SHAKESPEARE LECTURES BY CHARLES BEAUCLERK
"The Psychology of King Lear"
In this paper Beauclerk explores King Lear as a revelation of Shakespeare’s inner landscape or psychology, which is strongly influenced by the politics of the final decade of Elizabeth’s reign, when the money men finally shoved the queen out into the political wilderness. Shakespeare, whose own personal stake in the matter was considerable, acted in effect as a channel for national concerns over the succession crisis.
Beauclerk explains the many anomalies in the play which cannot be solved by means of plot or character in terms of Shakespeare's psychology, in particular his anxiety about his own identity and the theme of incest – a good example being Lear's colossal, unprovoked fury at Cordelia's honest profession of love in the opening scene. Claiming that incest is at the core of the play, Beauclerk draws parallels between the stories of Oedipus, as told by Sophocles, and King Lear. By asking the question, “Why does Edgar crucify himself?”, he opens up a hidden dimension to the play which helps make sense of the work’s peculiar rage.
Finally, Beauclerk relates the psychology of the author as revealed in the play to the life of Edward de Vere. “Psychology – or the law of the soul – should be a primary tool for determining authorship,” he writes, “because the unconscious, which never lies, breaks through the literary camouflage so beloved of the ingenious Elizabethans.”
"Shakespeare's Mystery Play" (The Tempest)
This paper explores why The Tempest might have been placed first in the Folio of Shakespeare’s Collected Works (1623), and suggests that the play is the unifying principle of the entire canon. In other words, it is there to initiate the reader into the principal themes and philosophy of Shakespeare’s plays, with Prospero − a clear personation of the author − as guide. It presents Shakespeare as the literary champion of the Occult Neoplatonists, and therefore himself a suitable original for the magus Prospero − Prospero the philosopher king − who seeks to bring his former adversaries to a new way of thinking and living.
It also explores The Tempest as a work which has a good deal to say about Shakespeare’s Book and how to read it, and which in a sense seeks to shape his literary legacy. Much emphasis is placed upon the strangeness and improbability of Prospero-Shakespeare’s story and by implication the likely incredulity of future generations. In revealing himself to his astonished colleagues and in his vow to drown his book, Prospero-Shakespeare brings his deepest soul-fantasy − that of restoration − centre stage; while through the union of Ferdinand and Miranda, which proves to be his chief care, the magus instills his Book with the spirit of royalty and achieves that coniunctio oppositorum (“marriage of opposites) that leads to self-realization.
The paper also delves into the psychology and mythology of the play, and demonstrates how it tallies with a royal author alienated by his genius from mainstream culture and politics, who creates a second, artistic kingdom to challenge the status quo. Metaphorically it demonstrates that Shakespeare leads his readers through a maze towards the centre of the island, where they will find both the true author and their own soul-life.
In this paper Charles Beauclerk argues that the Shakespeare authorship question grew out of Shakespeare's own identity crisis, which manifests itself through the principal themes and characters of the plays. These themes reveal Shakespeare to have been an obsessive man, who reworked certain key ideas throughout his life. In addition to identifying critical themes and image clusters to elucidate the author’s psychology, Beauclerk argues that Shakespeare used the chivalric romance tradition to bind up and unify his work. In it he found an ingenious means both of celebrating his alienation and shaping his chief literary persona – that of the Spear-shaker, England's hidden champion.
"Measure for Measure: The Uses and Abuses of Power"
Duke Vincentio, the hero of Measure for Measure, is another obscured prince, who is immediately allied to Hamlet in his description of himself as "a scholar, a statesman, and a soldier". He abdicates power at the start of the action in order to set in motion a play within the play, which he then directs. The Duke's play is a study of power and its abuses, in particular political and sexual power. Under his careful direction the principal characters are led through crisis to greater self-knowledge. The Duke is aware of the darker side of Angelo's character from the beginning, and knows what sort of drama will unfold. He has a keen nose for a good plot and his dramatic timing is impeccable. In giving up executive power and assuming the habit of a friar – wearing a mask to be more fully himself – the Duke follows Shakespeare's own essential myth, renouncing authority for a deeper source of power, authorship.
