In the original manuscript of The Beautiful, Winged Madness, the spirit being Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, was the third major character. She assisted Guy and Anna in their pursuits of art, spirit, and love while struggling with her identity and place in our contemporary world. I removed her from the novel because I concluded her scenes were too divergent from the primary story.
One scene I particularly liked involved a story Aphrodite tells of the time she assisted a desperate William Shakespeare. I have modified it into a short story.
Aphrodite Rescues Shakespeare
Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love and Beauty, was not merely a mythic creation relevant to an age long past. She has existed, and served humankind, for milleniums. Although a spirit, she possessed a form that could be seen my most other spirits, be they gods or not, or by exceptionally awakened mortals. Buddha saw her, as did Christ. Buddha called her the Form of Light, and Christ annointed her God's Prayer of Beauty and Love.
The painter Vincent van Gogh saw Aphrodite near the end of his life and painted her as a vibrant, golden wheat field. Descending on it were ominous, black crows that represented his fated and mortal eyes, deemed by him to be unworthy of the sight of the goddess.
"No, Master van Gogh," Aphrodite, who liked the lovely yet turbulent painting, assured. "You are the beauty and love you paint. That is why you can paint it, and can see me now."
Van Gogh understood and embraced that truth, experiencing a rare moment of peace and acceptance.
Creatures of nature, possessed of a sensitive perception and not determining reality by material physicality, often saw Aphrodite's beauty and unbounded love. They gathered around her and it was not uncommon to find birds and butterflies of all varieties in enchanting colors fluttering in her vicinity, or a deer or horse treading in her path. Even the fiercest of beasts--the mighty tiger, kingly lion, or shadowy leopard--tamed by her presence, often curled peacefully at her feet.
Aphrodite, as most of the deities, could manifest herself as flesh and blood to be seen or touched by any if she chose, and could assume, in addition to a woman, any other form --- a dolphin, a bird --- although rarely did; only if there was a purpose, for she lived by purpose and mission.
If seen as a woman by a mortal she might still be perceived as a vision, or a lovely hallucination, or perhaps a goddess in a dream. One might close one’s eyes and expect that when reopened, she would have vanished. Mortals could also sense her unseen presence, an experience of radiant beauty and love, similar to a moment when one felt in the grace of God.
Through the millenniums, Aphrodite assisted many mortals in matters not only of the heart but also of fertility, creativity, and purpose. Of her many subjects, one of the most notable was the great English playwright William Shakespeare, the Bard.
Once Upon a Time, days were dark and travailing for William Shakespeare, the world’s greatest playwright. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, had been following his life and work with the keenest interest and felt an affection, and reverence, for the writings and their creator. ‘What light through yonder window breaketh?’ For her, and many mortals, it was, or was to be, the works of the Bard!
As a spirit entity with exceptional perception she knew what was in his mind and his plans and that, at that critical time in his life and career, he direly needed her assistance. Shakespeare was despairing, having fallen into a curse of the artist -- a loss of faith in one’s work. Not whether he could still create them, not the loss of the Muse -- indeed, his mind was still a bounty of creativity--but whether they were of value, whether they made any difference, even the slightest, in this real world, the world of passions and madness and tragedies, the world of man.
The play is not the thing, he decided. It means naught!
And he was confronting the perennial conflict between reality and illusion. It was the perfect time for him to confront Aphrodite!
“Illusions,” she, while spiritually observing, heard the Bard bemoaning, his eyes downcast as if viewing the lowly. '''Tis illusions I create. Or more damnable, illusions of lies! Reflections of shadows of vapors. Mine works--mine splendid, artful illusions -- art mocked by the smallest of foes. The turning of a screw--its raw tearing of fibers more real than the feigned tearing of fancied souls in mine played and staged mockeries. Mocked by minutes, nay, seconds, of time, that irrepressible non-entity that heals and steals, cruely passing and ne'er regained as it decimates a sir, yet at each moment of more truth than mine scrible farces. Tick tock, tick tock." He swung his arms through the air.
