Category: Fall 2020 – Page 2

Comparing Shakespeare to Myth: The Winter’s Tale and Rhiannon

CinnyShakes Winter’s Tale Cover Art

William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale depicts a story about a crazed, jealous king and his family’s fate. Loyalty was the strongest theme in this play, followed by forgiveness. King Leontes assumed his wife, Hermione, had betrayed her loyalty to him by having an affair with the King of Bohemia. Many had tried to lead him away from this assumption, but he could not be willed. She was pregnant with Leontes’ child, and after baby Perdita was born Leontes called for the deaths of Hermione and Perdita, assuming the baby was from his friend, the king of Bohemia. Perdita was to be abandoned in the woods and Hermione was imprisoned. Hermione and her servant seemingly faked her death, though it does not explicitly say this in the play, but it is made obvious in the end.

Paulina and her loyalty to Hermione was unwavering. She risked everything to ensure that Hermione could get away from Leontes, but could not save the baby, as her husband had to leave the baby in the woods. Antinogus was then attacked and killed by a bear. The bear left the baby unharmed. The baby grew up as a daughter of a shepherd, but she possessed great skill and unmatched manners, as if she were royalty. She fell in love with the prince of Bohemia, and was engaged to be married to him. This is how she found her way back to her real father, Leontes, and her mother, who had been in hiding and came back to reveal herself to Leontes once he had calmed, 16 long years later. Everyone was forgiven, and everyone was reunited.

The treatment of Hermione after the baby’s birth and exile was a very familiar theme to me, and I began to do research on Hermione the character, her daughter Perdita, and Paulina, the faithful and loyal servant.  I could link this back to a Celtic Goddess, or many of them, who represent the maiden, the mother, and the crone. (O’ Toole). The triple goddess can be linked with many celtic and welsh goddesses, not only one. This same theme can be seen in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth as well, with the witches of fate. This led me to my research on the similarities between Hermione and a particular Welsh goddess.

 

Rhiannon riding in Arberth; from the Mabinogion

After reading The Winter’s Tale there was one particular story that stuck out to me: the folk story of Rhiannon. Rhiannon is the Welsh goddess of horses, birds, and fertility. The story of Rhiannon also has themes of loyalty, forgiveness, lost babies, scorned women, and crazy baby daddies with the dangerous power of kings.

Rhiannon and her husband, King Pwyll, were able to conceive a child. The newborn was named Pryderi, but was unfortunately stolen in the middle of the night from his bed. Rhiannon was accused of killing her child, after her maid’s framed her with the blood of an animal. She was hated, abused, and forced to carry people on her back as a punishment of “killing” the king’s only child.

Pryderi was found outside of a stable as a newborn and was raised by Teyrnon, a lord in Gwent and a man who raised horses. The night Teyrnon found the newborn, he saw a great forest beast (perhaps a bear?) who was preying on his mare’s newborn foals. The beast was never specifically named or described in the Mabinogi (the stories of Pwyll and numerous other legends), but only was claimed to have had large claws. Pryderi, however, was left unharmed. Teyrnon took him in and raised him as his own son, a much more humble station than son of a king and goddess. Pryderi matured quickly, and grew faster than a normal human child would. He was quite skilled and talented, and he was clearly a much more noble birth than what was assumed before. Teyrnon knew that this was the king’s lost child, and returned him to be with his parents, where all was forgiven and everyone was reunited.

 

Although these stories are not exactly the same, as Hermione is not a great goddess of horses, and her daughter is not a demi-god, there are many similarities. Both stories tell of a lost child, and the mother’s punishment for the loss, one way or the other. The grief the mothers feel is more real than the fantastical tales that go with them. Both stories examine the treatment of women, even though both women were truly innocent. Both stories show kings, mad with disillusion, and the betrayal of their queens. Wives they once cherished were practically dethroned due to misunderstandings and lies. Though the women were royalty and bore these men children they were still treated as lesser people and not trusted when questioned about their supposed crimes. They were still seen as less than the king, and one was even a goddess! The lost children were taken in, and given humble beginnings, unharmed by the true nature of the world (the bear and the beast). The children represented innocence, and the innocence was taken from their mothers as well as they were unfairly punished by their too powerful husbands. Both children were returned at a later age to their rightful parents. Both families were reunited, and both families gave each other forgiveness. Both stories bore themes of loyalty, in different shapes and forms, depending on the relationships. For example, Paulina’s loyalty to Hermione, Rhiannon’s loyalty to her husband, Teyrnon’s loyalty to king Pwyell, Antinogus’ loyalty to Hermione and his own moral conduct. Forgiveness is clear in the end, where everyone forgives the kings, which seems pretty outlandish, since they ruined their entire families and relationships because they did not want to believe their wives.

