The Wisdom of Shakespeare Series

in

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
by
Peter Dawkins

1998

Foreword by Mark Rylance


at the Globe 1997
photo: Lawrence Gerald


 

This book is about love. It is full of knowledge; full of intelligent forms, patterns of initiation, spiritual mysteries; intuitive as they are, they are all reflections only of an indefinable source, and end, for that matter, which is love.

'Madam, you have bereft me of all words,

Onely my bloud is such confusion in my powers,
As after some oration fairely spoke
By a beloved Prince, there doth appeare
Among the buzzing pleased multitude,
Where every something being blent together,
Turns to a wilde of nothing, save of joy
Exprest, and not exprest.........'

My friend Bassanio, who I am playing at present in the Globe has urged me to write this down for you. I think what he means to help me to say, by sharing his words when he falls in love with the sweet doctor, Portia, is this :
This "confusion in my powers," wilde of nothing" where every something is blent together, this is the subject of our beloved Shakespeare's oration. And we are drawn to it as bees to honey, for our invisible "powers" as human beings are quite astounding. "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.", spoke President Mandela. How can we overcome that fear.
From experience I would say that love is the most moving of these powers, and love's ancient ocean currents are indeed beyond measure, the earth of our life subsides daily to their constant influence or dries to desert if denied, the airy thoughts that move across their surface only, must grow lungs of steel if they venture definition into love's pressured depths, even the fiery light of our spirit is no match for the darkness at the bottom.
So, if this is a book about Love, it is a dangerous book to read, as indeed Shakespeare's task was dangerous, because he also sounded the pressured depths of love. If he followed the spirit of his created magus Prospero, he drowned his book than did ever plummet sound. Like Portia, Shakespeare is weary with the Belmont of ideas, and through the illusion of theatre, allows us to risk drowning in this 'confusion in my powers'; to take the common ferry down to our Venetian Sea City of love.

Peter Dawkins' book can't do that for you, if you read unwisely it could actually lift you further into the air of thought, giving the waters of your hearts desire more peril. But read imaginatively, it can be a boat worthy of a phoenician, to sail you out to the deep waters of Shakespeare. You must still then jump into the currents of our own heart, whether you are an actor person like me reading it to help you play on the stage, or an actual person reading to help you play in the yards and galleries of the Globe.

Portia, when she appears as the doctor, reminds us that the form of flesh contains a hidden essence of blood. Peter's work has always helped me to listen to the blood speaking beneath the form of Shakespeare's plays, beating away in Bassanio's veins.

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