Day: October 2, 2020

Macbeth and the Question of the Astrologaster

Videogames and Shakespeare? Thought you would never see the day, did you?

But first, let’s talk about Macbeth and the supernatural.

Within Macbeth the question often becomes what drove Macbeth to regicide; his own ambition, his wife’s ambition, or is it the witches who set events into motion with their prediction of Macbeth’s rise to power?

Simon Forman, Astrologer Physician, would probably agree that it was the forces of the supernatural that influenced Macbeth. Thus, the witches, or as they were when Simon saw the performance, the nymphs or faeries that were the foretellers of Macbeth’s fate, were more than likely to blame for Macbeth’s actions.

Simon kept extensive casebooks of patients and manuscripts on the happenings of his time, including some blurbs and recaps of plays he saw in his time.

Of Macbeth, Simon Forman recapped Macbeth’s interaction with the fairies or nymphs as follows, on April 20th, 1610:

“Macbeth and Banquo, two noble men of Scotland, riding through a wood, there stood before them three women fairies or nymphs, and saluted Macbeth, saying three times unto him, “Hail, Macbeth, King of Codon; for thou shall be a King, but shall beget no kings,”

These 3 women, whether they be fairies, nymphs, or witches almost seem to set into motion the events that occur in Macbeth thereafter. The seed of his ambition is planted, and Macbeth thus acts to make himself king, committing regicide to do so.

Later in the play, as Simon Forman recapped Macbeth’s fatal actions towards Banquo:

“Then was Macbeth crowned kings; and then he, for fear of Banquo, his old companion, that he should beget kings but be no king himself, he contrived the death of Banquo, and caused him to be murdered on his way as he rode.”

The witches seem to have also planted the seed of Macbeth’s fear of Banquo and his descendants. He kills his very own best friend based on the prediction of witches yet fails to kill Banquo’s son, Fleance.

Macbeth almost seems to be a conduit of fate. He sends ‘murderers’ after Banquo and Fleance in an attempt to thwart the witches’ predictions, and yet Fleance lives, leaving an opening for Banquo’s line to someday become kings.

After consulting the witches again, during which they warn Macbeth to “Beware Macduff/ Beware the Thane of Fife.” and that “The power of man, for none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth.” And that “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until/ Great Birham Wood to high Dunsinane Hill/ Shall come against him.” Macbeth foolishly sets his own fate into motion. He has Macduff’s lady and children killed, causing Macduff to desire vengeance upon him. Which Macduff gets when he later kills Macbeth.

Yet, one has to wonder how much of his own ambition is the cause of Macbeth’s fall. After all, he didn’t have to kill King Duncan. Perhaps the witches’ prediction and his wife’s urging was all Macbeth needed to push him in his desired direction.

The question of whether it is the supernatural or a man’s own ambitions that influence events, can be experienced in the game PC game Astrologaster.

*While the game draws inspiration from real life Simon Forman’s extensive casebooks complied at The Casebooks Project, please keep in mind, that the games events are still, in part, fictionalized, and that this game is a comedy.*

All screenshots taken by me with credit to the brilliantly fun work of the Astrologaster developers. Yes, this game is played out in a pop up format. And, it’s a sing-along!

While the real Simon Forman did not commit regicide as Macbeth did, he was still very much an ambitious man making decisions based on supernatural forces. He was a man fascinated by the effects of the supernatural on human decision making, and health. He made it his profession to treat and advise people based on the supernatural influences of the placements of planets and stars.

In Astrologaster, as the “Doctor” of Astrology and Physick, Simon Forman seeks to legitimize his practice through interactions with patients who might offer him letters of recommendation so that he may obtain his physician license.

*Historical spoiler: He did, in fact, go to jail.*

Taking on the role of this historical figure, players can make decisions based on astrology and the placements of astrological signs to advise such historical figures as Lord Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Emilia Lanier (Bassano) poet, playwright, and potentially a candidate for the William Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespearean sonnet fame.

