Pythagoras and Ptolemy perceived "the universe as being bound together by mathematico-musical principals" (Stolba 13). Pythagoras's idea of the harmony of opposites stems from the mathematical premise that "harmonia est discordia concors" (harmony is discordant concord),4 which also found expression in other disciplines such as architecture and music. Fundamentally a musical concept, harmonia est discordia concors refers to the division of something wholethe harmonic noteinto two distinguishable parts, while remaining audibly one note. For example, the notes separated by intervals of 1:2 [octave/diapason], 2:3 [fifth/diapente], and 3:4 [fourth/diatesseron] composed the mathematical basis of the concept of harmony based on discord.
By virtue of their essential harmonic properties, for Pythagoreans the four primary numbers1, 2, 3, and 4became archetypes connected to the basic laws of the universe. As elemental symbols referring to the interrelationship of the 4 elements, 4 directions, 4 seasons, and 4 humors, they gave rise to the metaphysical idea of cosmic harmony, or the music of the spheres (see Figure 2.3). This theory manifested itself from Plato's Timaeus (c. 340 BC) to the Pythagorean Nicomachus, and from Boethius (De institutione musica, 6th century) to the writings of Kepler (Harmonice Mundi, 1618): "Music on earth was a reflection of the greater 'music of the spheres' as harmony created by the relative distances and rates of motions of the planets; a harmony that was constantly present, if only people were sufficiently sensitive to hear it" (Yudkin 30).
Through the Pythagorean perception of the cosmos grew the idea of life as an integration of religion and science, mathematics and music, and medicine and cosmology. While McAlindon claims that Leo Spitzer "traces the origin of discordia concors (or concordia discors) to Heraclitus,"5 he also asserts that it was the "Empedoclean model of nature (both microcosm and macrocosm) which gave the concept its decisive numerological form and imprinted it in Western culture" (259n16) through mathematics, music, architecture, art, and finally, through literature.
Figure 2.3: The music of the spheres: a diagram of the Ptolemaic cosmos "giving the intervals meant to correspond to the distances between the heavenly bodies and their various speeds" (Roob 92). From an astronomical manuscript anthology, Salzburg. circa AD 820.
Paul Kocher states in Science and Religion in Elizabethan England that Elizabethan cosmologists subscribed to the Platonic/Pythagorean concepts of the "anima mundi as pictureable by geometrical figures and arithmetical proportions" (151). This further contributed to the idea of a harmonious, interdependent universe in which Pythagorean numerology symbolically manifested the divine truths of the universe (152). Weber concurs that this numerical view of the world was widespread enough during Shakespeare's day that Shakespeare "could not possibly have avoided it" (110). Weber also contends that Shakespeare "demonstrates a sensitivity to the symbolic value of numbers in several of his works"(111). Because Pythagorean number symbolism represents a unified view of the world, as metaphor, it also contributed to the fundamental unity of Shakespeare's work.
Medieval and Renaissance writers made substantial metaphoric use of mathematical concepts. In Noble Numbers, Subtle Words: The Art of Mathematics in the Science of Storytelling, Barbara Fisher states that "when mathematical elements are strongly present in a literary text, they contribute a necessary dimension to its language," to "formally shape the structure," to "inform a text in singular ways as agents and counteragents, as simple devices or transcendent abstractions," and to "the development of character" (11). Pythagorean numerology as metaphor constructed a figurative, internal harmony within a text via symbolic numerical relationships. In "Midsummer", the "noble art of glossing numbers" (Peck 58), or reading the play's archetypal number symbolism, reveals the play's underlying harmony. The numerical metaphors are ultimately connected to the cosmic/alchemical reading of the play.
Shakespeare contains the chaotic action of "Midsummer" in the context of numeric harmony. The overall action of the play cycles back upon itself, represented in the androgynous number 1 (or monad), meaning "self-generating, without beginning, without end" (Peck 59). The play begins in Athens and spirals back to the same beginning, to begin yet another cycle, but in a different sphere or "key" (I.i.18).
The overriding conflict of the play is manifested in the feminine number 26 in the opposition of feminine/masculine, and under-girded in the oppositions of day/night and reason/imagination. In Pythagorean numerology, 2 is significant of the tension of universal dualism,7 "echo, reflection, conflict and counterpoise or contra-position; of the moon as opposed to the sun"(Cirlot 232). According to Peck, 2 (dyad) also connotes "other, the many; shadows as opposed to reality; corruptibility, mutability, division, disintegration, flux; divided mind, cupidity, self-pity" (60): in "Midsummer", these are the characteristics which subsume the lovers as the conflict between the feminine/masculine is engaged in the forest. The mortal world of the court is shadowed, echoed, or counterposed by the immortal world of the fairies, and the lovers' story is parodied by the rustics' play of Pyramus and Thisbe. The convention of doubling characters in productions of "Midsummer" (i.e., Theseus/Oberon, Hippolyta/Titania, rustics/fairies, Philostrate/Puck, Egeus/Quince) also contributes to the multivalent linguistic connotation of chaos inherent in the number 2.
The number 4 is a number of wholeness and completion. It refers to the quaternary of the 4 elements, 4 seasons, 4 directions, 4 humors, 4 lunar stages, 4 conditions (hot, cold, moist, dry). The number 4 is also connected to the earth, the human situation, and rational organization (Cirlot 232), in addition to "balanced opposition, [and] harmony" (Peck 60). While the title of "Midsummer" suggests an elapsing time period of one night, Theseus indicates that the action is to cover "four happy days" (I.i.2), and the duration of the action itself is three days, culminating at midnight, the beginning of the fourth day:
Day 1: I; Athens
Day 2: II, III, IV.i.1-101; the woods
Day 3: IV.i.102-IV.ii.43; the woods at dawn; V, Athens
Day 4: V.i.349, Athens; midnight, the lovers depart to bed
Shakespeare presents 4 distinct worlds through the characters in the play: that of the royal court of Athens, that of the fairies, that of the 4 Athenian lovers, and that of the irrepressible rustics. Shakespeare also differentiates these worlds through the diversity of poetic language: blank verse is associated with Theseus and Hippolyta in the courtly world; couplets with the lovers; lyrical measures with the fairy world; and prose with the rustics (Young 66). In the final divertissements offered to Theseus for the wedding feast, Pyramus and Thisbe is the 4th entertainment offered, then chosen for performance. There are 4 couples in the masculine/feminine struggle. It should be noted here that the 4 couples add up to 8, which is the symbol of regeneration or transformation (used as an emblem for baptism in the Middle Agesa symbol of spiritual death and rebirth). Because of its shape, 8 also "symbolizes the eternally spiraling movement of the heavens," as well as denoting that the "planetary influences have been overcome" or reconciled (Cirlot 233). Peck states that 8 is a sign of justice (62), which has certainly been graciously performed on Hermia's behalf, as her penalty for filial rebellion is dismissed and she is allowed by Theseus to marry her "true" love, Demetrius.
