Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Old and New Methods of Initiation. Lecture 11: Faust and Hamlet; Goethe and Shakespeare
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, February 24, 1922
The turning-point between the fourth and fifth post-Atlantean periods, [ Note 1 ] which falls in the fifteenth century, is very much more significant for human evolution than is recognized by external history, even today. There is no awareness of the tremendous change which took place at that time in the condition of human souls. We can say that profound traces of what took place at that time for mankind as a whole became deeply embedded in the consciousness of the best spirits. These traces remained for a long time and are indeed still there today. That something so important can take place without at first being much noticed externally is shown by another example — that of Christianity itself.
During the course of almost two thousand years, Christianity has wrought tremendous transformation on the civilized world. Yet, a century after the Mystery of Golgotha, it meant little, even to the greatest spirits of the leading culture of the time — that of Rome. It was still seen as a minor event of little significance that had taken place out there in Asia, on the periphery of the empire. Similarly, what took place in the civilized world around the first third of the fifteenth century has been little noted in external, recorded history. Yet it has left deep traces in human striving and endeavor.
We spoke about some aspects recently. For instance, we saw that Calderón's [ Note 2 ] drama about the magician Cyprianus shows how this spiritual change was experienced in Spain. Now it is becoming obvious — though it is not expressed in the way Anthroposophy has to express it — that in all sorts of places at this point in human evolution there is a more vital sense for the need to gain greater clarity of soul about this change. I have also pointed out that Goethe's Faust is one of the endeavors, one of the human struggles, to gain clarity about it. More light can perhaps be thrown on this Faust of Goethe when it is seen in a wider cultural context. But first let us look at Faust himself as an isolated individual.
First of all in his youthful endeavors, stimulated of course by the cultural situation in Europe at that time, Goethe came to depict in dramatic form the striving of human beings in the newly dawning age of the intellect. From the way in which he came across the medieval Faust figure in a popular play or something similar, he came to see him as a representative of all those seeking personalities who lived at that time. Faust belongs to the sixteenth, not the fifteenth century, [ Note 3 ] but of course the spiritual change did not take place in the space of only a year or even a century. It came about gradually over centuries. So the Faust figure came toward Goethe like a personality living in the midst of this seeking and striving that had come from earlier times and would go on into later centuries. We can see that the special nature of this seeking and striving, as it changed from the fourth to the fifth post-Atlantean period, is perfectly clear to Goethe. First he presents Faust as the scholar who is familiar with all four academic faculties. All four faculties have worked on his soul, so that he has taken into his soul the impulses which derive from intellectualism, from intellectualistic science. At the same time he senses how unsatisfying it is for human beings to remain stuck in one-sided intellectualism. As you know, Faust turns away from this intellectualism and, in his own way, toward the practice of magic. Let us be clear about what is meant in this case. What he has gone through by way of ‘Philosophy and Jurisprudence, Medicine and even, alas, Theology,’ [ Note 4 ] is what anyone can go through by studying the intellectualized sciences. It leaves a feeling of dissatisfaction. It leaves behind this feeling of dissatisfaction because anything abstract — and abstraction is the language of these sciences — makes demands only on a part of the human being, the head part, while all the rest is left out of account.
Compare this with what it was like in earlier times. The fact that things were different in earlier times is habitually overlooked. In those earlier times the people who wanted to push forward to a knowledge of life and the world did not turn to intellectual concepts. All their efforts were concentrated on seeing spiritual realities, spiritual beings, behind the sense-perceptible objects of their environment. This is what people find so difficult to understand. In the tenth, eleventh, twelfth centuries those who strove for knowledge did not only seek intellectual concepts, they sought spiritual beings and realities, in accordance with what can be perceived behind sense-perceptible phenomena and not in accordance with what can be merely thought about sense-perceptible phenomena.
This is what constitutes that great spiritual change. What people sought in earlier times was banished to the realm of superstition, and the inclination to seek for real spiritual beings was lost. Instead, intellectual concepts came to be the only acceptable thing, the only really scientific knowledge. But no matter how logically people told themselves that the only concepts and ideas free of any superstition are those which the intellect forms on the basis of sense-perceptible reality, nevertheless these concepts and ideas failed, in the long run, to satisfy the human being as a whole, and especially the human heart and soul. In this way Goethe's Faust finds himself to be so dissatisfied with the intellectual knowledge he possesses that he turns back to what he remembers of the realm of magic.
