Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Separation, union, and transcendence

E. Separation, union, and transcendence in the play and in the Rosarium alchemical series

There is another a way of seeing the mythic aspects of the play that would not have been foreign to Shakespeare’s audience, an extension of the Platonistic-Hermetic framework I have been discussing. This is by means of alchemical "emblems," pictures, together with a motto, illustrating a theme. Most relevant for our purposes is the Rosarium Philosophorum, published in 1558 at Frankfurt-am-Main. Its German origin does not belie influence on Shakespeare, because  English noblemen often visited Protestant princes on diplomatic missions, and could easily have brought the book back with them, to be shared with others. In any case, I am only trying to communicate the spirit of the times. The first 10 of its 20 emblems were made famous by Jung in his Psychology of the Transference (1966, originally published 1946), where he used them to elucidate the romance-like relationship of analyst to patient.

The first emblem shows a fountain emptying into a basin or bath, symbolic of the work's container, the soul and the body. The second and third show a King and Queen facing each other, a scene reminiscent of the man and the woman in the Song of Songs  (Fig.  5).
 In the fourth, the pair are in the bath. In the fifth, the pair is lying in the bath entwined in each other; the emblem's label is Coniunctio, or Coitus (Fig.  5a).
 A variant, number 11 in the series, shows the pair with wings but in the same position, only slightly apart in the groin; the Lady's hand seems to be holding him back (Fig.  5b).  Although much later in the Rosarium series, Jung places it with the other. This emblem is labeled fermentatio--the couple’s love is fermenting, rather than expressing itself actively. The man is verschlossen, the verse  says--blocked or shut in. Next the bath becomes a tomb, and the pair now one person with two heads (Fig.  5c); it is the Conceptio, or Putrefactio.

Next the soul ascends to heaven (the extractio), then rain comes down onto the unified body, and the soul returns (the mundificatio). The tenth (Fig.  5d) shows the two-headed person rising aloft, with a single pair of wings.
Much of this imagery relates well to the play. The goal is to overcome the separation of the male and the female, as separate individuals and as aspects of the complete personality. This is begun in the simple coniunctio of emblem 5, which depicts ordinary sexual intercourse, which occurs on Romeo and Juliet’s wedding night. It occurred verbally the previous night, twice in fact, at the ball and at her window. After each intercourse, verbal and sexual, they separate, and their love continues within the two of them, fermenting. The wings in the variant of number 5 (Jung calls it 5a; it is our 5b) suggest spiritualization. (A Tantric-like stopping or slowing down of intercourse once begun is also possible.) Similarly Romeo and Juliet each is for the other an angel, which the wings signify. The putrefactio, death or deathlike sleep in the tomb, is simplistically the state following climax. But it is also the meditation needed for soul to separate from body and create a new, spiritual being. It suggests Romeo’s view of death as what will free them from the tyranny of the stars in this world, and also Juliet’s sleep. The new life, their unity in the tomb, is also that of the hermaphroditic body, the rising of the king-queen angel, the immortal being that joins both sexes as in the visions of Plato, Gnosticism, the Zohar, and D. H. Lawrence quoted earlier. Even this achievement is not the end; the Rosarium has nine more emblems, which Jung interprets as the continuation of the individuation process.

The transformation of bath into tomb relates to the psychological process, and the play, in several ways. First, it suggests the "death" aspect of the "little death" of orgasm, and its confusion of boundaries between individuals, followed by lassitude afterwards, and, in favorable conditions, a continued suspension of separateness which slowly dissipates. This is the outcome of the "marriages at night": they are not eternal, as the Gospel of Philip reminded us. Second, the new image of the tomb suggests the life that Romeo and Juliet experience after their wedding night, in sorrow at separation, which both imagine in terms of death. Here the rain that falls in the later emblem is their tears. They are separate physically but not in their imaginations.

More generally, the tomb on this level displays part of  the course of any project that reaches out to a meaningful object. First there is a sense of aliveness and meaning, and a feeling of close connection with the object. But then when the project, defined in a particular way, has gone as far as it, or outside circumstances, will allow, there is a loss of the former aliveness-a putrefactio follows the coniunctio. In this case the rain is not just sorrow but also a process of transcending the old project, an extractio from it, and then a returning to earth, mundificatio, followed by the appearance of a new project or system of meaningful reaching out which has internalized the old one, in a sense combined it within one’s own being. Both before and after this appearance, there is a fermentatio, in which the internalization incubates and the new project is born. At least, this is how the process should work--we, like our lovers, often get stuck at one stage or another.

On the stage we see Romeo and Juliet's bodily reunion, ironically in her tomb, which the Rosarium’s image of the hermaphrodite in the bath or tomb suggests. At the same time the opposite ending is implied, the one desired by the lovers in choosing death, that of their eternal spiritual union, suggested by the winged two-headed king-queen rising in triumph. For us, too, an essential goal is the death of old divisions in the soul and the establishment of a higher unity. With Jung, I analyze the completeness of which the Gnostics spoke, and the alchemists drew, as a unity between the conscious and the unconscious, to which the anima or animus, projected onto a loved other, is a bridge. This projection is also the ray of spiritual light which our receptive, feminine-imaged consciousness receives from an unconscious beyond vastly more comprehensive than the ego. Jung points out that the whole process of contemplating the emblems, together with the accompanying text, describes one individual's experience, not two. Other people nonetheless are indispensable, as the mirror in which we see our unconscious aspects. In an object of romantic love, we see an aspect of ourselves to be integrated. The result is not necessarily a cessation of love for the other, but a recognition of how each is in the other, a recognition that changes and develops.

Our lovers, unfortunately, have neither read Jung on the Rosarium nor are thinking of their love in terms of Gnostic spirituality; so they are not aware that in loving the other they are loving a projection of which the essential part is still alive in themselves; nor do they suppose that as a result of their marriage, as an image of the one in heaven, they have conceived the Christ. As a result, when the other dies it seems to them that the most important part of themselves has died, and there is nothing to do but follow that part to wherever it has gone. Their tragedy is their ignorance: not just Romeo's ignorance that Juliet was not dead, but the ignorance on both their parts that their spiritual life on earth, or their psychological individuation as free human beings, had just begun.

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