There are 6 townspeople in the play: Quince, Bottom, Flute, Snout, Starveling, and Snug. 6 is symbolic of "ambivalence and equilibrium [. . .] of the human soul. It is associated with trial and effort, and has been shown to be related to virginity" (Cirlot 233). This human aspect is very applicable to the Athenian rustics, for they are portrayed as the salt of the earth, the 'everyman' with whom we can all relate at some point or level. The significance of their trials and efforts in the production of Pyramus and Thisbe is a source of comedy and the substance of their actions in the play's plot. Oblivious to their own efforts, the rustics produce in all honesty, innocence, sincerity, and ignorance a love-tragedy which at one and the same time parodies, mocks, and warns of the tyrannies of love. Peck also states that "6 is the number of fruitful marriage" as well as virginity, representing the 6 lovers who wed (61).
At the end of the 3rd day and the beginning of the 4th, the ultimate reconciliation of the once discordant lovers is completed by the stroke of midnight, at 12 o'clock, as the lovers "to bed" (V.i.344), with the fairies in attendance to "bless" their beds and progeny (V.i.390). 12 is a product of the multiples of 3 and 4 which add up to the "perfect" number of 7, symbolizing the completion of a cycle. 12 is also "symbolic of cosmic order and salvation. It corresponds to the number of the signs of the Zodiac; [. . . ] linked to it are the notions of space and time, and the wheel or circle" (Cirlot 233-4). The circle, or mandala, is an archetypal symbol of wholeness and unity (bringing us back to the monad, 1) that has been achieved on earth, as in heaven, or in alchemical language, "that which is below is to be made like that which is above" (Singer 96).
It has been postulated by Gary Jay Williams that Shakespeare used a general cast of 16 actors, 12 men and four boys (another multiple of 4, as well as 6 and 1 adding up to 7) as the basic ensemble for his productions (34). In "Midsummer", Williams asserts, this would have been accomplished by double-casting the actors.
While Pythagorean number symbolism manifests an underlying unity in "Midsummer" through Shakespeare's metaphoric allusions, it also reveals the nature of alchemical transformation within the play's cosmology.
Alchemical Number Symbolism
In the alchemical cosmos, each sign of the Zodiac represents one of the stages of the alchemical process,8 and each of the planets is associated with a primary element.9
One of the primary images of the opus alchymicum is geometric in nature and revolves around the problem of the squaring of the circle (Figure 2.4).
Figure 2.4: According to Jung, "the 'squaring of the circle' represents the 'archetype of wholeness'" (Jung, Archetypes 388): "All things do live in the three, but in the four they merry be" (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy 125); or, in the case of "Midsummer", in the four they married be. Note the opposition between the masculine/Sol, and feminine/Luna, in the union of the microcosm/heaven, with the macrocosm/earth. Jamsthaler, Viatorium spagyricum. 1625.
It is through this mystical/mathematical process in which the original chaotic unitythe prima materia or "gross and impure One" (the monad) is broken down into the four elements, which then recombine into a "pure and subtile One":
The production of 1 from 4 is the result of a process of distillation and sublimation which takes the so-called "circular" form: the distillate is subjected to sundry distillations so that the "soul" or "spirit" shall be extracted in its purest state. [. . .] The spirit [. . .] is the ternarius or number 3 which must first be separated from its body, and after the purification of the latter, infused back into it. Evidently the body is the 4th. (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy 124-5)
According to Edward Edinger, the "Mandala Fountain" (Figure 2.5) from the 1550 alchemical text, Rosarium philosophorum, illustrates the elemental number symbolism in the alchemical process:
The images in the picture are cosmic (stars, sun and moon), inorganic (represented by the 4 elements and the vapors) and reptilian, [. . .] built into it is the symbolic sequence 1, 2, 3, 4. There's one fountain in the center but just above it are two representations of duality: the sun and the moon on the one hand, and the two-headed serpent on the other. The number three is built into the picture by the three spouts in the fountain [. . .] The quaternity is represented by the four stars in the corners symbolizing the four elements. (41-3)
Figure 2.5: "The Mandala Fountain": the sun (Sol) and moon (Luna) are in opposition, and the dragon at the top, center of the figure, represents the dualistic figure of Mercurius. (Edinger, Coniuncto 41). Rosarium philosophorum. 1550.
The alchemical sequence of 1, 2, 3, 4, is known as the "axiom of Maria Prophetissa," in which she cries, unrestrainedly, "1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 3, and out of the 3rd comes the 1 as the 4th"10; Maria's treatise goes back to some of the earliest alchemical and Gnostic teachings (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy 314n), and her "almost bestial shriek," interestingly enough, "points to an ecstatic condition" (160n), a transcendent state achieved in both psychic and physical coniunctio.
In "Midsummer", the marriage of the three 3 couples cannot occur until unity between the 4th (Oberon and Titania) is restored. Thus, we have the significance of the number 3, symbolic of "spiritual synthesis, the formula for the creation of the worlds
[. . .] the harmonic product of the action of unity upon duality [. . .] associated with the concepts of heaven" (Cirlot 232), striving for completion in the psychic and physical coniunctio of all 4 couples. In "Midsummer", the transforming paradigm from chaos to order, or the union of opposites, is represented by a numerical reading: from the original 1 (prima materia, chaos, monad), comes 2 (dyad, duality, opposition), represented by 3 couples (Hermia/Demetrius; Helena/Lysander; Hippolyta/Theseus), out of the 3rd couple, Hippolyta/Thesesus, comes the union of their inner counterpartOberon/Titaniaas the 4th couple, whose reconciliation completes the opus magnum.
