A moonless night

A moonless night

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How can I tell in each month, when here will be no moon shining or seen at night?

A new moon (when the moon is not seen at night) happens regularly, every 29.5 days (roughly). This is roughly one day less than a month. So you can forecast the next few new moons by "add a month, minus a day"

The next New moon will be on 16 April. We would then expect new moons on: 15 May, 14 June, 13 July, 12 August and so on.

A website like will do the accurate calculations for you (adjusting for your local time and so on.

Learn Astronomy HQ

Your telescope computer has a database of 4,000 objects to see, but you don’t know where they are in the sky or how dim they might be. The deep space objects are some of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring objects to see in amateur astronomy but they can be very elusive to observe. These “grey fuzzies” barely stand out from the background blackness of the night sky, and if there is any light pollution in your location it can make things much harder still. So how do you ensure the best chance of seeing the deep space wonders? Read on for tips on how to improve your chances.

Adapt your eyes to the dark

Probably one of the most important things to do is increase the sensitivity of your eyesight in the dark. This happens naturally and takes 20 to 30 minutes to occur. The eye contains light receptors on the retina. There are two different kinds, the rods and the cones. The cones are better at colour viewing and are dominant through the day. The rods are better in the dark and take some time to sensitise to the darkness. Once you have obtained your dark vision you must protect it at all costs. The best way to do this is to cover your viewing eye with a patch. Any momentary bright light can ‘reset’ the vision back to daytime viewing, meaning you would need to wait 20 minutes again for it to adapt. So make sure you protect it and use red coloured lighting when outside in the dark.

Averted Vision

Averted vision is a technique for viewing dim objects where you try to look at an object using your peripheral vision. Look at where you expect to see the deep space object and then move your focus a small way from it. It takes practice but by doing this you increase the sensitivity of your vision to dim objects.

This is because where you focus your vision on the retina of your eye is called the fovea and it is packed full of cone light receptors which, as you’ll remember, are excellent at colour vision. Around the fovea is a higher concentration of rods over cones. The rods are much better at black and white vision and more sensitive in the dark. So, by trying to observe an object in the field of view to the side of your most focussed area you can increase the sensitivity of your eyesight to seeing the dimmer objects.

A moonless night - Astronomy

Astronomy, Alchemy, and Archetypes:
An Integrated View of Shakespeare's A "Midsummer" Night's Dream

by Katherine Bartol Perrault

Chapter 2: Shakespeare's Astronomy

Overview of the Cosmology of Shakespeare's Era

The need to analyze "Midsummer" from an astronomical point of view arises not only because the play is metaphorically laced with allusions to the moon, but also because the time frame of the play is directly connected to the phase of the new moon—when the moon is invisible in the night sky. While there has been much written on the astrological prognostications in "Midsummer" in reference to a royal wedding,1 historians have neglected a thorough delineation of the significance of the moon's phase in the play as well as an mytho-archetypal reading of the early summer constellations. My examination of these issues calls for an inquiry into Shakespeare's astronomical awareness by reviewing the astronomical views that preceded his era, as well as those that influenced the Elizabethan worldview.

The classical Greek view of the world was geocentric, and originates with Eudoxus and Aristotle in the 4th century BC. A few hundred years later, Ptolemy adapted this model "from a predominantly symbolic to an astronomical system" (Simek 7). Ptolemy's cosmology (see Figure 2.1) positioned the earth at the center of a spherical system, with the planets and the sun moving in each of the seven spheres between the earth and the eighth sphere of the fixed stars (in order: the moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). Above the firmament were the crystalline heavens and the light of the empyrean heavens.

Figure 2.1: A depiction of the Ptolemaic system prior to Copernicus, with the earth at the center (Roob 51). A. Cellarius, Harmonica Macrocosmica, Amsterdam. 1660.

With only a few alterations, this model of the universe remained virtually unchanged until Copernicus reversed it with his heliocentric theory of the solar system, published in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, 1543 (Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2: The Copernican system, with the sun at the center and the planets orbiting about it (Roob 59). A. Cellarius, Harmonica Macrocosmica, Amsterdam. 1660.