This was a true and genuine mood of soul in Goethe. He, too, had explored the sciences at the University of Leipzig. Turning away from the intellectualism he met in Leipzig, he started to explore what in Faust he later called ‘magic’, for instance, together with Susanne von Klettenberg and also by studying the relevant books. Not until he met Herder [ Note 5 ] in Strasbourg did he discover a real deepening of vision. In him he found a spirit who was equally averse to intellectualism. Herder was certainly not an intellectual; hence his anti-Kant attitude. He led Goethe beyond what — in a genuinely Faustian mood — he had been endeavoring to discover in connection with ancient magic.
Thus Goethe looked at this Faust of the sixteenth century, or rather at that scholar of the fifteenth century who was growing beyond magic, even though he was still half-immersed in it. Goethe wanted to depict his own deepest inner search, a search which was in him because the traces of the spiritual change from the fourth to the fifth post-Atlantean period were still working in him.
It is one of the most interesting phenomena of recent cultural evolution that Goethe, who wanted to give expression to his own youthful striving, should turn to that professor from the fifteenth and sixteenth century. In the figure of this professor he depicted his own inner soul life and experience. Du Bois-Reymond, [ Note 6 ] of course, totally misunderstood both what lived in Goethe and what lived in the great change that took place in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when he said: Goethe made a big mistake in depicting Faust as he did; he should have done it quite differently. It is right that Faust should be dissatisfied with what tradition had to offer him; but if Goethe had depicted him properly he would have shown, after the early scenes, how he first made an honest woman of Gretchen by marrying her, and then became a well-known professor who went on to invent the electro-static machine and the air pump. This is what Du Bois-Reymond thought should have become of Faust.
Well, Goethe did not let this happen to Faust, and I am not sure whether it would have been any more interesting if he had done what Du Bois-Reymond thought he should have done. But as it is, Goethe's Faust is one of the most interesting phenomena of recent cultural history because Goethe felt the urge to let this professor from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries stand as the representative of what still vibrated in his own being as an echo of that spiritual change which came about during the transition from the fourth to the fifth post-Atlantean period.
The sixteenth-century Faust — that is the legendary Faust, not the one who ought to have become the inventor of the electro-static machine and the air pump — takes up magic and perishes, goes to the devil. We know that this sixteenth century Faust could not be seen by either Lessing or Goethe as the Faust of the eighteenth century. Now it was necessary to endeavor to show that once again there was a striving for the spirit and that man ought to find his way to salvation, if I may use this expression.
Here, to begin with, is Faust, the professor in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Goethe has depicted him strikingly well, for this is just what such personalities were like at the universities of that time. Of course, the Faust of legend would not have been suitable, for he would have been more like a roaming vagabond gypsy. Goethe is describing not the legendary Faust but the figure of a professor. Of course, at the profoundest soul level he is an individual, a unique personality. But Goethe does also depict him as a type, as a typical professor of philosophy, or perhaps of medicine, of the fourteenth or fifteenth century. On the one hand he stands in the midst of the culture of his day, occupying himself with the intellectual sciences, but on the other he is not unfamiliar with occult things, which in Goethe's own day were considered nothing more than superstition.
Let us now look at Goethe's Faust in a wider world context. We do make the acquaintance of his famulus and Goethe shows us the relationship between the two. We also meet a student — though judging by his later development he does not seem to have been much influenced by his professor. But apart from this, Goethe does not show us much of the real influence exercised by Faust, in his deeper soul aspects, as he might have taught as a professor in, say, Wittenberg. However, there does exist a pupil of Faust who can lead us more profoundly into this wider world context. There is a pupil of Faust who occupies a place in the cultural history of mankind which is almost equal to that of Professor Faust himself — I am speaking only of Faust as Goethe portrayed him. And this pupil is none other than Hamlet.