The concept of "oneness" in the medieval mind, according to Peck, points to cosmology as a foundation of ethics. A person "misnumbered" or "out of all compass" is one who is in error, who is "out of kilter with the universe," and literally, "out of tune" (Peck 30-1). The alchemists represented physical/spiritual wholeness in the context of the mystical/mathematical influence of the quaternity (Figure 2.6).
Figure 2.6: The alchemical quaternity: "Through the circumlatory transformation of the elements and humors, the opposites are united" (Roob 650). The alchemists represented the ideal form of wholeness in the figure of the androgynous hermaphrodite. The woodcut stresses the medical, healing aspect of alchemy on the human body. L. Thurneisser, Quinta Essentia. 1574.
The idea of "oneness" also leads us to the notion of the universe as a circle, or mandala, unifying and governing the relationship between the "above" and "below."
As we have seen, the Ptolemaic system of the universe configures a world with man, the microcosm, integrally related to the cosmos, or macrocosm. The Anatomical Manilluminated by Pol de Limbourg in the Duc de Berry's Très Riches Heures, is a wonderful example of the medieval conception of man/woman in relation to their universe: the hermaphroditic figure is dualistic yet one in the center, with the spheres of the heavens in harmony revolving around them (Figure 2.7). The illustration is rich in numerical symbolism, and Pol de Limbourg uses the zodiac as the basis of the illustration's unifying mandala, in which, according to Peck,
Man's miniature universe corresponds to the greater universe, as the 12 signs of the zodiac influence the 12 parts of the body. [. . .] The artist uses the 4 corners of his world, that is to say, the page to delineate the 4 conditions (hot, cold, moist, dry), the 4 humors, and each of the 4 seasons, thereby accounting for another correspondent 12 that, along with the heavenly mansions, frame and at least partly govern man. [. . .] its 360 degree circularity implies man's containment within the Universal One (8 being a return to 1). [. . .] the artist has depicted the whole of the 4-square world with all its oppositions of macrocosm and microcosm symmetrically arranged and, though various, made equable through numbered correspondence. [. . .] Its variety delights, but the highest pleasure it affords lies in the mathematical equability of its parts. The picture's meaning is its aesthetic unity. (Peck 19, 21)
Thus, Anatomical Man represents a cosmic, transcendent vision of numerical unity, illustrating the perfect wholeness of man/woman in relationship to the universe. According to Jung, the basic psychological motif of the mandala is that of a "center of personality, a kind of central point within the psyche, to which everything is related, by which everything is arranged, and which is itself a source of energy" (Archetypes 357).
Figure 2.7: Anatomical Man. Plate 14. Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry. Jean Longnon and Raymond Cazelles. Musée Condée, Chantilly, France. 1413-16.
Pol de Limbourg has illustrated a perfect conception of the alchemical marriage of opposites in the androgynous figure of the Anatomical Man. According to Singer, the cosmic coniunctio results in a "dissolution of gender identity" as the combination of the masculine and feminine energies produces the "philosophical gold" embodied in the archetype of the hermaphrodite, which exists as a potential of being for every human being who undertakes the quest of bringing [the opus magnum] into realization. In the life of the individual, androgyny is a goal of the person's individuation. (236)
The androgynous figure thus represented in medieval iconography (as in Figures 2.6-7) refers not only to cosmic harmonies, but also to psychological harmony. McAlindon asserts that " Not hierarchical order, but a fine balance or mingling which maintains both unity and distinction is the psychic ideal" (19) in the integration of the dualistic macrocosm/microcosm that represents the alchemical marriage of opposites. This mystical marriage of opposites in Pol de Limbourg's figure is also manifested within the unifying mandala, or circle.
The circle also corresponds to the changing of the seasons in a cyclical perception of life. This concept of time is archetypal, and serves as a referent across ages, from the ancient world through Shakespeare's time to the twentieth century. A modern example of this is seen in Marc Chagall's painting Homage to Apollinaire (Figure 2.8), in which the cosmic man/woman is centered in the midst of a circular pattern, also amidst numeric references within the spheres:
Figure 2.8: Homage to Apollinaire. Marc Chagall, 1911-12. © 2001 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.
The Seasons: Cycles of Transformation
The cosmic mandala serves as a paradigm for the progression of the seasons, which also display dualities (winter/summer; spring/fall). These oppositions operate not only as functions of time, but forces of nature. This natural force is wrapped up in Shakespeare's use of "time-lapse" as metaphor in his comedies which "either generate or resolve their plots by means of transformation," using devices such as "doubling" or are constructed upon "the exploitation of similitude and/or arithmetic progression" (Cox 9). Cox asserts that in Shakespeare's transformation plays "time's progress may be circular," based upon seasonal myths and changes, and as such, using the lapse of time as metaphor within a play represents "the process by which most people actually achieve some degree of self-knowledge" (15), which occurs in "Midsummer" as the lovers make the rite of passage from singleness to marriage.
