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1. The beginnings of a ‘Motherless’ world or
The crime against love as humanity
“When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools.”
— William Shakespeare, King Lear
“We wordly men
Have miserable, mad, mistaking eyes.”
— William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus
The original mythology of the matriarchal society was that of the Goddess Earth in her three aspects: the white Goddess of birth and growth, the red Goddess of war and battle and the black Goddess of death and divination, praised and respected by men as her sons and lovers.
She was “the personification of the power of Space, Time and Matter within whose bounds all arise and die”, “the substance of body, configurator of life and thought, receiver of the dead for rebirth”. This was a mythology of unity, the Goddess was the Goddess of Complete Being, and man belonged to the cycles of nature as son and lover of the Goddess. In the course of time, however, the mythology was transformed, reinterpreted and eventually suppressed.
The Goddess was demonized and men turned into her masters. From the moment Antaeus, son of Gea, was ‘weaned’ remorselessly by Hercules, son of Zeus, the ‘Cogito ergo sum’ principle became the overpowering force in the world and the creative contact with Undine was severed for good.
What William Shakespeare tries to show us are tragic consequences of the myth of love substituted by the myth of power, domination and materialism. Such view of life reduced to a mere set of objects J.
C. Ransom calls ‘Platonism’. It is above all predatory for it translates the complexity of life to a set of manageable formulas, it is an impulse to devour and assimilate the richness of life out of fear that such complexity might annihilate our existence. “The Platonic idea becomes the Logos which science worships, which is the Occidental God, whose minions we are, and whose children, claiming a large share in his powers for patrimony.”
According to Ted Hughes, a great Shakespearian, Shakespeare puts the whole Western civilization on trial for the worst crime ever committed, namely the crime against the feminine principle. Such principle in this sense is not just the woman; it is also the feminine part of being inherent in all human beings, male and female. It is the anima, emotions, feelings and instincts, the demiurgic potential in man, and the innate human need and ability to love. The establishment of today prevents such principle because it cannot be controlled by man-made rules imposed on the human race and can ultimately make man reconsider and question the world and structures around him, preserve his humanity and remind him of his connections with the world of nature he once belonged to. Because the culture perceives this kind of knowledge as a threat, it has made an effort to prevent even a possibility of creative bonding happening by severing the natural bond of the mother and the child thus diminishing the influence of the mother who is reduced to a mere breeder of future ‘moneymakers’ without her own voice and role in bringing up her children. Such mothers in return become either passive puppets and a part of social apparatus unable to rise above the rule of the Father, or demons, annihilating everything that comes in their way, including their own children.
Shakespeare was often criticized for not giving any significant role to mothers in his plays. However, being able to see the actual influence of mothers over their children, if any, he is constantly warning us against the tragic outcome of the denial of the Mother. He did not thus deliberately exclude the mother, only he could not give her a major role in his plays because she herself did not have that role in the real life. Characters of mothers are present in his works, but they reveal the perversion of the mother’s principle; they show women who have lost their human qualities and turned into destructive persons and enemies to their children. Instead of essence, there is false appearance, instead of love – hate; instead of pity – ambition. The question remains how woman is turned thus, to use Nietzsche’s metaphor, from a potential diamond into a charcoal. And it needs to be answered if humankind is to have any future at all, for what children will spring from unloving mothers?
A few years ago the public was presented with a shocking movie by Robert Wilson, showing a mother in the kitchen taking a glass of milk to her children, going back to the kitchen, taking a knife and stabbing them.. What is even more surprising is that there is no blood running out of them, showing us that the children had no real life force whatsoever running through their veins, as well as the fact that instead of the nourishing ‘milk of human kindness’, their mother had only refrigerated, artificial milk to offer.
