A spiritualistic periodical published in London gravely announces that it has ” secured the exclusive collaboration of William Shakespeare, in the spirit world,” and the public is warned that alleged communications from him appearing in any other paper are spurious.
–The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 6 March, 1893-
Today is the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s baptism and for the past few days the world has been sounding the drums and trumpets for Sweet Will. Dr Beachcombing has previously touched on the theory that Bacon, in a fit of temper murdered Shakespeare, cut off his head and buried it along with the manuscripts.
Shakespeare was not the only man to lose his head over the disputed corpus of literature.
The late 18th and early 19th centuries went wild for Will, creating a cultus that made the Shakespearean canon a kind of secular Bible and its author a God among Writers. “A genius who will lift humanity from the boundless gulf…a mountainous personality dwelling in the light unapproachable, a being quite beyond conception,” as Albert Durrant Watson wrote in The Twentieth Plane: A Psychic Revelation.
Hard on the heels of this enthusiasm, so aptly termed “Bardolotry” by G. B. Shaw, came the Spiritualists, who couldn’t leave his bones undisturbed, but summoned the departed Bard from the vasty deeps to channel wit, wisdom, poetry, plays and unmitigated blather.
Shakespeare had great appeal for the Spiritualists and for those who reported on them. The phrases “shuffled off this mortal coil,” “The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn, No traveller returns,” “Banquo’s Ghost,” “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” were the essential 19th-century Shakespearean sound-bites when reporting on ghosts and the afterlife.
Today let us look at some of the post-mortem quotes purporting to come from Shakespeare. If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
We begin in 1879 with a book “edited” by educator Henry Kiddle [1824-1891], whose preface modestly begins, “This book contains the record of one of the most extraordinary experiences ever vouchsafed to man.” What follows are transcriptions of 9 months of séances with the editor’s mediumistic daughter and son, a circumstance that, he states emphatically, ensures that the communications “come from the ‘world of spirits.’
As in a previous post on the spirit photographs and messages of Dr Hansmann, the crème of the spirit world sent its regards: Queen Elizabeth, Judge Edmonds, William of Orange, George Washington, Lord Byron, Napoleon, Aaron Burr, Prince Albert, Edgar Alan Poe, Pontius Pilate, Luther and John the Baptist.
This excerpt comes from the chapter called “Communications from the Illustrious of Earth:”
“I am William Shakespeare, poet and partisan. Endure the sins of the flesh, and the light of the soul will be given you in proportion to your victories over Satan and his triumphal band of Liars. Seek ye the final judgment for your encouragement, and relief from the assailing of Providence by his vagabond teachers. Lend your hearts to the heavenly teachers of repentance. Forever ye will believe and know that your Saviour died to save your soul’s bleeding.
“Bring the bowl of your intense desires for the benefit of your home of love. Believe the intensity of God’s love to be your bondage to his name’s satisfaction.
Not quite the caliber of the Sweet Swan of Avon we have come to know and love. Words words, mere words. No matter from the heart..
A conversation ensues in which Shakespeare expresses regret that his plays led many astray from God’s works. There follows a rather dreadful poem prompted by Kiddles’s request for a poem “descriptive of your heavenly joy.” Its lack of quality was blamed on an exhausted medium. But Kiddle, eager to capitalize on this unique visitation, asked:
“Can you give us any information in regard to the re-incarnation of spirits?” and the following was written with great rapidity and force:—
“Reincarnation, my kind hearers, you will never find, But in the line of fervency of mind. For the treasures of earth Are of heavenly birth;
And, unless you repress the longings of flesh
The pleasures of heaven will flow not to the breast;
But within the depths of the basin of rest,
You will find yourselves kept by a hand of dissension,
Which, perhaps, you may call, in your heart’s best intention,
Incarceration, but not incarnation…”
On the 26th of November, further communications were received from the same source….
When, at this time, the desire was expressed to hear further from Shakespeare, the medium said, ”Now I hear the words ‘Attend, ye braves! Listen, ye unsophisticated!'” Then she took the pencil, and wrote:—
” Shakespeare’s spirit in harmony with the medium. Amen!”
And then was written :—
“Attend, ye braves! Listen ye unsophisticated! Beware of contumely, and I will attend your hearts in your affliction of mind.”
It is all rather approximate one fears. Sound and fury, signifying nothing. It reminds me of the faux-archaic patter of Patience Worth.
But Kiddle pressed on:
If we should publish these revelations, what would you desire we should say as coming from you?
“Say that I am the teacher of the people’s pleasure, in preparing their hearts to see that the drama of life is but a side play to the eternal teachings that are found in one word of God’s book, or in one look from your Saviour’s divine eyes to throw the blessing of his divine love upon your souls. Do you not see that my teachings were somewhat selfish, because I took from God his right of providing a home for the soul? But, notwithstanding this bare-faced contradiction to the statement of his Word, I have found favor and grace in his supreme sight, and am nevertheless happy!!!”