Peck states that for the medieval individual, "personal life [was] temporally contained and connected with the ordered world around it" (35). This means that his/her personal sense of time was not just simply linearone day following after anotherbut also cyclical as he/she connected to the "continuum of history" through religious ritual, living "within eternity" as the church year celebrates death and rebirth through the retelling of its history based on the lunar, cyclic calendar (35). This connection to ritual, so ordered "in conjunction with astronomical cycles and configurations" (34), gave another level of complexity to the medieval perception of time. Peck continues:
Time and space are for the medieval metaphysician inseparable concepts. One cannot exist without the other. To explore the soul and its motions the medieval philosopher frequently relies upon geometry and arithmetic, partly because of the peculiar nature of the soul as an eternal entity caught in time. [. . .] In one's soul searching, time can be comprehended only by turning simultaneously inward and outward until time and self become both circumscript and uncircumscript by center and circumference. (38-9; 40)
The archetypal cosmic relationship Shakespeare presents in "Midsummer", however, is in opposition, rather than harmony. Shakespeare seems to employ chaotic time rather than orderly, circumscript time within the construct of a dreamwhich indicates a different state, reality, or time. The "dream drama" was perhaps suggested by Lyly's Prologue to his Woman in the Moon, written ten years before "Midsummer", "remember all is but a poet's dream, the first he had in Phoebus' holy bower; but not the last, unless the first displease"(Horwood 8).This dream atmosphere prevails in the woods to which the lovers escape, resulting in the suspension of time as we know it. As Orlando says to Rosalind in As You Like It, "There's no clock in the forest!" (Shakespeare, III.ii.319). According to Campbell, dreamtime, in the mythic sense, constitutes "a time that is no time" (42). Horwood believes that in employing 'the Dream' as a piece of poetical machinery, Shakespeare links himself to his mediaeval predecessors, whose conventional allegories knew no other medium than that made familiar to them by their favourite 'Romaunt'a device derived by Lorris from the quaint dream-book to which Chaucer often refers, 'Scipionis Somnium,' by 'an author hight Macrobes.' (8)
The shadowy woodland reflects the lack of harmony and the lack of unity which is literally troubling the landscape through the central characters' antagonism towards one another.
The interrelationship of macrocosmic seasonal changes with the microcosm of humanity in "Midsummer" is represented in Shakespeare's use of the temporal rites of '"Midsummer",' as well as the bacchanalian 'rites' of courtly love associated with the allusions to May Day within the play, and their consequential effect upon not only the lovers, but also the internal movement of the play.
In the Middle Ages, calendars were based upon lunar cycles and followed the agricultural year. In the earliest representations of spring in the Middle Ages, the warrior was seen astride his horse, ready for battle. This image usually coincided with March and the review of troops in honor of Mars, the god of war. The tradition changed with Pepin the Short's reforms after 755 AD, when military reviews were transferred to the month of May. An interesting iconic change also ensued in the calendrical representation of the knight as the Middle Ages progressed, and courtly love flowered. From the twelfth century onward, the knight no longer carries conventional weapons, but instead bears flowers (Figure 2.9). This change in imagery suggests the engagement of the battle of the sexes in the developing rites of courtly love (Pérez-Higuera 183-190).
Figure 2.9: May knight with flowers, versus a weapon, in hand. (Pérez-Higuera 189). Frescoe from Notre Dame de Pritz, Laval, France. 11th-13th centuries.
Figure 2.10: May knight, with falcon and Les Très Riches Heures. Plate Bedford Book of Hours. 1425.
Figure 2.11: Gemini lovers. Les Très Riches Heures. Plate 14. 1413-1416.
Other iconic changes in reference to the month of May are seen in the Bedford Book of Hours (1425) in which the knight sports a falcon, in the courtly hunt or pursuit of love (Figure 2.10). Beside him is an illustration of "Gemini," the twins (Pérez-Higuera 58, 80). In this representation, as well as in that from Anatomical Man in Les Très Riches Heures (Figure 2.11), the aspect of the Gemini duo is that of lovers versus twins, due to the tradition that the month of May was associated with lovers.
Figures 2.12-13: (Plate 6, May [left]; Plate 9, [right] August). The scene for May depicts the court making its way into the forest with hunting dogs, to engage in the rites of May. The August scene shows the couples emerging from the forest with their dogs. Les Très Riches Heures. 1413-1416.
Chaucer often used the month of May as a metaphor for lovers (North 295), in which lovers foraying into the woods are accompanied by hunting dogs (as seen in Plates 6 and 9 of Les Très Riches Heures, Figures 2.12 and 2.13). North contends, "Traditional May rituals had much in common with others associated with (old) "Midsummer" Eve (the eve of 24 June), Shrove Tuesday (when the rays of Mars and Venus touched on 14 February 1385, it was Shrove Tuesday), and other feasts too, even Whitsuntide" (519; Figures 2.12-13).
The significance of these festive occasions seems to depend upon the repeating astronomical schema when Mars and Venus appear together. In early May, this can occur in the sign of Taurus (296). In "Midsummer", the Taurean imagery of the bull is directly connected to Theseus, or the masculine, via the mythological story of Theseus's encounter with the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Through the Thesean legend, the escapades of the lovers in the woods have also been compared to the Minotaur's labyrinth, replete with its representation for a-maze-ment and blurring of time within its twisting and turning pathways. In the alchemical process, the alchemical couple makes its spiritual journey through the "labyrinth of material transformation" (Figure 2.14), and this process begins in May, in the zodiacal sign of Taurus (Roob 37, 299).
Figure 2.14: The alchemical couple: note the bulls in the lower left hand corner, at the entrance of the labyrinth, or the 'work' (Roob 37). Also note the opposition, again, of the sun and moon, Sol /Luna. G.van Vreeswyk, De Goude Leeuw, Amsterdam. 1676.
Interestingly enough, the symbol of Taurus, or the bull, is also associated with the feminine. June Singer in Androgyny: The Opposites Within, discusses the pre-patriarchal, matriarchal associations of Taurus with the gynocracy, as a "strong sex symbol. It traditionally represented the male principle in a female-dominated world. The horns, a powerful sex symbol also, adorned many of the temples and shrines associated with the worship of the Great Goddess" (41). In many medieval calendars and representations, Taurus is cut off below the waist, carries his head low and paws the earth like an ox, symbolizing fertility. Perceived as an ox in matriarchal societies, the bull's fecund powers served as a maternal aspect, and symbolized sacrifice, self-denial and chastity (Cirlot 34). According to Singer, however, donning ancient artifacts of the masculine, warrior Amazons were symbolized by the wearing of "hunter's garb" as well as the "theriomorphic11 appearance of a horned bitch," which took its shape from the horns of Taurus. The feminine aspect of fertility is subsumed in the aggressive masculine aspect of the warrior, and signifies a woman who, "rather than integrating the 'masculine aspects that could make her strong, as woman, she identifies with the power aspect of the 'masculine'" (46). As the matriarchal societies became replaced by patriarchal rule, the maternal aspect of Taurus the bull shifted to the masculine, from Luna to Sol.
Sol et Luna
As we have seen so far in alchemical imagery (Figures 2.4-5, 2.14), the relationship of the sun to the moon is a metaphoric construct of the masculine/feminine opposition. In "Midsummer", the most immediate representatives of this imagery would be Theseus, represented by the sun, Sol, and Hippolyta, represented by the moon, Luna. Other oppositions are also embodied in the Sol/Luna opposition: reason/imagination; fire/water; hot, dry/wet, moist; gold/silver. Alchemically opposite, it would take nothing short of a miracle to effect the consummation of their relationship. Psychologically, the play begins in the light of day, representing consciousness, and descends into the depths of the shadows of a dark, moonless night, representing the unconscious. The coniunctio, or alchemical marriage, occurs in the reconciliation of opposites of Sol with Luna (Figure 2.15).
Figure 2.15: The alchemical marriage: Sol and Luna. (Jung, Transference 75). Rosarium philosophorum. 1550.
According to Marie-Louise von Franz,
The uniting of the masculine with the feminine the coniunctio does not take place in the full but in the new moon, which means it takes place in the darkest night where not even the moon shines, and in this ultimately dark night, sun and moon unite. [. . . ] When you are completely out and consciousness is gone, then something is born or generated; in the deepest depression, in the deepest desolation, the new personality is born. When you are at the end of your tether, that is the moment when the coniunctio, the coincidence of opposites, takes place. (162-3)
In "Midsummer", once the coniunctio has occurred at the 'dark of the moon' (see Figure 2.16), only then does the new day dawn, signaling a new cycle of psychic harmony and the renewal of life.
Figure 2.16: "The Sun and its Shadow Complete the Work" (Roob 79). M. Maier, Atalanta fugiens, Oppenheim. 1618.
While the sun represents the dominant force of the medieval universe, the stage of the new moon (when it is invisible in the night sky) represents renewal and regeneration. According to Mark Stavig, in "the moon's complexity as a metaphor, it can be associated with chastity and fickleness, love and infatuation, growth and sterility, orderly control and madness, ultimate reality and illusion, and good and evil" (40). Along with the constellations of the "Midsummer" sky, we now turn our attention to the lunar aspect of "Midsummer"'s astronomy.
The Astronomy of "A "Midsummer" Night's Dream"
In reviewing the performance history of "Midsummer" and examining its sources, one theme seems to eclipse all others: the influence of the heavens in the lunacy of love that occurs during the "Midsummer" night's eve revels. Critic F. C. Horwood states that "the lovers illustrate a theme rather than themselves, the capriciousness and transforming power of love. [. . .] An ideal set of circumstances is thus devised for exhibiting the follies of love, while those placed in them are comically unaware of the fact" (17-18). Robin Phillips's Stratford, Ontario production of 1976-7, which was conceived from Queen Elizabeth's point of view, also expresses this particular thought, "while Elizabeth could entertain fantasies about the lunacy of love, she could not accept its transfiguring power" (Warren 64). Ernest Schanzer also concurs with this thesis stating, "love-madness is the central theme" of the play (Muir 27; Saunders 197). Schanzer also states, "Shakespeare creates unity of atmosphere chiefly by flooding the play with moonlight" (29). Norrie Epstein in The Friendly Shakespeare also refers to Shakespeare's "moon-drenched fairy world" (111), and the title of Gary Jay Williams' recently published analysis of "Midsummer"'s performance history, Our Moonlight Revels, also invokes the prevailing thought of the moon's presence and influence in the play.
These allusions to moonlight, however, are technically erroneous if one considers the phase of the moon to which Shakespeare refers during the action of the play. Note in Figure 2.17, that when the moon is new (the 13th through the 16th of this particular month) it becomes invisible to the human eye, and takes the shape of a crescent during its waning and waxing.
Figure 2.17: The monthly phases of the moon, showing the moon's invisibility at the stage of the new moon, the 13th-16th. Reproduced by permission. © 1999, Astronomy.
This discovery is significant, for in an examination of over four hundred years of the "Midsummer"'s performance historyas well as in the art depicting its storyit seems evident the actual astronomy of the play has been misconstrued: the action of the play has been primarily staged to occur under the light of a full moon. In Our Moonlight Revels, Williams notes the correct astronomical phase of the moon in the play which technically places most of the play in darkness, yet only a few pages later he states that the wood is "moonlit" (7, 24). In his text on script analysis, Backwards and Forwards, David Ball states,
The moon is not in the title of A "Midsummer" Night's Dream, [. . .] but reference to the moon occurs every few lines from the play's first words to the last. [. . .] The moon is always presentbut why? [. . .] With such an extended image, the answer is lengthy. But begin with, say, one obvious quality: what is the nature of the moon's light? [. . .] The moon image evokes (by nature of its strange, shape-altering light) illusion, change, indefinite form and natureand much more. This scratches the surface of what is evoked by moon imagery: romance, mystery, magic, fear, distance, lunacyand more still. [. . .] A "Midsummer" Night's Dream with no moon is like a day with no sun. (74)
With such an emphasis on moon imagery, directors have mistakenly staged the play under the light of a full moon, when in the beginning of the play the text indicates that it is new, or invisible. Four days is the time allotted by Shakespeare until the next moon appears, as indicated by Theseus:
Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour draws on apace;
Four happy days bring in another moon,
But, O, methinks how slow this old moon wanes,
She lingers my desires like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man's revenue. (I.i.2-4)
to which Hippolyta replies,
Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then, the moon, like to a silver bow, new bent in heaven,
Shall behold the night of our solemnities. (I.i.7-11; emphasis added)
. . . foreshadowing the mythic dreamscape of the play as well as informing us of the moon's current phase, which is severely in the wane. Hippolyta's comments delineate the actual stage of the moon in its monthly cycle: between the waning moon and the new moonwhen there is an absence of moonlight in the night skywhose light is that emitted by the starry constellations. The new moon does not appear until the wedding feast at the end of the play when the crescent moon figuratively appears in the character of Moonshine, who graces the marital feast. In "Midsummer", the moon is an intrinsic, essential factor in the "course of true love [which] never did run smooth" (I.i.134). The moon serves as a symbol for transformation by virtue of its monthly phases in which it allegorically progresses through the life cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, yet its influence in the play is symbolically active rather than literally presentrecognizing that much of the play's action occurs under the starry shadows of the night.
According to Cumberland Clark in Shakespeare and Science, Shakespeare metaphorically refers to the moon in many ways. Its mythological archetype is Diana, goddess of the hunt who was cold, modest and unmoved by love (112). Shakespeare uses the moon as a metaphor for the chaste warrioress, Hippolyta, who is cool in her affections towards Theseus: she views the new moon self-referentially, warrior-like, as a "silver bow, new bent" (I.i.10), which also reveals the attitude (as Theseus's conquered rival) with which she is facing, in her mind, the "solemnities" (I.i.11)not the festivitiesof her marriage to Theseus. The waning energy of her moon is negative, cold and baneful: it is this aspect of lunar energy that is carried into the interior dreamscape of the play.
Clark contends that Shakespeare understood the shadowy nature of the moon by virtue of the essence of its light that was merely reflected by the sun (105). As such, the moon served as a symbol for thieves working under the cloak of its shadowy light (111-2). Quince's entreaty to the rustics for a clandestine meeting in the "palace wood, a mile without the town, by moonlight" (I. ii.94-5) to rehearse their play for Duke Theseus may not necessarily be a statement that the moon will be up and shining, but perhaps of the time of day they are meeting as well as the allusion to conspiracy which the moon symbolically suggests. The moon's negative influence is further manifested early in "Midsummer" when Egeus accuses Lysander of stealing his daughter's (Hermia's) affections:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung
With faining voice verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy [. . .]
With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart. (I.i.30-32, 36)
Lysander and Hermia invoke "Phoebe," a surname of Diana given to the moon (Clark, 114), as a co-conspirator in their secret, illicit affair and flight from Athens:
Tomorrow night, when Phoebe doth behold
Her silver visage in the wat'ry glass,
Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass
(A time that lovers' flights doth still conceal)
Through Athens' gates have we devis'd to steal. (I.i.209-213)
Once they have passed the threshold of Athens' gates, the lovers cannot turn back. Their flight propels them towards the darkening woods. While the lovers may have previously "wooed" by the light of a full moon, their hopes will soon be dashed by a deceptive moonwhose influence in absentia relentlessly leads them ever deeper into the throes of lovers' lunacy. The ritual journey of the lovers through the wood serves as a processual metaphor for the reconciliation of opposites between Mars and Venus, leading to a broader view of the cosmos as a uniting and transforming force.
Theseus and Hippolyta manifest this dualistic struggle by light of day, and Oberon and Titania veiled by the darkness of night. Because Shakespeare's plays were performed primarily during the daytime, references to "moonlight" by Oberon and Titania also set the time of a particular scene at night. In addition to giving a sense of time, Oberon's bellicose greeting to Titania, "Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania" (II.i.60), also further suggests the negative aspect of the moon's influence. Clark states, "From lunar control of the tides came the notion that the moon also ruled the rain clouds" (107). This is evident in the on-going argument between the fairy king and queen that has resulted in an unseasonable deluge:
Therefore, the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air, [. . . ]
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original. (II.i.103-4; 115-118)
At the height of their argument, Titania offers Oberon a proposal for reconciliation:
If you will patiently dance in our round,
And see our moonlight revels, go with us;
If not, shun me and I will spare your haunts. (II.i.140-142)
The proposal juxtaposes Titania's domain, "our round . . . our moonlight [Diana's] revels" against those of Oberon, "your haunts." Their opposition embroils the atmosphere with their contention. There is no moonlight tonight in this kingdom, only shadows of discontent.
When Titania awakens and is enthralled with Bottom, who has been transformed into an ass by Puck, she asks her fairies to
[. . .] lead him to my bower.
The moon, methinks, looks with a watery eye,
And when she weeps, weeps every little flower,
Lamenting some enforced chastity. (III.ii.90-3)
From Titania's description of the moon, it may be about to rain, and so she seeks shelter for her revels with Bottom. This further confirms the lack of visible moonlight during the "Midsummer" madness in the forest. The weeping, or sadness, of the moon is again related to chastity: an "enforced chastity," perhaps in reference to Titania's self-imposed abstinence from Oberon's bed in lieu of her love for her changeling boy, or to perhaps Hippolyta's coldness towards Theseus.
When Oberon sees that Puck has fouled his intentions to bring Demetrius and Helena together, Oberon determines to set matters back on course and orders Puck to
[. . .] overcast the night;
The starry welkin cover thou anon
With drooping fog, as black as Acheron. (III.ii.355-8)
Here we see that Oberon makes no reference either to the moon or moonlight (both are absent), but only to the starry canopy.
In Act III, as the Athenian rustics begin their rehearsal for the Duke's play, Quince announces to the company that "Pyramus and Thisbe meet by moonlight," to which the question is raised,
Doth the moon shine that night we play our play? (III.i.48)
Bottom, in response, calls for . . .
A calendar, a calendar! Look in the almanac: find out moonshine, find out moonshine! (III.i.49, 50)
Quince, after consulting an astronomical almanac (which was widely available and used by the masses during Shakespeare's time [Papp 38]), then affirms,
Yes it doth shine that night, (II.i.51)
in the phase of the new moon, the crescent, which Hippolyta previously mentioned (I.i.9,10). In Bottom's mind, it seems necessary that the great window must be opened in order to have moonlight for the lovers, and he replies,
Why, then may you leave a casement of the great chamber window, where we play, open; and the moon may shine in at the casement. (III.i.52-54)
However, Quince, realizing that there will not be much light from the new, crescent moon, insists,
Ay, or else one must come in with a bush of thorns and a lantern, and say he comes to disfigure or to present the person of Moonshine. (III.i.55-56)
for the moon will be just a sliver, being new, and will not produce enough light necessary for the mood and theme of the story. Thus, as the play's director, Quince determines that the moon must be a character in the play in order to provide (even if metaphorically) enough moonshine by which the lovers meet.
