A Phoenix Posted June 1, 2022 Author Share Posted June 1, 2022 FRANCIS BACON AND HAMLET AND ITS THEME OF DEATH AND HIS ESSAY AND TREATISES ON DEATH. For centuries Shakespeare critics and commentators have been devoting space to the theme of death in Hamlet as well as writing essays and articles published in scholarly journals, and lengthy chapters in their works printed by prestigious university presses and publishing houses distributed all around the world. Not one of which (as far as the present writer is aware) draws attention to the several tracts and essays on the subject of death written by Bacon, nor consequently do they provide any detailed comparative analysis with Hamlet, a play saturated with the theme of death. Of all the orthodox writings on Hamlet and the theme of death perhaps still the most direct and powerful is the chapter written by the great Shakespearean critic Professor Wilson Knight in his classic work The Wheels of Fire under the title ‘The Embassy of Death: An Essay on Hamlet’: Now the theme of Hamlet is Death. Life that is bound for the disintegration of the grave, love that does not survive the loved one’s life-both, in their insistence on Death as the primary fact of nature are branded on the mind of Hamlet, burned into it, searing it with agony...Death is over the whole play…Those first scenes strike the note of the play-Death. We hear of terrors beyond the grave, from the Ghost (i. v.) and from the meditations of Hamlet (iii. i). We hear of horrors in the grave from Hamlet whose mind is obsessed with hideous thoughts of the body’s decay. Hamlet’s dialogue with the King about the dead Polonius (iv. iii. 17) is painful; and the graveyard meditations, though often beautiful, are remorselessly realistic… The general thought of Death, intimately related to the predominating human theme, the pain in Hamlet’s mind, is thus suffused through the whole play… Laertes and Hamlet struggling at Ophelia’s grave are like symbols of Life and Death… …He is a superman among men. And he is a superman because he has walked and held converse with Death, and his consciousness works in terms of Death and the Negation of Cynicism. He has seen the truth, not alone of Denmark, but of humanity, of the universe…1 The compact ethos of Bacon’s essay Of Death serves as a kind of epitome or succinct comment on the well-known speeches and soliloquies in Hamlet on suicide and death and the relentless running theme of death in the play: Men fear Death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other. Certainly, the contemplation of death, as the wages of sin and passage to another world, is holy and religious; but the fear of it, as a tribute due unto nature, is weak…And by him that spake only as a philosopher and natural man, it was well said, Pompa mortis magis terret, quam, mors ipsa: [it is the accompaniments of death that are frightful rather than death itself.] Groans and convulsions, and a discoloured face, and friends weeping, and blacks, and obsequies, and the like, shew death terrible. It is worthy the observing, that there is no passion in the mind of man so weak, but it mates and masters the fear of death; and therefore death is no such terrible enemy when a man hath so many attendants about him that can win the combat of him. Revenge triumphs over death; Love slights it; Honour aspireth to it; Grief flieth to it; Fear pre-occupateth it.2 Like his divine dramatic creation Hamlet Bacon was obsessed or all-consumed with the whole gamut of human existence and the full expanse of human life and death. It is certainly the case that non-specialist scholars would only be familiar with his brief essay Of Death found in the numerous editions of his Essays and have little or no idea that he wrote two full-length tracts on the subject of life and death. The first is entitled De vijs Mortis, et de Senectute retardanda, atque instaurandis uiribus or An Inquiry concerning the Ways of Death the Postponing of Old Age, and the Restoring of the Vital Powers, which may have been according to its modern editor Professor Graham Rees, destined for Part V of Instauratio magna (Great Instauration), Bacon’s planned restoration and systematic division of all sciences of human knowledge.3 The study of death, or, bringing about the prolonging of life, epitomizes as Professor Rees points out, the aims of Bacon’s philosophical programme ‘he believed that philosophy could improve material conditions and so in part restore prelapsarian felicity. He marked out the prolongation of life as the first and highest objective of the new philosophy. Realization of that ancient dream would be an outstanding fulfilment of a programme proposing a material soteriology for this world.’4 It was to these ends that in his last known years Bacon issued Historia Vitae & Mortis published at the very time the last revised version of Hamlet was being printed in the Shakespeare First Folio published in 1623. 1. G. Wilson Knight, The Wheel of Fire Essays In Interpretation Of Shakespeare’s Sombre Tragedies (Oxford University Press, 1930), pp. 34-5, 42, 44. See also Richard D. Altick, ‘Hamlet and the Odor of Mortality’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 5 (1954), pp. 167-76; Richard Fly, ‘Accommodating Death: The Ending of Hamlet’, Studies in English Literature, 24 (1984), pp. 257-74; Michael Neill, Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedy (Oxford University Press, 1997), ‘To know my stops’: Hamlet and Narrative Abruption’, pp. 216-42 and ‘Accommodating the Dead: Hamlet and the Ends of Revenge’, pp. 243-64. 2. Spedding, Works, VI, pp. 379-80; Brian Vickers, ed., Francis Bacon A Critical Edition Of The Major Works (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 343; Michael Kiernan, ed., The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall (Oxford Clarendon Press, 2000), pp. 9-10. 3. Graham Rees, ed., Philosophical Studies c.1611-c.1619 (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1996), p. xxxv. The Latin text and English translation of An Inquiry concerning the Ways of Death are produced side by side on pp. 270-359. 4. Ibid., p. lxv; and Graham Rees with Maria Wakely, eds., The Instauratio magna Part III: Historia naturalis et experimentalis: Historia ventorum and Historia vitae & mortis (Oxford Clarendon Press, 2007), p. xlvi. 3 https://aphoenix1.academia.edu/ https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrY7wzlXnZiT1Urwx7jP6fQ/videos Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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