Shakespeare Was Right About The Stars
On Libras, Determinism and Astrological Cynicism
My mom gave birth to me at 17 on 1st October 1998 at 2:38 AM. According to Astrosofa.com, this means I'm a zodiac sign Libra with a Leo Ascendant and a moon sign of Aquarius. I have no idea what any of this means.
My approach to Astrology is the same as my regard for anything that I have no passion for: don't yuck anyone's yum. It's not a poetic philosophy, but our world is laden with cruelty, judgements and harsh realities. Any belief that makes life a little more bearable for someone without hurting anyone else gets a pass in my book. That said, I'm a cynic. Astrology is simultaneously so vague as to be meaningless and so general as to be all-encompassing. It’s maddening. I've found a home in another cynic: William Shakespeare.
As a former English Literature student, I've spent an excessive amount of time combing through Shakespeare's writing, analyzing even the finest detail to find some hidden metapurpose. The 16th-century playwright and poet's body of work frequently juxtaposed the competing motifs of determinism and individual liberty. His sonnets and plays are littered with astrological imagery referencing the stars, the moon and the sky, musing about their impact on human life. He imagined his characters bound up in impossible situations, an internal war waging between fate and personal choice. He dared to ask the question: is our life predetermined, or is it governed by the decisions we make every day?
That is to say, how much of who we become is conditioned by factors outside of our control and are we merely outrunning the inevitable? Deference to the stars and the cosmos is certainly not a new phenomenon, although lately, it has reemerged en vogue. Astrology can be traced back to the 2nd century BCE and was central to the spiritual beliefs of Babylonian, Chinese, Indian, Roman, Greek and even, Aztec and Mayan civilizations. What did Shakespeare think about it, though?
The Stars are Ever-Changing and Unreliable.
“O, swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circle orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.”
- William Shakespeare, Romeo And Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2
In drafting this story, I participated in four sign quizzes, all claiming to ascertain my zodiac sign based on my responses to a host of circumstances. My reactions to the various stimuli were the same. I didn't fashion a new personality but tried to make my answers consistent across the board. The results of these quizzes are presented below.
Evidently, I am a Libra and equally possess the qualities of a Sagittarius, Leo, Aries, Capricorn, Pisces, Virgo and Cancer. This pronounced variability aligns with Shakespeare's analysis of the moon in the preceding quote from Romeo and Juliet. The moon and the stars are subject to constant change relative to the earth's rotation at any given moment. Promises and declarations of their effects on human life and our characteristics are therefore just as variable and unreliable. Our personalities are not fixed or set in stone as astrology would have you believe. Instead, we tend to fall in and out of different traits due to our upbringing and external and internal environments.
The Stars Can't Predict The Future.
"Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck,
And yet methinks I have astronomy.
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or season’s quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell …"
- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 14
Shakespeare forwards the point that astrology and devotion to the stars tell little of what the future holds. Instead, we make judgements and decisions based on our individual experiences, which differ from person to person. I'm a Libra (still unsure what that means), but I'm also a woman born of a teenage pregnancy into a low-income family home headed by a father with a gambling problem. I have witnessed emotional and physical abuse thrown at my mom, and as a child, I have even endured some of it myself. A fatalistic, astrological view would place me squarely in the pipeline to repeat the same cycle of abuse and trauma.
Instead, here I sit, writing this on track to complete university next year despite the environment in which I was thrust. Who would've thought? The nature of reality and the future is unknowable, and astrology tells us diddly about who we are and what we will become.
You Gain Nothing From Studying The Stars.
‘These earthly godfathers of Heaven’s lights,
That give a name to every fixed star,
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk and know not what they are.’
- William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost, Act 1, Scene 1
We tend to view the acquisition of knowledge as the be-all and end-all of human existence and regard those who don't possess knowledge with pity-filled indifference. Shakespeare outright rejects that notion here, suggesting that the lives of those guided by the stars are no better off than those who know not even themselves. There is an absolute bliss that comes from being unaware of the strings supposedly controlling one's actions, thoughts and personality. Locked into the intrigue of astrology and bound by the declarations of a zodiac sign, you inadvertently constrain yourself and limit your capacity for action.
The lane of ignorance to astrology, then, is more appealing. To quote another one of Shakespeare's famous plays, King Lear: "I see it feelingly." When uttered by the blind character, Gloucester, this refers to his perception of objects through touch rather than sight. However, in a metaphorical sense, this can refer to a real, visceral experience of one's life through action and exploration of the vastness of this mysterious world.
Our Shortcomings Are Our Own.
"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 on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical pre-dominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc'd obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on."
- William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 1, Scene 2
According to my star sign, as a Libra, I am indecisive, superficial, hypocritical, gullible and passive-aggressive. All true, depending on the day. Depending on the person. Depending on the circumstance. I'm also an overthinker, chronic procrastinator, prone to jealousy and tell the occasional white lie. However, I am not any of those things because of the coincidence of my birth. I periodically embody those characteristics because I am only human, and I choose to act that way. How many times have you heard someone blame a personal flaw on their zodiac sign? I'm a Sagittarius, so I'm always late. You know those Gemini are two-faced. Never date a Taurus. Aquarius people are so dramatic!
It's high time we admit that any less-than-savoury characteristics we possess are 100% on us. No one's holding a gun to our head, forcing us to act in a certain way. That's what Shakespeare's getting at in the passage above taken from King Lear. Sometimes, it is all too easy to punt the blame for our misfortunes and individual shortcomings onto some far-away force in the universe. In reality, we are not simply beasts of burden, powerless to resist the weight of the astrological personality data coded into us at birth. We are flawed, yes, and should take ownership of those flaws.
We Control Our Destiny.
‘Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.’
- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2
Quite possibly my favourite Shakespearean quote. John Green drew inspiration from it and created an entire novel entitled The Fault in Our Stars (also pretty good). Its original context is quite dark in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as it is said by Cassius to Brutus while egging him on to murder his once-friend, Julius Caesar. The underlying message is sound, though. We control who we are and who we will become. If nothing else, our own emotions and subsequent actions drive our lives rather than fate. We are free to choose. Maybe don't choose to kill your close friend and then fall on your sword as Brutus did. Perhaps you don't identify with the supposed qualities of your zodiac sign. As a Libra, I'm meant to be "charming, harmonious, diplomatic, easy-going and polished." I don't know that I fall into any of those categories. That's completely fine because I am free, just like you, to be anything I want to be.
Like I wrote at the beginning of this story, I'm a zodiac sign Libra with a Leo Ascendant and a moon sign of Aquarius. I still have little idea what any of this means, and that's okay. Despite my hearty cynicism for all things related to Astrology, I support people's right to believe in whatever they choose. Like Shakespeare, however, my criticisms run deep, and the overarching takeaway from this story (I hope) is that you have way more power and free will than you realize. Despite the premonitions of a birth chart and star sign calendar, your personality is a clay mould that you shape every day by your thoughts, emotions and actions.
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