Hamlet can indeed be seen as a genuine pupil of Faust. It is not a question of the historical aspect of Faust as depicted by Goethe. The whole action of the drama shows that although the cultural attitudes are those of the eighteenth century, nevertheless Goethe's endeavor was to place Faust in an earlier age. But from a certain point of view it is definitely possible to say: Hamlet, who has studied at Wittenberg and has brought home with him a certain mood of spirit — Hamlet as depicted by Shakespeare — can be seen in the context of world spiritual history as a pupil of Faust. It may even be true to say that Hamlet is a far more genuine pupil of Faust than are the students depicted in Goethe's drama.
Consider the whole character of Hamlet and combine this with the fact that he studied in Wittenberg where he could easily have heard a professor such as Faust. Consider the manner in which he is given his task. His father's ghost appears to him. He is in contact with the real spiritual world. He is really within it. But he has studied in Wittenberg where he was such a good student that he has come to regard the human brain as a book. You remember the scene when Hamlet speaks of the ‘book and volume’ of his brain. [ Note 8 ] He has studied human sciences so thoroughly that he speaks of writing what he wants to remember on the table of his memory, almost as though he had known the phrase which Goethe would use later when composing his Faust drama: ‘For what one has, in black and white, one carries home and then goes through it.’ [ Note 9 ] Hamlet is on the one hand an excellent student of the intellectualism taught him at Wittenberg, but on the other hand he is immersed in a spiritual reality. Both impulses work in his soul. The whole of the Hamlet drama stands under the influence of these two impulses. Hamlet — both the drama and the character — stands under the influence of these impulses because, when it comes down to it, the writer of Hamlet does not really know how to combine the spiritual world with the intellectual mood of soul. Poetic works which contain characteristics that are so deeply rooted in life provide rich opportunities for discussion. That is why so many books are written about such works, books which do not really make much sense because there is no need for them to make sense. The commentators are constantly concerned with what they consider to be a most important question: Is the ghost in Hamlet merely a picture, or does it have objective significance? What can be concluded from the fact that only Hamlet, and not the others characters present on the stage, can see the ghost? Think of all the learned and interesting things that have been written about this! But of course none of it is connected with what concerned the poet who wrote Hamlet. He belonged to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. And writing out of the life of that time he could do no other than approach these things in a way which cannot be fixed in abstract concepts. That is why I say that it is not necessary to make any sense of all the various commentaries. We are talking about a time of transition. Earlier, it was quite clear that spiritual beings were as real as tables and chairs, or as a dog or a cat. Although Calderon lived even later than Shakespeare, he still held to this older view. It would not have occurred to him even to hint that the spiritual beings in his works might be merely subjective in character. Because his whole soul was still open to spiritual insight, he portrayed anything spiritual as something just as concrete as dogs and cats.
Shakespeare, whose mood of soul belonged fully to the time of transition, did not feel the need to handle the matter in any other way than that which stated: It might be like this or it might be like that. There is no longer a clear distinction between whether the spiritual beings are subjective or objective. This is a question which is just as irrelevant for a higher worldview as it would be to ask in real life — not in astronomy, of course — where to draw the line between day and night. The question as to whether one is subjective and the other objective becomes irrelevant as soon as we recognize the objectivity of the inner world of man and the subjectivity of the external world. In Hamlet and also, say, in Macbeth, Shakespeare maintains a living suspension between the two. So we see that Shakespeare's dramas are drawn from the transition between the fourth and fifth post-Atlantean periods.
The expression of this is clearest in Hamlet. It may not be historical but it is nonetheless true to suggest that perhaps Hamlet was at Wittenberg just at the time when Faust was lecturing not so much about the occult as about the intellectual sciences — from what we said earlier you now know what I mean. Perhaps he was at Wittenberg before Faust admitted to himself that, ‘straight or crosswise, wrong or right’, he had been leading his scholars by the nose these ten years long. Perhaps Hamlet had been at Wittenberg during those very ten years, among those whom Faust had been leading by the nose. We can be sure that during those ten years Faust was not sure of where he stood. So having taken all this in from a soul that was itself uncertain, Hamlet returns and is faced on the one hand with what remains from an earlier age and what he himself can still perceive, and on the other with a human attitude which simply drives the spirits away. Just as ghosts flee before the light, so does the perception of spiritual beings flee before intellectualism. Spiritual vision cannot tolerate intellectualism because the outcome of it is a mood of soul in which the human being is inwardly torn right away from any connection with the spirit. The pallor of thoughts makes him ill in his inner being, and the consequence of this is the soul mood characteristic of the time from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries and on into even later times. Goethe, who was sensitive to all these things, also had a mood of soul that reached back into this period. We ought to be clear about this.
