Composition of place

Stephen begins his Shakespeare talk in Scylla and Charybdis by inviting his listeners to imagine a scene from the playwright's life. "It is this hour of a day in mid June," he says, just like the present moment in Dublin, but the year is 1601 and the place is the south bank of the Thames in greater London. Throwing out vivid details, he thinks, "Local colour. Work in all you know. Make them accomplices." The method in his madness becomes clear a moment later: "Composition of place. Ignatius Loyola, make haste to help me!" Such setting of an imagined scene, using the powers of the senses to heighten mental awareness, was the foundation for meditative practices devised by the founder of the Jesuit order, Ignatius Loyola. Stephen follows Loyola's prescription by beginning his prolonged meditation on Shakespeare with the setting of a scene, and as the talk proceeds he returns often to the principle of creating vivid sensory pictures to engage the minds of his listeners.

John Hunt 2021

Title page of the 1st edition of Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises (1548). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Matthias Grünewald's The Crucifixion, oil on panel ca. 1515, held in the Unterlinden Museum. Source: Wikimedia Commons.