Do you suppose that Tristan and Isolde are preaching against adultery when they

Do you suppose that tristan and isolde are preaching

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idea. Do you suppose that Tristan and Isolde are preaching against adultery when they both perish by it? This would be to stand the poets on their head: they, and especially Shake- speare, are enamoured of the passions as such and not least of their death-welcoming moods— those moods in which the heart adheres to life no more firmly than does a drop of water to a glass. It is not the guilt and its evil outcome they have at heart, Shakespeare as little as Sophocles (in Ajax, Philoctetes, Oedipus): as easy as it would have been in these instances to make guilt the lever of the drama, just as surely has this been avoided. The tragic poet has just as little desire to take sides against life with his images of life! He cries rather:“it is the stim- ulant of stimulants, this exciting, changing, dangerous, gloomy and often sun-drenched existence! It is an ad- venture to live—espouse what party in it you will, it will always retain this character!”—He speaks thus out of a restless, vigorous age which is half-drunk and stupefied by its excess of blood and energy—out of a wickeder age than ours is: which is why we need first to adjust and jus- tify the goal of a Shakespearean drama, that is to say, not to understand it. Nietzsche links up here with William Blake’s adage that the highest art is immoral, and that “Exuberance is beauty.” Macbeth
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certainly has “an excess of blood and energy”; its terrors may be more Christian than Greek or Roman,but indeed they are so pri- mordial that they seem to me more shamanistic than Christian, even as the “terms divine” of Sonnet 146 impress me as rather more Platonic than Christian. Of all Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth is most “a tragedy of blood,” not just in its murders but in the ul- timate implications of Macbeth’s imagination itself being bloody. The usurper Macbeth moves in a consistent phantasmagoria of blood: blood is the prime constituent of his imagination. He sees that what opposes him is blood in one aspect—call it nature in the sense that he opposes nature—and that this opposing force thrusts him into shedding more blood:“It will have blood, they say: blood will have blood.” Macbeth speaks these words in the aftermath of confronting Banquo’s ghost, and as always his imaginative coherence over- comes his cognitive confusion.“It” is blood as the natural— call that King Duncan—and the second “blood” is all that Macbeth can experience. His usurpation of Duncan transcends the politics of the kingdom, and threatens a natural good deeply embedded in the Macbeths, but which they have abandoned, and which Mac- beth now seeks to destroy, even upon the cosmological level, if only he could. You can call this natural good or first sense of “blood” Christian, if you want to, but Christianity is a revealed re- ligion, and Macbeth rebels against nature as he imagines it. That pretty much makes Christianity as irrelevant to Macbeth as it is to King Lear, and indeed to all the Shakespearean tragedies. Othello, a Christian convert, falls away not from Christianity but from his own better nature, while Hamlet is the apotheosis of all natural gifts, yet cannot abide in them. I am not suggesting here that 175
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Shakespeare himself was a gnostic, or a nihilist, or a Nietzschean 176
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vitalist three centuries before Nietzsche. But as a dramatist, he
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