Tag: shakespeare

Bassanio as an Emotional Conman

Have you ever walked away from a conversation feeling like you got played? It might be that you spoke with someone much like Bassanio.

I’m not simply referring to the way Bassanio seems to drain Antonio’s bank accounts dry. That requires more than a few pretty words and empty promises. More, it requires a level of emotional intelligence to weasel his way into a place of Antonio’s friendship (and, arguably, his heart).

And when the play begins, that’s where we start. Straight away, we witness the connection between Bassanio and Antonio. It’s deep and genuine. These two truly know each other. Even their other friends must know this, as they leave the two to be alone with each other. Lorenzo tells Bassanio, “…since you have found Antonio / We two will leave you…” (I.i.69-70). This could imply that Bassanio and Antonio are so close that others might feel like a third wheel. Either way, their friends know and even acknowledge that Bassanio and Antonio are close.

This, as we can see in Act I, Scene 1, enables Bassanio to manipulate Antonio by redirecting the conversation. After Antonio enquires about the lady Bassanio is so interested in, he responds:

‘Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,

How much I have disabled mine estate

By something showing a more swelling port

Than my faint means would grant continuance.

-Bassanio, I.i.122-125

And he continues to explain how he owes Antonio the most “in money and love” (I.i.131), but he needs more. Note that he uses the word love, thereby placing emphasis on their friendship. After all, what kind of friend would deny their friends in need? Especially a friendship like Antonio and Bassanio, who obviously care for each other. By consciously choosing to say “love,” he exploits the friendship between him and Antonio. It could be argued Antonio carries a homoerotic love for Bassanio, and Bassanio knows that and uses it to get what he wants, but that’s for another analysis, though still worth considering.

how bassanio asked antonio for money, probably

All this manipulation does not negate the fact that Bassanio does care for Antonio. Take, for instance, his response to Shylock’s bond, in which Antonio agrees to repay his debt with a piece of his flesh. He tells Antonio, “You shall not seal to such a bond for me; / I’ll rather dwell in my own necessity.” (II.i.147-148) It could be read that Bassanio is being humble as a farce in manipulation, but that would disregard his actions further into the play.

For example, in Act 3, Scene 2, Bassanio receives a letter detailing Antonio’s situation, unable to repay Shylock. Portia describes the letter stealing “…the color from Bassanio’s cheek…” in line 242. He pales at the thought of Antonio’s pain, and not for worry of losing Antonio’s money—he’s already guaranteed Portia’s, so his concern lies solely with Antonio’s wellbeing.

Portia also falls victim to Bassanio’s manipulations. In Act 3, when Bassanio first arrives at Belmont, he purposefully evades Portia’s questions. After his dramatic declaration that he feels tortured, Portia implores him to “…Then confess / What treason there is mingled with your love.” (III.ii.26-27) Bassanio insists there is no treason for him to confess, but Portia is not satisfied with the response.

Ay, but I fear you speak upon the rack,

Where men, enforced, do speak anything.

-Portia, III.ii.32-33

Simply put, she doesn’t believe him. Bassanio quickly changes course in conversation, asking to try his luck at the caskets, and Portia allows it. By redirecting the topic of the conversation, he has manipulated Portia’s attention to something more considerable. With the caskets being a deciding factor in her marriage, it is a priority for Portia. And for Bassanio as well—without Portia’s marriage, he’ll lose any access he could have had to her family’s money.

But does Bassanio care for Portia as much as he does Antonio? After giving the lawyer Portia’s ring (which he swore to keep as an oath), Bassanio must make amends with Portia. She tells Bassanio to take the ring and keep his commitment better than before. Antonio acts as a guarantee again, this time offering his soul instead of his flesh.

I once did lend my body for his wealth,

Which but for that had your husband’s ring

Had quite miscarried. I dare be bound again,

My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord

Will never more break faith advisedly.

-Antonio, V.i.249-253

And so Bassanio takes the ring from Antonio for Portia. Not only is Antonio offering up himself for Bassanio’s good again, but Bassanio also takes it, even after the court battle with Shylock. Bassanio officially accepts Portia, at the risk of Antonio once again, who we know Bassanio loves in one way or another. So, I would argue that this is no longer about Portia’s money anymore. Bassanio must genuinely care about Portia in some way for him to risk the soul of someone he’s been shown to care about.

So, Bassanio may actively manipulate those around him to get what he wants, much like a conman, but I argue here he does have some compassion. Thus, the duality of Bassanio in the Merchant of Venice.


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.


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