The aim of this study is to offer a reading of one of William Shakespeare’s last plays, The Winter’s Tale, in the light of alchemical and Hermetic imagery and language. Moving from the theoretical apparatus of the history of ideas, first theorised by Arthur Lovejoy, this dissertation provides a new perspective from which to interpret a play much debated as The Winter’s Tale. The dissemination of Hermetic and alchemical ideas reached a climax in both England and the rest of Europe precisely in-between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries: a number of editions and translations of alchemical treatises were amply circulating either singularly or in wide collections. Among the most renowned writings of the time, well known to Shakespeare and his audience, were the works of the Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus. Interestingly enough, Shakespeare’s son-in-law, the physician John Hall, employed Paracelsian remedies, as attested by his medical diary. As a matter of fact, the controversy between Galenists and Paracelsians is explicitly evoked in one of Shakespeare’s comedies: All’s Well That Ends Well. In England, under the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James, alchemy was a highly controversial subject: even though it offered poets, dramatists, and artists a rich set of allegorical images and symbols with which to praise the monarchs and their court, it was also perceived as a dangerous and fraudulent activity. Elizabeth, defined as the “vndeluding alchemist” by William Warner and as an “Alchymist diuine” by John Davies, was praised as both a patron and a symbol of the alchemical art, even though her attitude towards alchemy was not always straightforward: the queen, who devoted herself to alchemical practices with John Dee, usually employed intermediary figures, such as William Cecil and Francis Walsingham, when dealing with alchemists who sought for royal patronage. Unlike Queen Elizabeth, King James is usually considered as totally hostile to the world of Renaissance Hermeticism. However, significant evidence exists that testifies to James’s refusal of black magic and witchcraft and attests, instead, that he liked to be identified with Hermes Trismegistus and Solomon, the ‘fathers’ of alchemy. Francis Bacon himself, in the Epistle Dedicatory of The Advancement of Learning (1605), defines the Stuart monarch as “invested of that triplicity which in great veneration was ascribed to the ancient Hermes”. The Winter’s Tale, almost contemporary with Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and performed by the same theatre company, the King’s Men, questions several of the issues that were at the core of Renaissance Hermetic culture. The most evident reference to Hermeticism that is to be found in Shakespeare’s romance is provided by the statue scene: by putting on stage a sculptural work of art that seemingly comes to life, Shakespeare alludes to the Egyptian magic and art that is recounted in the Hermetic treatise Asclepius. This dissertation, however, also investigates several aspects of the play that have never been read in this light before. The protagonist of the romance, King Leontes, is submitted to a process of symbolical death and rebirth, a pattern that recalls the cycle of the 'opus alchymicum' and all those alchemical parables that dwell upon the allegory of the transmutation of the so-called 'rex chymicus', emblem of philosophical gold. In the healing, and obliquely alchemical, journey of the drama, Paulina plays a central role: the woman, who employs her magical art to restore life and ‘mend’ nature, functions as a personification of the alchemical art. Furthermore, time and water are essential in the redemptive and circular path of the play: as in alchemical imagery, they are conceived of as both destroying and healing, contributing to ‘re-create’ the diseased microcosm of Leontes and the macrocosm of nature.

"'This wide gap of time since first / We were dissevered.' Alchemy, Time, Water, and Royalty in The Winter's Tale" / Martina Zamparo - : . , 2018 Oct 26. ((30. ciclo, Anno Accademico 2016/2017.

"'This wide gap of time since first / We were dissevered.' Alchemy, Time, Water, and Royalty in The Winter's Tale"

ZAMPARO, MARTINA
2018-10-26

Abstract

The aim of this study is to offer a reading of one of William Shakespeare’s last plays, The Winter’s Tale, in the light of alchemical and Hermetic imagery and language. Moving from the theoretical apparatus of the history of ideas, first theorised by Arthur Lovejoy, this dissertation provides a new perspective from which to interpret a play much debated as The Winter’s Tale. The dissemination of Hermetic and alchemical ideas reached a climax in both England and the rest of Europe precisely in-between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries: a number of editions and translations of alchemical treatises were amply circulating either singularly or in wide collections. Among the most renowned writings of the time, well known to Shakespeare and his audience, were the works of the Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus. Interestingly enough, Shakespeare’s son-in-law, the physician John Hall, employed Paracelsian remedies, as attested by his medical diary. As a matter of fact, the controversy between Galenists and Paracelsians is explicitly evoked in one of Shakespeare’s comedies: All’s Well That Ends Well. In England, under the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James, alchemy was a highly controversial subject: even though it offered poets, dramatists, and artists a rich set of allegorical images and symbols with which to praise the monarchs and their court, it was also perceived as a dangerous and fraudulent activity. Elizabeth, defined as the “vndeluding alchemist” by William Warner and as an “Alchymist diuine” by John Davies, was praised as both a patron and a symbol of the alchemical art, even though her attitude towards alchemy was not always straightforward: the queen, who devoted herself to alchemical practices with John Dee, usually employed intermediary figures, such as William Cecil and Francis Walsingham, when dealing with alchemists who sought for royal patronage. Unlike Queen Elizabeth, King James is usually considered as totally hostile to the world of Renaissance Hermeticism. However, significant evidence exists that testifies to James’s refusal of black magic and witchcraft and attests, instead, that he liked to be identified with Hermes Trismegistus and Solomon, the ‘fathers’ of alchemy. Francis Bacon himself, in the Epistle Dedicatory of The Advancement of Learning (1605), defines the Stuart monarch as “invested of that triplicity which in great veneration was ascribed to the ancient Hermes”. The Winter’s Tale, almost contemporary with Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and performed by the same theatre company, the King’s Men, questions several of the issues that were at the core of Renaissance Hermetic culture. The most evident reference to Hermeticism that is to be found in Shakespeare’s romance is provided by the statue scene: by putting on stage a sculptural work of art that seemingly comes to life, Shakespeare alludes to the Egyptian magic and art that is recounted in the Hermetic treatise Asclepius. This dissertation, however, also investigates several aspects of the play that have never been read in this light before. The protagonist of the romance, King Leontes, is submitted to a process of symbolical death and rebirth, a pattern that recalls the cycle of the 'opus alchymicum' and all those alchemical parables that dwell upon the allegory of the transmutation of the so-called 'rex chymicus', emblem of philosophical gold. In the healing, and obliquely alchemical, journey of the drama, Paulina plays a central role: the woman, who employs her magical art to restore life and ‘mend’ nature, functions as a personification of the alchemical art. Furthermore, time and water are essential in the redemptive and circular path of the play: as in alchemical imagery, they are conceived of as both destroying and healing, contributing to ‘re-create’ the diseased microcosm of Leontes and the macrocosm of nature.
Racconto d'Inverno; Shakespeare; ultimi drammi; alchimia; filosofia ermetica
The Winter's Tale; Shakespeare; last plays; Renaissance alchemy; filosofia ermetica
"'This wide gap of time since first / We were dissevered.' Alchemy, Time, Water, and Royalty in The Winter's Tale" / Martina Zamparo - : . , 2018 Oct 26. ((30. ciclo, Anno Accademico 2016/2017.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11390/1196808
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