Spiritual Communications: Presenting a Revelation of the Future Life, and Illustrating and Confirming the Fundamental Doctrines of the Christian Faith,Henry Kiddle, editor, 1879
Shakespeare, it appears, continued to help scholars interpret his works from the afterlife:
An English letter-writer says that Gerald Massey [poet and Egyptologist, 1828-1907] is passionately immersed in spiritualism, and is indeed himself a medium. He confides to his friends that every idea in his new book on Shakespeare’s sonnets was obtained directly from the ghost of Shakespeare himself. He says he went over the sonnets line by line with the spirit and had the author’s interpretation of each. He did not state this in his book for fear of exciting the prejudice of the public against it. Evening Star [Washington DC] 17 September 1866: p. 1
Even in the afterlife, there was controversy about the Authorship. This is what Shakespeare “said” in 1904:
Listen to me: Who was the Shakespeare you knew and idolize? He was not the man Shakespeare, but a band of spirits who through this man communicated with the earth. This band was back of the consciousness of Shakespeare. He did not know the source of his inspiration. He believed all came from his own mind. You wonder when the spirit of Shakespeare now speaks through some medium that his utterances are inferior. You now, if the medium is well developed, hear Shakespeare as he is; you then heard, when he wrote on earth, Shakespeare as the Shakespearian band of spirits was.” The Widow’s Mite and Other Psychic Phenomena, Isaac Kaufman Funk, 1904
In 1907 this was the fuller explanation:
CONTROLLED BY SPIRITS
‘I was spiritually controlled; I was never myself either in acting or writing.
‘Every word of “King Lear ” I wrote, hearing the words audiently. “Coriolanus ” was another play I wrote after my retirement from London; I wrote this hearing it clairaudiently. “The Merry Wives of Windsor:’ was written through my hand in nearly illegible characters. I had been with Drayton and Ben Jonson, having a social glass together, and after our carousal, for it finished with one, I stopped at the inn where it took place and filled seventy four sheets of manuscript from 2 A.m. to 4.35. This was “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” You have read my maiden efforts —my “Venus and Adonis” was my first invention. I dedicated it to Southampton’s Earl, with an apology for its dedication….
Asked if he had controlled many media upon this earth, he replied:
‘Why should I? Many claim that I have spoken through them; but I assure you that the number could be counted on the fingers of one hand.’
Asked why he did not acknowledge his indebtedness to the Spirit-world for his plays, he said:
‘Had I done so my head would have been off within a week.
‘What I have further to say than what I have already said is, that after a successful life upon earth I had a happy, joyous transition, and a welcoming reception in the spirit spheres.’ Talks with the Dead: Luminous Rays from the Unseen World, John Lobb, editor, 1907
A 1919 visit with the Bard elicited this florid description of his current abode:
“May I give a description of this immortal place now?”
We shall be delighted if you will, Shakespeare.
“Behold a temple set in a valley, whose opaline sides, as if with jewels were dissolved, then kissed by Sappho and polished to reflect the gorgeous splendour of exalted nature. Hear the bell in yonder church tower. The walk to this edifice is like pearls. The trees are all swaying in rhythmical harmony of pulsations of ether. The people are all moving with steps of princes newly ordained to a higher throne; and all is lit with the close resemblance of the pale pink of sea-shells.”
Is this the description of the Twentieth Plane?
“Yes; where I now stand.”
The Twentieth Plane: A Psychic Revelation Reported by Albert Durrant Watson, Albert Durrant Watson 1919
Remember, there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so….This was regarded as the Real Deal, at least at the time it was communicated. Watson [1859-1926] was a Canadian doctor and poet. He worked with medium Louis Benjamin [whom he called “The Instrument”], but later came to feel that, while genuine psychic phenomena existed, the results of the séances might have been influenced by the attendees.
Even death could not still the pen of the Swan of Avon. He continued to write, as we see in this bizarre tale of the post-mortem revision of Hamlet.
SHAKESPEARE GHOST REVISES ‘HAMLET’
Poet’s Astral Voice Tells Chaloner He Has Written Two New Scenes
HE MAKES OPHELIA SANE
Hamlet’s Madness Only Feigned Author’s Spirit informs Cort Theatre Audience.
Mr. Shakespeare—for it was with the prefix most respectfully attached, that he was addressed—was presented yesterday on the state of Cort Theatre by John Armstrong Chaloner, who in the last month has been conjuring up spirits of the great departed by means of a lead pencil. Mr. Shakespeare in his astral self appeared to contradict what he said seemed to be the prevalent and disgusting impression that he intended Hamlet to be mad, and just to prove that the deduction was all bosh, he had written—through the medium of Mr. Chaloner’s pencil–two new scenes of Hamlet.
Mr. Chaloner read them. Some day, Mr. Shakespeare’s spirit told the audience, they will be produced in New York, and when they are, nobody will recognize Hamlet. Ophelia will no longer be mad, there won’t be any grave scene, Ophelia will drink poison when Hamlet and Laertes go about spitting each other on their swords, and the royal lovers will die happily together. He only made Ophelia mad to show that he could do it. Shakespeare’s ghost said, and since the deplorable result has been that insanity seemed to become catching in the play, he has decided to let the poor girl remain sane.