Take Greek drama. It is unthinkable without the spiritual beings who stand behind it. It is they who determine human destinies. Human beings are woven into the fabric of destiny by the spiritual forces. This fabric brings into ordinary life what human beings would otherwise only experience if they were able consciously to go into the state of sleep. The will impulses which human beings sleep through in their daytime consciousness are brought into ordinary life. Greek destiny is an insight into what man otherwise sleeps through. When the ancient Greek brings his will to bear, when he acts, he is aware that this is not only the working of his daytime consciousness with its insipid thoughts. Because his whole being is at work, he knows that what pulses through him when he sleeps is also at work. And out of this awareness he gains a certain definite attitude to the question of death, the question of immortality.
Now we come to the period I have been describing, in which human beings no longer had any awareness that something spiritual played in — also in their will — while they slept. We come to the period in which human beings thought their sleep was their own, though at the same time they knew from tradition that they have some connection with the spiritual world. Abstract concepts such as ‘Philosophy, Jurisprudence, Medicine, and even, alas! Theology’ begin to take on a shadowy outline of what they will become in modern times. They begin to appear, but at the same time the earlier vision still plays in. This brings about a twilight consciousness. People really did live in this twilight consciousness. Such figures as Faust are, indeed, born out of a twilight consciousness, out of a glance into the spiritual world which resembles a looking over one's shoulder in a dream. Think of the mood behind such words as ‘sleep’ or ‘dream’ in Hamlet. We can well say that when Hamlet speaks his monologues he is simply speaking about what he senses to be the riddle of his age; he is speaking not theoretically but out of what he actually senses.
So, spanning the centuries and yet connected in spirit, we see that Shakespeare depicts the student and Goethe the professor. Goethe depicted the professor simply because a few more centuries had passed and it was therefore necessary in his time to go further back to the source of what it was all about. Something lived in the consciousness of human beings, something that made the outstanding spirits say: I must bring to expression this state of transition that exists in human evolution.
It is extremely interesting to expand on this world situation still further, because out of it there arise a multitude of all-embracing questions and riddles about life and the world. It is interesting to note, for instance, that among the works of Shakespeare Hamlet is the one which depicts in its purest form a personality belonging to the whole twilight condition of the transition — especially in the monologues. The way Hamlet was understood in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries could have led to the question: Where was the stimulus for what exists in Hamlet's soul? The answer points to Wittenberg, the Faust source. Similar questions arise in connection with Macbeth. But in King Lear we move into the human realm. The question of the spiritual world is not so much concerned with the Earth as with the human being — it enters into the human being and becomes a subjective state of mind which leads to madness.
Then Shakespeare's other dramas could also be considered. We could say: What the poet learnt by taking these human characters and leading them to the spiritual realm lives on in the historical dramas about the kings. He does not follow this specific theme in the historical dramas, but the indeterminate forces work on. Taking Shakespeare's dramas all together, one gains the impression that they all culminate in the age of Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare wanted to depict something that leads from the subconscious, bubbling forces of his people to the intellectual clarity that has especially shone forth from that corner of the civilized world since the age of Elizabeth. From this point of view the whole world of Shakespeare's dramas appears — not perhaps quite like a play with a satisfactory ending, but at least like a drama which does lead to a fairly satisfying conclusion. That is, it leads to a world which then continues to evolve. After the transition had been going on for some time, the dramas lead toShakespeare's immediate present, which is a world with which it is possible to come to terms. This is the remarkable thing: The world of Shakespeare's dramas culminates in the age in which Shakespeare lived; this is an age with which it is possible to come to terms, because from then on history takes a satisfactory course and runs on into intellectualism. Intellectualism came from the part of the Earth out of which Shakespeare wrote; and he depicted this by ending up at this point.