"Simple numbers -- numbers that announce a toll of the dead, and hearts ebb. Light reflected in a child’s eye -- a moment’s flair more wondrous than any phantom enchantment cast by mine plays. A mundane breath of air that inspires and fires more brilliantly than e'er by mine words. All mock mine works!”
“Oh, what a wondrous playwright he be, this scribbler of lies! This fraud!”
He mimicked an audience member in idolatry, his hand against his forhead, as he, Shakespeare, looked out the window of his humble writing quarters onto the bustling streets of London.
“With what envy and admiration doth I look upon thee, naked streets! For thou art art, without arrogance and pretense, so alive and true!”
The Master watched an earthy wench with a bloomed pregnant stomach march through the street’s dust.
“Thou art mine goddess! Mine true Muse!” he vowed to her.
Noticing his attention, she lustfully pushed up one of her prodigious breasts, and smiled.
“There be Beauty! There be Truth!” the Master proclaimed. Then he became solemn, reminiscent of one of his tragic characters in a brooding soliloquy.
“In one perfect moment, the Supreme Creator, with an act of inspired and exquisitely nimble footed alchemy, wedded all that wast, all that his powers hath conceived, from crudest mud to noblest creature, darkness to light, life to death, finite to infinite, and breathe into it the spirit of Him, like a blaze in an awakened paragon, to forge Man, with the promise to transcend all! The command imparted was simple. ‘Live! Live in this world I bequeath thee!’ He didst not say to these virgin creatures, ‘Be mirages on wooden stages!’ I, playwright,” he emphasized that word slowly with much disdain, “I be but a depressed and doomed parody of Creator and Creation, a comedy of grossest errors, a perverse inversion, a creator of naught. Only illusions!”
The Bard resolved that he would retire from his craft. No more plays or sonnets would be penned by William Shakespeare and, thereafter, in an affirmative act of truth, he would work and live as a tavern keeper.
“The tavern!” he shouted as if possessed by a divine vision. “What be a more profane yet profound and sublime celebration of life? A very truth of flesh and blood, passions and tragedies, loves and deaths! Oh wondrous world that the anemic phantoms of pen and stage could ne'er capture! The play is not the thing. My work doth suck,” he paused, considering his choice of words, “suck the very truths from life that they purport to impart. The tavern is the thing!”
The Master appeared delirious as he contemplated his plan. He danced around the room muttering words like wenches and lust and sweet death, as if he were a mad Ophelia.
“I bury my poet’s soul!” he proclaimed. “And from its grave shalt glorious life grow!”
He paused, apparently disturbed by the incongruity of his vow and the rhyme of its expression.
“And from its grave will life most glorious rise!” he amended his proclamation.
Needless to say, Aphrodite was gravely concerned. Then the Bard resolved he would create one final work, his only work that he believed would not be a lie, and would be his legacy and redemption.
“A work of truth!” he shouted out his window. “Sweet ordinary, I give thee a play that is not a play, where the play be life, and life be the play.”
He would call it Shakespeare’s Banquet, for that was what it would be. And it would not be written to paper.
“In the wondrous play of life, the play of truth,” he reasoned, his eyes glassy and his fingers disheveling his hair, “doth not all exist in moments, each supreme, living and dying in that fleeting moment of it being? The sublime eternity of moments.”
“Who art thou? That moment of me? I know not thee -- moment that follows the moment that be me? But who doth thou speak to? The moment that preceded me? But that moment that is nay longer me canst nay longer be, for I be now the moment that followed thee, and none that preceded me, and now I be another yet, and that be all I e'er be!’ He laughed insanely. “Truth sets all free, but how I forget the liberating thought of that moment that now nay longer is. I shalt create it anew, as it must be, and then again and again. Truth sets all free!" He ranted on and on, sounding quite mad.
Dear, poor Master! Aphrodite thought.
The Bard kept rambling. “A play be like a whore. Seductress of cosmetic, repetitive performances. Tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Oh, foul hag! Syphilitic lady of pox and boils! A contagion upon this world! What a fool hath been I. Eye that doth not see. A blind staged and played lover. But now . . . atonement! I worship the living!”
He threw his plumed pen and jar of ink out the window. The pen stabbed and the ink splashed upon a hapless pariah dog scavenging in a gutter, who yelped.