With Macbeth in mind, the question comes up as to whether I am making my decisions as Simon Forman based on Simon’s goals, his ambitions. After all, he desires to be legitimized as a physician and not have his profession scrutinized and questioned. Yet, as I make decisions for him, I have to wonder about my role in playing this game. Am I not unlike the witches who set into motion the decisions Simon makes? Do I play the role of his fate? After all, a few wrong decisions made by me could keep Simon from reaching his ambition.

What is also interesting, is that as Simon I am given decisions as to which astrology placements and signs to invoke in advising patients and historical figures from matters of health, to finances, to marriage problems. So is it the supernatural force of astrology that influences the advise I am giving as Simon, or is it my own intuition as to which reading or prediction would be the most correct?

Problematically, in reality, Simon Forman often used his profession as a Doctor of Astrology to manipulate women, often his patients, into bed, whether by advising them a certain way, or looking to the stars to decide when a good time to approach them was.

*Spoiler* Astrologaster has Emilia refer to a ‘Mr. S’ until she reveals ‘Mr. S’ to be William Shakespeare later in her plotline.

In Astrologaster, the plotline with Emilia Lanier plays out with some elements that Simon’s real life interactions with her had. IRL Simon was interested in Emilia in a sexual manner but was supposedly rejected based on his writings of her. The game plays this out by having Simon eventually lay out a list of astrological signs and positionings that show he and Emilia would be a good match sexually. After which, Emilia rejects him and subsequently never visits Simon again. He also, never receives the letter of recommendation from her thereafter.

Which brings back the question. Did Simon Forman act on the supernatural forces that he predicted astrologically, or was astrology a conduit to act on his own ambitions, like Macbeth? Were both of these men conduits of fate, or was the supernatural a conduit for their ambition?

After this game and much thinking, I would have to lean more towards ambition than the supernatural.

References:

Astrologaster. Window PC, Nyamyam, 2020.

Benson, Pamela ‘Emilia Lanier’, A Critical Introduction to the Casebooks of Simon Forman and Richard Napier, 1596–1634, Web. 2 Oct. 2020. https://casebooks.lib.cam.ac.uk/using-the-casebooks/meet-the-patients/emilia-lanier

Mabillard, Amanda. Going to a Play in Shakespeare’s London: Simon Forman’s Diary. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. Web. 2 Oct. 2020. http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/simonforman.html

Killer Ladies of Macbeth

When you watch a TV show or a movie where the main character kills someone, do you secretly hope they get away with it? Have you ever caught yourself trying to justify their reasoning in your own mind to make this secret hope not so horrible?

I know that when I watch Criminal Minds re-runs, I always find myself rooting for the unsub (unknown subject) who kills either because of an injustice done to them or because they are suffering from some form of psychosis that they have no control over.

https://www.deviantart.com/xxserena-crossexx/art/Spencer-Reid-Criminal-Minds-Meme-597312559

Gotta love some Spencer Reid.

I recently watched the 2016 movie Lady Macbeth, which is actually based on a novel by Nikolai Leskov rather than Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Leskov did, however, title his 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District after the murderous Shakespearean creation. The story is set in England and is about a young woman named Katherine who has recently joined in a loveless marriage with a man twice her age who doesn’t even seem sexually interested in her for anything more than merely looking at her body.

 

https://lithub.com/blood-on-the-big-screen-a-lady-macbeth-who-does-the-killing/

Katherine is forced to follow strict rules of the house, including but not limited to never leaving the house without her husband. He leaves to go to work every day, but she is forced to stay indoors. I personally think that this movie did an excellent job emphasizing how boring and uneventful Katherine’s life is stuck indoors. The image above is one thing that she spent most of her time doing: sitting on the couch, staring at the fireplace, waiting on her husband to get home. I like solitude sometimes, but I would at least need a book or Netflix or something like that.

One day, however, Katherine gets a reprieve. Her husband and father-in-law (who lives with them) leave for a time on separate business trips and Katherine is free to go outside, explore, and spend her time as she pleases. She beings a passionate affair with a groom on the estate and life seems to be going well for her for a time. Soon, her father-in-law returns to resume being thoroughly disappointment with Katherines skills as a wife and proceeds to scold her for failing to bare her husband a son (even though as far as we know, Katherine and her husband have never had sex). He is soon informed of Katherine’s affair and beats the groom and locks him in the stable. Katherine is now fed up with her father-in-law hitting her into submission and keeping her lover locked away, so she poisons his food with mushrooms and listens to him die alone. The maid, Anna, is so terrified over what Katherine has done that she falls mute and cannot tell anyone.