The questions that imposes itself is how can we survive without being corrupt by our survival in such a world where even the most important person responsible for presenting us with the picture of the world and shaping our minds in early childhood is corrupted herself, let alone the variety of ISA-s and RSA-s as Althusser terms them? The only answer and help we can get is by reading great literature and, above all, Shakespeare, for he has, better than and before any other writer, managed to, precisely by excluding mothers from his plays, make us ask ourselves why that is so and ultimately ask the essential – is another world where mothers are given the status they deserve still possible?
2. Mother or ‘a soul murderer’?
Emilia: “Then let them use us well, else let them know
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.”
— William Shakespeare, Othello
What does it take to breed a child who is financially aggressive and values monetary success? It helps if you value financial success yourself. After all, kids identify with their parents. Child-rearing styles also play into it. The less warm, involved and democratic parents are, the more they attune a child to financial success…When mothers are cold and controlling, their children focus on attaining security and a sense of self-worth through external success, such as financial success.
— Psychology Today, March/April 1996
The destructive influence of the mother can be interpreted in terms of C. G. Jung’s theory of animus and anima. “The animus corresponds to the paternal Logos and anima corresponds to the maternal Eros. In men, Eros is usually less developed than Logos, whereas with women it is vice versa: Eros is an expression of their true nature, while their Logos is often only a regrettable accident” Even in a woman who seems to be very feminine at first sight, animus can also be a strict, unyielding, unbending power. In that case a woman becomes unconsciously the enemy both to her husband and her children. Such women have preserved only one aspect of the former trinity, namely the black goddess of death and divination, no longer maintaining any meaningful relationship with their children and supporting only social power under the slogan ‘the end justifies the means’. However, there rises a question of how it has happened that animus prevails in women? Shakespeare gives us the answer in his plays, telling us that the perversion of mothers and the feminine in general is the result of the denial of their creative powers by the masculine principle.
What Shakespeare wanted to show us in his play ‘Titus Andronicus’, by deliberately setting the action in ancient Rome, the cradle of modern civilization, a metaphor of high culture and civil organization, is that precisely at such places and such times ‘master cities’ produce post-civilized barbarism, the outcome of which is Tamora, the Queen of Goths, incapable of feeling any guilt or remorse whatsoever and planting death everywhere. However, before she turned demonic, she was victimized by the masculine principle, the Father, embodied in Titus Andronicus, a Roman general, who, after winning the battle of Rome, is asked by his people to sacrifice her eldest son in the name of Roman soldiers killed in war. She throws her pride before his feet and pleads to spare her son:
“Victorious Titus, rue the tears I shed,
A mother’s tears in passion for her son:
And if thy sons were ever dear to thee,
O, think my son to be as dear to me….
…stain not thy tomb with blood:
Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods?
Draw near them then in being merciful:
Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge;
Thrice-noble Titus, spare my first-born son.’
However, he remains deaf to her pleads and makes the sacrifice to the gods of war. Like Shylock, the villainy she is taught she will execute, but ‘better the instruction’, and indeed, she becomes a monster, a mother without love for anyone’s children and prepares for revenge:
‘I’ll find a day to massacre them all,
And raze their faction and their family,
The cruel father, and his traitorous sons,
To whom I sued for my dear son’s life;
And make them know what’t is to let a queen
Kneel in the streets, and beg for grace in vain.’
Pretending to have forgiven the past deeds, she plots against Titus and as her ‘sacred wit is to villainy and vengeance consecrate’ she proclaims herself ‘incorporate in Rome, a Roman now adopted happily’. She has ultimately become what society has asked her to – a merciless woman, a loveless mother, a perfect product of the ‘high’ civilization who, when Lavinia asks for mercy, encourages her sons to mutilate her:
‘Hadst thou in person ne’er offended me,
Even for his sake am I pitiless. –
Remember, boys, I pour’d forth tears in vain
To save your brother from the sacrifice;
But fierce Andronicus would not relent:
Therefore, away with her, and use her as you will;
The worse to her, the better loved of me.’
Her whole being is yearning for revenge. Convinced that Titus has lost his sanity, she makes a social call upon him disguised as a personified Revenge:
‘I am not Tamora:
She is thy enemy, and I thy friend.