‘‘'Tis meant for thee, dog!” Shakespeare yelped back. Then he laughed in a fit of gleeful lunacy.
As Aphrodite observed this scene, a tear welled in her eye.
Master Shakespeare rented a town hall, the Schofield Hall of Affairs, a blue shingled building with massive, ornate windows and exsquisitely carved cedar doors, and two stone chimneys, to stage the great banquet, a magnificent feast and ball that he scheduled to continue beyond the witching hour, late into the night. At its conclusion, he would announce to the guests that they had just experienced his final, and only relevant, work, and they were its cast of characters. Life as a play!
Invitations went out across the city and beyond to men, women, and even children of all stations and occupations, beggar to Queen. Each was told they could attend as any character or creature, real or fancied, or as themselves, as they pleased. All would be equally welcomed to his Banquet of Life.
But he had not planned on Aphrodite attending.
Many attended the banquet, too many for the hall to contain. A spirited brawl erupted outside its door as the determined fought for entrance.
“Superb, 'tis life!” Master Shakespeare declared. He was dressed as the Elizabethan common man that he was soon to become, in a doublet, a brown, fitted jacket with gold buttons down its front over a shirt, white frills around his neck and wrists, a burgandy cape and a gold, velvet flat cap, and he sported a short goatee. He considered joining the fray, and then became confused. “What would be truer to life? To surrender to the passion of the brawl, or to attend to the duties of a host?”
After anguishing, he concluded he must be true to his host station, for that is what a host would do in common life.
The night came close to realizing his design for it was as the world itself, populated with all the characters of life. There were artists and courtesans and bandits and princes, child orphans, warriors and clowns, satyrs, fauns, and priests. Even the gods -- Dionysus, a mortal’s fantasy of drunken revelry, and Zeus, although resembling not in the least the Zeus of Aphrodite's acquaintance. The Royal Queen Elizabeth herself attended, cleverly costumed as the host Shakespeare, albeit a rather portly interpretation, replete in stripped tights, billowing sleeves, a floppy blue and gold Elizabethan cap, and a goatee beard. She was quite the comical sight! When she and Aphrodite met, the goddess bowed before her as a loyal subject. But Aphrodite suspected the wise Queen knew who honored her, and the goddess dared not penetrate her thoughts.
And there were those who attended simply, and profoundly, considering the context, as themselves.
Aphrodite attended, materialized in the physical plane, as herself in classic Grecian goddess attire -- a flax and silk tunic and a tiara of flowers -- knowing the people would assume she was a woman playing the role of the goddess. The rich browns of the fertile earth hued her hair that cascaded in waves to the nape of her back, her skin was preciously pale and her eyes glimmered with the emerald of an enchanted forest. Her body with its ideally robust yet sensual curves defined femininity.
She knew it was to be a most amusing affair.
When she entered the hall and walked across the floor, one by one all eyes fixed upon her, most of all the Bard’s. He approached to welcome her and then stood, speechless, and stared. She knew that in his heart he had a sudden and unexpected realization: ‘a fertile beauty inhabits this world.' But then he questioned it. ‘Be this truth or be this illusion?’
“Doth thou believeth in goddesses?” Aphrodite asked the mute Master while awkwardly attempting to adopt the nuances of the speech of the age.
Finally, he answered. “As mine eyes anon behold the wondrous vision of thee, so it be true.”
Rather charming! she thought and heard what followed in his mind. ‘Although it seems a dream, in a woman possessed of such beauty that Aphrodite be her rightful role, verily doth I believe!’
“Then the woman as goddess, and the goddess as woman, wishes to acquaint thee.” She offered her hand, which he gently accepted and kissed, twice.
"I am William Shakespeare.”
“Ay, I know, Master Shakespeare.”
The playwrite was a youthful, slender man. His face did not seem the visage of one who had penned such mature passages and wisdom. It possessed an endearing, youthful innocence and charm, much as the face of a child. Aphrodite thought he was rather cute.
Again he flattered her. “As oft as I hath dreamt of heaven and the deity, hath I dreamt of acquainting thee, Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty, a title thou bear well.”
