Shakespeare, alchemy and Dao (Tao): The inner alchemical theatre

Submitted by James Miller on Tue, 02/14/2012 - 15:24
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TitleShakespeare, alchemy and Dao (Tao): The inner alchemical theatre
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsBacker, P. A.
Corporate AuthorsReynolds, Bryan
Academic DepartmentProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Date Published2009
PublisherUniversity of California, Irvine
Place PublishedUnited States -- California
ISBN Number9781109260632
KeywordsBritish and Irish literature, Comparative literature, Philosophy, Theater

<?Pub Inc> Over the years Shakespeare has been analyzed employing a variety of different critical methodologies but the majority of these have been grounded in the Western critical tradition. There have been few critical analyses that have viewed Shakespeare from a non-Western perspective, even fewer from a Chinese philosophical perspective. This analysis is a comparative, cross-cultural reading of Shakespeare from the perspective of Daoism (Taoism), the classical Chinese philosophy, religion and practice, and simultaneously employs historical analysis and critical theory. Historically, Shakespeare and Daoism are, as Hamlet says, "mighty opposites" (5.2.62). The historical bridge between these two "mighty opposites" is alchemy, or jindan in Chinese. Alchemy was an interdisciplinary cultural discourse and physical practice in both the West and China for many centuries, and was particularly significant in both the Western early modern period and in Daoism. Western and Daoist alchemy share many important elements in common: material practices, philosophy, cosmology, and a worldview that has been the subject of scholarly study under the heading of the "esoteric" and "esotericism." In Daoist terms, there is ga nyìng or "resonance" between them. In Shakespeare's time, esotericism included the traditions known as mysticism, Hermeticism, the "occult philosophy," the Christian Kabbalah (Cabala), and Rosicrucianism, and the practices of astrology, magic and alchemy. Alchemy has two related forms, outer or physical alchemy (wàidan ) employing external materials, and inner or spiritual alchemy ( nèidan ) employing the body, spirit and soul of the alchemist. Both processes were a journey of transformation that took place within what was referred to as the "alchemical theatre." Their goal was a return to originary wholeness or dào, which was often paradoxically equated with primordial "chaos" or hùndùn. The critical approach of this analysis employs the philosophy, cosmology and practices of Daoist inner alchemy or nèidan in a reading of Shakespeare's Hamlet and King Lear as xiàng or embodied metaphors of the inner alchemical journey. This exploratory cross-cultural methodology contributes to the related fields of critical theory, performance theory, comparative literature and philosophy, hermeneutics and intercultural studies.