Shakespeare’s Spirituality: A Perspective: An Interview With Dr. Martin Lings

Shakespeare’s Spirituality: A Perspective: An Interview With Dr. Martin Lings

This film is the last surviving footage of the renowned Dr. Martin Lings. Ira B. Zinman, the producer and director, interviews Dr. Lings about his lifelong devotion to the works of William Shakespeare. Lings demonstrates that many themes in Shakespeare’s works cannot be correctly understood without reference to the esoteric meaning contained in them, and shows how the true function of art is not merely to educate but to give us a “taste of wisdom, each to his own capacity.”

An interview with Dr. Martin Lings produced and directed by Ira B. Zinman

When Martin Lings saw a Shakespeare play performed for the first time, for several days afterwards he found himself “plunged into an extraordinary state of happiness” such as he had never experienced before. Which play was it that caused him such euphoria? It was Othello—not only a tragedy, but arguably the most heart-rending of all of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

How could such a sad play produce such joy? Dr. Lings, in this interview by Ira Zinman, illuminates his experience—which is surely shared by many who appreciate the works of Shakespeare—by explaining the nature of sacred art, in the context of an account of his own life’s spiritual journey. The resulting film will be appreciated both by admirers of Lings, who will treasure this last footage of Dr. Lings before his death, and anyone who has experienced the sacred in a work of fiction and wondered how it can reside there.

The function of literature, like that of all art, explains Dr. Lings, is not to preach, but to reveal. A play reveals spiritual wisdom by drawing us into it, “from cold objectivity to the warmth of subjectivity.” The audience is not being offered spiritual laws and principles, but individual characters—and so, in the words of Titus Burckhardt, whom Dr. Lings quotes, by watching the play we are able to “participate naturally, and almost involuntarily, in the world of holiness.”

Dr. Lings is specific. He uses examples from many of Shakespeare’s plays not only to make his case that Shakespeare’s plays are indeed sacred (though non-liturgical) art, but also that they are concerned with the esoteric theme of the purification of the human soul, and the restoration of our primordial state of beatific union with God. If a play is about the soul’s journey toward perfection, which it reaches at the end, and if the play draws us into it—then watching the play becomes a spiritual experience for the audience.

What, then, accounts for this taste of bliss that we find, surprisingly, even in the tragedies of Shakespeare? What is present in this world into which Shakespeare draws his audience? It is, says Dr. Lings, “the harmony of the universe.” We are being drawn through the tapestry—from our usual vision of its reverse side, in which the threads seemed tangled and chaotic, to the front of the tapestry where the harmony of the design, and each thread’s contribution to it, is apparent. We are drawn in, and then drawn through. And hearing the venerable Dr. Lings speak of these things, one realizes that this is a man who has, for a long time now, been dwelling in this harmony.