The questions with which I am concerned find their answers when we follow the lines which lead from the pupil Hamlet to the professor Faust, and then ask how it was with Goethe at the time when, out of his inner struggles, he came to the figure of Faust. You see, he also wrote Götz von Berlichingen. In Götz von Berlichingen, again taken from folk myth, there is a similar confrontation. On the one side you have the old forces of the pre-intellectual age, the old German empire, which cannot be compared with what became the later German empire. You have the knights and the peasants belonging to the pre-intellectual age when the pallor of thoughts did not make human beings ill; when indeed very little was guided from the head, but when the hands were used to such an extent that even an iron hand was needed. Goethe refers back to something that once lived in more recent civilization but which, by its very nature, had its roots in the fourth post-Atlantean period. Over against all this you have in the figure of Weislingen the new element which is developing, the age of intellectualism, which is intimately linked to the way the German princes and their principalities evolved, a development which led eventually to the later situation in Central Europe right up to the present catastrophe.
We see that in Götz von Berlichingen Goethe is attacking this system of princes and looking back to times which preceded the age of intellectualism. He takes the side of the old and rebels against what has taken its place, especially in Central Europe. It is as though Goethe were saying in Götz von Berlichingen that intellectualism has seized hold of Central Europe too. But here it appears as something that is out of place. It would not have occurred to Goethe to negate Shakespeare. We know how positive was Goethe's attitude to Shakespeare. It would not have occurred to him to find fault with Shakespeare, because his work led to a satisfying culmination which could be allowed to stand. On the contrary, he found this extraordinarily satisfying.
But the way in which intellectualism developed in his own environment made Goethe depict its existence as something unjustified, whereas he spiritually embraced the political element of what was expressed in the French Revolution. In Götz von Berlichingen Goethe is the spiritual revolutionary who denies the spirit in the same way as the French Revolution denies the political element. Goethe turns back in a certain way to something that has once been, though he certainly cannot wish that it should return in its old form. He wants it to develop in a different direction. It is most interesting to observe this mood in Goethe, this mood of revolt against what has come to replace the world of Götz.
So it is extremely interesting to find that Shakespeare has been so deeply grasped by Lessing and by Goethe and that they really followed on from Shakespeare in seeking what they wanted to find through their mood of spiritual revolt. Yet where intellectualism has become particularly deeply entrenched, for instance in Voltaire, [ Note 10 ] it mounts a most virulent attack on Shakespeare. We know that Voltaire called Shakespeare a wild drunkard. All these things have to be taken into account.
Now add something else to the great question which is so important for an understanding of the spiritual revolution which took place in the transition from the fourth to the fifth post-Atlantean period. Add to all this the extraordinary part which Schiller played in this spiritual revolution which in Goethe is expressed in a Goethean way in Götz von Berlichingen. In the circle closest of all to Schiller he first met what he had to revolt against. It came out of the most one-sided, unhealthy intellectualism. There was of course as yet no Waldorf school to do battle against one-sided intellectualism. So Schiller could not be sent to the Waldorf school in Wurttemberg but had to go to the Karlsschule instead. All the protest which Schiller built up during his youth grew out of his protest against the education he received at the Karlsschule. This kind of education — Schiller wrote his drama Die Räuber (The Robbers) against it — is now universally accepted, and no positive, really productive opposition to it has ever been mounted until the recent foundation of the Waldorf school.
So what is the position of Schiller — who later stood beside Goethe in all this? He writes Die Räuber (The Robbers). It is perfectly obvious to those who can judge such things that in Spiegelberg and the other characters he has portrayed his fellow pupils. Franz Moor himself could not so easily be derived from his schoolmates, but in Franz Moor he has shown in an ahrimanic form [ Note 12 ] everything that his genius can grasp of what lives in his time. If you know how to look at these things, you can see how Schiller does not depict spiritual beings externally, in the way they appear in Hamlet or Macbeth, but that he allows the ahrimanic principle to work in Franz Moor. And opposite this is the luciferic principle in Karl Moor. In Franz Moor we see a representative of all that Schiller is rebelling against. It is the same world against which Goethe is rebelling in Götz von Berlichingen, only Schiller sets about it in a different way. We see this too in the later drama Kabale and Liebe (Love and Intrigue).