Again he kissed her hand and she heard his thought. Faith, I must possess this divine creature.
She responded, startling him. “One cannot possess a goddess, Master Shakespeare, and are not dreams illusions and of nay worth to this world?”
He startled, and then stared into her eyes. “But thou art a living dream,” he said.
“Art thou certain, Master? Perhaps I be an illusion, and ‘tis thee who give truth to me,” she baited.
“What I know be true, dear goddess, mortal or immortal, is that thou art a clever, and quite quaint, mystery.”
Aphrodite laughed. “Verily, 'tis true, good sir, as are thee. All illusions and truths be mysteriously quaint, be they goddess, flesh, or words.”
The playwright was a youthful, slender man, dressed in striped tights and a loose cotton shirt with billowing sleeves as a pirate might wear, and typical of theater garb. He wore a floppy blue and gold Elizabethan cap and sported a short goatee. His face did not seem the visage of one who had written such mature passages and wisdom. It possessed an endearing, youthful innocence and charm, much as the face of a child. He was rather cute, Aphrodite thought.
After exchanging some more teasing and artful banter, she stated, “Thou hath procured tempting delights for this night. Come, Master, dine with me.”
He took her arm in escort. “'There be but one truly tempting delight this night.” He flattered her with a wink.
This game will be fun, she thought. This game will be fun, she heard him think.
“If this be true life, Master Shakespeare, and not a splendid illusion created by thee, would the host be a seducer, or would the seducer subjugate to play the host? Thou art master of such scenarios. Pray tell me."
He grinned confidently and then looked down, appearing perplexed. “I fear I know not, dear lady.”
“Thine answer is true to life, and yet be but phantom sounds.” She touched him gently on the arm. She felt him tremble, and he smiled most peculiarly. A liberation? was his thought.
They sat together at the wooden banquet table. The Master’s thoughts were fertile, on which she, of course, intruded. He considered immediately falling in love with the ‘divine creature’, as he kept thinking of her. Then he pondered whether that would be real life or a mere illusion as in his romantic plays. Love be not dreamy virgins espousing poetry on garden balconies, he thought. Love be the lustful courting of the flesh to bed chamber, and the spirit to heart! Shall I court thee? He did not know the answer and suspected that to not know was true to life, so he decided to remain in the moment, where he always was, and discover what the next moment held when in it, be it love or loss. No staging that night by him. But a thought stabbed at the Bard. Is not this entire banquet a staging, and thus ne'er to be real? Nay! He resolved he would not despair, as would a character in his plays. And yet, what more real and human than to despair? The Master anguished. Why be true life so dumbfounding? he puzzled.
“Marry, I find thee not dumb but wise, with thy questioning whys,” Aphrodite responded.
“What?’ he said, the poor Master even more perplexed.
She chuckled. “'Tis a night of life and confusion,” she said in both counsel and game."Like a sage with the fancies of a child."
Again he looked at her perplexed and then poured her a glass of wine.
"Forsooth, dear goddess. Alive and complex, as are we.”
“Precisely, Master, mortal or not.” She raised her glass. "I offer a toast to the night and life. both so wondrous. As art thy wondrous plays."
Shakespeare glanced at her with a wary eye.
“Noble lady, by what name do I introduce thee to our guests?”
She knew he was cleverly probing for details of her life.
“By mine name, of course, Master,” she replied.
“And what be thy truest name?”
“My truest name be mine soul, and sole, name -- Aphrodite.”
He sighed, then smiled and tapped a spoon upon the side of a glass, its chiming ring calling the guests to attention.
“Honorable guests, ‘tis William Shakespeare’s pleasure and privilege to present to thee Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty!”
The guests sent up a cheer. Some raised their glasses in a toast. Others banged their steins of mead upon the table, their contents splashing onto the plates of food, and yelled, “Bravo! Goddess! Bravo!” One belched and then crudely shouted, “What a morsel ‘tis she!”
Offended, a delicate lady dressed as a countess rebutted, “What a pig are thee!”
Aphrodite thought she referred to her and acknowledged the guest's perception with an agreeing nod.