I am Revenge, sent from the infernal kingdom…
…Confer with me of murder and of death.
There’s not a hollow cave or lurking-place,
No vast obscurity or misty vale,
Where bloody murder or detested rape,
Can couch for fear, but I will find them out.’
At the end, she is killed by Titus, but not before he tells her that she was fed ‘the flesh that she herself hath bred’, her two sons, thus punishing her in the way worse than death.
We witness the similar negative metamorphosis in Lady Macbeth, though not driven by revenge, but by ambition and social status, all at the expense of love. She is as well a representative of a demonized mother, without pity or love, but yearning for masculine, political power, and though not committing actual murders herself, she is crueler than her husband:
“…yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition; but without
The illness should attend it;”
What she fears most is the ‘milk of human kindness’ not only in her husband, but also in herself, that residue of human quality not created by culture or manipulated by it, a residue of guilt and remorse which might betray ambition and she is determined not to allow that to happen. The milk here also metaphorically implies her motherhood, for, although it is never explicitly stated, it is obvious that she has given birth:
“I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluckt my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dasht the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.”
Shakespeare makes us witness here a complete perversion of the mother principle, a woman refusing her biological fundamental – motherly love, denying her own child the breast she has offered to the ministers of hell.
Love, in any sense, is not compatible with power and ambition; therefore, she makes a sacrificial offering to the gods of power – denies her motherhood, femininity, sexuality and thus her humanity, ready to perform what civilization has taught her:
‘Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full
O direst cruelty! Make thick my blood,
Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse;
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
Th’ effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers.
Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry, ‘Hold, hold!‘
In her loveless world, conscience is of little importance and she deals with it in a superficial manner:
“Go, get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.-
…A little water clears us of this deed:
How easy is it then!’
The path of hate and murder she has chosen can only lead her to a tragic end; and, indeed, she goes mad and commits a suicide, subconsciously aware of her inner perversion as well as of the fact that no water can quench her crimes or wash away her awakened moral conscience. Only too late does she realize that the devourer is now devoured by her own ambition and that:
”T is safer to be that which we destroy,
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.’
In her essay ‘The Transgressor Mother’ Adrienne Rich describes two types of mothers reduced to a controllable aspect and provided a limited space in which to act: one is the so-called ‘milk-and-cookies’ mother obsessed with feeding her children and without any significant influence on their mental development, the other is known as ‘with the shield or on it’, a mother who has completely embraced the patriarchal culture and its ideologies thus denying values of loyalty and soul.
One of such ferocious mothers is given a major role in Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’ again not incidentally by setting the action in Rome. Volumnia is described by Harold Bloom as the most unpleasant woman in all of Shakespeare, not excluding Goneril and Regan’. He states that, like everybody else in the play, she has only an outward self with only a few clues of how an early Roman matron became the Strindbergian Goddess of Strife. In what Bloom calls ‘Shakespeare’s strangest play’ she remains the most surprising character, not easily assimilable to an ‘average’ devouring mother. She boasts of having sent Caius Martius Coriolanus off to battle when he was very young and delights in blood, even her son’s:
‘…It more becomes a man
than gilt his trophy. The breasts of Hecuba
When she did suckle Hector looked not lovelier
Than Hector’s forehead when it spit forth blood
At Grecian sword, contemning.’
While waiting for her son to come back from a battle outside Rome, she is proud of his success in the army, even wanting him to come back wounded:
“I pray you, daughter, sing; or express yourself in a more comfortable sort; if my son were my husband, I should freelier rejoice in that absence wherein he won honour than in the embracements of his bed where he would show most love… I – considering how honour would become such a person – was pleased to let him seek danger where he was likely to find fame. Ta cruel war I sent him…I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man – child that now in first seeing he had proved himself a man.”
Instead of a tender and loving mother, she becomes a powerful tool of society satisfied even if her son died in battle because she ‘had rather had eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.’
