Monday, June 20, 2005

Moon [in June], according to Shakespeare

Unsurprisingly, William Shakespeare invokes the presence of the sun, moon, and stars in almost all his plays. This is, after all, an era when people believed in the influence of the 'heavenly orbs', and philosophers grappled with notions of the ancient Greek idea of the 'music of the spheres'. Come to think of it, not much has changed. For Shakespeare, reference to the moon is often in the context of love. See, for instance, the repeated mentions in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In any case, before electricity, the nights around a full moon, both in countryside and towns alike, offered a fuller, more illuminated, sometimes safer opportunity to travel, and make merry! Which is still the situation today, in the many electricity-less parts of the world. But in Shakespeare's late play, the dark and enormous King Lear, we have Edmund railing thus:
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains by 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 to the charge of a star! "My father compounded with my mother under the dragon's tail, and my nativity was under ursa major; so that it follows I am rough and lecherous." 'Sfoot! I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing [bastardy].
Act 1, Scene ii

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