There was something about the sonnets also which, Mr. Shakespeare said, seemed to have besmirched his otherwise fair name. He explained in a postscript which was partly written after Mr. Chaloner, all wearied by his interpretive exertions, had dropped into a vaudeville theatre to see Eva Tanguay.
“I always wanted to see what she was like—as she it was who made the song, not the original expression but the lyrical version thereof—she it was who made the song ‘Who’s Looney Now?’ famous. Well, sir,” said Mr. Chaloner, addressing Mr. Shakespeare, who was naturally interested at hearing of the cyclonic Eva, “I saw Miss Tanguay and was satisfied. I stood for one solid hour and was amply repaid.”
Tearing himself away from Miss Tanguay, Mr. Chaloner reverted to the sonnets and let Mr. Shakespeare explain that when he wrote them he was under “a mental passion wholly foreign to my calm English phlegm.” Mr. Shakespeare was in one of these fevers one day when he saw the Muse, in Greek costume, seated on a stone by the Pierian Spring.
“Suddenly a youth in a costume I had never seen or hear of—I have since learned that it was a modern fox hunting costume, yellow boots and knee breeches—suddenly a youth in a fox hunting costume with a riding whip in his hand and spurs on his heels, a modern coat and hat above the breeches, slowly approached, “said Mr. Shakespeare’s spirit through Mr. Chaloner.
The goddess kissed the boy, who responded ardently, and vanished, and Mr. Shakespeare started in to write sonnets so fast that he was amazed by his own facility. He was still more amazed when he read them, and would have burned them because of the effect on his reputation if the goddess had not again appeared and threatened to leave him flat if he dared destroy a line of the records of her affection.
But most of the afternoon’s recitation by Mr. Shakespeare’s ghost was given up to Hamlet, for whom he has an affection not claimed by any other of his characters. When Hamlet in the amended version found out that his royal father had been murdered he wandered around looking for some one to tell it to until he met Ophelia.
“For, darling, I would make thee Queen of Danes
Did I not bend beneath this fearful load,
Till that is off I’m liegeman to my Fate—
My grisly destiny of killing Kings.
But he wasn’t mad at all, because, as Mr. Shakespeare wrote his new scene on last St. Patrick’s Day morning in Mr. Chaloner’s apartment in Washington Square, he was just fooling.
Before I further go this caution take,
If ere we are disturbed I’ll madness feign.
(Ophelia smiles understandingly and nods her head.)
As I have done ere now (smiling) to purpose too.
With which line Mr. Shakespeare’s spirit dismisses all doubt that Hamlet was addled. But when Polonius came upon them Hamlet made believe Ophelia was a bear and had peculiar ways.
After Ophelia drinks the poison and Hamlet is stabbed and Laertes is stabbed and the King is stabbed and the Queen is poisoned, and there’s the deuce to pay in Denmark, Hamlet places a cushion by his side for Ophelia.
And now, my darling, may I turn to thee
And bid three farewell, ere we take our flight
Kiss me, my sweetheart, ere we leave the world.
Alas. Too faint am I to salute the.
Ophelia—Now die I—happy—for—I—die—with—thee, Hamlet—Together we ascend—to Realms—of—Bliss. The rest is silence. [Dies.]
After Mr. Shakespeare’s’ new play had been read, Mr. Chaloner read a threat from him to have it produced in New York, perhaps in the Cort Theatre.
The New York Times 4 April 1921: p. 17
Chaloner [1862-1936] was John Armstrong Chaloner, scion of an elite New York family. Well-educated, well-connected, and rich, he seemed to have the world at his feet. But it all came unraveled. Opposed by his family, he made an unsuccessful marriage. When he divorced–a social taboo–he remained on friendly terms with his ex-wife and, even more reprehensibly, befriended her second husband. His brother Robert labeled Chaloner “looney,” especially after he began experimenting with a power he called the “X-Faculty,” a kind of psychic sense. He went into trance and got a lucrative stock-market tip, thought he could carry hot coals in his hands, and believed he was Napoleon reincarnated.
His family had Chaloner committed as a lunatic to the Bloomingdale Hospital at White Plains. He escaped and found a set of doctors to certify that he was sane. For years experts on both sides argued that he was incurably paranoid and delusional or, alternatively, that he had a perfectly valid interest in psychic research. New York State continued to assert that he was legally insane. Obviously the man had a bit of a bee in his bonnet about the madness of Shakespeare’s characters. He did protest too much, methinks.
Once free, he wrote and lectured on lunacy law reform, ranted against psychiatry and its experts, and assiduously transcribed the poems, plays, and messages from famous dead people dictated to him by the “X-Faculty.”
Chaloner was terrific copy for the journalists of the period. When Chaloner’s brother Robert had a short-lived and expensive marriage to opera diva Lina Cavalieri, Chaloner taunted him with a telegram reading, “Who’s looney now?” which became Chaloner’s catch-phrase and his epitaph.
This lunatic, lover, and poet, who died in 1935, was noted in later years for his philanthropy as well as his eccentricities. One hopes that flights of angels sang him to his rest.
Is anyone today channeling Shakespeare? Give thy thoughts tongue to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.