Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Was Shakespeare Jewish?
Recently in preparing myself to teach a class on Shakespeare's sonnets I started to reread them after many years. I was astounded to find that they seemed to be mystical poems about the spiritual life. I noticed at first the links with Catholic mysticism and especially St John of the Cross but I also started to notice seeming links to Jewish mystical concepts and understandings. I started to do some research into the interpretations of the sonnets and was rather surprised and disappointed to see that the modern obsession with sexuality seems to be followed by many interpreters today. Their conclusion seemed to be that Shakespeare was either homosexual or bisexual. While the interpretation that the youth was a platonic friend made more sense to me, I was not satisfied with this interpretation either.
While I felt there was some allusions to sexuality in the sonnets, these references, along with the other vices, were part of the pilgrims spiritual journey. The young man or youth that many commentators referred to, seemed to me, to be not Shakespeare's lover but his younger self. The Dark Lady was not a negro prostitute as proposed by some or a Marrano woman as proposed by others but she was the mystical Dark Lady referred to by St John of the Cross and the Zohar linked with the concept of the Black Madonna. She is the mystical Miriam alluded to in the text of Genesis 1. The intense language of love of the sonnets mirrors the mystical poetry of the soul's longing for the Divine found in the Song of Songs and the poetry of St John of the Cross.
There is clear evidence that Shakespeare came from a secret Catholic family but I was also surprised that there is also evidence that Shakespeare came from a Catholic family of Jewish ancestry and that there is evidence that Shakespeare had knowledge of Jewish learning. It would seem that Shakespeare's grandfather Richard was originally from the Shapiro, Spiro or Spira family. One writer claims that his name was Jaco (Jacob) Spiro. It may be that Richard was a son of Rabbi Nathan Nata Spiro (or Shapiro) of Grodno in Europe.
The greatest mystical work of Judaism is the Zohar which opens with the mystery of the Rosa Mystica (Mystical Rose/ Shoshana Sodot)and the second line of Shakespeare's first sonnet also refers to the beauty of the Rose. The first line of his second sonnet refers to the age of 40. This is the age at which one is usually permitted to study the mysteries of the Kabbalah according to Judaism. These sonnets also allude to the mystic beholding himself, which is common in Catholic and Jewish mysticism. The second line of the second sonnet also refers to Beauty's Field and this may allude to the Apple Field or the Field of the Sefirot. Jewish mysticism links this mystical Field with the Shekhinah (the female Presence). Beauty may allude to the Shekhinah or more likely to Tiferet (the Blessed Holy One of Israel). The third sonnet alludes to the Mother and the Mystical Mirror spoken about in the Book of Wisdom and in the Zohar. Like the Song of Songs these sonnets have been written to be understood on different levels. From the literal or story level they ascend to the mystical level of understanding. To see these sonnets as referring to some kind of obsessive and tawdry love affairs by Shakespeare misses the point and the power that these poems have retained through the ages. They appeal to something deep in the soul of man that longs for the true love which is divine love.
Posted by Catholic Jew at 7:44 PM