It is clear in this work, and in other works by Shakespeare that he was often influenced by legends and myths.

 

 

Works Cited

 

O’Toole, Peter. The Women of The Winter’s Tale Pt. 2: Perdita. Classics on the rocks. 2016. https://www.classicsontherocks.org/single-post/2018/07/08/The-Women-of-The-Winters-Tale-Pt-2-Perdita. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Wales History. Mabinongion: First Branch. British Broadcasting Company. BBC.co.uk. 2014. https://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/themes/society/myths_mabinogion_01.shtml. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Othello, Blackness, and 16th and 17th Century Art

A central idea in discussing Othello is “blackness”. As much as the European canon questions the existence of Black people in an attempt to erase them from history, they occupied as much space as anyone else. Something of note about the portraits is that a few of them are character studies, not commissions and therefore are anonymous. By gathering a handful of portraits I hope to challenge the perceptions that Black people never existed in art. 

School of Paolo Veronese
Portrait of a Moorish Woman
Italy (c. 1550s)
oil on canvas on panel
38mm x 25mm
This is a panting made by one of the students or collaborators of Paolo Veronese, the artist who also did The Wedding at Cana, which I’ve...

“Portrait of a Moorish Woman” by a student/collaborator of Paolo Veronese

c. 1550 Oil on panel

This first portrait was done by an unnamed student/collaborator of Paolo Veronese. Titled “Portrait of a Moorish Woman,” the subject is a young Black woman. Though no record exists of her name or identity unlike the portraits of Saint Maurice or Alessandro de Medici. Based on her finer clothing and that she has a portrait of her, my take away is that she could’ve been a noble of some kind. 

ALESSANDRO DE MEDICI: THE DUKE OF FLORENCE AND THE FIRST BLACK HEAD OF  STATE IN THE MODERN WESTERN WORLD“Portrait of Duke Alessandro de Medici” by Pontormo

c.1534-35 Oil on panel

Alessandro was the last Medici to rule Florence. Duke from 1531-37 he commissioned the Fortezza de Basso in the town’s historic center and was the last Medici of the senior line to rule. He was assassinated by his friend and cousin Lorenzino de Medici to preserve the Florentine republic. Who funny enough was nicknamed “Lorenzaccio” (bad Lorenzino). Under the false pretense of meeting a beautiful widow, the hired assassin stabbed Alessandro to death. This event is detailed in Alfred de Musset’s play Lorenzaccio.

Portrait of an African Man - Wikipedia

“Portrait of an African Man” by Jan Mostaert  

c. 1525-1530 Oil on panel

The painting here created by Dutch painter Jan Mostaert depicts an unknown noble from the royal court in Malines of Margaret of Austria. 

Africans in America/Part 1/Portrait of a Moorish Woman

Portrait of an African Woman Katharina” by Albrecht Dürer

c. 1521 Charcoal 

The charcoal sketch here depicts a young woman, Katharina, a 20 year old enslaved to the Portuguese man João Brandão. Dürer drew her in 1521 when he visited Antwerp. What is inferred due to Brandão being in charge of a spice monopoly is that he trafficked her through trade and given her name, was converted to Christianity.

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“Portrait of an African Man” by Albrecht Dürer

c. 1508 Charcoal 

This sketch was done nearly two decades after Katharina’s. The man is anonymous and Dürer most likely saw him in his hometown of Nuremburg. His clothes represent a lower social class, possibly noble retinue, free servant, or slave.

For anyone interested in learning about the importance of Black representation in Renaissance art, Stephanie Archangel and Nicole Jennings have a discussion over “Black in Rembrandt’s Time,” a book turned exhibit in the Rembrandt House. It follows identity and truth in the face of a history fraught with white supremacy.

Black in Rembrandt's Time: Kolfin, Elmer, Runia, Epco: 9789462583726:  Amazon.com: Books

Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sX_Locf6thI

 

Consulted website: https://blackcentraleurope.com/

 

 

Shakesy-P and Semitics

Out of the multitude of Shakespearean plays I’ve read, The Merchant of Venice is one of the more interesting ones. In modern media, anti-Semitism is something that is actively frowned upon and not commonly broadcasted. With the Holocaust having been less than a century away, Jews are still healing and still suffering despite the lack of coverage in the media. Yet in the era of Shakespeare, anti-Semitism was to die for — literally. Jews would be hanged and stoned and, in this case, taken to court. In a few centuries, will we be back to square one, or are we already there? Christianity has been the rising religion for many a year, and the power it holds was ever-present in a time of Jewish need. 

