The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 171, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Priscilla Costello
Episode originally released on September 14, 2018
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Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released November 14, 2022
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CHRIS BRENNAN: Welcome to this episode of The Astrology Podcast. My name is Chris Brennan, and today I’m talking with author Priscilla Costello who’s the author of Shakespeare and the Stars: The Hidden Astrological Keys to Understanding the World’s Greatest Playwright. Thanks for joining me today.
PRISCILLA COSTELLO: Thank you for having me on your podcast.
CB: All right, so you’re in town, and you gave a really successful and well-attended talk at the Tattered Cover Bookstore—which is the main local independent bookchain here in Denver—on your book last night. And the book actually came out a year or two ago, right?
PC: It came out in 2016. This was an agreement that I had with the publisher to have it come out on the 400th anniversary of the passing of William Shakespeare back in 1616.
CB: Okay. And let’s talk a little bit about your background. So when did you first discover astrology? Or when did you get into it?
PC: I discovered astrology the first year I went to college because I was systematically reading through a section of the library. If anybody remembers the old Dewey Decimal System, it’s 133 that’s chock full of all kinds of interesting esoteric tomes. And I hadn’t had much access to much in Toronto, Canada before I had gone to college, and I had been reading things in the local library. And luckily, amongst all these books on this shelf of 133-listed books was a book on astrology.
PC: And I became fascinated. I thought, “What is this? I don’t understand this.” It was the first thing I hadn’t really grasped pretty quickly and it piqued my curiosity. So I had mentioned to you that I had gone to college thinking I was going to be a major in English and psychology. And at the time that I went academic psychology was focused on statistics and rats through mazes and abnormal psych, and there was nothing in—and still is nothing in—academic psychology that had what I was looking for, which is a comprehensive, sophisticated, complex, profound model of human behavior that can be applied to anybody, it wouldn’t matter. Age. Gender. Racial background. Ethnic background. And in fact, it took me a couple of years after I stumbled on astrology to realize this was actually the model I had been looking for. And once I had left psychology after my first year, it opened up a vacuum, and astrology came in and filled that, along with Jungian psychology. But astrology is profound and inexhaustible. You can spend your whole life studying it.
CB: Right. That’s one of the things I try to tell new students. They always think that they’re gonna get to a certain point and then they’ll know enough to start doing consultations, or they’ll know everything and they’ll feel confident in anything they do, but it’s actually a lifelong process.
PC: Definitely. And I’m ashamed to admit—or embarrassed I guess is a better word—that I taught the plays for years—like over 30 years as an educator—and didn’t see the extent to which astrological symbolism is really the foundation of the plays.
CB: Sure. So you had a sort of parallel career as an astrologer and you started seeing clients, and largely saw clients through word-of-mouth and things like that, right?
PC: Right. And I was doing both for over 30 years. So I was doing educating by day and being an astrologer by night. And it wasn’t until within the last 10 years that I’ve really brought the two together.
CB: So you taught literature?
PC: Literature and language mostly, yes.
CB: Okay, great. And what was the light bulb that went off eventually when you realized that there was something astrological in Shakespeare that you wanted to delve into?
PC: Well, you know, there’s lots of superficial references to astrology that look to be just poetic and they’re very nice, and they’re like little dabs of frosting on a cake.
CB: What are some of those? Like I know there’s a few, like Romeo and Juliet being like ‘star-crossed lovers’…
CB: …or little things like that that people know subconsciously that that’s kind of quasi-astrological.
PC: There’s actually quite a few references to the Sun, the Moon, various stars. There’s a couple of references to the planets specifically. There’s a couple of references to signs, but they’re very infrequent, but I can give you an example. In two cases, there are characters who announce they’re keyed to Saturn; one of them is Don John, the bastard in Much Ado About Nothing. And he basically says at the beginning of the play, you know, “I’m born under Saturn, and I’m a plain-dealing villain.” And, you know, he’s the one who tries to disrupt the marriage between the two lead characters in the play.
PC: And the other one is a relatively unknown reference in Titus Andronicus where the hero has beat the enemy, and Tamora, who is the queen, is brought as a prisoner of war into the court. And she seduces the king and marries him, but she’s really having an affair with a Moor named Aaron; and Aaron is still carrying on his affair with Tamora while she’s married to the king. And at one point, he says, “Venus rules over your desires, while Saturn rules over mine.” So in both cases, Saturn is definitely connected to a villain.
PC: So that’s an example of that kind of thing, but you do get references to things like the stars. For instance, “It is the stars. The stars above us, govern our conditions. Else one self mate and mate could not beget such different issues.” Or there’ll be references to comets, or there’ll be references to eclipses, but they’re very subtly introduced into the plays and it just seems like they’re a little random and their decorative more than they are foundational.
PC: And really, at the time that I began to look at this in much more depth was the time I had taken off from teaching and I started to think about Romeo and Juliet, and I thought about the fact that there’s a character named Mercutio, which sounds so much like Mercury.
PC: And when you look really carefully at what says and what he does in the play, he is actually the embodiment of the planet Mercury in a couple of specific and typical ways; one is he’s very witty. He’s very clever. He’s very quick. He has lots of banter with Romeo during the play. The famous pun that he makes just as he’s dying—as a matter of fact, the moment when he’s stabbed by Tybalt—under Romeo’s arm, he says, “Ask for me tomorrow, and you will find me a grave man,” and he means that in two senses. But the characters who are around don’t realize that he’s been stabbed and is dying, but he makes this joke as he’s actually collapsing in front of them.
PC: He’s also, secondly, very long-winded. He blathers and blathers and blathers. He has a very famous ‘Queen Mab’ speech that goes on for like about 30 lines or more. And at the end of that—because it’s just a kind of spontaneous improvisation that’s made out of airy nothing—Romeo says, “Peace, Mercutio! Thou talk’st of nothing!” And of course he isn’t talking of anything. And we know that that’s very typical of a mercurial type, that they can just go on and on and on, and they just talk and kind of fill in the air; there’s not much substance that’s being conveyed.
And then I looked at the play really carefully and realized that the nurse is a companion-type to Mercutio. She’s another blatherer. Just before you see this scene with Mercutio where he gives this fabulous ‘Queen Mab’ speech, she gives a very long speech when she’s with Lady Capulet and Juliet talking about Juliet’s marriageability and when she was first weaned. And the same things happen; she goes on for over 30 lines. And finally, Lady Capulet says, “Nurse, I pray thee, stint thee,” which means, “Enough, please be quiet.” And then she keeps going on, and Mercutio does the same thing when Romeo tries to stop him. And finally, Juliet speaks up and says, “Peace, I pray thee.”
PC: And then you look at what’s going on in the play—once I realized that there was a ‘Mercury’ theme in the play, I started to think, “Which of the two signs ruled by Mercury might be the one that Shakespeare’s riffing with?” It’s a game with him. He’s really having fun with this. He’s kind of taken the idea of Mercury, and the idea, in this case, very clearly of Gemini, and everything that we associate with Gemini and its ruler Mercury is in this play. For instance, we have in the Prologue that’s announced at the beginning of the play the idea of two households, both alike in dignity, with—in fact, unusual for Shakespeare—two parental sets. There’s no other play where there’s two sets of parents that figure in such a polarized way as we have in this play.
PC: And it’s also mentioned there’s a ‘pair of star-crossed lovers’. So there’s a lot of emphasis on ‘two-ness’. And I thought that makes much more sense with Gemini because the symbol for Gemini is the two pillars with the connections at the top. There’s a couple of other really interesting points. The language in the play is unusual; quite unusual and unlike anything else.
PC: There’s lines that have to do with opposites. There’s a linguistic or rhetorical device called ‘oxymorons’, and Romeo uses that at the beginning of the play where he’s talking about the opposites that are characterizing, really, creation itself. “Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love. Why, then, O brawling love, O loving hate, O heavy lightness, serious vanity…feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, still-waking sleep that is not what it is.”
PC: And another thing that I thought of was how important communication is in this play. And of course Mercury is about communication. So the tragedy gets triggered by the fact that a servant of Lord Capulet’s can’t read; there’s a mercurial issue for you. He can’t read, and so he stops Romeo and his friends in the street and says, “Tell me what’s on this sheet of paper. It’s a list of people I’m supposed to invite to this party tonight.” And so, Romeo reads the list, and he sees that Rosaline’s on the list; he wants to go and see Rosaline. So they all decide they’re going to go as masked members and pretend that they belong to the Capulet family, which is their enemy. And that’s where he meets Juliet and that’s where the whole tragedy starts.
And again, communication figures at the end because after Romeo has killed Tybalt—who’s killed Mercutio—he’s banished to Mantua. Friar Lawrence has worked out a really interesting scheme so that he can get Juliet out of the situation she’s in; she’s apparently dead and laid in the Capulet’s tomb. And he sends a letter to Romeo that doesn’t get to him because there’s a plague warning, and the friar who’s carrying the letter is prevented from taking it to Mantua. So there’s lots of interrupted miscommunication in the play, which fits really well with Mercury. Another point that I didn’t mention last night is there’s tremendous emphasis in this play on speed. You know, everything has to be done really, really quickly. The lovers meet, boom, she says, “What are your intentions?” And bam, they’re gonna get married; they get married the next day.
PC: And then, boom, her father lays down the law and says she has to marry Paris. Boom, she goes to Friar Lawrence. He cooks up this plan for her, and within another day or so, the lovers are dead in the Capulets’ tomb. This isn’t always true of each of the plays, but it’s often true that Shakespeare will include something to do with the opposite sign, so you know he knew quite a lot about astrology.
PC: So Friar Lawrence really symbolizes Sagittarius, which is the opposite sign, for a couple of reasons. For one, he’s a friar. He’s a member of a religious order, so that fits with Sagittarius. He’s extremely knowledgeable about herbalism. And he has this fabulous speech where—same theme about polarity—he talks about how flowers and weeds can be either healing or they can be poison, and it’s absolutely along this line of the dualities. And that’s really what the play is about is this duality, which can only be healed by this union that happens that establishes peace between the two families at the end of the play.
PC: So it goes from extreme polarization to ultimately a union between the lovers and then a reconciliation between the two warring families. It’s a remarkable study of a number of multileveled, multifaceted meanings of Mercury and the sign Gemini.
CB: Sure. So do you think, then, was that his starting point? The author of the play, do you think he started with that in mind and then expanded upon that? Like is that your actual argument in terms of it being very deliberate?
PC: I think it’s very much deliberate. What Shakespeare did with most of his plots—you know, most of the plots are not original to him. He finds a story somewhere, but he always changes the story, and the way that he changes the story is really matching this archetypal symbolism of the play.
PC: That’s true of Romeo and Juliet. He introduces characters who are not in the original story that are kind of elaborations of what the astrological symbol might be, like the nurse, for instance. He does it with King Lear because the original story of King Lear and his daughters was that Cordelia survived at the end. She marries, you know, the surviving son of Gloucester, and they rule over the kingdom. No, no, no, no, no—he wants this to be a tragedy. It’s a Saturn-themed play; and if it’s a Saturn-themed play, it has to end, you know, not happily.
And I think it’s one of the most difficult of Shakespeare’s tragedies because it is so affecting when Cordelia dies at the end, and then of course Lear dies. I don’t think you are as upset about Lear’s death because he’s an old man. He’s lived his life. He’s really ready to die. He’s been through incredible trauma; this horrible rage that he’s experienced when he was out in the storm. But for Cordelia to die is difficult for the audience, but it’s really in line with Saturn symbolism. So he absolutely shapes the stories, shapes his plots and creates the characters in line with the astrology.
CB: Okay, well, let’s back up a little bit and talk then a little bit about who the author is and what these plays are. Let’s just assume our audience has no idea what the plays of William Shakespeare are. Like how would you introduce that?
PC: Okay, that’s a big question.
CB: So there’s a collection of plays.
PC: There’s a collection of plays.
CB: At some point in, what, the late 1500s?
PC: You know, just about everything surrounding Shakespeare is mysterious.
PC: We don’t really know when the plays were written in some cases. Recently, academics have speculated that there have been collaborations with some of the plays. It’s not even determined precisely how many of the plays were written only by Shakespeare. We know in some cases when the plays were first performed, but we don’t know really when they were written. Some plays that were published in the first folio in 1623, nobody even knew about. There are about 13 or 15 plays that there’s no record of their performance, there’s no quarto edition, there’s no other edition other than what’s published. The Tempest is an example of that in this folio in 1623.
So there’s also this is very controversial issue—I always hesitate to raise this because as I’ve said before to audiences, this is not only opening a can of worms; it opens up a sea of snakes—but really there’s not a lot of proof that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon actually wrote the plays. In fact, there’s no proof. There’s not a shred—not a document that is a manuscript that has any literary value in his handwriting. There’s not a letter, there’s not a diary, there’s not a manuscript of any of the plays. There’s not a poem—there’s nothing. And if he was living in London, you would’ve expected letters to go back and forth between London and Stratford-on-Avon because that was very typical of people of the time. The only thing we have for Shakespeare is six signatures on legal documents. And it was the custom back then for legal documents to be signed by the law clerks, not necessarily the people involved in the documents; and that could be true because those signatures don’t match very well.
The fact also that Shakespeare’s parents were illiterate, his wife was illiterate, his daughters were illiterate boggles the mind for a man who is deemed to be the greatest literary figure in Western history. Doesn’t make much sense. So there’s a mystery around the creation of the plays; there’s a mystery around who wrote them; there’s a mystery around the collaboration. And I think the big mystery that I hoped that I’ve uncovered in this book is that this is really what inspired the plays. And it makes sense that it would have been astrological symbolism, you know, in part because of what life was like back in the Elizabethan age.