Then a man in a jester’s costume tossed the Bard a challenge. “Shakespeare, master of words and visions, compose a poem now for our divine goddess!”
Aphrodite read the Master's perplexity, he recalling his vow to compose no more.
“The poem be already composed,” he replied raising an arm graciously towards Aphrodite. “'Tis she.”
“Bravo!” the guests applauded and returned to the indulgences of the feast. And a splendid feast it was! Shakespeare had invited the city’s finest chefs in exchange for their choicest dishes, and they had complied -- meat and vegetable and grain and fruit delights to seduce and satiate the senses. Delectable dishes with names as exotic as their ingredients -- Tropical Bliss (fruit salad), Hearty Hunter's Pride (meat stew), Baker's Fantasia (delectectable cakes), Aphrodite especially savored a salad creation called Garden of the Gods, and indeed it was, there ripest and purest of vegetables in an amrosial fusion. There were also barrels of the finest wines that were eagerly drained.
As they dined and wined Aphrodite captivated the guests with wondrous tales, told as much for her pleasure as their amusement, for she delighted in the telling. “Tales from the epic of a goddess, centuries in the making,” she proclaimed, which was a truth they took as jest. She related magnificent stories of mortals and gods, exotic creatures and furious battles and eternal loves that she had collected through the ages. She actually divulged some secrets never before spoken to mortals, but they believed it all to be fantasy, and the secrets did not embed in them.
Then Master Shakespeare shuffled uneasily. He touched her arm and whispered. “'Tis excellent tales, dear goddess, but this night be for truths of life, not fancies of the mind.”
“Thou doth not see truths in mine tales?”
“Indeed, but they are as the deliriums of this wine.” He held up his glass. “They be true, and are yet a dream.”
She laughed. His analogy was clever.
As they continued dining, to Shakespeare’s senses alone, she teased his beliefs and logic.
“What wine doth thee imbibe?” she asked.
“A digestious robust berry wine” he replied. “The wine of Dionysus!” He smiled as he sipped the treasure.
“Perhaps thee should taste it again, Master.”
When he did, he startled. The drink had changed to a delicate white wine.
“The wine of Aphrodite,” she stated with a smile.
He stared at the glass bewildered. She lifted an apple and when his eyes turned from it for a fraction of a moment, she changed it to a peach. His eyes puzzled in wonder.
“A peach, Master?” she asked.
When she noticed him observing a roasted pig on a platter, she rolled the swine’s parched eyes for just an instant, enough to confound him. And occasionally she whispered in his ear, “Be I vision or flesh, illusion or real, I am Aphrodite,” a proposition he was beginning to suspect might be more truth than play.
The goddess had a mischievous streak, but purposeful mischief, always. She was preparing him.
Shakespeare’s Banquet came close to realizing its creator’s vision, being indeed a small pageant of life. In rooms around the main hall Aphrodite caught glimpses of passionate, romantic trysts. Several times a rowdy fight broke out among the guests; Shakespeare did not intervene, allowing the fury to be played out. A portly, elderly gentleman, after gorging himself on the food and wine, in a prescient moment, stood up, announced, “A noble end for an ignoble life!” and then dropped dead. Some wept as his body was carried out. A woman, profoundly pregnant, dressed in peasant’s attire, raw like the earth, suddenly went into labor. At one minute past midnight, all the guests were charmed by the cry of a newborn life. Along the main table and in the hall’s corners were spirited discussions of politics, art, and erotic intrigues. And all through the night there was laughter, emotion, passion, and drama.
“'Tis life!” The Master kept declaring, pleased with his play of plays.
Enlivening the atmosphere was festive music performed by musicians with lutes, flutes and hand held drums. A man dressed as a minstrel, with a resonant, deep voice, sang lyrical ballads.
"Greensleeves now farewell adieu,
God I pray to prosper thee,
For I am still thy lover true,
Come once again and love me."
“Doth thou dance?” the Master asked as they completed feasting.
Heavenly.” Aphrodite smile alluringly.
“Forsooth,” the Bard said. ‘As mine vision dances across the heavens each time I look at thee, would thou dance with me? For at the ripe of every moment, in my dreams and visions dare, I dance with thee.”
“I would be honored, Master, even if it be but once, and upon this humble Earth." She bowed.
The Bard was an excellent dancer, and dancing was native to Aphrodite's spirit. They glided across the floor in an elegant Allemande--that delightful Elizabethan dance that becomes progressively quicker and gayer, with pauses for chatting or courting.
“Thou dance like a goddess,” Shakespeare complimented. “Light as air.”
“In truth, for I be a goddess and a spirit,” she replied and he laughed. “Be light, Master Shakespeare, for ‘tis in light that one sees truth.”
“Thou playeth thy part well, dear Aphrodite. As a mirror's ghost could be it's host. Never hath I witnessed more masterful an actor, or performance, on any stage. As any consummate actor, thou becomes the part.
”The part is me. For the only character be I in pretense of being me. But since the character be me, there is nay character nor pretense, only I.”
The Master peered at her skeptically and then laughed. He spun her on the floor twice, she sweeping beneath his arm. Then she did a complex series of turns and dips.
“Thy steps in dance are as artful as thine acting,” he said with a grin.
“'Tis simple, Master. I am she, and she is me, Aphrodite, as I am the dancer, who be the dance.”
The music paused, and the dance stilled.
“If it be true thee art Aphrodite, thee would be a spirit.”
“I am a spirit, Master.”
“But thou art matter.”
“On this night, for this matter, I be mostly spirit of matter, for ‘tis spirit that matters most.”
“Thou art a woman.”
“I am a spirit who be a woman who be a goddess, as thou art a spirit who be a man who be a playwright. ‘Tis all, and all.”
Shakespeare laughed. “And wise, for what thee say mirrors truth.”
The music resumed and they danced on. Then she played upon his senses more. As they glided, she placed in his mind the sensation that he was floating. Startled, he looked down, but saw his feet still upon the floor.
“My, Master, thou art light as air.”
“Faith, 'tis true, ‘tis true. I float, but yet I don’t.” Then he challenged it. “'Tis a trick. Thou art a trickster.”
“Yay, 'tis a trick, Master An illusion. But is it not wonderful? Doth thy spirit not float just as free? Is it not also real?”
He did not reply. He seemed confused but euphoric at the sensation of gliding through the air.
“‘Tis an illusion, Master, as thy plays are illusions. Yet, ‘tis all true. Doth thee not see?”
He shook his head. “Who, and what, are thee?”
He appeared enraptured. He was ready.
“Trust what thee see, Master, for thou art a master at seeing.”
They reached the liveliest stage of the dance and, in both a physical act and a symbolic gesture, she released the Master’s guiding hand. Intuitively she knew it was time for the Dance of Sublime Madness. It was a dance she learned in 200 BC, in Europe, from a sweet heathen girl who used it to maintain her sanity in a world of savagery and barbarism.
If it redeemed a little girl, Aphrodite thought, then it should help redeem Master Shakespeare, for in every artist resides the heart of a child and a spirit of sublime madness.
So she stood before him, raised her arms to the heavens and swayed her body like a woman in a mystical rapture. Then she shook and whirled and contorted and vibrated ferociously in a fit of lunacy, shouting “Yay! Yay! Yay!” The Bard, and indeed all in the hall, watched startled and aghast. Then a euphoric smile consumed the Master’s face and he shouted, “Yay! Yay! Yay! ‘Tis life!”
He joined her in the delirious tantrum dance. He was excellent, surpassing even the goddess in inspired lunacy. He leapt and spun and shouted. His hips hopped. He got down on the floor on his back, his knees bent up, and spun like a top. She had never seen such a peculiar dance move. 'Break the dance' was the phrase that came into her mind. She knew something passionate and vital, beyond all concepts and philosophy, was being reborn inside of him. He was shaking off the oppressive traps.
It was wonderful! Aphrodite thought.
They danced like madmen until exhaustion, then dropped to the floor and sat like joyful children after play. The entire room joined them in their delight, laughing with them.
“Thank thee for the dance, Master Shakespeare.” She bowed to him.
“Thank thee, dear . . . ” He paused, then completed his acknowledgment. “Aphrodite.”