Kepler complemented Copernicus's discoveries with the three Laws of Planetary Motions (1609, 1618), which proved that the planets did indeed move around the sun, but in elliptical orbits. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Galileo also worked to validate Copernicus's theories. However, according to Cumberland Clark in Shakespeare and Science,2 even though Shakespeare lived at the cusp of the Copernican revolution which rejected the earth (and man) as the center of the solar system, these new ideas were still mostly unaccepted during Shakespeare's lifetime, and the Ptolemaic model of the universe remained the predominantly held cosmology of the Elizabethan era. T. Walter Herbert states, "The ancient models retained power even over leading naturalist philosophers who advocated direct observation and experiment" (66).

John L. Russell, in "The Copernican System in Great Britain," states that the general acceptance of Copernicus's theory was "effectively won by 1650," but prior to this time in England, Copernicus's writings were scantily referenced (223). In 1556, Robert Recorde published an astronomical textbook that was not only a treatise on Ptolemaic cosmology, but also concluded with the first English defense of Copernicanism (Kocher 155-6). After Recorde, Thomas Digges's Prognostication of 1576 was the first thorough "description of the Copernican system in English" (Russell 194). Russell observes that John Dee, Queen Elizabeth's astrologer, "though respectful" of Copernicus's theories, "was apparently unconvinced," and others were either supportive or ambivalent, but neglected to write on the subject prior to 1600 (202). Likewise, Russell contends that little was communicated about Copernicus's revolutionary theories in the popular astronomical almanacs until those of Edward Gresham and Thomas Bretnor from 1604-1618 (213).

Clark maintains that Shakespeare held mostly to the medieval, Ptolemaic concept of the heavenly spheres Shakespeare approached astronomy in general with the mind of the poet. True, he studied the heavens closely. He knew the stars. He was familiar with the common or garden practical astronomy of the everyday people about him. But to him the sun was Phoebus with his fiery steeds, the moon was Diana the chaste, dawn was the goddess Aurora, Jupiter, Mars, and Venus were personalities, and comets were messengers of evil omen. (32)

The medieval world accepted the notion that the influence of the constellations and planetary gods was well grounded in the "rhythms of universal nature," a view which T. McAlindon traces, in Shakespeare's Tragic Cosmos, through the works of Shakespeare's predecessors: Ovid, Chaucer, and Spenser, to name a few (38). Shakespeare's literary debt to these authors is well chronicled, and McAlindon contends that they heavily influenced Shakespeare's own cosmology, particularly Chaucer. While it has been surmised that Chaucer, like Shakespeare, never studied at a university, he was, like Shakespeare, widely read. Chaucer was an adept student of astronomy,3 and had access to such texts as De Sphaera by John of Sacrobosco, as well as the readings of Macrobius, Martianus Capella, and Alain de Lille (North 7-9).

McAlindon asserts that like Chaucer's, Shakespeare's worldview was a blending of Pythagoras's harmony of opposites with Empedocles's theory which stated "nature is governed by both Love and Strife, sympathies and antipathies" (6). McAlindon also asserts that Chaucer's "elemental imagery, the Mars-Venus relationship (both mythological and astrological), and quadruple patterning are all combined in the service of an imaginative strategy which gives cosmic significance to the protagonist's experience of love and strife" (43). McAlindon details these concepts in Shakespeare's tragedies and points to them in "Midsummer". They most clearly emerge in Theseus's reading of the description of the play Pyramus and Thisbe,

'A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe, very tragical mirth?'
Merry and tragical? Tedious and brief?
That is hot ice, and wondrous strange snow!
How shall we find the concord of this discord? (V.i.56-60)

These lines encapsulate the tension of opposites in "Midsummer" and illustrate the synthesis of Empedocles's reciprocity between Love and Strife and Pythagoras's harmony of opposites into the idea of concordant discord:

In this view, the strife which forever agitates the opposites is kept in check by the harmonizing force of love, which binds them together in a fruitful union while upholding the justice of separate roles and identities. The whole order of life—unity, peace, and continuity—is founded on this bond of opposites, just as disorder, chaos, and death are caused by its collapse under the pressure of strife. (McAlindon 6)

Just as tragedy results from the dis-integration of opposites, so also may comedy—in the restoration of order and renewal of life—effect the integration of opposites.

By virtue of their mytho-cosmological properties, these concepts are also intrinsically linked to alchemical symbolism, which is also grounded in Pythagorean number mysticism.