First of all, everybody knew astrology. Everybody knew the language. They knew it because it was common for medical diagnosis. Your type was established according to an astrological paradigm, so your treatment would have been according to astrological timing. People out in the rural areas who might not necessarily have been literate were farming and gardening according to lunar cycles. If there were local people who were dispensing medicine—probably women in some cases—they were herbalists; and all of herbalism of course is done according to the planetary signatures. The particular flowers or weeds, plants, trees, or whatever are connected to whatever astrological symbols seem appropriate. Like sunflowers, for instance; they look like the Sun. The sunflower follows the Sun during the day; it’s keyed to the Sun.
PC: So it has a certain vitality that’s connected to the life force we associate with the Sun. Mariners steered by the stars. For the educated, they would have been familiar with religious and philosophical ideas about the role of the cosmos in human life. They didn’t doubt that there was an influence from the cosmos, what they debated was the extent of that influence. So for the most part, the religious figures said—because they were still thinking in terms of causality—the planets have, let’s say, an influence on physical bodies; but they really made a point of saying that the soul was free. They liked to say that the soul was free. But what you see in Shakespeare’s plays is that once you determine the type the character is, the characters almost inevitably act according to their type. It looks like they’re making choices. It looks like they have a certain amount of free will, but they are really very much created and dramatized in terms of the astrological symbolism that’s associated with them.
CB: Sure. So we’re talking about the late 16th, early 17th century. So this William Shakespeare, or whoever wrote the plays, would have been a younger contemporary or would have been a few decades prior to the time of William Lilly basically, right?
PC: Oh, about 60 years, maybe 70 years before William Lilly.
PC: It’s interesting that there’s a Uranus-Pluto conjunction in the 1590s and that’s when the plays first become known.
PC: So I think some of the first performances—well the Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece come out around 1592-1593—and then some of the plays are recorded as being performed in the 1590s and into the early 1600s. But it’s entirely possible that they were performed earlier. They might have been written earlier, but they come out into the public sphere under a Uranus-Pluto configuration, which seems very apropos.
CB: Okay. Yeah, so that’s relevant ‘cause another point that you made last night in your talk, you asked—what was the question? It was like, what’s the most highly-published book of all-time, or literature of all-time?
PC: The question that I was answering—and I posed it myself—was it’s interesting that the printing press had come to Europe in maybe the 1450s-1460s; it’d actually been invented in China. Moveable type comes to Europe, and of course Gutenberg’s name is associated with it, although he didn’t actually invent it. And then you would think that the publication of material after that would have focused on the Bible. But in fact, you know, the Bible was still in Latin, and a lot of people didn’t read Latin; only the educated read Latin. So what is happening is most people are reading almanacs. And believe it or not, the most published books from the time of the invention of the printing press through to Shakespeare’s time would have been almanacs.
PC: There is one reference to the almanac in King Henry; it’s either part one or part two. Prince Hal of course is, you know, carousing with Falstaff who is basically a drunk and a lecher, but he’s such a vital figure and he’s full of life. And he’s just kind of a wonderful character that you really love him in spite of the fact that he’s really not very morally attractive. And Prince Hal is in the brothel with Falstaff, and Falstaff has got one of the prostitutes named Doll Tearsheet sitting on his lap. Falstaff is an old man; Doll Tearsheet’s a young woman. And Hal looks at her and him, and says, “Mm, Saturn conjunct Venus.” Saturn connected to Venus. “What says the almanac to that?” And he’s making a joke about the fact that here’s the old man Saturn and the young woman Venus, who in this case is Venus, the lecherous Venus together. And in fact, the almanac might have said there was a Venus-Saturn conjunction that year.
CB: Interesting. Okay, that provides a lot of context for those astrologers that already have some background in the history or vaguely know about the time of William Lilly. But it’s interesting then that these plays with some of these astrological references in English would have been written a few decades prior to Lilly because I think Campion says that Lilly’s Christian Astrology was the first English textbook on astrology, or full treatment of the subject in English. So astrologers were still writing their textbooks in Latin up to that point because that was the scientific language that went across, you know, country boundaries and things like that.
PC: Right. All the academics knew Latin. Everybody was communicating in Latin. At the end of the introduction in my book, I list a number of different titles of books that were current; some of them were in fact in John Dee’s library. Now this is a really interesting point that John Dee had one of the finest libraries in England; probably the finest library and the largest library in England. And there is a book called John Dee by Peter French that I’d recommend to anybody who’s interested in Dee. And he’s cataloged all of Dee’s books, and Dee had an immense number of books on astrology, books on Kabbalah, books that had come out of, you know, the Italian Renaissance when Marsilio Ficino was translating and publishing the Platonic Dialogues and also the Hermetic materials. So they’re all in England and could have been available.
We know Dee was a tutor to the children of Sir Philip Sidney and certainly was a kind of court astrologer. He was definitely a court astrologer for Elizabeth. He elected the time of her coronation and that was pretty successful. She lasted a very long time and managed to survive quite well. So he might have tutored other people. He might have loaned books to members of the court. It’s pretty likely that the person who wrote the plays had to have had a connection to nobility because there’s too much knowledge of court life and there’s too much knowledge of courtly pastimes, like hunting and hawking and fencing and that sort of thing. But mostly the books that I list, I don’t think people would be very familiar with. I haven’t read them, but the scholars have listed them.
CB: Right. But the knowledge of court life becomes one of the other points against it being Shakespeare as the author, but instead another person perhaps being a likely candidate for authoring the plays.
PC: Yes. We don’t get this these days, but it would have been scandalous—it would have been absolutely, I mean, almost traitorous. I mean, Elizabeth would have come down really heavily on somebody of the nobility who was writing plays for the common people. It’s okay to write, you know, plays and masques that would be performed at court or maybe even at the ends of court; the sons of the nobility were studying law at the ends of court. But to publish plays that were performed in public theaters and maybe even money was circulated for them was just absolutely forbidden; it was impossible. And there’s research that’s been done to say that there were a number of nobles who were publishing things under pseudonyms and Shakespeare seems to have been a pseudonym.
PC: I just wanted to mention, by the way, Guido Bonatti’s book was in Dee’s library. So was Julius Firmicus Maternus. And there’s some other, a little more obscure books that come from Europe that were printed in Latin in Europe, but they were circulated. So, you know, anybody who knew Latin and was interested in the topic could have found those books. Not in the university libraries as it happened—they were pretty poor—but there were private individuals who had really good libraries, and Dee’s was the best of all of them.
CB: Yeah, I think at Dee’s library at Mortlake are the primary manuscripts of the 2nd century astrologer Vettius Valens, which were written in Greek. These are primary manuscripts that come from Dee’s library and that’s how some of the modern critical editions were able to be made in the 20th century. So that’s another instance of super rare, super important astrology manuscripts passing through that private library.