“Is not madness sweet?” she said, still seated on the floor. “For ‘tis as life itself, or one of thy plays. It is a beautiful, winged madness! Heed this well, Master Shakespeare. The sweet madness of true sanity hath not the paralysis of too thought or critiqued a life. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in thy philosophy. Like wondrous destiny. And goddesses. And eternal playwrights, as thou art destined to be. Do thy work. Create! Create free and abandoned, and worry not.”
The Master looked at her with both profound bewilderment and extreme affection. He did not speak, although she knew he was in thoughts of greatest import.
When they returned to the feast’s table, she announced to the guests that she must leave.
“Divine duties beckon me.”
The attendees laughed and sighed.
“Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty, bids thee farewell.”
All but Shakespeare replied, “Farewell, Aphrodite!” and raised their glasses in a salute.
The Master walked her out. They stopped in a foyer before the exit door. They were alone.
“Oh wondrous and perplexing vision!” the Master declared. “Be thee woman, or goddess, or ghost -- whatever thy be, for mine soul, let this charade be ended. I beseech thee, speak in truth.”
Aphrodite knew things were fairing well. He was now receptive. It was time to end the game, and her mission to be fulfilled.
“Doth thee believe in goddesses?” she asked.
“As mine eyes behold thee now, ‘tis true.” He smiled.
“Then Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, wishes to acquaint thee.”
He quickly fell upon one knee, took her hand, and kissed it three, yes, three times. At that moment, she knew with certainty that he knew with certainty.
“Dear Aphrodite,” he professed, “as oft as I hath dreamt of the heavens or the deity, hath I dreamt of acquainting thee.”
“But dearest playwright, these words thou speak before. Be they real or fancy? Is this performance illusion or life? Thou dost confound me.”
“Sweet goddess, ‘tis with the truth of mine heart that I spoke those words to thee.”
“But truth from that organ of blood and infatuations be illusion,” she baited. “And Aphrodite is illusion. This woman is illusion. Can thee speak from illusion to adore an illusion?”
“As I be a man, and a spirit, an illusion of truth created by my spirit be not an illusion, but the truth of that spirit.”
She laughed. “Hark carefully to thy own words, Master Shakespeare. For are not thy plays illusions of truth, created by a true spirit, and perhaps all Spirit, and thus truthful and real? And doth thee not breathe life into mortals with thy living works, as I now breathe into thee, be I woman or goddess, illusion or real? Thy words are thyself, Master Shakespeare, and thy destiny; as real and true as are thee and life. You must continue to create them! To plead that is why this night I, Aphrodite, acquaint thee. Life is a play, and thy plays are life. All the world is a stage, and we but actors upon it.”
Excellent line! she heard him think, and she was pleased for she knew the Master was back at work.
“Thy words be true, dear goddess, dear woman,” he continued. “For it matters not what thee be, or be not, for thou breathe thy beauty and love into mine soul--mine sad little soul--the same, and doth set it free! Thou hath rescued me, Aphrodite. Forgive me for being a fool of fools!”
“Forgiven,” she replied. “And the Goddess of Love beseeches thee, always remember love, for love is beauty and is the essence of thy soul, and thy works.”
“Marry, 'tis true, ‘tis true,” the Master concurred.
All thou needeth is love! Good line, she heard him think.
He kissed her hand. “I owe thee a profound debt. How might I repay thee, sweet Aphrodite, vision of beauty beyond beauty, a lover whose love graces the land as the love of heaven graces every man. Oh wondrous angel, ascendant seraph of graces beyond! Whose beauty of love redeems more than the eye, but the very soul, the I, and inspires the seer to visions of the beauty that his own soul be, the Aphrodite in he, or she. If thou be illusion, then let illusion consume me. I would die in thy beauty and be reborn in thy love. Oh exquisite goddess! Radiant light and art thou art. Thy love and beauty be thy might, like Cupid’s dart, yet gentle be it as the love that beats in a newborn’s heart.”
Aphrodite held up a hand. “Enough, Master. Cease thy doting. I thank thee, and am pleased thou art inspired to words, for that is what I beseech thee. But this night be not for me but thee. I adore thy works, Master, and this goddess and woman would be most gratified if the playwright composed a new play for she.”