Now that some time has passed without suspicion thrown Katherine’s way, her husband returns home, only to inform his wife that he is aware of her “whoring around”. A fight ensues between Alexander Lester (Katherine’s husband) and Sebastian (Katherine’s lover) and ends with Katherine bashing her husbands head in. Sebastian is now pretty shaken over what he just witnessed Katherine being capable of, and he worries about her getting caught. Later on, a woman arrives at the estate with a little boy and claims to be the mother of a woman that Alexander had an affair/child with. Katherine reluctantly allows the two to stay and will later kill the little boy in another attempt to live alone with Sebastian. Sebastian is guilt ridden and confesses to aiding Katherine in killing the boy in front of people, along with telling them that Katherine killed her husband and father-in-law. Katherine turns around and blames the murders on him and Anna, the maid, and the two are taken away.

After Katherine kills her father-in-law, I was pretty okay with rooting for her to get away with it. After all, he was a horrible man! Then she killed her husband… which seemed a little unnecessary as opposed to simply running away. But then she killed a child… and I was no longer rooting for her.

Leskov named his story after Lady Macbeth because of the murderous natures between the two female characters. Katherine, like Lady Macbeth, orchestrates the murders but is actually the one carrying them out. While the motives of these ladies seem vastly different, both are actually made in a want for power. I also found it interesting how in both of these stories, the men (Sebastian and Macbeth) seem to sit in the passenger seat throughout the story. Both men go along with their ladies’ murderous plans and it could be said that both share in the guilt just as much as their manipulators. Both women desired power: Lady Macbeth desired to be queen and Katherine desired to control the estate with Sebastian and continue to do as she pleased. It could be said that Katherine had the guts to do what Lady Macbeth could not.

Emily Temple actually argues, “Katherine, the protagonist of William Oldroyd’s excellent, harrowing new film Lady Macbeth has no desire to be unsexed. She constantly requires more sex, and also more femininity. She wants to love and be loved with fervor.” While this is true, Temple goes on to admit that she does, however, seem to be filled with the same direst cruelty as her namesake.

I think it could also be argued that both women are the reason for the demise of their loves. Macbeth is killed towards the end of a chain of events that began with Lady Macbeth convincing her husband to kill King Duncan to acquire the throne, while Sebastian is (probably) killed because he broke down under the deceitful pressure placed upon him by Katherine.

Jaclyn Buckman describes the character of Lady Macbeth from the 2017 film Macbeth as “the literary devil on a shoulder.” Buckman also writes how Lady Macbeth differs from her husband in the sense of “declaring her desire to become morally cold and remorseless” while he “mulls over the deed of taking Duncan’s life”. It seems to be that Katherine is Lady Macbeth 2.0, already possessing the characteristics of cold and remorseless towards the lives lost in the wake of her having what she desires.

I almost found the foreshadowing in Lady Macbeth comical when Boris, Katherine’s father-in-law, asks her, “do have any idea of the damage that you are capable of bringing upon this family?” Do you, Boris?

And there you have it; two unsubs you can’t help but (not) root for.

https://memegenerator.net/instance/60219854/criminal-minds-2-watch-every-season-of-criminal-minds-on-netflix-now-everyones-an-unsub

 

Works Cited

Temple, Emily. “Blood on the Big Screen: A Lady Macbeth Who Does the Killing.” Literary Hub, 10 Apr. 2019, lithub.com/blood-on-the-big-screen-a-lady-macbeth-who-does-the-killing/. Accessed 1 Oct. 2020.

Buckman, Jaclyn. “Lady Macbeth: The Literary Devil on a Shoulder.” Another Book on a Shelf, 16 Apr. 2018, anotherbookonashelf.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/lady-macbeth-the-literary-devil-on-a-shoulder/. Accessed 29 Sept. 2020.