CB: All right, so once you got on the trail of this, and you started seeing this symbolism, you sort of realized that this astrological symbolism was going through many different plays and many different characters, and oftentimes, there were certain plays that were keyed in to either certain planets or certain signs of the zodiac.
PC: To an astonishing degree. I was really blown away. And even now that I’ve finished the book—when I see the plays performed or when I read them again—I see even more references. As soon as somebody starts pointing it out to you, it’s really clear. I had a friend who was helping me edit—a fellow with a PhD in history and a teaching buddy of mine—and he was reading everything that I was writing and critiquing it madly. So my karma was coming home to roost because of all the years that I had red-penciled students’ essays; he was now red-penciling my chapters one after the other.
PC: But he said to me, “You really ruined it for me. Now every time I go and see the plays, I can hear all the astrological symbolism all the time.”
PC: And he knew nothing about astrology, so he was a good person to run this by. So another play that is so clearly keyed to a particular symbol is Midsummer’s Nights Dream. I mean, the title gives that away—Midsummer. Normally, we think of it as June 21, which is the beginning of the sign Cancer, ruled by the Moon. Moon is the Queen of the Night or the Lady of the Night. It’s Midsummer ‘Night’s’ Dream. We sleep and dream at night. The play opens with lines where Theseus and Hippolyta are talking about their marriage, and he says, “Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour draws on apace four happy days; bring in another Moon: but, O, methinks, how slow this old Moon wanes.” He’s basically saying, “t’s the balsamic time of the Moon. We can’t get married. We have to wait to get married on a New Moon because that’s when the Moon starts waxing and that’s when the potential for fertility starts to grow as well.”
PC: And she says, “Four days will quickly steep themselves in night; four nights will quickly dream away the time. And then the Moon, like to a silver bow new-bent in heaven, shall behold the night of our solemnities.” So she’s basically saying, “Well, don’t be quite so impatient. We can wait another four days until the New Moon.” And then I started to read through the play and I realized every set of characters that enters the play talks about the Moon. So Egeus comes in and he’s really angry with his daughter because she won’t marry the man he wants her to marry. And he protests that the young man that she loves, “wooed her by moonlight,” by night, and so his love has to be unreliable. Here’s the really significant point about the thematic nature of the Moon symbolism, that the Moon is the preeminent symbol of impermanence and change. And this play is really a meditation on the nature of human life as an experience of constant change.
PC: So the father says—and this is pretty awful. There’s some pretty awful patriarchal fathers in Shakespeare, and this particular patriarchal father says, “Theseus, according to the law, my daughter has to marry the man I say she has to marry, or she’s gonna be put to death. And I want you to put her to death if she won’t marry Demetrius.” And Theseus adds a third option—he softens things a bit—and he says, “Well, okay. Either she marries Demetrius or she dies. Or we’ll put her in a convent where she will be under the light of the fruitless Moon.” And he’s kind of conflicted about it. On the one hand, this, you know, is an out for her. But on the other hand, it doesn’t sound very attractive to go into a convent and be subjected to the fruitless Moon.
The next scene, Hermia and Lysander decide to elope. They’re gonna run away and they end up in this forest that night. The same night, there’s a group of working men from Athens who are rehearsing a play for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. They talk about the Moon. They ask if there’s moonlight on the night that the play’s going to be performed, and they ask to see an almanac. And the funny thing about the scene between the actors is Bottom, the weaver, wants to play every part. So here is a very subtle example of change. First of all, he’s given the part of Pyramus, and then, okay, so he’s Pyramus. And then when Peter Quince gives out the part of Thisbe, he says, “But I want to play Thisbe too.” It’s like he wants to change his role and become somebody different.
PC: The next part that’s being given out—no, he wants to be that part too. He wants to be the lion. And Peter Quince has to say, “No, no, you’ll roar too loudly and fright the ladies.” “No, I’ll roar in a very soft way.” “No, no, you have to be Pyramus.” So in a really subtle way, it dramatized the idea of changing roles all the time and having to decide which particular role you’re going to stick to. Then we get the group of faeries who come in in the play, which is really audacious of Shakespeare to put three completely different groups of people in the forest at the same time: one that’s a supernatural group of beings, another that’s a group of young nobles, and another that’s a working class group. As soon as the faeries come in, the first lines you get between the Queen of the Faeries, Titania, and the King of the Faeries, Oberon, Oberon says, “Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania,” and they talk about the Moon. And then you watch what happens as the night unfolds and Puck, who is a henchman of Oberon, starts playing tricks on them. Do you know the plot of the play?
PC: Okay. Well, Oberon and Titania are arguing over a little boy. And at the moment, Titania has the little boy, and Oberon wants the little boy. And so, he decides to play a trick on her and he sends Puck off to get a flower because the juice of that flower—when it’s squeezed into the eyes of anybody who’s asleep—the minute they wake up, they will fall in love with the first thing they see. So off Puck goes—who is a kind of mercurial figure in this play—finds the flower, brings it back, gives it to Oberon. Oberon waits till Titania’s asleep, puts the juice of the flower in her eyes. Well, in the meantime, Puck, who is the spirit of mischief incarnate—which is another reason why we think of him as a mercurial type—when Bottom goes off behind a bush during the rehearsal, he puts an ass’s head on Bottom’s head. So when Bottom comes out to the rehearsal, he scares away all of his friends who think he’s transformed and can’t figure out what’s happened to him. And the noise wakes Titania and she falls in love with this working man with an ass’s head on his head.
PC: So this becomes an extraordinary play about this certain idea about transformation and about the possibility of change. The lovers—well, Titania, let’s talk about her first. She’s no longer in love with Oberon. She’s in love with Bottom, and she apparently has a little dalliance with him during the play. And Puck thinks, “Gee, this flower’s quite useful. Let’s see what’s happening.” He discovers what’s going on in the forest with the young lovers. Sure, there’s Hermia and Lysander, but there’s two others who have come to the forest; one of whom is Demetrius, and he’s the one who loves Hermia and thinks he should be marrying her, and then there’s a young woman named Helena who’s in love with Demetrius. Now we’ve got a group of four. Helena loves Demetrius who loves Hermia who loves Lysander who loves her. And Puck sees that there’s a lot of discord going on and thinks he’ll help things out. And so, he squeezes the juice of the eyes in one of the young men who falls asleep in the forest. Unfortunately, it happens to be Lysander’s eyes. So at the moment Lysander wakes up, the first person he sees is Helena.
