Shakespeare’s Heir: Blake’s Doors of Perception in Jerusalem and The Four Zoas

Cover of Shakespeare’s Heir: Blake’s Doors of Perception in Jerusalem and The Four Zoas

The proscenium arch lowered the curtain on the great multi-linear multi-space/times of Shakespeare’s global theatre.  The use of entries, exits and multi-linear movements between the balcony, stage, its three doors, and the trapdoor gave four dimensions of simultaneous possibilities.  Movement in an out of each visionary level enacted another in the mind’s eye.

Blake’s epic poems The Four Zoas and Jerusalem are presented here as epic dramas with their characters entering and exiting between Blake’s four levels of perceptual existence: namely four-fold, three-fold, two-fold and one-fold.  Once we know how Shakespeare’s contemporary, practical conventions worked on his tiring house and stage, and apply them to Blake’s epics, then, each of Blake’s four continuums of discourse and action are revealed, as is the poetry of transition that connects them.  Through the lens of Shakespeare’s use of different space/times on and off the stage, we see Blake’s figures move in and out of four unique space/times or doors of perception not unlike the multi-level dimensions of Shakespeare’s stage.

In order that this is argued from first principles, Dr Whitmarsh-Knight reconstructs Shakespeare’s indoor playhouse, the Second Blackfriars, then he reconstructs contemporary Shakespearian staging in terms of the four space/times the architecture permits, finally, David Whitmarsh applies these principles to Blake’s imaginative epic drama.  Blake’s geometrical architecture for Golgonooza is graphically represented. Blake’s ‘theatre’ can be thought of as Golgonooza, and just as the architecture of Shakespearian theatre determines four levels of space/time, so too does the architecture of Golgonooza structure the four levels of Blake’s space/time.

For the first time these two works open out into a coherent succession of related events like a Shakespearian play, with the possible meanings implied therein.  Blake is no longer impenetrable as received wisdom would have us believe, rather, there are some critics who fail to come to terms with Blake, and, in the ‘Blame Blake’ industry, over-sell the failures as virtues.

Amongst many other contributions, David Whitmarsh’s fresh canon of information demonstrates first, that there are multi-linear space/times that simultaneously co-exist in quantum information fields of perceptual strategy; second, the movements between these four levels of perceptual strategy are governed by entries and exits and by poetry of transition between each level (Blake’s terms are Divine Allegory or Sublime Allegory) and, third, that Blake’s intuitive interaction with the conventions of the Elizabethan and Jacobean staging breathes fresh life into the indigenous tradition of epic drama Blake so richly embraced and re-expressed.  In contrast to both the mythic school and the post-moderns who as one hold these epics are chaotic and founder on their respective apocalypse, David Whitmarsh shows that Blake created two quite different multi-linear narratives in The Four Zoas and Jerusalem, each with a defined beginning, middle and end, and he resolves the really difficult problems of structure, transition and meaning by presenting Blake through the lens of Shakespeare’s staging syntax. 

In his welcome and educated defense of Blake under the current ‘blitz’ of post-modern pejoratives, David Whitmarsh shows Blake to be a poet and artist that speaks to the modern age as the heir to Shakespeare’s dramatic narrative; as heir to Shakespeare’s rhetorical grammar and syntax; and as heir to Shakespeare’s tradition of indigenous dramatic poetry.  Blake develops blank verse into new dimensions of controlled dramatic expression.

David Whitmarsh’s fresh canon of information, allows the developed methodologies of analysis used for Shakespearian theatre and drama to be available to use in interpreting Blake.  Highly developed methodologies that study dramatic techniques such as tragic and comic dimensions of characterization, psychological systems, dramatic tension, dramatic irony, denouements and shock revelations of comic and of tragic interactivity, the interwoven themes of love, murder, betrayal, revenge and tragic realization, sexual and spiritual love, self-sacrifice, despair and triumph, war, magic and madness, can now be applied to Blake and the brilliance of his speeches aesthetically appreciated not as random gems in verbal rubbish as but as the brilliant dramatic monologues they are in dramatic truth.