In Sir Phillip Syndey's The Defence of Poesie he states that poetry's “final end is to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate souls, made worse by their clayey lodgings, can be capable of...”
Of all the genius that has quietly haunted the trails of our existence, the Poets some how capture our hearts attention, Sydney describes it best in that when he says, in the wake of Aristotle in his Poetics, that poetry (literature) rises above both philosophy and history, in the sense that the poet turns the philosopher’s abstract and general precepts into concrete images, while exceeding the limited imagination of the historian who, “wanting the precept, is so tied, not to what should be, but to what is; to the particular truth of things, and not to the general reason of things” (Sidney 31-32).
Is it not the poet who showed us Gulliver in his travels returning to England after he shipwrecks on the Houyhnhnms land? How could one return from near death and Utopia and continue living knowing the wild attachment our human race has to its troubled fallacies. How could the heart fathom what so many believed to be right and righteous yet produce know fruits for the ones around you?
The most advanced discovery of all genius and creatives that seemed to exist before is is that all things come from the heart. J Dilla the famous Detroit music producer once said that all of his music comes from the heart. His production of Find A Way helps us to understand the demonstrable nature of listening to the heart an the unadulterated talent that it can produce:
Reading Shakespeare's plays is an incomparable experience with depth beyond what most of us could understand in our time. Shakespeare's last play was The Tempest, and its epilogue is key to understanding the heart of his literature and the message he was trying to share with his audience:
"Now my charms are all o’erthrown, And what strength I have ’s mine own, Which is most faint. Now ’tis true I must be here confined by you, Or sent to Naples. Let me not, Since I have my dukedom got And pardoned the deceiver, dwell In this bare island by your spell, But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill, or else my project fails, Which was to please. Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant, And my ending is despair, Unless I be relieved by prayer, Which pierces so that it assaults Mercy itself, and frees all faults. As you from crimes would pardoned be, Let your indulgence set me free. He exits."
The Epilogue of The Tempest, is necessary for understanding what Shakespeare ostensibly wants his audience to take away from his play, in addition to the highly questionable practices of colonialism. This Epilogue is spoken by Prospero, whose plan of being vindicated and reinstated as the Duke of Milan has worked out according to his wish. There are some very telling elements as to what Shakespeare is actually trying to tell his audience here.
First, one should keep in mind that Shakespeare would by now be planning his retirement. In 1613 he stopped working, left London and retired to his home in Stratford upon Avon, until he died in 1616. So, many scholars believe that The Tempest was likely the last play he wrote alone (although he might have co-written other plays, including Henry VIII, before he retired completely from the stage). In turn, then, the character Prospero might be seen as actually announcing Shakespeare’s retirement from the theatre. In this light, the Epilogue only makes sense if Shakespeare’s life events are taken into account. At the end of the play, before Prospero speaks the Epilogue, he mentions to King Alonso his plans upon returning to Milan. First, he would like to witness the marriage of his daughter in Naples, “And thence retire me to my Milan, where every third thought shall be my grave” (The Tempest 5.1 311-312).
Like Prospero returning to Milan, Shakespeare returns to his birthplace, where he too lives out his days peacefully until the time of his death, presumably preparing himself for that moment. The Epilogue is even more telling as to Shakespeare’s retirement when Prospero mentions that “Now my charms are all o’erthrown and what strength I have’s mine own, which is most faint” (The Tempest Epilogue 1-2). Just as Prospero is giving up his magic power, Shakespeare intends giving up his own kind of magic, which is creating lifelike illusions on the stage for the entertainment of his audiences--his lifelong work that his power and reputation rested on.
At this point, Prospero is breaking the fourth wall and directly speaking to the audience, which can also be a rhetorical tool for a playwright to share their views with the audiences of their day. Prospero says: “Since I have my dukedom got,/ and pardon’d the deceiver, dwell/ in this bare island by your spell;/ but release me from my bands/ with the help of your good hands” (The Tempest, Epilogue 7-10). Of course, the “deceiver” Prospero refers to is his usurping, treacherous brother, but one cannot help but think that Shakespeare also has in mind his own “deceivers” whom he must forgive: the politicians, nobility, other playwrights and poets, literary critics and scholars with whom he had presumably come into conflict during his career.
Then Prospero goes on to say that he can only receive forgiveness from Shakespeare’s audience, the only people who can set him free: “Gentle breath of yours my sails/ must fill, or else my project fails,/ which was to please” (The Tempest Epilogue 11-13). Likewise, Shakespeare’s “project” was all the plays he had written to entertain or, as Prospero says, “to please”. After Prospero asks for the forgiveness of his sins from his audience because of the various charms he has wrought, he adds: “And my ending is despair,/ unless I be relieved by prayer,/ which pierces so, that it assaults/ mercy itself, and frees all faults” (The Tempest Epilogue 15-18). This is an obvious reference to Christian religion, which Prospero seemed to have forgotten in his struggles throughout the play, and which Shakespeare may very well have occasionally lost sight of in his career. The language is clearly religious and sentimental, as the last sentence runs: “As you from crimes would pardon’d be,/ let your indulgence set me free” (The Tempest Epilogue 19-20).
The most telling words here are “indulgence” and “free”. Indulgence points, to an ambiguous linguistic blending, as it can mean tolerance or forbearance, but also being entertained (or indulging in religiously forbidden pleasures such as the theater, which the Church frowned upon) and being forgiven by God. The religious concept behind indulgence (as in “papal indulgence”) is that a sinner must atone for the sins s/he has committed and suffer some type of penitence--such as incessantly repeating a prayer for a designated period, or visiting a holy place, or committing some kind of good works--before s/he can be pardoned. This penitence would allow the sinner to purify their soul and reinstate moral harmony.