PC: So now we have Lysander who loves Helena who loves Demetrius who loves Hermia who loves Lysander. So we get increasing chaos as the night goes on, and we have the lovers changing who they love continually. And so, Shakespeare is really riffing on this idea that nothing is substantial in this life. Really, the first law of life in this dimension is change, which is one reason why I think of this play as a ‘Buddhist’ play, believe it or not. And then there’s another whole series of misfortunes that happen because Puck then puts the juice in the eyes of Demetrius and he does see Helena when he wakes up. So now he loves Helena—Demetrius loves Helena—but nobody loves poor Hermia; she’s left out in the cold. But Helena, instead of being happy that Demetrius loves her, thinks that he’s playing a joke on her. And so, then it gets to the point where the lovers are running around screaming and yelling at each other, and it’s like a psychological stripping that happens as they’ve gone into the forest that represents the underworld.
And at one moment, you know, Oberon comes in and sees what’s going on, and he kind of shakes his finger at Puck and says, “You really instigated all of this.” And Puck says, “Nope, not me, not me. I just mistook whatever the character was that I was seeing.” But he does have a perspective in the play that I think Shakespeare’s recommending for the audience. Because Puck looks at all this kind of craziness going on and all the yelling and screaming and running around as says, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.” And so, he’s the person who is outside of the action, watching the emotionality and the changeability of the emotionality that the characters are experiencing, and I think kind of giving us an opportunity as the audience to step back and try to be more detached.
And detachment really is kind of associated with wisdom. It’s a place of wisdom to be able to be more detached from your own emotional reactions or even from your own thoughts. I mean, that’s what all of the spiritual disciplines recommend. You watch your thoughts. You don’t identify with thoughts that you don’t want to identify with, that you no longer want to have prominent in your life. And you have some perspective on your emotions; it doesn’t mean that you don’t experience emotions. But it does give you the potential to step back and have—maybe not exactly power over the emotions, but perspective on your emotions; and that’s really dramatized in the course of the play. And by the way, of course, before the end of Act 4, the lovers connect so that the right lovers love each other. Poor Bottom gets the ass’s head taken off him and he’s restored to who he is. And he’s the only one who wakes up and remembers this experience, but he’s unable to speak about it because it is a transcendent vision that is beyond his capacity for language.
PC: And so, the end of the play, we have, you know, three marriages. Now I want to throw in something else in here. This is really typically a play that’s about the Moon and about the symbolic meaning of the Moon, so it’s got a lot of deeper, more profound significance.
PC: But all the comedies in Shakespeare—and this of course is a comedy—I highly recommend that you see it performed because it’s absolutely just delightful and fun and hysterically funny when you watch what’s going on with all of the confusion in the forest. The very best version that I’ve ever seen is Julie Taymor’s version. You know, Julie Taymor was the director of The Lion King. She has quite a background in Indonesian puppet theater. She has very innovative, creative ways of staging her plays. And she did Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Brooklyn Theater—I think it was the winter of 2014, maybe into 2015—and it was filmed. I don’t know whether it’s available for sale, but people can get a copy of that. It’s a brilliant, brilliant production and very well-done. Not any famous actors you would recognize, but just beautifully-staged, beautifully-performed, creatively thought-through with it.
But it’s a comedy, and all the comedies are ruled by Venus because all of the comedies are about love and marriage, you know. About life, about the importance of the union of two people because that’s a symbol. In a way, it is part of the lesser mysteries. It’s a symbol of the union of the masculine and the feminine in this dimension, and it does mean that the social order goes on, life goes on. There’s the promise of childbirth. There’s new life that will come as a result of the male and the female coming together. And, in fact, the faeries do appear at the end of the play. They bless the household and they promise children. So, again, children are associated with the Moon, and you see that that’s part of the fertility association with it as well.
CB: Sure. So we’ve talked about that one. There was another that you talked about briefly that was more of a Saturn-themed play, though, right? Which one was that?
PC: Oh, King Lear.
PC: Oh, King Lear is Saturn to the core. First of all, it’s an obvious study of an old person. You know, Lear is an aged monarch. And of course Saturn has to do with old men, so that’s the first giveaway really in the play. In this case, the title doesn’t give away the connection with Saturn, but the fact that he’s an old man. And he talks about being an old man, and other people in the play talk about him as being old.
PC: He’s doing something that is really a no-no for Saturn, you know. The fact that he’s king means that he has been put in the position of being a monarch and has a responsibility and a duty to discharge to his people. And I’ll just digress and say perhaps some of your listeners know that Queen Elizabeth II of England—the current monarch on the British throne—has Capricorn rising and Saturn at the top of her chart. And even as a two-year-old child, when Winston Churchill met her, he said she has a curiously sober demeanor for a child so young.
PC: Now she was Saturnian from the word go, and she’s a perfect example of the Saturnian, you know, perseverance. She’s very serious. She rarely smiles in public. She has performed her duty diligently for, what now? I forget how many years. 75 years, I think is what it’s been because she took the throne when she was in her 20s, which is remarkable. That’s the positive Saturn. But of course what’s the point of Shakespeare showing you the positive Saturn? There’s nothing inherently dramatic in that. Let’s show you the negative Saturn. And so, Lear is a man who says, “I’m going to retire from ruling. I’m gonna have a good time. I’m gonna divide my kingdom in three. I’ll give a third to each of my daughters depending on how much each of you can tell me that you love me.” Can you imagine how an Elizabethan audience would have reacted to this? They had had a previous couple of centuries of disastrous fights over the throne, and they were horribly worried about what was going on, you know.
Henry VIII had finally had a son, but the son had died young. And then Mary, Queen of Scots, got the throne and then she wanted to take the country back to being Catholic. And then Elizabeth was on and Elizabeth was Protestant, so the country swung back to being Protestant—part of the Church of England is probably more correct here—and there were a lot of threats to the throne. So for a monarch to voluntarily abdicate was shocking, shocking. And then you start to realize that Lear is, I want to say, an inadequate personality.
He is so dependent on being flattered by his daughters that when the youngest daughter refuses to flatter him, he flies into a rage, and he says to her—first of all, he says, “Mend your speech a little or you’ll mire your fortunes,” meaning, “You aren’t gonna get a third of the kingdom and what goes with that.” And Cordelia’s the only one who really loves him, and she refuses to go along with this charade. And she said, “Can’t say anything.” And he says, “I banish you. I disown you. I’m throwing you out of the kingdom.” Unfortunately, there is a French prince who is there, and he’s going to marry her and take her to France. And so, now the kingdom will be divided in two to the two daughters, Goneril and Regan. And at the end of that scene, after Lear has left, and the two daughters kind of look at each other—they’re comparing notes about what they think has really gone on here—one of them says to the other, “Our father has ever but slenderly known himself.” And that’s crucial for a Saturn type.