“That I will! That I will!” A vibrancy illumined his eyes. “I vow, upon the morn, to begin to pen a work for thee, Aphrodite.” He paused, reflective. “And what shalt this play be, my goddess? A testimony to the eternal love, and exquisite beauty, there canst be in the divine intercourse between mortals and the gods?’ He smiled and flapped his brow.
The seducer returns, she thought. The Master be a man!
“Methinks I be too much the woman this night, Master Shakespeare,” she said with a sigh. “Forgive me, for 'tis as the goddess I wish to inspire thee. I am well acquainted in the affairs thee give. 'Tis the souls of mortals that yet mystify me. Their most wondrous dramas. Scribe me a play of the beauty and struggle of that soul, and of the drama of mortal life and death itself, of which thou write so eloquently. Allow creative wings to carry thee. That, as always, would be thy gift to me.”
“It shall be so!”
He bowed in a gesture of service and then fell silent, as if possessed by a consummate thought, which he then expressed.
“One mystery hath haunted me, and with which I hath struggled all mine days. Thou art the Goddess of Love, and in thine essence abides its truth. Pray tell me, Aphrodite, divine ambassador of love in this and all worlds, what be the secret of its mystery?”
What followed was one of the most distressing moments of Aphrodite's existence. For she realized she did not have the answer to his question. But, for the sake of his destiny and for all beings upon this world whom his works would touch, she was not inclined to do anything that might disenchant him and deter her mission. She improvised.
“That answer be best found not from me, Master, but from thy own works. Look to thy own words.”
She sighed in relief, for she believed she had offered a wise and proper response.
“'Tis true, Aphrodite. Again, thou art as wise as thou art beautiful. And I believe, already I see, what the answer be.”
“Verily? Pray tell, what be the answer?” She feigned a teasing curiosity, but in her soul she thought: at last, the answer.
“Nay, dear Goddess. Mine plays thee must read or see for illumination.” He spoke teasingly.
"Of course!” She moaned inside.
“Anon, Master Shakespeare, I wish to present thee one last gift, lest thee ever again doubt that thy illusions, as thou thinks of them--those wondrous mirages upon a wooden stage--art as real as, and art indeed, life. I give thee a simple play upon this very stage. The play of truth to illusion, and illusion to truth.”
Very slowly, Aphrodite dematerialized before his eyes. Her visage thinned and thinned while she whispered, “From real to illusion, from matter to air, from woman to spirit, all be truth.”
He stared with the awed eyes of a child at her transformation as she became more and more illusive and ethereal.
“Fare thee well, William Shakespeare,” she said before becoming fine as air.
“Fare thee well, Aphrodite, and I thank thee.”
“And I thank thee,” she echoed back.
He lifted his arm and slowly passed it through her so vague form. She saw him smile, and then she vanished. For a long time, he stared into the empty space she had occupied. Then she saw, and felt, a joy in his heart that lifted beyond any stage in life.
“'Tis true, Aphrodite. ‘Tis true!” were the final words she heard him speak.
And true to his vow, upon the morn, filled with the radiance of the new sun and the breath of the inspiration of the gods, the Master began to write in dedication to Aphrodite his new play, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
To be or not to be.
And is this story all true? Aphrodite, centuries later, seated against an olive tree on a cliff overlooking the vast, glimmering Agean Sea, reflected on her story and memory. No embellishments of a fanciful mind?
“‘Tis as true as I am true,” she replied aloud with a glint in her eye and a grin.
She watched the frail branches of a nearby tree bending in the breeze. After her encounter with Master Shakespeare it distressed her that she had not the answer to his simple and most reasonable question. How unforgivable that the Goddess of Love would not know the secret to its mystery! But then, she realized that she was not meant to be the answer, but rather a part of its wondrous mystery. It was so designed. It was mortals like Shakespeare, brilliant seekers, artists and writers, who may perhaps find that answer. Or perhaps it is only for the domain of a higher god.
“Whatever it be,” she critiqued, “my tale of Shakespeare be a beautiful story.”