“…there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”
(adapted from The Matrix)
I just came across a college paper I wrote in 1975, when I was seventeen years old, entitled, “Shakespearean Philosophy and the Greenworld.” Referring to Shakespeare’s philosophy I wrote,
“Man was originally designed to live in a completely natural state, in the Garden of Eden or the Golden Age. …. An important concept in considering the levels of nature is the wheel of fortune or the cosmic wheel. …. This lower order of nature is an amoral force that moves in cyclical patterns imitating the movements of the stars. The movement of this amoral force produces not only the cycles of seasons and days, but also in human life, the cycles of prosperity and decline that constitute the wheel of fortune. At the very top of the wheel is the perfect order of the Golden Age and at the bottom is a state of nonbeing or nothingness.”
It seemed almost eerie to find that nearly thirty years ago I was already preoccupied with and writing about the feeling that ours is a fallen time, and that a Golden Age, a greener world than this, is a plane of reality that resonates with both past and future. In Return of the King, Tolkien writes, “Hope and memory shall live still in some hidden valley where the grass is green.”
In Shakespeare’s plays, the “Green World” (a term coined by literary critic Northrope Frye) is a place in the woods where cosmopolitan, neurotic characters go (especially in comedies like A Midsummer’s Night Dream and As You Like It), and genders get swapped through cross-dressing, fairies, elves and visions appear, and somehow the city characters get their psyches and relationships sorted out.
We may experience a similar longing for the Green World via our desires to be out in nature, go on a wilderness sojourn, attend a Rainbow gathering, or experience the realm of Middle Earth through a book or movie (among countless other examples).
We also have a part of our intuition that registers a general wrongness about this world. Hamlet says, “This time is out of joint.” And “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Some of the most memorable spoken lines of our era are from the first Matrix movie, “There is a splinter in your mind you can’t get out.” and “It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” The Matrix and Tolkien’s mythology share a belief with the ancient Gnostics that the realm we have incarnated in is largely a diabolical deception or intrinsically corrupted plane. Tolkien wrote in his notes, “But nothing, as has been said, utterly avoids the Shadow upon Arda (earth) or is wholly unmarred, so as to proceed unhindered upon its right courses.”