Saturn demands the realism of you being aware of what your own strengths and weaknesses are. And Lear is oblivious. He is absolutely a fragile ego that’s totally dependent on being flattered. So he not only disowns his daughter and exiles her, but he exiles the only trusted noble—one of his advisors—who keeps trying to tell him, “See better, Lear. This is the daughter who really loves you,” and he exiles him too. Now that person disguises himself and comes back and serves the king even as his life begins to go disastrously wrong. He tries to go and stay with one of the daughters, brings his hundred knights, but the hundred knights are loud and carousing and noisy. And Lear is undisciplined—which is of course a no-no for Saturn—and so the daughter says, “Let’s get rid of fifty of your knights.” And so, Lear gets angry. He says, “I’ll go stay with my other daughter. She’ll keep me and my hundred knights.”
Off he trots to go to the other daughter. The other daughter says, “I’ve heard from my sister about how disorderly and disruptive your knights are. Let’s reduce it to twenty-five.” So then Lear gets angry. “Okay, I’ll go back to the other one. Fifty knights is better than twenty-five.” And then the two daughters –the other daughter comes in—are there with him, and they say, “Why need you any knights? We have plenty of servants who can look after you.” So now we’ve seen Lear has been stripped of his role in life; he’s no longer the king. He no longer has a castle. He no longer has a kingdom. Now he has no knights. He has no retinue around him to remind him, you know, of the pomp and circumstance of being the king and flatter his ego, no doubt; and now he’s nothing.
PC: And so, he gets really enraged, and he says, “I don’t want anything to do with either one of you,” and he goes out onto the heath all by himself, and a terrible tempest comes, which is the externalization of his rage. He rages through Act 3. He rages about his daughters, his ungrateful daughters. “There’s nothing sharper than a serpent’s tooth and the ingratitude of your children.” And he progressively strips his clothing off until he’s down to a loincloth. He’s lost everything. What could be a more dramatic presentation of the kind of stripping down that you can get with Saturn that takes things out of your life, reduces your circumstances.
PC: And you have to at that point come to some sort of recognition of what your fundamental humanity is. And Lear goes literally mad through rage and then collapses in a faint. He is revived. He does come to see himself as what he calls an “unaccommodated man.” In other words, “I am essentially who I am without any of the trappings of anything, without the role that I play, without the flattery of these, you know, servants around me, without my royal robes. None of this is really important.” And he is reunited with his daughter, but unfortunately, the daughter’s forces lose. And by the end of the play, as with so many of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the stage is littered with bodies.
The sisters—one has poisoned the other. The other one kills herself. Each of them are trying to have a love affair with Gloucester’s bastard son. It’s a very interesting subplot that parallels the main plot about the ingratitude of children to their parents. And at the end there’s hardly anybody left except Edgar who is Gloucester’s legitimate son, and you have the expectation that he will at the end reestablish some sort of order. There’s always at the end of the tragedies, which are ruled by Mars, by the way—so it’s all about conflict and violence and usually death; so we get all these deaths at the end of the play. There’s always one figure at the end who will help reestablish order. There has to be one who either has been outside the drama of the play—so it’s Fortinbras in Hamlet—or has been marginalized in the play, but has watched the action and has learned and gained wisdom; and therefore, that person is going to be the one who is legitimately capable of reestablishing order after all the disorder has happened.
CB: And that was the one that you said the ending was so depressing that had been changed in some releases?
PC: The staging of King Lear for a couple of centuries—the audiences couldn’t bear the death of Cordelia. I think they could maybe have handled the death of King Lear. After all, he was old and had gone through a lot, and it was kind of a release when he finally dies. But Cordelia, no. So I think at the end of the 1700s, really, even into the 1800s, they would keep Cordelia alive at the end. She was saved from hanging by the jailer by somebody—Lear gets her—and she lives at the end; and so, that made the audiences a little happier. But finally, by the end of the 1800s, they were starting to perform it the way Shakespeare had written it.
PC: And by the way, there is a lot of controversy not only about King Lear, but about Hamlet because there’s alternate versions of the plays available.
PC: And there’s a lot of speeches you find in one version, but not in another. And then you’ll find speeches in the other version, but not in the original. Like, “To be or not to be” is not in one of the Hamlet quartos. And so, what people did right up until recently was they amalgamated both versions into one play and kind of said, “Well, let’s just put it all together, and we’ll assume that this is the right one.” But scholars these days are really looking much more deeply and more questioningly into, you know, which is the authentic version. We don’t really know.
PC: We don’t know whether those lines were cut by a director. Were they not included in this edition of the play because it was a pirated copy, and because the actor couldn’t remember the lines, but it was being copied down? We still don’t know what that was all about.
PC: So it’s a miracle we have the plays. It’s a miracle that we have this body of work that is definitely a transmission of the Western wisdom tradition. There’s no doubt that there is enormous wisdom that draws really from astrology. It draws from alchemy. It draws from magic. It draws from number symbolism. It draws from the philosophical traditions that include Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Neo-Platonism. Mysticism. A lot of the supernatural is in here. It includes folklore. Greek and Roman mythology. Whoever wrote these plays is a polymath. It’s just astonishing the wisdom that’s contained in the play.
PC: So part of the value of really coming to grips with the astrological symbolism in the play is, first of all, for people who have had trouble understanding Shakespeare, this is the key that opens it. And especially if you have a knowledge of astrology, you can bring that to the plays and start to see it and then you understand it. And so, you open to yourself this body of wisdom that we have incredibly preserved for the last 400-plus years. I think the other thing that’s really important, too, is there’s dozens, hundreds, thousands of people who go to see Shakespeare’s plays. If they are shown that astrology’s the key to understanding Shakespeare, what difference might this make to the status of astrology in our culture for them to realize that it was a perfectly respectable, intellectual discipline in Shakespeare’s time, and that it was his principle creative inspiration? And then if astrologers learn something about this, they can then talk to people who know the plays and say, “Look. By the way, I can show you some of the astrological symbolism that’s going on in the plays.”
CB: Sure. And it might be useful even in modern times for writers to use that as a foundation as well in terms of attempting to write new creative works.
PC: Exactly. Exactly.
CB: And that draws on sort of a longer history. I think there was some speculation about Chaucer doing that, if I’m remembering correctly…
CB: …basing the one of his works off of an ephemeris, like a page in an ephemeris.
PC: Chaucer knew astrology. He even wrote a treatise on the astrolabe.
PC: And his master work, which is The Canterbury Tales, is a story of a group of pilgrims who are going to Canterbury to see the remains of Sir Thomas Becket who had become Saint Thomas, and they’re telling stories along the way to keep themselves entertained. And there’s a lot of astrological information. In fact, the journey begins right in April at the beginning of spring. So it’s kind of set to be at the beginning of the seasonal year, and the characters in the stories also have astrological themes in them.
CB: Okay. And then, recently—maybe it was about a decade ago now—but there was another book that came out called Planet Narnia that argued that CS Lewis used astrology symbolism as a central organizing principle for writing the Chronicles of Narnia series.
PC: I have heard that. I have the book, but I haven’t read it yet.
PC: I’ll tell you what’s really interesting is JK Rowling’s seven-volume Harry Potter series.