Shakespeare was well aware of the various meanings behind the word indulgence. Matthew 7:12 would have dictated to him and his Christian audience: “Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (The Bible, Matthew 7:12). Shakespeare, through Prospero, invokes the Golden Rule in asking his audiences to treat him as they would have liked to be treated, thus forgiving him, so that they too would be forgiven.
Moreover, Shakespeare would, perhaps, be using religious language also to mollify King James I, who was notorious for being fearful of magic and witchcraft, having written a book on Daemonologie in 1603. Nevertheless, the epilogue is certainly a moment of either distraction or indolence to confront the audience with. The audience would contemplate their sins, and Shakespeare his own, and they would all free themselves from their various power struggles. This brings us to the last word of the Epilogue: it is very telling that the last word of possibly the last play that Shakespeare wrote on his own would be “free” (Epilogue 20).
Prospero was once a slave owner, and ironically declares himself the slave of an audience whom he asks to release him or set him free (“but release me from by bands”, Epilogue 9). Through him, Shakespeare likewise is asking his audience to free him from his theatrical career of providing others the indulgence of his plays. In turn, as the play comes to a close, the audience is also released or freed from it and its troubling concerns. Ariel is freed from slavery, Caliban is the owner of the island once more, and all power struggles and sins are resolved and forgiven. Thus, Shakespeare seems to suggest, he would likewise be free to withdraw from the struggles of society and return home to live quietly the few years he has left before his death-- a kind of karmic cleansing in which all actions of his past life have been resolved, and he achieves releasement.
If we look at the philosophy of The Secret of the Golden Flower, we recall that distraction and indolence within meditation are said to bind or “enslave” a person from true reality. It appears that Shakespeare had a similar realization, namely that his life in the theatre succumbed to ceaseless, distracting feuds and moments of ignorance. By the end of his career, he would have decided that what should be taking primacy in his thoughts and actions was to prepare for the biggest release of them all, which is death. Why else would Prospero say, after having his every wish in the world fulfilled, that he wanted to return to Milan where his “every third thought” would be contemplating his death (The Tempest 5.1 311-312). Is that not the most serious contemplation in the face of human frailty, pride and glorified attachments? But, perhaps, it is also, if we are to believe The Secret of the Golden Flower, the most exhilarating moment of freedom a human can experience. I hope that I made it clear that Shakespeare's writing clearly came from a revelation of the heart, one similar to the revelations experienced by other sages of history, a moment of freedom for them, and appearing to be genius mastery to us.
The New York rapper Nas in a song called "The Season", which he dedicated to J Dilla and used J Dilla's beats for, describes his stroke of inspiration as such:
"So I guess if he inspired my song it ain't mine
Let me make this clear, they fear the gifted
Some say Shakespeare never existed
Wow, now, look at the amount of resistance"
Whether Shakespeare the man ever existed is for academics to question, we know Shakespeare the spirit existed, whether Lao Tzu or the Buddha ever existed, we know the spirit of Lao Tzu and the Buddha live.
In Taoism one of the Three Pure Ones, the Gods of yore, Daode Tianzun is the deified form of Lao Tzu, he is said to reappear and incarnate into various beings such as Lao Tzu who wrote the Tao Te Ching. Who is to say whether or not that drinking the mead of the poets is thanks to Daode Tianzun, the knowledge bringer of the Tao or the Way? Who is to say that the god does not survey our primordial knowledge and is the bringer of wisdom throughout the ages. I cannot confirm this for anyone, however, I know that the spirit of the heart is timeless, irrespective of political, economic, or social circumstance. I could only in my wildest imagination believe that the god fosters the process of transmitting from a person's heart unto the pen and page, the protector and bringer of primordial knowledge and the Tao. Like the Thunder God of Taoism, Lei Gong, the "Chinese Daoist deity who, when so ordered by heaven, punishes both earthly mortals guilty of secret crimes and evil spirits who have used their knowledge of Daoism to harm human beings. Lei Gong carries a drum and mallet to produce thunder and a chisel to punish evildoers" (Britannica). Does not the man who speaks from the heart clear his evil intentions away, defeating them with the drum, mallet and chisel and furthermore spread good amongst the people?
The essence of the heart remains the same even though the times may have changed, the spirits these Taoist gods represent remain alive, the spirit that Shakespeare embodies remains alive irrespective of how you call them, these creative forces have constant elemental interplay. Kung Fu training has revealed it the most for me; our Grandmaster describes in his book on The Legends of Southern Shaolin the essence of the Dragon which the character Luk Ah Choy specialises in: "Dragon form trains spirit. Martial artists have their chi (or vital energy) accumulated at their dan tian (or energy fields). Extending their limbs or bending their body, their heart and their hands and legs mutually co-ordinate, like a spiritual dragon traveling in clouds, changing and modifying beyond expectation."
Like my Taisipak, Sifu Kai Uwe Jettkandt once told me, one must not debate the existence of the historical legends or histories that are passed down to us, one must extract their essence. When the essence of the Dragon spirit is mastered one lives the essence to its fullest, legend becomes reality. The exact historical details are what we call the blah blah, which may have its place in intellectual spaces, but not in the self development of the person. The Dragon form trains spirit as the Master said, the spirit is the heart, and if one is open to it and ready to train it, the intricacies of the heart seem to reveal themselves over dedicated time and unfold into profound existence.