Shakespeare and the Stars

by Priscilla Costello

Ibis Press, 2016.  www.ibispress.net

Paper – 527 pp.

Price – $29.95

This book comes out just in time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Its subtitle is “The Hidden Astrological Keys to Understanding the World’s Greatest Playwright.” And Costello will show you that many of Shakespeare’s plays are keyed to specific signs and planets.

Even if you’ve forgotten everything you ever knew about Macbeth, King Lear, or Shakespeare in general — or even if you avoided Shakespeare entirely as many people I know tried hard to do — this book will provide you with enough background to understand the plays, should you ever want to go back to them. In the first half of the book, she describes and synthesizes the major classical and Christian ideas of the time as well as relating those ideas to the modern psychological perspective on archetypes and symbols. She also thoroughly discusses the use of the Sun and the Moon as poetic metaphors, the other known planets, the elements, and the humors, showing how these fit in to why the characters are the way they are.

Next comes a look at six of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, including Macbeth, The Tempest, King Lear, and more. In each case, Costello clearly illustrates how one sign/planet plays a significant role in the plot, the characterization, and more. In some cases, she even shows synchronicities between the plays and events surrounding various performances. For example, prior to one production of Macbeth, the young actor playing Lady Macbeth became ill suddenly and actually died backstage. Before another, two actors suffered heart attacks and died, while the Third Witch collapsed on stage as she was dancing around her cauldron. Scorpio? Absolutely. And Mars, says Costello. I might have added Pluto here, even though Pluto was not discovered and is not a planet. The manipulative Lady Macbeth to me is far more Plutonian than Martian, even given the fact that Mars is in Scorpio. In contrast, for The Tempest, she does mention both Jupiter and Neptune, the traditional and modern rulers of Pisces.

This is a dense, meaty book with a substantial number of endnotes as well as a very thorough bibliography. It’s not a light book in either weight or content. And it’s probably not for everyone. If you have no desire to revisit Shakespeare, the brief synopses of each play may be enough for you if you choose to pick up this book at all. On the other hand, if you’re merely apathetic rather than averse to Shakespeare, this is precisely the sort of book that just might make you go back and have another look. Maybe the reason Shakespeare didn’t come alive when you studied it before is because you didn’t have someone like Costello as a guide to breathe life into it.

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