PC: And I haven’t done this because I’ve been too busy doing this book and of course the six smaller Playbill editions that have come out now that are on six of Shakespeare’s plays that are discussed in the big book. Each of the seven books in the Harry Potter series gets darker and darker and darker until the last one. It’s the longest, the most difficult, and the direst because it’s where the final battle happens; and it seems to me that’s geared to Saturn.
PC: JK Rowling knows astrology. Back in, I don’t know what year it is, but I do mention it in one of the endnotes—a manuscript, a handwritten manuscript of her astrological chart analysis of the child of a friend of hers came up for scrutiny at—you know that show? What is the show where you bring your antiques?
CB: Oh, yeah, yeah. Antiques Roadshow.
PC: The Antiques Roadshow. Yeah, Antiques Roadshow. Somebody brought this manuscript and showed it—like 25 pages where she had written an astrological analysis. So she absolutely knows the esoteric traditions.
CB: Right. Yeah.
PC: Somebody should write a good astrological key to the seven volumes of Harry Potter.
CB: Yeah, that would be brilliant. That would be a big book as well. I’m trying to think, in comparison obviously to the works of Shakespeare, probably much longer, but that’s definitely getting up there.
PC: Well, it would be very contemporary. I actually think there’s more depth in Shakespeare, but I can see how intriguing that might be because of the popularity of her novels. She does give birth dates for some of the characters.
PC: Harry Potter’s a Leo. I think he has the same birth date that JK Rowling does in the book.
CB: Yeah, well, it just brings up that there’s such a broader and richer and longer tradition of using astrology as a literary device in different ways than people realize.
PC: That’s right.
CB: But sometimes it’s really underlying, you know, some of the more important works of literature and history.
PC: And it interests me a lot that it’s so garmented in Shakespeare. I think it would not have been garmented in the same way in Shakespeare’s time.
CB: Right. The suppression.
PC: I think, you know, even the common people had a knowledge of what the planets meant and what the signs were and what the associations were; you know, Jupiter is the planet of success and prosperity. So one of the speeches that I mentioned last night is Prospero’s speech in Scene 2 of The Tempest where he’s explaining to his daughter Miranda how they came to this God-forsaken island, and had been on the island for 12 years. And in the course of this, he’s become a magician; he’s developed his magical abilities while being on this island, isolated for the last 12 years. He says, “By my prescience, I find my zenith doth depend upon a most auspicious star whose influence if now I court not but omit, my fortunes will ever after droop.” Everybody in Shakespeare’s audience knew exactly what the most auspicious star was. Even people who weren’t even literate, they would have known it because it was Jupiter.
So no surprise, he’s been on the island for 12 years because that’s a Jupiter cycle. So what he’s really telling her is “Jupiter’s come around once more to where it was when we got here, and now is our opportunity to get off the island.” And he has arranged a tempest that has brought a shipload of the conspirators who took away his dukedom and put him on a boat and had him end up on this island with his daughter. And he now has an opportunity to wreak his revenge; and the question of the play is will he do that. But of course Jupiter—you know, Jupiter is a magnanimous, forgiving energy. And so, really, the struggle that he has is to be able to forgive his brother for his traitorous actions. It’s a fabulous play.
CB: Sure. So that’s a really important point, though, that you think audiences in Shakespeare’s time would have understood these references a lot more than we do now.
CB: And to the extent that modern audiences don’t, they’re actually missing out on large parts of the play that would have been very obvious in his time.
PC: Right. And they would have picked up I think on some of the thematic connections. For instance, a big theme in The Tempest is education. You know, Prospero came to this island, and there’s this strange, kind of gnome-like creature; they call him a monster. He apparently is a kind of manifestation of the earth element. He’s kind of an earth, natural being called Caliban. And he tried to teach Caliban language; and Caliban does know how to speak, but Caliban is basically unteachable. And Caliban says, “I’ve learned your language and the profit in it for me is I now know how to curse.” And he curses all the time because he tried to rape Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, and so Prospero has basically magically enchanted him so that he has to perform hard labor for them. Bring them logs. You know, find them food on the island. He is basically not free. And freedom is another really important theme in the play; and of course freedom is a theme that’s associated with Jupiter as well. What’s real freedom?
Prospero has not only got Caliban under his authority—and Caliban I think is a representative of the earth dimension; his own desires—he also has an air spirit named Ariel, appropriately enough. And Ariel was also trapped for 12 years in a pine by a wicked witch and was freed by Prospero, but then put into service of Prospero, and has been in Prospero’s service for the last 12 years. And Ariel constantly talks about wanting to have freedom. So everybody wants freedom in this play. Prospero wants to get off the island. Caliban wants his freedom; he wants to have his island back. Ariel wants to be free and be able to go back to the air element and do whatever he or she wants—the gender of Ariel is a little questionable—and there’s other ways in which you see this theme of freedom.
So education and freedom, which are both Jupiterian kinds of themes, are definitely in the play. And even Jupiter as the ruler of Pisces is in the play because we have a terrible tempest that starts at the beginning. The characters are all on an island surrounded by water. He’s become a magician, which is definitely a Pisces kind of theme. And by the way, Shakespeare is presenting opposite possibilities for all of the principles, all of the astrological symbols in different plays. So we have a white magician in Prospero in The Tempest, and we have black magic in Macbeth with the witches. You can’t pin him down. If he’d only had a play with Prospero in it as a white magician, I think he would have gotten into trouble, but he also has a play that shows the black side of things. And so, it just looks like he’s showing the full spectrum of things, and you can’t pin him down on whichever side he’s on.
CB: Sure. And then one last thing is that you mentioned that ancient temperament theory seemed to connect and play a major role as well, right?
PC: Right. What I was saying last night is I think what I’ve discovered about Shakespeare’s plays is original. I’ve never seen this in all the years I’ve been reading, you know, literary criticism in books about Shakespeare; that I think is really a tremendously helpful key to understanding the plays. What I’ve rediscovered that I think is also not commonly known by modern audiences is temperament theory. You know, while I present a fairly simplified version of it in the book, the ancients, and right through the Arabic period and into the Elizabethan period—really into the next century with William Lilly—everybody’s using as a psychological model, and had been for about 2,000 years, an idea that there were four types based on four of the planets: Mars, the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn.
And, okay, mainly your type was either geared to Mars, Moon, Jupiter, or Saturn, although it was possible that you maybe had a little secondary type in there, or in rare cases maybe there was a little bit of movement. But Shakespeare uses that model, that template, to create his characters, and they are absolutely consistent. All his Mars characters, with one exception, are Mars, Mars, Mars from beginning to the end of the play. You know, Tybalt is always wanting to pick fights. Every time he comes on stage in Romeo and Juliet, he wants to fight, and wants usually to fight Romeo. He wants to fight the Montagues. He wants to pull out his rapier even at the party, the Capulet’s party. And of course he’s the one who kills Mercutio.