At the wedding feast, when the rustics' "most lamentable comedy" (I.ii.11) is presented before the Duke, Bottom (as Pyramus) comments on the darkness of the night sky:
O grim look'd night, O night with hue so black! (V.i.168)
When the moon does rise in the course of the presentation of Pyramus and Thisbe, Moonshine stands forth, introducing himself,
This lantern doth the horned moon present; (V.i.231)
referring to the slivered shape of the new moon being "horned," which is also a double-entendre with sexual overtones, referring to cuckoldry from Demetrius's point of view:
He should have worn the horns on his head. (V.i.232)
Theseus counters Demetrius's witty quip with a pun on the word "crescent," referring to the current phase of the moon in its first quarter, as well as the character presenting moonshinewho is merely a sliver of a fellow named Starveling (Brooks 117).
He is no crescent, and his horns are invisible within the circumference. (V.i.233-4)
Hippolyta, however, is distressed at Moonshine's duplicitous presentation in Pyramus and Thisbe as the "horned moon"a feminine referent (see fn 11), while presenting himself as "the Man i' the Moon" (V.i.235-6), as she states,
I am aweary of this moon, would he would change! (V.i.242)
In opposition to the Lion's roaring, however, Moonshine, according to Hippolyta,
[. . .] shines with a good grace. (V.i.256-7)
At the end of the play, Theseus states,
Moonshine and Lion are left to bury the dead. (V.i. 335)
which Luna (Moonshine) and Sol (Lion, a symbol for Sol), perform in conjunction.
When Moonshine exits, or sets, before the lovers meet, Hippolyta queries,
How chance Moonshine is gone, before Thisbe comes back and finds her lover? (V.i.300-1)
She will find him by starlight. (V.i.302)
This is crucial to note, because this reflects precisely what happened the previous "eve" in the forest: Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena all wandered about and found each other, in the throes of the moon's negative energy, under the light and influence of the stars (Figure 2.18).
Figure 2.18: Early summer constellations (emphasis added). Reproduced by permission. © 1999, Astronomy.
The Constellations of the Early Summer Sky
The symbolism of the early summer constellations,when considered as part of the metaphoric structure of the play, works to delineate the opposing forces in the play while the alchemical action in the rites of passage works to reconcile them. Russell A. Peck notes, "such is usually the goal of medieval cosmology: the study of the uni-verse is a turning toward the One (unus-versus)" (27). It seems that Shakespeare used his knowledge of the heavens to uni-fy the "verse" of his play as the macrocosm (the heavenly stars), allegorically reflected the microcosm (the conflict between the masculine and feminine).
Clark asserts that to Shakespeare, the constellations and planets "were personalities. [. . .] To the inhabitants of the celestial universe he assigned the attributes of their namesakes in classical mythology" (32). When the constellations of the early summer sky assume their mythological shapes, they can be seen to correspond to the essence of the characters in the play (Figure 2.19).
The qualities of the gods have often been assigned to the fairies, which further connects them with their Athenian counterparts. Not content to trivialize the struggle between men and women merely through familiar allusions to lovers' moonlit rendezvous, it seems that Shakespeare has also incorporated the journeying stars in their courses (not necessarily predictably) as a broader metaphor for achieving harmony in the state of marriage. According to Peck,
Cosmic symmetries and motions teach men such valuable psychological concepts as wholeness, measure, proportion, harmony. [. . .] Such terms constitute the basic vocabulary of medieval discussions of mental health. (27)
Figure 2.19: The mythic constellations: Draco; the Hunting Dogs; Virgo; Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer (with Serpens cauda and Serpens caput); and the Summer Triangle. From the Glow-in-the-Dark Night Sky Book by Clinton Hatchett, illustrated by Stephen Marchesi. Illustrations copyright © 1988 by Stephen Marchesi. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
The mytho-cosmic relationship of Mars versus Venus that Shakespeare presents in "Midsummer", as I have previously mentioned, is in opposition, rather than harmony. In the comedy of Shakespeare, as the masculine and feminine strive for oneness through the transformative work of alchemy, tragedy is avoided and life is renewed. As Clark states,
The main purpose of the alchemist, the changing of something base and worthless into something else, beautiful and precious, provided Shakespeare with a ready poetical simile. He uses it in Sonnet CXIV:
Or whether shall I say, mine eye saith true,
And that your love taught it this alchemy,
To make of monsters and things indigest
Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
Creating every bad a perfect best,
As fast as objects to his beams assemble? (65)
The mythical constellations of the early summer sky mirror Shakespeare's earthly characters. The opposition of the feminine to the masculine, when represented on the earth of the stage as it is in the heavens, figuratively as well as practically molds the environment of the play. I find it possible to use the early summer star chart as a floor plan for performance, using it to plot and inform the characters' actions in relationship to the cosmological macrocosm, influencing as well as defining their relationships in microcosm. One design representing this idea (Figure 2.20) can be implemented using thrust stage, but can also be adapted for an arena or proscenium stage.
Figure 2.20: Floor plan of "Midsummer" constellations. © 1996, Katherine Perrault.
At stage right appears the constellation of Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. Because Ophiuchus is himself masculine, and the serpent represents the archetypal phallus as well as regeneration, by definition, his presence determines the stage right plane as "masculine" (M). Above the Serpent Bearer is the Summer Triangle, which Elizabethans knew was used by navigators for guidance (Clark 35). Shakespeare perhaps made a reference to this navigational practice in Much Ado About Nothing, when Margaret says to Beatrice, "If you not be turned turk, there's no more sailing by the star" (Shakespeare III.iv.57). This position figures significantly in Theseus'/Oberon's stage geography in relationship to their actions which forward the plot of the play.
In opposition to the masculine, stage left is the constellation of Virgo, the chaste maiden, designating the stage left plane as the "feminine" (F) realm. Upstage of Virgo is the constellation of the Hunting Dogs, who belong to Böotes the herdsman and chase the Great Bear and Little Bear throughout the woods (see these other constellations in Figure 2.18). The fact that the Hunting Dogs race through the celestial woods is important, because the woodland is associated with the persona of Virgo, the feminine, and also with the realm of Titania, the fairy queen. This is also the realm of Hippolyta, the Amazon-Queen, who is not only chaste, but also a huntress who hunted "with Hercules and Cadmus once" (IV.i.11-2), hence her connection with the "Hunting Dogs."