Cosmic Numerology

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 whole—the harmonic note—into 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 numbers—1, 2, 3, and 4—became 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 Ages—a 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 unity—the 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 counterpart—Oberon/Titania—as 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 linear—one day following after another—but 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 dream—which 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 history—as well as in the art depicting its story—it 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 present—but 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 nature—and much more. This scratches the surface of what is evoked by moon imagery: romance, mystery, magic, fear, distance, lunacy—and 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 moon—when there is an absence of moonlight in the night sky—whose 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 present—recognizing 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 festivities—of 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 moon—whose 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 moonshine—who 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."

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 right—the "masculine" plane delineated by Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer and the Summer Triangle and Titania/Hippolyta dominate stage left—the 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.

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 androgynous—both 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//

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."

10 astronomy events you don't want to miss in 2020

Casual observers and avid stargazers have a lot to look forward to in the new year, including one event that won't happen again for nearly another two decades.

Here are the top astronomy events to mark on your calendar in 2020:

1. Series of supermoons
When: February - May

Several times a year, the full moon appears slightly bigger than normal in the night sky, an event that in recent years has been come to be known a supermoon.

A plane flies past a full moon, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Nuremberg, Germany. (Daniel Karmann /dpa via AP)

In 2020, the night sky will feature four supermoons in a row, starting in February and glowing big and bright once each month through May. Although supermoons have gained much attention in recent years, to the common observer, they will look just like many other full moons throughout the year.

2. Moon passes in front of Mars
When: Feb. 18

Early risers stepping outside before dawn on Feb. 18 will get to see a rare event similar to an eclipse as the Moon passes directly between the Earth and Mars, known as an occultation.

The planet Venus after being eclipsed by crescent moon, seen in Amman, Jordan, Monday, June 18, 2007. A Lunar occultation happens when a celestial body appears to have moved behind the moon. Such events happen very frequently but in most cases the star being occulted may be very faint. However, when bright stars or planets such as Venus are occulted by the moon, the event can be seen with the naked eyes.(AP Photo/ Nader Daoud)

Most areas of North America will be able to see Mars disappear behind the moon just before sunrise in the southeastern sky, reappearing on the other side a little more than two hours later. The exact time that this will be visible varies from location to location.

3. Meteor shower drought comes to an end
When: April 22-23, May 6-7

The long and cold winter nights seldom feature onslaughts of shooting stars, but as the seasons change, so too will the night sky.

After the Quadrantids peak in early January, stargazers will need to wait more than three months for the next opportunity to see a meteor shower, with the Lyrids peaking on the night of April 22 into the early morning hours of April 23.

The Milky Way and traces of meteors illuminate the sky over Burg on the Baltic Sea island of Fehmarn, northern Germany, Friday, April 20, 2018 when the Lyrids meteor shower went down. (Daniel Reinhardt/dpa via AP)

Folks won't need to wait nearly as long for another meteor shower to put on a dazzling display in the night sky, with the Eta Aquarids peaking just two weeks later. This is one of the best meteor showers of the year for the Southern Hemisphere that is known to produce up to 60 shooting stars per hour.

4. Lunar eclipse on the Fourth of July
When: July 4-5

Four penumbral lunar eclipses will be visible across the world in 2020, a type of eclipse where the moon passes through just the outer part of the Earth's shadow. Two of these lunar eclipses will be visible from North America, but they may be difficult to see unless you look closely.

The Earth (unseen) casts a faint shadow over the southwestern part of the Moon during the Penumbral Lunar Eclipse in a full moon Monday Feb. 9, 2009, in Manila, Philippines. It was the first Penumbral Lunar Eclipse to occur this year. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

The first of the two North America lunar eclipses will take place after the sun sets on July Fourth. The second will fall shortly after Thanksgiving on the night of Nov. 29 into the early hours of Nov. 30.

5. Jupiter, Saturn to take the spotlight in the summer sky
When: Mid-July

The two biggest planets in our solar system will be the main feature in the summer sky as Jupiter and Saturn shine side by side all season long.

The middle of July will be the best time of the summer to view the planets, with or without a telescope, as they will both be reaching opposition. This is the point in their orbits where they will be closest to the Earth, making them appear brighter than any other point in the year. Jupiter will reach opposition first on July 14 followed by Saturn on July 20.

6. Perseid meteor shower
When: Aug. 12-13

The Perseid meteor shower is regularly one of the top three meteor showers of the year, and the 2020 showing in mid-August will be much better than the one from 2019.