“A Jewish Reading of the Merchant of Venice,” by Aviva Dautch is a compelling article I came across in my hunt for blog and presentation source material. Now, I found this article especially interesting because of how Dautch describes her relationship with the anti-Semitism in the play and how it affected her family personally. 

As a non-Jew, or a goy, as it were, in Yiddish and Hebrew, I definitely do not have the experience nor the right to speak for Jews and their marginalization. However, I would like to express how essential it is for a non-Jew to be aware of the affect of anti-Semitism in modern day England. Aviva Dautch, originally from the UK, was made to play Shylock in her school’s rendition of The Merchant of Venice. This would not be so bad if Dautch was not one of the only Jewish girls in her class nor actively belittled for her religion in place. As Shylock, Dautch was forced to act maliciously. “…During the trial scene, the instructions were to lick my lips in anticipation at the blood I was about to spill and generally make Shylock as malevolent as possible until we booed him like a pantomime villain.” (Dautch, “A Jewish Reading of the Merchant of Venice”)

Dautch’s family was, understandably, furious to hear this news. They called it the “horrible, anti-Semitic play,” and rightfully resisted Dautch’s casting role. With Dautch’s experience being set in the late 20th century, the Holocaust was still a fresh wound prickling at her and her family’s skin. Dautch goes on to say, “…the slights Shylock endured comparable to those many of our friends and relatives had experienced a few decades earlier in Second World War Europe, his forced conversion tragic, too painful to watch in the face of what they’d been through.”  She, however, would not be let off the hook so easily.

With her mind bogged by the incessant screeching of Shakespeare, Dautch would not let the scenario go untouched. Dismantling the plot, she decided to pick apart pieces of which she was familiar. One of the most important parts to Dautch was the disconnect between Christianity and loyalty. She mentioned how Jews were ever-faithful and family-oriented, so when Portia and Nerissa taunted Antonio and Bassanio and they caved in, Shylock could not believe it. Marriage is an eternal bond between those in love and is meant to serve as a grounding safe place you can return to when you’re wounded. The fickle-minded behavior of Antonio and Bassanio served as an excellent dichotomy to how Shylock’s turmoils had been unfurling. Shylock’s daughter had just run away with her lover, stealing the ring of his late wife, Leah. This tortured him from day to day, and in addition his money and pride being thieved tore him apart as well. Shylock strove to be the best and most trustworthy businessman possible, yet his mind was pulled from all edges leading him to vengeful intentions.

Jewish marriage-ring

This is an elaborate Jewish wedding ring that was most likely from Venice. Rings are a very important part of the play, symbolizing faith and honor to one another. As I mentioned, marriage is sacred in Judaism as well. Thievery of Shylock’s ring was a direct insult from his daughter as well as her late mother. Rings, symbolizing love and devotion, were also a term used for a vagina. Stealing a ring … Taking one’s “virginity”…. You get the gist.

Does this pardon his previous behavior? No. Does it allow the audience to relate to his character and present him as an accurate human being? Yes.

Dautch is very particular about how she connects with Shylock’s humanity. He is, overall, trying his best despite his presented flaws. His character is rounded and whilst not all of his actions are justifiable, he is realistic. As a devoted father, husband, businessman, and friend, it’s completely understandable to have a vendetta against those who’ve wronged you. Portia’s boldness to take over the role of a lawyer was inspiring to Shylock, for the two of them shared similar caged freedoms. Dautch brings up her tactics more than once in her article and I can only attribute the hopelessness Shylock feels to his admiration for Portia. I believe that, perhaps, he was hoping she might feel something toward him as well — empathy, pity, what be it. Alas, the Christian values Portia followed followed her into her actions in supporting her husband despite his blatant infidelity and interest in her money.

Portia: “This is my boyfriend, Bassanio. And this is Bassanio’s boyfriend, Antonio.”  Shylock is Leslie, of course, not knowing what is going on at any point in time and simply trying his best. 

