Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/2440/120750
Type: Thesis
Title: Shakespeare and Christian Hermetism: religio mentis a study of esoteric thought in four plays
Author: Nelson, Marion Jane
Issue Date: 2019
School/Discipline: School of Humanities : English & Creative Writing
Abstract: This thesis analyses four plays by Shakespeare for evidence of Shakespeare’s familiarity with Hermetic thought. I interpret Love’s Labour’s Lost, King Lear (Quarto and Folio), Othello and The Tempest in the light of the esoteric religious philosophy now known as Christian Hermetism principally, but not solely, as it is articulated in the texts of the Corpus Hermeticum, formerly Pymander. The thesis is in two parts: two contextual chapters, and four exegetical. The first chapter recounts the advent of the pagan texts in Renaissance Florence in the fifteenth century where, purged of magia, they were hailed as a prisca theologia contemporaneous with Moses, translated from Greek into Latin by Marsilio Ficino and reconciled to Christianity. The chapter summarises the theosophy of the Corpus Hermeticum, and the work of the first translators, Marsilio Ficino and Lodovico Lazzarelli, who also authored the dialogic commentary, Crater Hermetis. The second chapter traces the history of the transmission of edited and new translations of the texts in early sixteenth century England, and also in Catholic and Huguenot France where they were favourably received by episcopate and royalty. I establish that the Hermetic texts were known in late Tudor England where much of the doctrine was heretical to the prevailing Calvinism. Those in England familiar with the Hermetic religious philosophy include John Dee, Philip Sidney, and Walter Ralegh and the Durham House set which included George Peele, George Chapman and others whose knowledge of the Hermetic texts is not disputed. Shakespeare was their contemporary and this study asks if there is evidence in some of his plays that he too knew of this eirenic philosophy whose optimistic gnostic doctrine, extolling knowledge and love, brought with it the hope of ecumenism and religious toleration. The exegetical chapters employ a close reading intertextual methodology. I find evidence that Shakespeare has a comprehensive knowledge of Hermetic doctrine not previously recognized. I suggest that the Crater Hermetis may have influenced the dramaturgy of Love’s Labour’s Lost and I find that, by comparison with The Tempest, Shakespeare’s understanding of the Hermetic religious philosophy grows more profound over time. In King Lear I find evidence that the king’s progress toward knowledge of self may be interpreted as the Hermetic ascent toward spiritual rebirth, while a Hermetic hermeneutic reveals Othello to be Lear’s mirror image illustrating his descent into ignorance. I find evidence that connects three of the selected plays to the 1579 French translation and commentary by Bishop Foix de Candale. My study has benefited from translations of works only recently available in English: the translation of the Crater Hermetis by Wouter Hanegraaff and Ruud Bouthoorn, and the translation of Claudio Moreschini’s Hermes Christianus containing his prolegomena to Foix de Candale’s commentary on the Pymander. Fundamental to this study is Brian Copenhaver’s 1992 translation of the Hermetica, which I have supplemented with Foix de Candale’s French translation and commentary. I conclude that, although the Hermetic philosophy, which is both a religion of the mind and a religion of the world, has slipped largely unnoticed through the pages of Anglophone history, the Christianized Hermetic discourse and doctrine has influenced Shakespeare’s thought in ways not previously suspected. Recognizing Hermetic thought in Shakespeare’s plays enriches our appreciation of his dramatic artistry, especially as it pertains to his portrayal of the human mind, and expands our understanding of the contribution which his plays made to religious debate in a tumultuous age.
Advisor: Potter, Lucy
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2019
Keywords: Corpus Hermeticum
Ficino
Lazzarelli
religious Hermetism
Shakespeare
Hermetic thought
Provenance: This thesis is currently under Embargo and not available.
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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