A meteorite of the swarm of meteorites Perseida illuminates the sky above Salgotarjan, Hungary, early Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year in August when the Earth passes through debris and dust of the Swift-Tuttle comet. (Peter Komka/MTI via AP)

Unlike in 2019 when the nearly full moon filled the sky with light, the moon will be in the sky for only the last part of the night, allowing stargazers to see as many as 100 meteors per hour.

"Perseids are not only numerous they are beautiful. Most of the meteors leave a glittering trail as they pass," AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said. "They are multi-colored and many are bright!"

7. Blue moon to glow in Halloween sky
When: Oct. 31

Young masqueraders heading out to collect candy in their neighborhoods on Halloween will do so under the light of a blue moon that will rise on the final night of the month.

Blue moons are uncommon, rising once every two or three years, but a blue moon on Halloween is very rare. After the blue moon on Oct. 31, 2020, trick-or-treaters will need to wait until 2039 to see the next blue moon on Halloween.

8. Moonless sky in store for peak of the Geminids
When: Dec. 13-14

Arguably the best meteor shower of the year will reach its pinnacle on the night of Dec. 13 into the early morning hours of Dec. 14.

This year, the Geminids will peak on a moonless night, allowing the shower to reach its full potential. Stargazers braving the chilly December night may be able to see as many as 150 meteors per hour in dark areas away from city lights.

Allowing your eyes to adjust to the dark is also imperative when viewing a meteor shower. "You will also want to dedicate at least 45 minutes to an hour to get the most out of your meteor shower experience. Your eyes need a solid half-hour to adjust. Then give yourself another half-hour to take in the meteors," Samuhel added.

9. Total solar eclipse to darken sky over South America
When: Dec. 14

The only total solar eclipse of the year will cause day to turn to night on Dec. 14, just hours after the peak of the Geminids.

The moon blocks the sun during a total solar eclipse in La Higuera, Chile, Tuesday, July 2, 2019. Northern Chile is known for clear skies and some of the largest, most powerful telescopes on Earth are being built in the area, turning the South American country into a global astronomy hub. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Most of the eclipse will transpire over the unpopulated waters of the southern Atlantic Ocean and the southeastern Pacific Ocean, but the path of totality will traverse across a swath of South America. The locations able to witness the total solar eclipse will be very close to the areas that saw the only total solar eclipse of 2019.

10. Super conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn
When: Dec. 21

The final astronomy event of the year will be one of the most intriguing as Jupiter and Saturn make an extremely close encounter following the first sunset of winter.

When two planets appear close in the sky, astronomers call it a conjunction. However, this meeting of Jupiter and Saturn on the first night of winter will be incredibly close, the closest they have been since 1623, according to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. This extraordinarily close encounter is sometimes referred to as a 'super conjunction.'

People looking to the southwestern sky may mistake the two planets for one really bright star while those with high-powered telescopes will be able to see the planets in the same field of view.

Jupiter and Saturn will remain close in the night sky following the super conjunction on Dec. 21, but they will slowly drift apart through the rest of the year.


January 5, 2015 at 10:04 am

Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey, and yellow, white,
but we decide which is right,
and which is an illusion.

Late Lament by Graeme Edge
(Poem from the beginning & end of The Moody Blues "Days of Future Passed",
usually associated with "Knights in White Satin".

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January 7, 2015 at 12:05 am

Hi Mac,
Oh my, that brought back memories. Loved that song. Thanks!

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January 17, 2015 at 1:54 am

Mac Wiley - how perfectly appropriate! Plus those lyrics bring back memories.

Choosing a Dark Sky Site for Astrophotography

The Milky Way of the historic Fruita Schoolhouse. Credit: NPS

Light pollution is changing the world at night, but if you’re serious about astronomy and astrophotography, finding darkness often means traveling away from city lights. Here’s how to choose a good location that will help you get more from your astrophotography.

1 – Choose your subject

Where you go depends a lot on your intended subject. For example, if you’re going to set up a telescope and try for dim galaxies and nebula, then you merely need to aim for a dark sky location – and the darker, the better. However, if you’re intending on shooting astro-landscapes – landscape photography at night – then you need to identify your subject. Such images are all about composition the subject is more the foreground of your image, not the starry background. If you want to shoot planets and/or a crescent moon, for example, then somewhere with a low western (after sunset) or eastern (before sunrise) horizon will be most suitable.

