10th JUNE 2021
‘The nobleness of life is to do thus.’
An Alchemical Reading of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.
No other Shakespeare play has so divided opinion as to its genre, ethos, structure, and the natures of its twin protagonists. Failure to recognise the shaping role played by the Magnum Opus in its conception has led to frequent misreadings and authorial purposes mistook, while the finest critics have intuitively divined its presence. Coleridge commended ‘the manner in which the fiery force is sustained throughout.’ Its manifold operations – in which chemical processes were deemed analogous to transformations within the human psyche – are found to be determinants of the drama at every level: plot, themes, lexicon and symbolism. Spiritual alchemy’s declared project of human ennoblement, of making ‘defect perfection’, directs us towards Shakespeare’s deepest concerns with wholeness and fulfilment of being, and the maturing powers of ‘pure love’.
JULIA CLEAVE is an independent scholar with a special interest in the Pythagorean, Hermetic and Mystery traditions as they are to be found, still largely unacknowledged, in Renaissance and Early Modern art and literature. She is a member of the Council and Academic Board and a Fellow of the Temenos Academy.