Ultimately, the play that the Duke formulates is designed as a way for him to marry the virgin, Isabella (read Queen Elizabeth), while keeping her purity in tact. As such, Vincentio could be said to deliver a lesson in having your virgin and eating her! – a fundamentally Shakespearean preoccupation. Charles Beauclerk uses the play to explore the author’s sexual psychology, which he then relates to the life and concerns of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford at the time he composed the play in the early 1580s.
"Bottom's Lost Kingdom" (Midsummer Night's Dream)
You can be sure that the more Shakespeare appears to drift off into the realms of fantasy, the more brutally honest he is being. A Midsummer Night’s Dream with its enchanted wood and comic transformations is a case in point. Like the bold colours in the fool’s motley coat, fantasy and truth are woven on a single frame, and with Hermia we begin to see things “with parted eye,/ When everything seems double.”
Beneath the genial surface comedy of the play lurks a darker story, fraught with danger – one of broken troth and unrequited love; of lost sovereignty, a royal child spirited away; of art made tongue-tied by authority. To fully understand this subtext, and with it the true implications of the play, one has to take a look at Shakespeare’s sources, in particular Ovid’s Metamorphoses (the tales of Pyramus and Thisbe, Theseus’s war against the Amazons and his slaying of the Minotaur, and the myth of Actaeon), The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius and Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale.
When the Fairy Queen falls in love with an ass (or “monster” as Puck calls the metamorphosed Bottom), can we doubt that we are witnessing satire so perilous that the word “treason” springs involuntarily to our lips? Even Bottom himself, a compulsive gabbler, is aware of the dangers: “Masters, I am to discourse wonders,” he declares to his fellow artisans after waking from his dream, “but ask me not what; for if I tell you, I am not true Athenian.”
But who is this Bottom? He’s a weaver (of words), an artisan yet a “gentle mortal” (i.e. noble), one whose nature – like the author of sonnet 111 – has almost been subdued by what it works in, like the dyer’s hand; whose singing so enchants the Fairy Queen that she falls in love with him, yet whose tongue must be tied for he has a propensity for telling all. This is no ordinary royal consort, but one who can roar like a nightingale! In other words, he is the author himself, who inveighs (roars) against his fellow courtiers in sweet and subtle poetry.
"Timon: Son of Fortune"
Most scholars believe that Timon of Athens is only a rough draft – a cri de coeur – and that Shakespeare either abandoned it or intended to return to it, but never did. Yet they fail to grasp just how precious this piece of raw, unrefined Shakespeare is as a revelation of the author’s psychology.
Uniquely in Shakespeare there are no female characters in Timon (but for the brief appearance of a couple of featureless whores). It’s as if the entire play takes place within the idealistic mind of its hero. Echoing Bottom’s dream in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play that finds many bizarre reflections in this later tragedy, the action seems to comprise Timon’s dream of kingship, a dream crushed beneath the wheel of Fortune. “Sun, hide thy beams," he laments at the close of action, "Timon hath done his reign".
Timon’s largess is not based on his means, but on his presumptuous relationship to Fortune, the sole feminine presence of the play and its only deity. Right from the start the figure of Fortuna, the goddess of chance (one of the most popular tropes for Elizabeth I) is pictured towering over the action. Seated on a high hill, whose base swarms with suitors, she singles out Timon for her favour. He is her minion; her son. Indeed so fully does Timon identify with her that he shares her powers, imitating her as a source of universal bounty. Timon’s court is Fortune’s court.
Fortune has other faces in the play, most notably Athens (and her patron goddess Athena) and Gold, which is described both as a "visible god" and the "common whore of mankind" - fair outside, yet rotten within. She is both the all-bounteous mother and the goddess of destruction. Her relationship with Timon furnishes the hidden core of the play. Timon had fantasized that he and Fortune would preside over a Court of Love. When she spurns him and casts him down, the consequences are loss of identity and madness. His rage dwarfs the play, and Timon - once spoken of as "sun" and "phoenix" - becomes "Misanthropos", a man without a name.
"Sir Philip Sidney Satirized in Merry Wives of Windsor"
(The Elizabethan Review, Autumn 1994, Vol.2, No.2)
This article appears under the name Charles Vere
"Edward de Vere and the Psychology of Feudalism"
(The Elizabethan Review, Autumn 1995, Vol.3, No.2.)
This article appears under the name Charles Vere
"Holding up the Gorgon's Head" (Macbeth)
"As You Like It: Courtly Conflicts in the Life of Edward de Vere"