28-29 January 2021

With the Sun in Aquarius and the Moon in Leo, we learn from Shakespeare’s King Lear.

When Lear realises that his kingdom is plagued by hypocrisy, ingratitude, and vengeance, he rashly gives it away to his three daughters expecting that, in return, they will lovingly care for him during his retirement. In the process, he demands that his daughters describe the scope of their love for him and the two eldest comply effusively. 

But his favourite, Cordelia, is made of better stuff and so refuses to take part in such baseless competition. Angered by what he perceives as Cordelia’s disloyalty, Lear banishes her from the kingdom.

Stripped of his title and possessions – all of which had once comprised his identity, Lear is forced for the first time in his life to look honestly in the mirror and he doesn’t like the reflection. The awful truth is that the two daughters who had once easily flattered him, have now viciously turned against him and unable to bear this reality, Lear slowly goes mad.

Meanwhile, when news arrives that Cordelia has raised an army of French troops that have landed at Dover,  her wicked sisters ready their own troops and head off for Dover to confront her.

When Lear hears that Cordelia has been defeated, he takes hope in the promise that although now he and she will both be imprisoned, at least they will be united. However, when the order arrives, it is not for Cordelia’s imprisonment, but for her to be put to death, an order that is carried out moments before it is to be rescinded. 

Lesson:  Flattery is one thing but love is something altogether different. It is a fool that confuses one for the other.

26-27 January 2021

With the Sun in Aquarius and the Moon in Cancer, we learn from Shakespeare’s Portia in The Merchant of Venice.

Although feminine in every sense of the word,  Portia is also completely at home in a man’s world. A wonderfully balanced mix of virtue, honour, and respect for justice, she is one of Shakespeare’s most intelligent female characters. Little surprise then, when Antonio cannot repay the loan to Shylock and is called upon to forfeit a pound of flesh as agreed, Portia comes to his defence disguised as a lawyer.

Although she urges the moneylender for mercy, he insists on enforcing his original bargain. In that case, Portia argues, Shylock must stick to the strictest interpretation of the law. Convinced he has won the day, Shylock proceeds to enforce his contract but just as Antonio prepares to die, Portia plays her trump card: 

Take thou thy pound of flesh, but in cutting it, if thou dost shed one drop of Christian blood, thy land and goods are by the laws of Venice confiscate. 

 (4.I.308)

With this, friends and lovers reconcile and forgiveness triumphs over greed. 

Also with this, Shakespeare reminds us that is not fate, but we ourselves, who create both our troubles and our happiness. In this respect, whatever results from our decisions and actions, we have only ourselves to hold accountable. Likewise, Shakespeare reminds us that when we act with integrity by considering the impact of those decisions and actions on others, we do ourselves proud. The world may not be fair but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be. 

The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath; it is twice blessed; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

(4.I.183-97)

23-25 January 2021

With the Sun in Aquarius and the Moon in Gemini we learn from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra.

After the death of Anthony, Caesar tells Cleopatra he will treat her fairly but immediately, she sees through his deceit;

He words me, girls, he words me. 

5.2.191 

Yet what is a girl to do in the face of such treachery?

The only thing that she can do.

Go into self-imposed exile to seek advice from her inner wisdom, make sense of her own thoughts, dreams, and beliefs. 

With the Sun and Aquarius and the Moon in Gemini, it’s the perfect time for similar self-observation and self-reflection. Chances are that with this energy, you could use a moment of respite and calm. Although you may tempted to press ahead, you know that stress like that which you might be now suffering can lead to health problems. Likewise, you know that making key decisions without due and proper consideration is never a good idea.

Whatever you decide, everyday life will go on around you just as it did after Cleopatra made her own decision. Yet just because Shakespeare’s story, Anthony and Cleopatra, is a tragedy, does not mean that your story also has to be. Remember that hidden in the depths of darkness, the personal demons that hound you seem much larger than they are in the cold, hard light of day. Nonetheless, such monsters must be met and fought on their own ground and so it is necessary to take time out from your busy schedule to accomplish this. Sometimes just identifying what it is that is really bothering you may be all that’s necessary to open your eyes to a viable way of escape. 

Make not your thoughts your prisons.

5.2.185

21 – 22 January 2021

With the Sun in Aquarius and the Moon in Taurus we learn from Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Beatrice and Benedick have an on-going battle of words.

I had rather my dog bark at a cow than a man swear he loves me .

Beatrice (I.I.I33)

 I would my horse had the speed of your tongue

Bendick (I.I.I42)

Like Aquarius paired with Taurus, Beatrice is herself a difficult mix. Not only is she a pragmatist tempering honesty with humour and charm, but she’s also a worthy opponent for this verbal fencing with her beloved. Everyone knows that they love each other and that it’s only a matter of time before they too, figure that out. It’s because they harbour this badly concealed affection for each other that the plan to bring them at last, together – a plot of words –  works so well. 

