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