Faust and Hamlet
When Goethe in ripe old age looked back upon the whole development of his life, he named three men who had had most influence upon him; Linné, the Naturalist, Spinoza, the Philosopher, and Shakespeare, the Poet.
To Linné he placed himself in opposition and through this reached his own point of view regarding the forms of plants and animals. From Spinoza he borrowed a mode of expression which enabled him to give out his ideas in a thoughtful language which was deeper and richer than that of Philosophers. In Shakespeare he found a spirit that fired his own poetic gift according to the inmost demands of his own being.
Anyone who can gain an insight to the soul strivings of Goethe as these comes to light in his Götz and Werther, where he reveals what he had gone through inwardly, can also see what took place in him when first he absorbed himself in Hamlet.
A vivid impression of this is to be obtained from his statement that Shakespeare is an interpreter of the World-spirit itself. Goethe holds that Shakespeare's genius openly reveals what the World-spirit hides within Nature's activities. His whole attitude towards Shakespeare is expressed in this statement.
It is only within the last five hundred years that what we to-day call Intellectualism has taken possession of our soul life. In the outlook which obtained earlier the soul of humanity was active in a different way. Understanding through thinking played a secondary part.
A battle against the overlordship of thought is visible in Goethe's soul. He still wishes to experience the world inwardly with different soul forces. But the mental life which surrounds him makes thought the basic element in the activities of the soul. So Goethe asks himself: Can one get into intimate touch with the surrounding world through thought? Such a possibility stirs him deeply and out of the overwhelming effect it has upon his soul, his Faust is born.
Goethe presents Faust to us as a teacher who had worked for ten years in a period which saw the advent of Intellectualism. As yet however Intellectualism had only a slight hold upon human nature, and in Philosophy, Jurisprudence, Medicine and Theology Faust does not as yet recognize it as a power which could carry conviction. He could, as a man of science, fall back upon the understanding of an earlier time when men realized spirit in Nature without the intermediary of intellectuality. He wishes to obtain direct vision of spirit. What Faust went through in vacillation between thinking experience and spiritual vision became for the young Goethe an inner battle.
Hamlet and other Shakespeare characters arose before Goethe's soul as he passed through this inner battle. Hamlet, who obtains his life's tasks through soul experiences which appear to him as expressive of relationship to the Spiritual world and who not only is thrown through doubt into inaction, but also through the power of his intellect. The deep abyss of the soul life is contained in Hamlet's words:
The native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.
The youthful Goethe had often looked into this abyss and the glimpses he had caught of it intensified his sympathy with Hamlet's character.
By following the soul life of Goethe one is led from the Hamlet frame of mind to that of Faust and thus one can experience a bit of Goethe biography. It has not got to be proved through documents, neither need it be historic in the ordinary sense of the term. And yet it will reflect history better than what is usually so named.
One gains a picture of Faust as he lived in Goethe, as the teacher born out of a soul condition which oscillates between intellectualism and spiritual vision. During ten years Faust instructs his pupils under these conditions of wavering and one can well imagine to oneself Hamlet as one of these pupils; not the Hamlet of the Danish Saga but Shakespeare's Hamlet. For Goethe has represented in his Faust the teacher who could have Hamlet's 'native hue of resolution sickled o'er with the pale cast of thought.' In this light Shakespeare is the poet who has before his soul a character born out of the waning of consciousness of the Middle Ages and a New Age. Goethe is the one who wants to penetrate into that world outlook in which such characters develop fully.
In many Shakesperian characters Goethe could feel the reflection of this waning consciousness. This brought Shakespeare so near to him, for it was connected with his feelings for Art. Into this feeling for Art Spinoza's intellectualism penetrated and in Spinoza there existed already that mental activity which gives the thought life of modern humanity its soul bearings.
This 'Spinoza-ism' became tolerable to Goethe only when he came to stand before Italian works of art and could feel in these works as an artist that necessity of material creating which Spinoza could clothe only in pure thought.
Together with Herder he had adopted Spinoza's philosophy but only in Italy could he write from the aspect of art what was impossible through reading Spinoza; 'There is necessity, there is God.'
In order to feel on sure ground in Art, Goethe realized the need of an outlook upon the world, but this outlook would have to include Art as one of its most important elements and not relegate it to an inferior place. The creative spirit in the world revealed itself to Goethe in Nature but he found in Shakespeare the artist who revealed the Spirit in his own creation.
Goethe felt deeply how from his inmost being man must strive toward scientific knowledge, but he felt no less deeply how in this striving thought can wander away in error. He felt himself thus in danger with Spinoza. With Shakespeare he felt himself within the world of direct, artistic outlook. Goethe has himself spoken of his relation to Shakespeare in these words: 'A necessity which excludes more or less or entirely all freedom, as with the ancients, is no longer endurable to our way of thinking; Shakespeare came near this however, for he made necessity moral and thus joined the old world to the new world to our joyful astonishment.'
In his youth Goethe found the way to the 'New World' through Shakespeare because Shakespeare understood in his dramatic characters how to hold the balance between the impelling necessity of Nature's activities in man and his freedom in his thought life. The mutual relationship of these two elements must be experienced to-day if we do not want to loose hold of reality through our life of thought.
NOTE BY EDITOR: In the last lecture of the recent course on dramatic art 1Speech and Drama, 19 lectures, Dornach, 5th to 23rd September, 1924. Dr. Steiner put before us an interesting point of view regarding the representation of Hamlet's character on the stage.
It has always been the custom to make of Hamlet a deeply philosophic character and in rendering the great soliloquies this side of his being has always been brought into evidence. But Dr. Steiner in a reading which he gave of the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, showed a new aspect of the Hamlet mind which amplifies what he has written in the above article. Hamlet's mental penetration was not that of a New World philosopher. He did not 'reason out' as a modern thinker does. His thoughts oscillate as do his feelings and it is an error to attribute ponderous weight to the statements in this particular speech where the man himself was merely reflecting his passing, changing feelings and ideas. A modern thinker would never have spoken of death as 'the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns,' when but a few moments previously he had encountered and spoken with his dead Father.
Hamlet is typical of a transition state when the ascendancy of logical reasoning over inner feeling as a perceptive faculty was not established as it became in times nearer our own.
Dr. Steiner's rendering of the speech in what one might name a 'homely' way would probably offend such actors who only see the philosopher in Hamlet, but it is true to the historic aspect of human development in which Hamlet stands as a remarkably complete symbol.
The full significance and true aspect of Hamlet's outlook therefore can be grasped through Anthroposophy.