The truth here is that saying what one doesn’t mean never helps. Likewise, it is unhelpful to refuse to say what one truly feels. In this play it takes the malicious plot to defame Beatrice’s friend and cousin, Hero, to knock Beatrice enough off balance so she’s able to see herself and her situation in a new light and take appropriate action.

It takes courage to let down one’s defences long enough to see reality. Likewise, to lower one’s unrealistic expectations of self and others is challenging.  It takes extraordinary courage to let go of pain suffered as the result of (perceived) past injustices. There is more than a hint Beatrice and Benedick may have enjoyed a prior romantic link that for some reason, turned sour.

Learning: Although it’s easier remain stuck in the web of one’s deceptions, it’s not nearly as rewarding as stepping forward into one’s truth.

18 – 20 January 2021

With the Sun in Capricorn and the Moon in Aries, we learn from Volumnia in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus

This formidable Roman matron is as smart, strong-willed, spirited, and heroic as any man. Yet as a woman, she is unable to pursue her political and military ambitions and so decants them into Coriolanus, her only child. Since his birth, her obsession has been his military glory and she is successful in her efforts by focusing her attention on her task to the exclusion of all else. 

Great stuff!

But remember, this play is considered a tragedy for good reason.

When famine sweeps Rome in the first decade of the 5th century BC, the civilians blame their rulers for hoarding food supplies. Not surprisingly, this gives Coriolanus the perfect opportunity to strut his military stuff, which he does par excellence. Although initially, the proud Coriolanus is feted by the good citizens of Rome as a hero, he has unwittingly made enemies powerful enough to ensure his and his mother’s ambitions come to naught. And so when unfairly he is later banished from Rome, like his mother, he powerfully turns his mind toward one goal: revenge. 

Again, Coriolanus struts his military stuff by raising an army strong enough to destroy Rome. The good citizens who once hailed and then degraded him are understandably, scared. Although his friends go to his camp to plead mercy, it is only his mother, Volumnia, who can persuade him to cease and desist and in doing so, she is hailed as the saviour of the city. But the powerful enemies of Coriolanus are not so easily placated and so after having been accused as a traitor, Coriolanus is murdered in a vicious frenzy.

Learning: Without enough ambition, we accomplish nothing but with too much ambition, we may lose everything.

16-17 January 2021

With the Sun in Capricorn and the Moon in Pisces, we learn from Hermione in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

Hermione is a gentle, faithful, loving wife and friend but this doesn’t stop her husband, Leontes, King of Sicilia, from wrongly believing that she is having an affair with Polixenes, his boyhood companion. As Leontes works himself into a jealous frenzy, Polixenes flees and Hermione is charged with adultery and sent to prison. When Hermione’s baby girl is born, Leontes sends the infant away, convinced it is not his child. 

Although Hermione speaks calmly and convincingly at her trial (and the Oracle of Delphi later confirms her innocence), Leontes remains unmoved. It is only when Hermione faints at the news that their son is dead and is later herself proclaimed dead by Paulina, her lady-in- waiting, that Leontes admits that his suspicions were unjustified.

Sixteen years pass.

Perdita, the daughter of Hermione and Leontes has been raised by a shepherd’s family in the Kingdom of Polixenes. When Prince Florizel, son of Polixenes, falls in love with Perdita but is not allowed to marry because of her low status, the couple go to Sicilia, hoping that Leontes will intercede with his old friend on their behalf. When everyone learns that Perdita is the long-lost daughter of Leontes then Paulina, the former lady in waiting to Hermione, invites everyone to her home and unveils a lifelike statue of Hermione made by a famous sculptor. As it turns out, the statue really is Hermione, who astonishingly remains alive. In the ensuing happy scene, past wrongs are forgiven and peace and hope reign for the future.

Learning: It’s never to late to make amends and you might well be amazed at the results.

14-15 January 2021

With the Sun in Capricorn and the Moon in Aquarius, we learn from Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice:

Shylock is a shrewd intelligent moneylender, a Jewish businessman who is good at making money. The risks he takes are never flights of fancy but instead non-nonsense and well-thought out. Although some might call him humourless, Shylock is honest and hard working. 

This makes the story all the more poignant when he comes up against the privileged, indulgent world of the wealthy heiress, Portia and her fanciful crowd. The plot progresses when, eager to help enable his friend to marry Portia, the antisemitic merchant Antonio takes out a loan from Shylock that eventually, he cannot repay. Portia and friends throw more and more money into a solution, but Shylock, who has stipulated that should Antonio, a man whom he has growing reason to dislike, not repay the money himself, Shylock will take payment instead in a pound of Antonio’s flesh.