As he marches home, his mother and friends greedily count up his wounds to be shown to people when he stands for the office or consul. Volumnia also acts as Coriolanus’s highly suggestive advisor and urges him to forget his consciousness and accept Machiavellian role play even at the price of self-betrayal by pleading with plebeians for their votes in order to become a consul. However, Coriolanus does not want to succumb: “Would you have me false to my nature?” He is proclaimed a political traitor and later on is banished, joins his former enemies, the Volscians and attacks Rome. What is truly tragic is the confrontation between mother and son when she exhorts him to turn back as he leads his Volscians against Rome:
‘The’s no man in the world
more bound to’s mother, yet here he lets me prate
Like one l’th’stock.’
Since he cannot refuse his mother, Coriolanus accepts to stop the invasion, but it brings only the total collapse of the self and the awful ‘triumph’ of Volumnia:
“What have you done?
… O my mother, mother! O!
You have won a happy victory to Rome;
But, for your son, believe it, O, believe it,
Most dangerously you have with him prevail’d
If not most mortal to him.”
There is a song by Bob Dylan, John Brown, which can be interpreted as a modern version of Coriolanus. The story is about a young boy who joins the ‘good old-fashioned war’ in Vietnam wholeheartedly encouraged by his mother, who is, just like Volumnia, boasting around the neighbourhood about her son and medals he will bring to put them on the wall. However, when John Brown returned from the war, she did not, like Volumnia, greet the trumpets before the ‘great warrior’:
‘Before him he carries noise, and behind him he leaves tears.
Death, that dark spirit, in’s nervy arm doth lie,
Which being advanced, declines; and then men die.’
Tragically, on the train station she encounters her son badly wounded and shocked at ‘how is it come to be this way’, he brings the truth to her eyes:
‘Oh, and I thought when I was there, God, what am I doing here?
I’m a-trying to kill somebody or die trying’.
But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine.’
Unlike ‘Coriolanus’, where the mother has one of the main roles, Shakespeare wrote plays in which a mother exists, but is not given a major role. Although ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tragedy of two young people, it also deals with the status of the mother in the society, although this theme is not emphasized. There are two ‘mothers’ in the play: one is a real mother, Lady Capulet, and the other a surrogate one, the Nurse, who breast-fed Juliet and acted as her guide in life. There is a great similarity between the two women in the sense that both of them are merely puppets in the ‘male’ world, acting in accordance with social norms and looking at marriage not as a union of two people in love, but as a union of two assets. When old Capulet wants Juliet to be married to Paris, he sends his wife to talk Juliet into it. Lady Capulet is fascinated by the idea that her daughter might be married to young Paris since the marriage will bring her money and social recognition:
“…So shall you share all that he doth possess,
By having him, making yourself no less.”
When talking about the marriage she does not talk about genuine love and emotions, but is interested only in the outcome of the marriage: social status. Herself raised and prepared for love and marriage as a social contract, she cannot understand Juliet’s refusal to marry money and replies to her husband:
“ay, sir; but she will none, she gives you thanks.
I would the fool were married to her grave!”
The ideology implanted in her since early childhood is so strong that she has lost the capability of having a meaningful relationship with her daughter, so she leaves her child to be educated by the Nurse, who, unfortunately, represents the other side of the same ideology saying that women exist to ‘increase male ‘Numbers’, by pleasuring either men’s bodies or their minds’. Her belief that women exist only to give pleasure to man is a consequence of her husband who, having seen young Juliet fall, says:
“Yea, dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit;
Wilt thou not, Jule?”
Sexual gratification for her future husband is not the only ‘value’ of young Juliet; it is her dowry as well because:
‘… he that can lay hold of her
Shall have the chinks.”
The nurse seems to support Romeo’s and Juliet’s love at the beginning. However, when Juliet asks for counsel, she reveals her true attitude:
Juliet: ‘Comfort me, counsel me.
Alack, alack, that heaven should practice stratagems
Upon so soft a subject as myself?
