Elizabethan Astrology And Fate

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During an outbreak of the plague in London in the late 16th century, the astrologer and physician Simon Forman remained in the city to tend the sick.

be wanting, even for every star, a peculiar value, virtue, and operation."

Shakespeare, whose plays were not written simply to delight the intelligentsia but to entertain the commoners too, knew that when he made an astrological joke everyone would understand it; and the plays are full of them. He also takes the modern view that, while the stars indicate a possible path, there is no compulsion on man to take it: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars But in ourselves that we are underlings." Those who claim Shakespeare inveighs against astrology might note that in his plays the only people who speak against it are his villains.

William Shakespeare's plays contain many references to the interplay of astrology, fate, and free will.

William Shakespeare's plays contain many references to the interplay of astrology, fate, and free will.

simon forman

Shakespeare very probably knew the most successful astrologer of his time, Simon Forman (1552-1611). The playwright's landlady in Silver Street, Mrs Mountjoy, was a client of Forman's, and the astrologer himself left accounts of attending Shakespeare's plays at the original Globe Theatre. Forman was a physician and astrologer, and had an enormous practice, advising clients from every stratum of society, including wealthy merchants, sea-captains, the gentry, and ordinary folk. Among his clients were the Countess of Essex and Emilia Lanier, who has been claimed as the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Looking at his case books, one realizes that very little has changed since he practised from his house on the Strand in London: in his notebooks he jots down questions he was asked - enquiries about missing pets and stolen goods, about the faithfulness of wives and mistresses, whether a woman will become pregnant or her husband hanged for stealing.

Forman also used astrology for his own ends, notably, drawing up his clients' charts to discover when they might be susceptible to seduction. Either he had the charm of a Casanova (for his face was against him), or he was very accurate. He was a sensualist, and the female client who remained unseduced was a rare creature indeed.

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