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in the Works of William Shakespeare
Shakespeare (1564-1616) is supposed to have lived during the Elizabethan
era, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. (There is some dispute
about this, and whether Shakespeare lived at all. But that's another
discussion entirely.) This was the height of the English renaissance,
coming at the heels of several significant events, including the
Protestant Reformation which sharply curtailed the worldwide power
of the Roman Catholic Church and facilitated the separation of
the Church of England from the Roman Church. Also preceding the
life of Shakespeare was the discovery by Nicholas Copernicus that
the planets actually orbit around the sun rather than the earth.
This revelation turned the world of astrology upside down and
where previously astrology and astronomy had been taught together
as the "science of the stars," a great schism now grew
between the art and the science. Where magic, religion and science
had long been intertwined, they now began to separate.
plays have over 100 mentions of astrology and the signs of the
zodiac. Several of his characters are said to be ruled by planets,
such as Posthumous who was born under Jupiter's influence and
enjoyed a favorable conclusion in the play. Clearly Shakespeare
had at least a passing interest in astrology, and quite probably
was a student of the art.
works often frame the debate that was central to the study of
the stars at the time. In fact, many believe that the character
of Prospero was modeled on Queen Elizabeth's court astrologer,
John Dee, who was one of the most renowned astrologers of all
time. He was a respected mathematician and astronomer as well
as a leading expert in navigation, as well as being an early "channeler"
of some of the more remote angels.
in the Bastard, in King Lear, has this to say about astrology:
is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick
in fortune, often the surfeits of our own behavior, we make
guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion;
knaves, thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary
influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting
on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition on the charge of a star. "
King Lear, I, ii, 115-129.)
this quotation has often been used as evidence that Shakespeare
was against astrology, it is actually a diatribe against the tendency
of humans to blame their faults upon their planetary configurations,
something that astrologers work against to this very day. "I'm
a Scorpio, that's why I'm secretive." "I can't make
decisions, I'm a Libra." "I can't help being critical,
I'm a Virgo." The tools of astrology can help us to use the
attributes of our planetary influences to greater growth and empowerment
if we take the reins of our own lives.
the discovery of the heliocentric universe and its threat to the
geocentric astrological system, many of the scientists who succeeded
Copernicus strengthened the appeal of astrology including Johannes
Kepler, another contemporary of Shakespeare. Carl Sagan referred
to Kepler as "the last scientific astrologer," which
many would dispute but it does show the respect to which he is
accorded. Kepler never lost his love for the mystery and magic
of the study of the celestial spheres: he was quoted by Franz
Hammer as saying, "May God free me from astronomy, so that
I can devote myself to the effort of my work on the harmony of
was undoubtedly influenced by the works of John Dee, Copernicus
and Kepler, and his works reported faithfully on cultural trends
and conflicts that resonate to this very day