Most of the Mars characters end up dead at the end of the play. So Shakespeare really—or whoever wrote the plays—is deeply suspicious about Mars energy. It is very difficult to direct positively consistently. And one of the things that I found so fascinating in Macbeth is, you know, Macbeth is really manipulated very much by his wife into going ahead with the plan to murder King Duncan and become king himself, and she does it by humiliating him. “Were you a man when you presented this idea to me of getting rid of Duncan and going after the throne?” And finally, he knuckles under and says, “Okay, I’ll do it.” You know that he’s learned this technique of humiliation because he uses it on these murderers that he hires to kill Banquo. He’s afraid Banquo was gonna figure out that he’s killed Duncan because Banquo also heard the witches’ prophecies. And I think that the trick with Mars is masculinity is a fragile thing and Shakespeare knows that. For instance, look at Lear. Lear is bolstered by flattery, and when there’s not flattery around, he falls apart. So just gets so enraged that he basically loses it. He just becomes mad and collapses in a heap.
Then I discovered that there’s a really fine doctor named Dr. James Gilligan who wrote a book called Violence. Dr. Gilligan had been a psychiatrist at a prison in Massachusetts for 25 years where they had violent offenders. And he said every single person who was a violent offender was a violent offender because he—and they were all ‘he-s’—had been humiliated. And when you’ve been humiliated, you have to turn around and wreak revenge; you have to react to that. And we see that acted out in the plays; and Macbeth is a sterling example of that. If anybody’s really interested in this idea of toxic masculinity and the difficulty of males really developing a genuine ego that’s based on a positive Mars, then you might want to read that book Violence by Dr. James Gilligan.
PC: He was also, by the way, director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard Medical School.
CB: Okay, so it was basically these psychological types—like an early version of psychological character types…
CB: …inform the characters and how would a character react or what would their response be in this scenario, and having these predefined types that go back through these ancient psychological or character theories.
PC: And Shakespeare’s using that consistently and it’s all astrologically-based. So once you, again, are given the key—and I have a chart in here that shows you what the key is. And then I describe each of the temperament types; you know, whether you’re choleric-keyed to Mars or you’re phlegmatic-keyed to the Moon or melancholic. Some of the most interesting characters in Shakespeare are the melancholic ones. Hamlet is a perfect melancholic. You know, he wears black. He’s experiencing grief, and grief is the emotion that’s associated with melancholia. It’s an earth-themed play, and the types were also keyed to the four elements, as well as the four planets.
PC: He’s consistent in every play in using that particular psychological/astrological model.
CB: Okay. Yeah, well, that’s really exciting. Have you had much connection with other people that have worked on Shakespeare or done much work? What has the response been in general since the book came out?
PC: I think it’s still a bit early, believe it or not. This is 2018. The book has only been out since 2016. It’s a big book; it takes a while to get through. I was impressed that some of the reviews came out within the first year of its publication. Now that the smaller Playbill editions have been published that are condensed chapters on each of the individual six plays I discuss in the book, I think there’ll be more opportunity for people to read about the ideas and think about the ideas and apply them to when they either see the plays performed or they read them. But I think it’s a long-term thing. You know, it’s a sophisticated approach. It’s very detailed.
PC: It’s rich. It’s rich on a number of levels. Psychologically-rich. Philosophically-rich. Spiritually-rich. I think it takes a while for those ideas to really kind of percolate. I’m in this for the long haul. And I think this has lasting value, and I think that it will take time, and then I think it will be recognized much more.
PC: And by the way, the six plays that I pick are some of the most famous plays of Shakespeare. And what I did was to organize them in the Ptolemaic order. So Moon is keyed to Midsummer Night’s Dream; so Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first play I talk about. Mercury is next in order; that’s Romeo and Juliet. Venus is the next in order and that’s The Merchant of Venice. Mars is next; Mars and Scorpio is Macbeth. The Tempest, which is a Jupiter-themed play—and by the way, picks up symbolism of Jupiter both as the ruler of Sagittarius and Pisces. And then Saturn is the key to understanding King Lear. So if people are reading this book what they are actually getting—if they don’t know astrology—they’ll get an education in astrology.
PC: Because the seven planets and also the signs are presented in enough detail that I think they’ll get a much deeper understanding of the depth and richness that’s inherent in the symbolism, which is not reflected in, you know, the more superficial forms we get in popular culture.
CB: Sure. And this wasn’t your first book. This is actually your second book, right?
PC: It is my second book. Yeah, my first book was called The Weiser—WEISER—Concise Guide to Practical Astrology. Not my choice of title, but it was part of a series of Concise Guides on different esoteric topics. And I introduced basically the planets, the signs, the houses, and the aspects, and then put it all together in analyzing Oprah Winfrey’s chart. So it’s a deceptively-simple introduction to astrology that’s actually quite profound; and so I hope that it’s successful in doing that.
CB: And how long did it take you to write this book?
PC: Well, it was a whole lifetime, but the actual writing of it was about eight years.
CB: Eight years, okay. Wow.
PC: Yeah, it went through lots and lots and lots of editorial process, both with a friend that was editing with me in Toronto, and also a professional editor named Lisa Walker who did a really great job on it as well.
CB: Brilliant. She was the one that was actually there at your talk last night?
PC: She was at the talk last night. Yeah, she’s a brilliant editor.
PC: She’s very good.
CB: Excellent. Well, yeah, I think people should check out the book. And you said that there’s shorter excerpts that are also available for individual plays at this point.
PC: There’s little paperback versions that are condensed chapters about each of the six plays that I mentioned that are now out, and they’re inexpensive. And they’re a very good introduction for somebody who doesn’t know a lot about the plays or maybe has a favorite play and wants to read about that and get an idea about how the astrological symbolism plays into it.
CB: Cool. All right, well, people can do a search for the title of the book Shakespeare and the Stars in order to find it online. I’m sure it’s available everywhere. It’s been available at the Tattered Cover here in Denver. I was a little excited to see that they actually had it on the shelves. So your publisher is doing a pretty good job of getting it out there and circulating it.
PC: That is good, yes.
CB: And where can people find out more information about you? Do you have a website?
PC: I have a website, PriscillaCostello.com. There’s also a website, shakespeareandthestars.com, which has some excerpts from the book and some more information about the book.
CB: Okay, brilliant. Awesome.
PC: I have to highly recommend it. I highly recommend it because I think it really takes astrology in a new, wonderfully interesting direction. You know, astrology’s gotten into the culture now through the financial community. It’s gotten into the culture through the psychological community. This I think will get it into the literary community. And there’s a hugely popular following of Shakespeare. Let’s hope it’s a breakthrough for astrology.
CB: Sure. All right, well, thanks a lot for writing the book, and thanks for joining me today.
PC: Thank you so much, Chris. It’s really been a pleasure chatting with you.
CB: All right, and thanks everybody for listening, and we’ll see you next time.