Now, of course Dautch’s experiences aren’t going to relate to everyone, especially Jewish people. But, taken from the text, I feel it’s safe to say that the blatant anti-Semitic values from Shakespeare (whether or not he believed them) (although I’m sure he did) had an incredibly powerful effect on his audience. Yes, it was a bit before his time with the Holocaust, but the emotions tied to The Merchant of Venice have stuck for the centuries post-mortem. In Dautch’s case, they were still a present trial faced even in her childhood. Her family’s opposition to her role in the play will be forever justified — just because there is an opportunity to place a marginalized person in a spot they might be “familiar” with doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Especially if you’re white.

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings”: Comparing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’s Koba to Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Macbeth is a play defined by agency. The question at the heart of the narrative is, “who is really in control here?” It is a play defined not only by the human desire for control but also the human fear of responsibility that comes with that control. Macbeth is about the coexistence of two opposing fears: the fear that we lack control and the fear that we have too much. The fear that we have no power to change our destiny and the fear that if we lose, we can only blame our own failings. But the thing about this question is that the play makes it inherently unanswerable. We cannot know how much control the witches really have for sure. We cannot know how much control Macbeth or Lady Macbeth has for sure. The text simply doesn’t give us those answers. We can make our best guess, but any guess is substantiated only by circumstantial evidence that doesn’t actually prove anything for certain. As a result, what ends up mattering is not who has control in this story but who the characters believe has or may have control at any given moment. It is about how that sense of agency or lack thereof compels them to act. And it is this idea that creates a rather unlikely parallel between the Scottish play and Matt Reeves’s 2014 science fiction film: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Two characters are at the heart of this parallel, the man himself, Macbeth, and the ape villain, Koba.

While Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is far from a retelling of Macbeth, Koba and Macbeth do very similar things for potentially very similar reasons. But first, we need to know who Koba actually is.

Koba was a very experienced lab chimp poked and prodded by a world that saw him as inferior until the revolutionary Caesar freed him from captivity in the predecessor to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,Rise of the Planet of the Apes. After this occurred, the human race was all but wiped out by the same virus that gave these apes the higher thinking they needed to reach levels of human intelligence. As Dawn opens, Caesar has built a peaceful, almost idyllic community of apes built on fostering knowledge, morality, and togetherness. And Koba is his right hand man, almost a brother to the ape leader, actually saving him from a bear early on in the film.

Caesar trusts Koba implicitly. However, things get complicated when a colony of humans who were immune to the virus stumble across the ape civilization. They need to get to a dam that will help them restore power to their colony. Caesar, seeking peace between their communities, tries to help them much to the dismay of Koba. Koba would rather attack the humans while their weak and wipe them out once and for all. He’s only ever seen the evil humans can do. He cannot bring himself to trust a human, having only ever seen them as the enemy. And he believes that humans, once they have power, would attack them and push them back down to the level they used to be on.

The conflict between them grows until Koba denounces Caesar as caring more for the humans than his own sons, leading Caesar to brutally beat Koba, barely refraining from killing him.

After this display, Koba decides that his only course of action is to kill Caesar, take power, and destroy the humans himself despite the fact that coexistence and peace is just on the horizon.

Now, there are some very obvious parallels here as well as some that may not be so obvious. Let’s start with the obvious ones. The most obvious is the regicide. Koba kills (or attempts to kill) Caesar without anyone else knowing it was him. Caesar is the ape king and treats Koba like a brother just as Macbeth refers to himself as both Duncan’s “…kinsman and his subject…” (1.7.13). Koba is also Caesar’s most trusted friend. While Koba doesn’t receive any fancy title like Thane of Cawdor, he is the first person Caesar sends out to scout the human colony. It’s fair to say that Koba already has quite a bit of power, just not more than Caesar.

The other, less obvious, but still apparent parallel is the time at which the death occurred. That being, during a time of celebration just after a sense of triumph. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth carried out their plan just after Cawdor’s rebellion was squashed. It was a time of relative peace, Macbeth was already doing well for himself, killing the king only created unnecessary complications. Now, the less obvious parallels enter when we get into why these killings were carried out in spite of this.

The line in Macbeth that has struck me the hardest is Macbeth’s line in act one:

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings” (1.3.139-140).

Put yourself in Macbeth’s shoes. You’ve just received this prophecy from witches, which as far as you can tell, is entirely reliable. There first prediction almost immediately came true after all. Now, the second prophecy hangs over you: you will be king. You have two options.

1. You can just let things play out and see if it comes true, the anxiety and uncertainty of what power you may one day wield swirling through you until it happens. Or perhaps, that day never comes at all, and you will only know for sure in the instance before you die.