What sayest thou? Hast thou not a word of joy?
Some comfort, Nurse.’
Nurse: ‘…I think it best you married with the County.
O, he’s a lovely gentleman.’
Although her language captivates, the Nurse remains inwardly cold, ‘Ancient damnation! O, most wicked fiend!’ and unable, as well as Lady Capulet, to help Juliet realize her love, but leaves her to rely on her own moral intelligence.
A similar pattern is to be found in ‘Hamlet’, in the character of Queen Gertrude. She is at the same time a mother, a lover and a victim. Her crime is also the betrayal of her humanity and essential emotions. She is accused of incest and adultery, but these are merely the consequence of a larger pattern of causes, namely that of the patriarchal ideology and abuse of women: she might once have had a genuine self, but she had discarded it in the process of indoctrination. For we can recognize in Ophelia the young Queen: the two are identified in the sentence they both utter:
‘I shall obey you, my lord.’
Her attitude to life is passive and consequently destructive. It is a life of ‘seem’ and ‘appear’, a life of false emotions and substitute gratifications, a masquerade with her being a mere puppet unaware of her innermost self. Therefore Hamlet insists on making her see the truth about her loveless and superficial existence:
‘You go not, till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.’
She is at this point still unaware of the terrible truth and in fear for her life asks Hamlet:
‘What have done, that thou dar’st wag thy tongue
In noise so rude against me?’
When confronting her with her crimes by comparing her two husbands, Hamlet insults her openly to make her see, his words like daggers to her:
‘…Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight,
Ears without hands or eyes, smelling sans all,
Or but a sickly part of one true sense
Could not so mope.’
Ultimately, she begins to grasp the truth:
‘O Hamlet, speak no more!
Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul,
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct.’
In the end, she remains just one of many victims of civilization who woke up just to see that she has never lived.
3. Mother is a necessary word or
Why do we need Shakespeare?
Shakespeare teaches us how and what to perceive…seeks to enlarge us not as citizens or Christians but as consciousnesses. The ultimate use of Shakespeare is to let him teach you to think too well to whatever truth you can sustain without perishing.
Harold Bloom, Shakespeare – The Invention of the Human
A question often asked is where lies the greatness of Shakespeare? The only answer is in the fact that the issues he dealt with have remained essential for over four centuries. Long before modernists, William Shakespeare scrutinized the Western civilization and looked into its controversial dealings. Because he approached this matter with great sincerity of mind and heart and because his understanding of the issues in question was profound, Shakespeare is our contemporary as well. This great playwright is interested in topics such as conformity, loyalty and feeling. And his great idiosyncrasy lies in the fact that he does not offer ready-made answers or overt solutions. Like all “high art’, his work has survived until this day because it shows life in all its complexity and because it is not an ideology; on the contrary, Shakespeare’s plays are subversive, asking the ultimate questions and labouring to get to the truth. What we find there are the archetypal concerns of and for the human soul. Whether he approaches these issues with all the seriousness they demand or makes them appear under the guise of humor, what Shakespeare does is make us see. This is so because Shakespeare recognized a tendency in our civilization to exclude love and trivialize it and, what is more, to victimize the woman and her anima as the archetypal agent of love. And what does culture do to the anima? It cuts its tongue and severs its hands. When Tamora’s sons Demetrius and Chiron rape Lavinia and cut off her hands and tongue, it is both a personal tragedy and a symbolical representation of what is happening to the feminine in our civilization. The hands and tongue stand for the sources of creativity, symbolically, the feminine is being denied its voice and action. The executioners are again sons of their mothers and so forth. What Shakespeare has never let us forget is that ‘dumb waiters’ such as Demetrius, Chiron, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and others are indeed created of the same humanity as Hamlet, Juliet or Cordelia as well as the fact that they are somebody’s children.
Georg Lukacs speaks about potentials in man: he claims that there is a multitude of abstract potentialities in man, only some of which become realized through his choices and acts. Civilization, especially a repressive democracy such as ours, encourages man to take some choices which fundamentally damage his humanity. The social structures seduce or coerce man to compromise his salvation.
