The Kabbala of Shakespeare
At the age of twelve, my grandmother introduced me to the mysterious world of Shakespeare when she gave me Clark and Wright's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Compared to this early interest in the Bard, I was a late bloomer when in the summer of 1991 I began studying the Mystical Kabbala. The Kabbala is defined in the glossary of the Zohar as "the esoteric teachings of Judaism" (Matt, 304). Authorities differ about whether it was found by Adam, Noah, or Moses (Kraig, 54).
This knowledge is best explained with a figure called the Tree of Life. It is composed of ten spheres or sephiroths numbered one through ten and divided in different formations depending on their operations, which we will see later. By using various systems of manipulation, magicians believe they can reach God's intellectual world or control nature by harnessing the energy concealed therein (Woodman, 15).
Although I had studied the Kabbala and Shakespeare avidly, I didn't make any connection until Fall semester of 1993 when a fellow student in EN 420 Shakespeare leaned over to me and suggested that the conflict between Theseus and Hippolyta reminded him of the conflict between the Pillar of Mercy and the Pillar of Severity (see appendix). Like two vines bent toward each other, I could not prevent Shakespeare and the Kabbala from becoming hopelessly entangled by the end of the semester. When the assignment was given to do research on some topic in Shakespeare, there was little doubt in my mind what I would examine: William Shakespeare must have been aware of the Kabbala and included Kabbalistic doctrines in his plays.
Documentation was my major apprehension. Shakespeare never
uses the word "Kabbala" in the text of any of his plays, but that
does not disprove my thesis as Shakespeare made reference to
many things that he does not address directly. I searched to
see what the occult "scene" was like in the renaissance. John
Mebane says, "In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth
centuries, magic became the most powerful manifestation of
the growing conviction that human-kind should act out its
potential in the free exercise of its powers on the social and
natural environment" (3). David Ruderman describes the work
of "Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, the
leading neoplatonists in Florence in the second half of the
fifteenth century" (140), as being "Christian Kabbala" (142)
Gershom Scholem says, "On the whole, the spread of Lurrianic
Kabbalism [a branch devoted to reunion with God] was almost
entirely due to the activity of another Kabbalist, Israel Sarug,
who between 1592 and 1598 carried on a lively propaganda in
the interests of the new school among the Kabbalists of Italy"
Shakespeare had a keen ability to identify the spiritual
concerns and social interests of his times and...