Or,

2. You can take the king’s life now, take power, and have control.

The reality in front of you, a victorious day, a promotion in power, a world that seems entirely alright, is far less to you than the fear inside your soul. You either live life in constant terror of your own destiny or you take what little control you may have to make that choice yourself. You know that it’s wrong, but the thought compels you. You know of morality, saying to yourself,

“My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, / Shakes so my single state of man” (1.3.141-142)

You even claim to yourself that it’s okay for it to be out of your control,

“If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me / Without my stir” (1.3.146-147).

But the thought is already inside your head, you can take control, you can make it happen, you just have to choose to. The choice is yours. It doesn’t have to be the choice of destiny or witches, it can be yours. In fact, your own wife has told you she plans to help you kill the king, saying, “Oh, never / Shall sun that morrow see!” (1.6.58-59). She implores you to, “Look like th’innocent flower, / But be the serpent under’t” (1.6.63-64) You have a mental scapegoat. You may not know that’s what it is, but it’s there. You can see that it’s not your fault, but the fault of your wife. She emasculated you, she forced you, this act is not your responsibility, is it?

But you know, deep down, that this is your choice. No one is forcing you to do anything. This is what you want. Because in the midst of uncertainty, the simple fact is,

YOU’RE SCARED

And trying to combine these incongruent realities is the only way to make you feel powerful, to make you feel in control while distancing yourself from the responsibility of the act. But you’ll never be able to escape the consequences of your actions. You aren’t a slave to witches or destiny or your own wife. You’re a slave to fear. And it will destroy you.

And now, imagine that you’re Koba.

Everything’s fine. You’re right hand to the king, a man who treats you as a brother, the community is thriving, everything is great. But then, those who you can only associate with evil arrive at your doorstep, asking for help. You have two options.

1. You can let this all play out naturally, let your king take care of it. You can sit back and see if things go the way you expect or if maybe, your king isn’t as idealistic as you believed. But if you do this, if your king is wrong, by the time you realize it, you will have been too late.

Or,

2. You can take matters into your own hands. You can take control, spy on the humans without your king’s knowledge, find out that they’re stockpiling weapons. Of course, you don’t know this is just a cautionary measure and they don’t actually intend to attack you, so you take this news to your king who isn’t even willing to hear you out, in fact he’s moved on with helping the enemy without your knowledge.

The reality in front of you, a thriving community, a seeming peace between you and your former enemy, a world that seems entirely alright, is far less to you than the fear inside your soul. You know this is your brother, the one who freed you from captivity in the first place, the one who gave you the position of power you currently hold, you know that he probably wouldn’t willfully hurt you, but you don’t know that for sure. The king isn’t listening to you, it’s not your fault what happens next. He forced your hand by choosing not to listen to you. This act is not your responsibility, is it? This is just what you have to do to stop the horrible future it seems like only you can sense. But you know, deep down, that this is your choice. No one is forcing you to do anything. This is what you want. Because in the midst of uncertainty, the simple fact is

YOU’RE SCARED

You need to feel in control again before control is taken away completely. You aren’t a slave to humans or the failures of your leaders. You’re a slave to fear. And it will destroy you.

There are obvious holes in this comparison. I mean, it’s not like in Macbeth, it’s revealed that Macbeth actually failed to kill Duncan and then Duncan comes back to fight Macbeth on the top of an unfinished skyscraper. But the point of the matter is that at their foundations, both of these stories are about the power of fear, the fear that we may lose control of the world around us. Both of these stories, these villains, represent an unwillingness to allow the natural flow to move forward, because the end of that flow may not be where they wish it to be. The truth is that for many of us, present fears are not less than horrible imaginings. The fear that we may lose control is far greater than any act we may have to take to regain it. And if we let it consume us, it will destroy us. The way that these two stories end are very similar. The usurper reveals their true fear by letting the bodies pile up (Macbeth killing several of those who may be a threat to him and Koba killing anyone who defies him while also willfully disregarding the lives of other apes in battle) and they are destroyed for it. The irony is that present fears led us to horrible imaginings and horrible imaginings were the very thing that led us back to present fears. Would Macbeth have become king if he let things flow naturally? Were the witches really in control? Would the humans have eventually betrayed the apes’ trust and destroyed their burgeoning civilization?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

The answers to those questions are irrelevant. What matters is what we do because of what we fear the answer might be.

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