Shakespeare the Bard
© 2005 by Michael Riversong
All of us have heard the phrase, “The Bard of Avon”. This is often not considered any further. The very definition of Bard as given elsewhere on this site is not generally known. So the designation remains connected to this man, and few people know why.
William Shakespeare meets all the criteria of a Bard as we have defined it. His work deserves consideration and evaluation in that context. We recommend that you read any or all of his works with this in mind. This exercise will in itself provide a great deal of valuable instruction. Quotes from his works will not be given here, because we want to encourage readers to find them for yourselves.
In this essay, we will not cover any questions or controversies about his life or identity. We have no way of knowing exactly how he got to be one of the greatest Bards ever. All we know is that, judging only by his work, he was.
First, he made many spiritual references throughout his work. Some characters were clerics, both helpful as in “Romeo and Juliet” and corrupt as in “King Henry VIII”. It is obvious that he was well acquainted with church practices of his time, as well as with ancient Pagan practices from many traditions. References to Christianity as known in his time are easy to find. Many educators have stated that his work is a legitimate area of study for Christians.
Many of Shakespeare's plays were historical. Everyone knows that. He did a good job with both English and Roman history. In “Julius Caesar”, for example, he brought out behavior patterns of several leaders that affected all of subsequent history. His examinations of several English kings, while containing some known instances of artistic license, hold up well for those who wish to gain an understanding of the times. It can be said that his work in this area has been generally a cohesive force in English society.
Shakespeare made music. We don't know the details of the productions he supervised in regards to what kind of music accompanied the performances. He may or may not have composed music for those. What we do know is that some experiments have been done, using a variety of methods, to determine the physical effects of music on the human body. Much of his poetry, both within and outside of the plays, tracks as if music were playing! Not all poetry has this effect on people. In modern times, several songs have been written and recorded around his lyrics. Two worthwhile examples are “Under the Greenwood Tree” by Donovan and “O Mistress Mine” by Bill and Taffy Danoff.
It is in the area of healing that Shakespeare most assuredly exemplifies the Bardic tradition. A coherent medical textbook could be compiled using only his plays as source material. Hopefully this will be done someday. References to herbal cures, counseling strategies, and the spiritual basis of illnesses can be found throughout his works. His examinations of mental illness, particularly in “Othello” and “Hamlet”, surpass much of what can be found in modern psychology. When studying “Othello”, pay attention to how systematic actions by one person can create madness in another. This can be useful in social and clinical contexts.
Much of Shakespeare's work covers the spiritual basis of mental illness, and is thus useful to Bards in contemporary practice. “Hamlet” shows mental effects of the data deficiency that comes with political corruption. “King Lear” explores family treachery. In “MacBeth”, we are shown how evil plots and deeds can take on a life of their own, distorting the perpetrators into something inhuman. Every practicing Bard should see or read these three plays as part of our training.
In all this study, make sure to include “The Tempest”. Redemption, forgiveness, and exaltation are emphasized – a fitting end to the career of this great compassionate Bard.