Ted Hughes: <em>Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being</em> (hardback)

Ted Hughes: Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (hardback)

Ted Hughes: <em>Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being</em> (paperback)

Ted Hughes: Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (paperback)

Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being

Author: Hughes, Ted

Published by Faber & Faber, 1992
US ed.: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992 (corrected and expanded edition). The English paperback edition (1993) follows the corrected, expanded American text.

In Shakespeare and the Goddess, Hughes investigates a single theme/conflict in Shakespeare's "mature plays" of which each play presents a variation. Each of these plays, he says, presents a variation of this single theme, which he traces back to the two long poems "Venus and Adonis" and "Lucrece" and from there, via Greek mythology, back to Sumerian myth. Hughes links this theme/conflict to the social and religious pressures during Shakespeare's time, of which, he says, it provides a mirror image.

The book grew out of a life-long fascination with Shakespeare. As with other writers, Hughes was interested in what makes Shakespeare's work 'tick', what animates his characters and how it comes about that these old pieces still manage to move and disturb us. Compiling a selection of most powerful poetic snippets from Shakespeare in the early 1970s, Ted Hughes found that some of the most moving parts of the works hung together as if connected by a fundamental, single idea. That they were animated by this idea, which simultaneously gave them their tragic drive.

In Shakespeare and the Goddess, he calls this two sided idea 'The Tragic Equation'. For an introduction to Hughes's view of Shakespeare, see the Shakespeare essays in Winter Pollen.

Shakespeare and the Goddess is a most fascinating book that, apart from being one of the most daring and controversial books about Shakespeare, tells much about Hughes's work in general.


(This is the listing of the corrected & expanded UK paperback edition 1993)


PART I: The Immature Phase of the Tragic Equation

CHAPTER 1: Conception and Gestation of the Equation's Tragic Myth: the Sonnets, Venus and Adonis, Lucrece

  • Shakespeare turns to poetry
  • The Sonnets as the matrix of Venus and Adonis
  • Venus and Adonis as theology
  • The Sonnets and Shakespeare's love
  • The Dark Lady and the Goddess
  • Venus and Adonis: the Tragic Equation's moment of conception
  • Venus and Adonis and the Hippolytus of Euripides
  • Historical background of the Tragic Equation
  • Lucrece as a metaphysical poem
  • The contrapuntal symmetry of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece
  • Shakespeare's vision as prophecy
  • Venus and Adonis as a shamanic initiation dream

CHAPTER 2: Birth, Childhood and Adolescence of the Tragic Equation: As You Like It, All's Well that Ends Well, A Lover's Complaint, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida

  • Shakespeare takes up the spiritual quest
  • As You Like It: Jaques
  • Two kinds of ritual drama
  • As You Like It: the ritual pattern
  • Autobiography in All's Well that Ends Well
  • All's Well: the ritual pattern
  • All's Well: entry of the Mythic Equation
  • The three sources of All's Well that Ends Well
  • Shakespeare's double language and the verbal device
  • The evolutionary history of the verbal device
  • The double language as translation
  • The double language in All's Well that Ends Well
  • Shakespeare's hieroglyphic system
  • The verbal device and Tragic Equation as brain maps
  • A Lover's Complaint: the heroine's guilty secret
  • Measure for Measure: the Mythic Equation comes to consciousness
  • Troilus and Cressida: the Mythic Equation becomes the Tragic Equation
  • Troilus and Cressida: the new factor and the different madness
  • The Trojan War: the incubation of the Tragic Equation
  • The secret nature of Diomed
  • The Boar's track into the battle
  • The Hunt staged as the death of Hector
  • The Trojan War as two warped mirrors
  • Troilus and Cressida as the first Tragedy of Divine Love

PART II: The Evolution of the Tragic Equation through the Seven Tragedies


  • The dominance of the mythic plane
  • The constant factors of the Shakespearean moment
  • Variants
  • The tragic madness

CHAPTER 3: The Tragic Equation Matures and Mutates: Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear

  • At wit's end
  • Othello: the Iago factor
  • Othello: the Tragic Equation in the body
  • Hamlet: the Tragic Equation in the mind
  • Macbeth: X-ray of the Shakespearean moment
  • King Lear: a triple Tragic Equation
  • King Lear as a reactivation of its mythic sources
  • Lear, the Fool, Mad Tom and Cordelia
  • The silence of Cordelia

CHAPTER 4: The Tragic Equation Makes Its Soul: Timon of Athens, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra

  • Subterranean transition
  • Timon of Athens: the Tragic Equation without the Female
  • Coriolanus: the Female survives the Tragic Equation
  • The tragic hero as the Rival Brother
  • Antony and Cleopatra as a bridging work
  • Antony and Cleopatra: the new factors
  • Antony and Cleopatra as a tragedy
  • Antony and Cleopatra as a theophany

PART III: The Transformation of the Tragic Equation in the Last Plays


  • The impossible thing
  • Root meanings of the Equation
  • The magician's task

CHAPTER 5: The Tragic Hero Brought to Judgement: Cymbeline, Pericles, The Winter's Tale

  • The mutant emerges
  • Cymbeline: the tragic hero reborn
  • Pericles and the Gnostic myth of Sophia
  • The Tragic Equation in court
  • The Winter's Tale: the cry and the silence
  • The Winter's Tale: Leontes as the tragic error
  • The Winter's Tale: the Tragic Equation becomes a theophany
  • The pattern of the Gnostic Coda in The Winter's Tale
  • Hermione's plea as the voice of Heaven and Earth

CHAPTER 6: The Dismantling of the Tragic Equation: The Tempest

  • The beginning in the end
  • The Tempest as a Gnostic coda
  • The Storm
  • The evolution of the Storm up to Macbeth
  • The two selves of the Flower
  • The Storm changes planes: Macbeth's vision
  • The Storm passes to the Female
  • The Storm and the Flower
  • The Tragic Equation in The Tempest
  • Prospero's tripartite brother
  • The Tempest and Dido
  • Miranda as Dido reborn
  • The Gnostic pattern in The Tempest
  • Ulysses and the mythic background of The Tempest
  • Circe
  • The Tempest: a precarious moment in the alchemy
  • Ariel and the Harpy
  • The Masque in The Tempest: the defeat of Venus
  • The Masque as the nativity of a god
  • The Masque as the twin birth of Tragedy and Transcendence
  • The triumph of the lame hunter
  • The Tempest as a keyboard for playing the Complete Works
  • Caliban's genetic make-up
  • Prospero dismantles the Tragic Equation
  • Ariel's ancestry
  • The evolution of Shakespeare's poetry: the Boar, the Storm and the Flower
  • The Equation in five early plays
  • Caliban's blackness

POSTSCRIPT: The Boar with a Flower in its Mouth


I. The Tragic Equation in Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen
II. The Perpetuum Mobile
III. The Equation in The Merchant of Venice