As an outsider, Shylock loses his legal appeal to have his contract fulfilled, although it is due to Portia’s artifice, rather than proper application of the law. But it’s worse than that. As an outsider, Shylock is punished for even trying. Not only is he forced to give half his wealth to the state, but he is forced to convert to Christianity. If that isn’t enough, he must endure the betrayal of his daughter, Jessica, when she runs away after stealing from him and then herself, converts to Christianity. 

But the worst is that  considering their own ends to justify their means, Portia and friends fail to acknowledge what Shylock knows only well knows: beneath external appearances, all men – and women – are exactly the same.

Learning: ‘Believing’ oneself to be above others, does not make him or her thus.

13 January 2021

With the New Moon in Capricorn, we learn from Helena in Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well

Although from good family, our heroine accepts that the nobility of Bertram, her love interest, puts him beyond her reach. At least he is thus before she devises a clever plan to get her man. Having learned much about medicine from her father, a renowned physician, Helena drums up the confidence to go to Paris and cure the sick King. In payment, she asks for the husband of her choosing. Impressed by her sincerity and hard work, when returned to health, the King agrees. 

But Bertram, headstrong and not keen to marry, has other plans. As he leaves for Italy, he tells Helena that it is only when she obtains a ring from his finger and carries his child that he will be her husband, which by the way, he adds, will be never. A lesser woman than Helena might quit now, but quitting was never the name of her game. Besides, she believes that if she can just make him see that her character and intelligence count for more than having a noble birth, he will return and marry her. 

When Helena discovers the Bertram is wooing a Florentine woman, she follows the courage of her convictions and enlists the woman’s help in winning him back. And so it is through the same contrivance used in Measure for Measure, that it’s Helena, Bertram’s lawful wife, who shares his bed and obtains his ring. When at last Bertram realises his wrong-thinking and accepts Helena, she knows that it was through surmounting the obstacles one-by-one that she’s finally reached her desired end. 

Learning: Dignified confidence, strong principles, and high standards lead to the day when achievements are recognised and rewarded. 

10-12 January 2021

With the Sun in Capricorn and the Moon in Sagittarius, let’s take closer look at hope and faith.

Sagittarius is associated with Chiron, who was the wise king of the centaurs, an ancient breed of wizards and healers; half-man and half-horse. Accidentally wounded in the leg with a poisoned arrow, Chiron tried desperately to heal himself.

Although his inspired efforts spurred brilliant advances in science and medicine, he was unsuccessful in his primary task. Because he was half mortal, Chiron suffered unbearable agony. Because he was half immortal, Chiron was unable to die.

Sagittarius is the archetype of the philosopher who through expansion of his physical, intellectual, and geographical boundaries seeks something greater than himself. Even, if like Chiron, Sagittarius never quite reaches his goal, he brings to his fellow men and women, the precious gifts of faith and hope.

Neither sits easily with Saturn, the ruler of Capricorn. For Saturn, there is no sense in frittering away valuable time and money on brilliant medical and scientific advances because unlike for Chiron, death is an inevitability for us whether we like it or not.

Thus although the energy of today and tomorrow is seemingly one of insurmountable impasse, Paul Tillich, an important influence on Existentialism, offers a potential solution. He suggested that rather than faith having to do with dogma and doctrine, or even that numinous something which Rudolf Otto (The Idea of the Holy) reminds us we have chosen to label as God, faith is about the acceptance of the inevitability of things that we cannot understand, much less control.

Only in such acceptance, can we find the courage to stand strong in the face of our reality, which is not the same as that of Chiron.

8-9 January 2021

With the Sun in Capricorn and the Moon in Scorpio, it’s time to take another look at pain and suffering.

Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.

(Mark 10:37)

In this passage, James and John approach Jesus, asking him to do whatever they request. When Jesus asks what they want, they respond as would most who desire just reward to satisfy human ambitions. However, as Jesus later points out, that’s not how it works; at least not in this world. Pain and suffering, however unpleasant – however unjustified, are not only the sole path to greater (spiritual) rewards, but also an inescapable part of the human condition. 

Existentialist, Viktor Frankl, agrees. Through his work, known as logotherapy, Frankl helped people to make meaning of their lives, especially the not so pleasant parts – such as pain, death, and guilt (called the tragic triad). Frankl has argued that most people expect life to give meaning to them, but in reality, it’s the other way around: we are meant to give meaning to life. This is only to be accomplished when we’re always reaching for our absolute best and this can only be achieved when we accept with good grace the reality of that tragic triad.

In interpreting this, it may be helpful to remember (1) that Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and (2) logotherapy comes from the Greek ‘logos’, one of the most complex concepts of the Hellenistic world meaning nothing less that the very rhyme and reason of creation. 

He did not know that the new life would not be given him for nothing, that he would have to pay dearly for it, that it would cost him great striving and suffering.

Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment