he has gone as far as he can in worldly affairs. He needs to discover Soul.
Since a man’s soul is represented by the feminine anima, it is no coincidence that the characters who lead Macbeth astray are female. The three witches sow cryptic messages in Macbeth’s mind that tell him he shall be king. These serve to activate Macbeth’s Will only now it is Will in introverted and decadent form.
Just like there is extroverted and introverted Imagination and Intellect, so there is extroverted and introverted Will. The former is what can be Willed for in the light of day in front of your countrymen. It is what is just and right. Winning a great battle and being awarded a thaneship is something that can be justly Willed for. Introverted Will, however, is what can only be deviously dreamed up and carried out under the cover of night; things like murdering the king and taking his throne.
Lady Macbeth as the other representative of Macbeth’s anima goes a step further than the witches and actively goads her husband into the evil deed and then covers up for him afterwards. The feminine has turned on Macbeth and this is indicative of his failure to meet his Soul directly and take on the challenge of the Elder.
Just as the failure to activate Intellect leads to the puer aeternus of dissociation from reality and the failure to activate Will leads to procrastination and blind idealism, the failure to activate the Soul leads to the decadent, introverted Will which aims at evil instead of good.
Macbeth’s failure to meet his Soul leads him to destruction the same way that Hamlet’s failure to engage his Will brings him undone. Hamlet is the failed Orphan, Macbeth the failed Adult. In both cases, it’s the failure to transcend to the next archetype in the progression.
Each transcendence to a new archetype is painful. There is a need to give up what one already has and to step forward into the unknown. Failure leads to madness (we would say mental illness, these days). King Lear, Othello, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are all half mad due to their failure to let go of the Will and transcend into the Elder archetype.
Part of the tragedy in each case is that the Exoteric role is already there for each of them. All they have to do is accept it. Macbeth needs to step back from the role of Warrior and accept the role of Thane. Othello also needs step back from the Warrior role and accept the role of husband. Lear needs to accept his retirement. Hamlet needs to stop philosophising, kill Claudius and become king.
This touches on the key point which separates Shakespeare so clearly from the older tragedians and which is also a key belief that emerged during the Renaissance.
In Shakespeare, every character is personally responsible for their own downfall. In the stories we have been looking at, the Exoteric path is laid out for the hero. All they need to do is accept it. Their failure is in the Esoteric realm and therefore specific to each of them: Lear’s juvenile wilfulness, Macbeth and Claudius’ blind ambition, Othello’s credulity and jealousy, Iago’s hatred.
This same principle was there also in the Protestant movement. For Catholics, everybody is a sinner from the most powerful king down to the lowliest village idiot. Everybody is born into sin. There was nothing personal about it. The Protestants replaced that with a personal salvation. God rewarded some and sent the rest to hell. This is in line with the Shakespearean maxim that our faults are not in our stars, they are in our selves.