So you see that here in Central Europe these spirits, Goethe and Schiller, do not depict something in the way Shakespeare does. They do not allow events to lead to something with which one can come to terms. They depict something which is there but which in their opinion ought to have developed quite differently. What they really want does not exist, and what is there on the physical plane is something which they oppose in a spiritual revolution. So we have a strange interplay between what exists on the physical plane and what lives in these spirits.
In a rather bold way I could draw it like this: In Shakespeare the events he depicts carry on in keeping with the way things are on Earth
(blue). What he takes in from earlier times, in which the spirit still worked, goes over (red) into a present time which then becomes a factual world evolution.
Then we see in Goethe and Schiller that they had inklings of an earlier time (red) when the spiritual world was still powerful, in the fourth post-Atlantean period, and that they bring this only as far as their spiritual intentions, whereas they see what is taking place on Earth (blue) as being in conflict with it. One thing plays into the other in the human struggle for the spirit. This is why here in Central Europe the question became a purely human one. In the time of Goethe and Schiller a tremendous revolution occurred in the concept of man as a being who stands within a social context. I shall be able to expand on this in the coming lectures.
Let us now look toward the eastern part of Europe. But we cannot look in that direction in the same way. Those who only describe external facts and have no understanding for what lives in the souls of Goethe and Schiller — and also of course many others — may describe these facts very well, but they will fail to include what plays in from a spiritual world — which is certainly also there, although it may be present only in the heads of human beings. In France the battle takes place on the physical Earth, in a political revolution. In Germany the battle does not come down as far as the physical plane. It comes down as far as human souls and trembles and vibrates there. But we cannot continue this consideration in the same way with regard to the East, for things are different there. If we want to pursue the matter with regard to the East we need to call on the assistance of Anthroposophy. For what takes place in the souls of Goethe and Schiller, which are, after all, here on the Earth — what, in them, blows through earthly souls is, in the East, still in the spiritual world and finds no expression whatsoever down on the Earth.
If you want to describe what took place between Goethe's and Schiller's spirits in the physical world — if you want to describe this with regard to the East, then you will have to employ a different view, such as that used in the days of Attila, when battles were fought by spirits in the air above the heads of human beings.
What you find being carried out in Europe by Goethe and Schiller — Schiller by writing Die Räuber (The Robbers) and Goethe by writing Götz von Berlichingen — you will find in the East to be taking place as a spiritual fact in the spiritual world above the physical plane. If you want to seek deeds which parallel the writing of Die Räuber (The Robbers) and the writing of Götz, you will have to seek them among the spiritual beings of the supersensible world. There is no point in searching for them on the physical plane. In a diagram depicting what happens in the East you would have to draw the element in question like a cloud floating above the physical plane, while down below, untouched by it, would be what shows externally on the physical plane.
Now we know that, because we have Hamlet, we can tell how a western human being who had been a pupil of Faust would have behaved, and could have behaved. But there can be no such thing as a Russian Hamlet. Or can there? We could see a Russian Hamlet with our spiritual eyes if we were to imagine the following: Faust lectures at Wittenberg — I mean not the historical Faust but Goethe's Faust, who is actually more true than historical fact. Faust lectures at Wittenberg — and Hamlet listens, writing everything down, just as he does even what the ghost says to him about the villains who live in Denmark. He writes everything down in the book and volume of his brain — Shakespeare created a true pupil of Faust out of what he found in the work of Saxo Grammaticus, [ Note 13 ] which depicts things quite differently. Now imagine that an angel being also listened to Faust as he lectured — Hamlet sat on the university bench, Faust stood on the platform, and at the back of the lecture hall an angel listened. And this angel then flew to the East and there brought about what could have taken place as a parallel to the deeds of Hamlet in the West.
I do not believe that it is possible to reach a truly penetrating comprehension of these things by solely taking account of external facts. One cannot ignore the very profound impression made by these external facts, particularly on the greatest personalities of the time, when what is taking place is something as incisive as the spiritual revolution which took place between the fourth and fifth post-Atlantean periods.