Figure 2.21: Draco~mythic constellation. © 1988, Stephen Marchesi, Random House.
Figure 2.22: Constellation Draco (emphasis added). © 1999, Astronomy.
At the apex of these constellations is Draco (Figures 2.21-22), the dragon, the monster. Now dragons live in caves. In the constellated floor plan, this cave just happens to be Titania's bower, and the intersection or matrix where the masculine and feminine join, peak, climax . . . what you will. The cave represents a woman's womb. The significance of the constellation of the dragon at such a point is that it symbolizes the monstrous trick being played on Titania by Oberon: Oberon has his henchman Puck anoint Titania's sleeping eyes with a love potion. Upon awaking, she is overcome in a frenzy of love making with the first thing she sees: Bottom, an Athenian villager, transformed into an ass by Puck.
As a floor plan to plot the action of the play in performance, the symbolism of the constellations thus appearing in opposition to one another manifests the incessant, archetypal struggle between the masculine and the feminine: Theseus/Oberon dominate stage rightthe "masculine" plane delineated by Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer and the Summer Triangle; and Titania/Hippolyta dominate stage leftthe plane delineated by Virgo and the Hunting Dogs. Draco, which symbolizes Titania's bower, is at the matrix upstage center, representing the intercourse of masculine and feminine, the alchemical coniunctio, the reconciliation of opposites. The apron of the stage reinforced as a crescent represents the cusp of the moon not yet visible and obscured by the misty night, whose negative waning energy murkily influences the Athenian townsfolk as well as the Athenian lovers and upon which their lunacy is compounded: they move back and forth between the masculine and feminine planes as the psychic confusion unfolds, and eventually journey deeper into the wood and shadowy realm of the fairies/gods, upstage.
Thus, in applying the poetic alchemy of Shakespeare's cosmological mythos to "Midsummer"'s floor plan, making "that which is below [. . .] like that which is above" (Singer 96), we can more concretely observe how the warring relationship between Theseus and Hippolyta results not only in the completion of their labyrinthine journey towards oneness, but also in the harmony of all the lovers in the world of the play.
Table of Contents
Chapter 3: The Mythology Of The Play: Archetypes Revealed
1. Gary Jay Williams documents this well in Chapter One, "The Wedding-play Myth and the Dream in Full Play," Our Moonlight Revels. (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1997) 1-37.
2. Alan Scott Weber, in Shakespeare's Cosmology, fully elucidates Shakespeare's knowledge of astronomy/astrology, gleaned more probably through the popular almanacs of the day rather than through the technical treatises of the period. McAlindon asserts that Shakespeare's knowledge of the cosmos was assimilated through the literary readings of his predecessors. C.G. Abbot contends that Shakespeare was neither an astrologer nor an astronomer, but that "he made use of other men's beliefs in astrology, nevertheless, to impart mystery and awe to dramatic situations" (120).
3. During the Middle Ages, the quadrivium was the general body of knowledge in which every educated person was instructed: astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, and music.
4. The quote, "harmonia est discordia concors" is from a notation in a Renaissance illustration of the musical theorist Franchino Gafurio in De harmonia musicorum instrumentorum, 1518. According to Rudolph Wittkower, "Gafurio accepted Philolaos's Pythagorean definition of harmony, [. . .] and in a truly Platonic spirit he regarded this principle of harmony as the basis of the macrocosm and microcosm, body and soul, painting, architecture, and medicine"; Philolaos was a student and transcriber of Pythagoras who defined harmony as "the unification of the composed manifold and the accordance of the discordant (cf. H. Diels Die Fragmente der Vorsokatiker, Berlin, 1934, I, p. 410, fragm. 10)." (117-8). Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism. (Chichester, West Sussex: Academic Editions, 1998).
For a thorough reading of the mathematical implications of the "harmony of the spheres," refer to Jonathan Marks's article, "The Harmony of the Spheres," Yale Scientific Magazine Dec. 1967: 10-24.
5. McAlindon refers to Spitzer's work, Classical and Christian Ideas of World Harmony. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1963) 9.
6. In the Pythagorean number system, odd numbers were considered masculine, even numbers, feminine. Peck states that 1, being the number of unity, was androgynousboth male and female (59). 2 was the first feminine number, 3 was the first masculine number, 4 the first feminine square; 5, the masculine 'marriage' number, uniting the first female number and the first male number by addition; 6, the first feminine marriage number, uniting 2 and 3 by multiplication; 8, the first feminine cube; 9, the first masculine square ("Pythagorean Number Symbolism." 12 Feb 2000. <http;//www.Dartmouth.edu/~matc/math5.geometry/unit3/unit3.html>).
7. The 10 fundamental Pythagorean oppositions which express this 'universal dualism' are: limited/unlimited; odd/even; one/many; right/left; masculine/feminine; rest/motion; straight/crooked; light/dark; good/evil; square/oblong (Gaskell 551).
8. i.e., Taurus=coagulation; Gemini=fixation; Pisces=transformation; Virgo=distillation (Liungman 51).
9. Mercury=mercury; Mars= iron; Venus=copper; Jupiter=tin and zinc; Saturn=lead (Liungman 52).
10. Jung quotes Marcellin Berthelot, Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs, VI, v. 6. Paris, 1887-8 (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy 161). Cirlot states, "The idea that one engenders two and two creates three is founded upon the premises that every entity tends to surpass its limits, or to confront itself with its opposite. Where there are two elements, the third appears as the union of the first two and then as three, in turn giving rise to the fourth number as the link between the first three and so on" (231; emphasis added). In "Midsummer", the reconciliation of the fourth couple's (Oberon's and Titania's) opposition, is the link through which the other three couples oppositions may be reconciled.
11. OED. 2nd Edition, vol. XVII. 913-4. Theriomorphic means "having the form of a beast," often in reference to "bestial gods" or "theriomorphic rituals."