Forum event explores astrology in The Merchant of Venice

Laura Cudworth, The Beacon Herald
August 2, 2013

William Shakespeare was a Taurus.

According to general astrological charts he would have been stubborn and inflexible with an appreciation of all things beautiful. He would have enjoyed his possessions as well.

He was born April 23, 1564 but no one knows the time—a critical component to a deeper astrological understanding of a person.

The stars must have aligned at the time of his birth though because centuries later he is still the most popular and well-known playwright in the English language.

Shakespeare would have known quite a lot about astrology, said Priscilla Costello in the Festival Theatre Lobby as part of The Forum.

Her talk called Astrology and Shakespeare: The Secret Key to the Merchant of Venice was from her upcoming book which explores the role of astrology in Shakespeare’s plays.

Several references to astrological symbols in his work indicate he understood the concepts well, she suggested. He makes more than 100 separate astrological illusions.

“His audience would know these too,” she said.

There is a sense in his plays though that characters with a strong constitution might avert the destiny of the stars, she said.

Astrology is basically the study of the heavenly bodies and how they correlate with human experience. That’s the stuff of Shakespeare’s day.

Most audiences now have a flimsy understanding of astrology.

Today that philosophy, once considered scholarly, has been largely relegated to a spot next to the crossword in the back of the newspapers. Astrology has become astronomy which is the study of those heavenly bodies but without any correlation to personality and human experience.

Astrology is an ancient art, still alive and well in many cultures particularly in the east, and was prominent in Chaucer’s work as well as Dante’s.

Costello argued the characters in Merchant can be understood more deeply using astrology. For those at her talk without a background in the art or a strong belief in it, some of the concepts were murky.

Costello says Shakespeare links Venus, which represents wealth and love, to Taurus and Libra. Venus and Taurus together can be especially concerned with money. So, when Shylock’s daughter leaves with his coins and gems he’s not sure what loss upsets him most as a result, Costello suggests.

Costello’s lecture explored the depths of astrology in Shakespeare’s texts as they inform themes and how characters behave.

Whether Shakespeare intended to imply such a tight connection between his characters and astrology is anyone’s guess.

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