Mothers in Shakespeare do not manage to realize their full potentials and thus do not live, but partly live, the consequences of which are undoubtedly present in lives of their children. Tamora’s sons in the guise of Murder and Rape present Eros in the service of Thanatos; the tragedy of Coriolanus, raised by his mother to be an infant Mars, with his ‘infantile susceptibility’ is the consequence of his own nature and nurture. Hamlet cannot separate Ophelia from his mother and thus cannot embrace the Sacred Bride, the Divine Mother and the Queen of Hell in one person. Although he possesses infinite consciousness and is of the tribe that asks questions, his crimes are too heavy to be forgiven. On the other hand, Romeo and Juliet preserve their soul and moral intelligence, but at the expense of death. The question that must be asked is if these are the only children of the ‘brave new world’? If so, is there a way to preserve humanity in the modern world?
In Heiner Muller’s ‘Hamletmachine’, in a seemingly non-sensical address, Hamlet preaches the horrible truth of our world:
‘FLESH LIKES TO KEEP THE COMPANY OF FLESH’
‘LET ME HELP YOU UP, UNCLE. OPEN YOUR LEGS, MAMA’
‘SHALL I AS IS THE CUSTOM STICK A PIECE OF IRON INTO THE NEAREST FLESH’
The world of ‘Hamletmachine’ is even more ‘rotten’ than that of the original Hamlet. It is a grim vision of this world: our fate is represented by the Madonna with breast cancer, a vision of the feminine prostituted.
If Shakespeare has shown us what our lives have become, modernists, especially Orwell and Huxley show us what our future will look like if we do not revise the meanings of the words ‘mother’ and ‘love’. Orwell, in ‘1984’ presents us with the picture of Winston Smith, a representative of an imaginary futuristic civilization, desperately trying to remember the time when the members of a family stood by one mother without needing to know the reason’. He was dreaming of his mother who ‘had sacrificed herself to a conception of loyalty that was private and unalterable’ to save his life and woke up with the word ‘Shakespeare’ on his lips’. His mind is shaped by the memory of his mother who ‘had possessed a kind of nobility, a kind of purity, simply because the standards that she obeyed were private ones, her feelings her own, and could not be altered from outside.’ The lesson she tried to teach him was that if you loved someone, you loved him, and when you had nothing else to give, you still gave him love. He is to learn what Tesic’s characters have to learn before entering the Land of the Free in ‘On the Open Road’-that the ability to love without a motive is what makes us truly human and that salvation is pointless if we lose it. Unfortunately, in the end, neither the memory of his mother nor Julia in the Golden Country prevented him from betraying his humanity.
Aldous Huxley in his ‘Brave New World’ is even more explicit in giving us a picture of what a motherless world could look like – millions of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons hatched out of bottles, good and happy members of society, Marcusian ‘happy consciousness’ at its best, the principle of mass production at last applied to biology’. The world where ‘mother’ is a dirty joke, a smutty word, where flowers and books are banished so as not to allow anyone even a slight possibility of asking questions, until 12-year-old John Savage finds ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ and recognizes his mother Linda and her drunken lovers in the Hamlet’s accusations hurled against Gertrude. He becomes aware that the only thing his mother was able to teach him was: ‘A, B, C, vitamin D, the fat’s in the liver, the cod’s in the sea’ and decides that it is not enough, that to be fully alive requires of you to ‘want everything of life…want it now…total…complete: otherwise reject it’.
Ultimately, the options of our survival lie within us and we must not allow our lives to become ‘pathological grotesquerie’ and ourselves to become ‘one-dimensional’ people, arrogant moneymakers serving for the benefit of civilization, at the expense of our imagination and soul. But before all, we must go back to the beginning of the crime against humanity, to ‘the one story and one story only’, and again learn to
‘Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
Do not forget what flowers
The great boar trampled down in ivy time.’
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