2 – Look for light pollution

Light pollution map of the U.S. Credit:

If you want darkness, then go to where others are not. Figure on getting about 30 miles (50 km) away from a city. When doing so, think about the domes of light pollution that will be in your field of view from your intended location. For example, if you find somewhere dark south of Las Vegas, that city’s dome will make photographing the northern night sky difficult because your camera will very likely pick up its glow. The best way for most astrophotographers will be to consult a light pollution map and a dark site finder, though those planning a longer trip should investigate the growing network of International Dark Sky Parks.

3 – Check with the moon

If you really want to capture the light of distant stars, you need a moonless night sky. Always check the times of moonrise and moonset where you are before heading out. As a rule of thumb, the moon rises roughly 50 minutes later each night. That makes the period between last quarter moon (when our satellite rises about midnight) and about three nights after new moon (when a slim crescent moon sets soon after sunset) the best time for maximum darkness, though it does depend on exactly when you’re happy to work.

4 – Go scouting in daylight

Try not to rely on maps. There’s no substitute for driving to your intended location to check it out in advance. Find out where you should park your car, and whether the area will be accessible on the night you intend to visit. If it’s a famously dark place, then expect other astrophotographers and amateur astronomers to be there at night, particularly during well-publicised celestial events like August’s Perseid meteor shower. If so, try to use flashlights as little as possible when you return at night.

As well as familiarizing yourself with a location in advance and in daylight, it’s wise to plan some specific locations and/or compositions that you can easily return to in the dark. If you’re going to set up a telescope, then it’s probably more practical to set-up close to your vehicle, while for astro-landscapes a shot planner like The Photographer’s Ephemeris will help with angles and the position of the moon, Sun and Milky Way in your composition.

Star Train

Great Basin National Park and the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely, NV are teaming up to offer the NNRW's Star Train! Riders begin their journey at the train station in Ely and ride the historic northern train route through Ely. Great Basin's dark sky rangers will be onboard to talk trivia, give out prizes, and answer questions. The train will stop out of town where passengers can disembark and look through high-powered telescopes to see planets, deep space objects, and more (weather permitting). The train will then return to the train station later that evening. Tickets are required. Go to Nevada Northern Railway's website to learn more about the train and reserve your spot. The trains sell out quickly.

Please contact the Nevada Northern Railway at (775)-289-2085 for 2020 dates.

A moonless night - Astronomy

When most of us step out on a clear, moonless night and look up, we see… few stars. Many people in industrial or “advanced” countries have never seen the Milky Way, our own home galaxy. And in some large cities, one is fortunate to see the Moon, bright planets, and the brighter stars. Yet, this has not always been the case.

For many centuries, people from around the planet looked up in fascination at the night sky. They passed along stories about the groupings of stars they saw only the Moon was bright enough to cause fainter stars and the Milky Way to not be visible. And, since the Moon went through its phases, night time darkness would return. So, natural light pollution does occur. You can really see the effects of a bright moon while trying to locate some of the faint constellations or watch a meteor shower. The sky is simply “washed out” by moonlight.

The bright light of the full moon [ “Hazy Moon With Clouds” by Lynn Greyling is in the Public Domain, CC0]

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument is located near Brian Head Resort, about halfway between Bryce Canyon and Cedar City. Star parties are held here every Saturday night from Memorial Day to Labor Day, weather permitting.

Cedar Breaks is one of three parks that host the annual Southwest Astronomy Festival in September. Learn more about stargazing at Cedar Breaks at

Cedar Breaks has a campground. Brian Head has hotels and vacation rentals nearby. Cedar City has a larger selection of hotels about 45 minutes down the mountain. Click the button below to check rates and reviews for Brian Head and Cedar City on

It’s our future.

Astronomy is important to our future, from the short term to the distant long term. Over the coming decades, private companies will take over much of the heavy lifting formerly associated with government agencies such as NASA and ESA. This will create new jobs and new wealth. Bigger telescopes and better equipment will provide insights into reality that will stretch our technological capabilities. Over the coming centuries perhaps we will explore and colonise deep space for ourselves, using technologies yet undreamt of. In the end, billions of years from now, our sun will expand, frying everything on this planet before diminishing in size itself, its fuel spent, its job done.

Perhaps there is a large asteroid or comet out there in space with our name on it. Perhaps our planet will eventually turn against us, forcing us to find a new home. Perhaps we will find a way to cross the enormous gulfs separating us from other stars in our galaxy. All of these possibilities lead us to the conclusion that the stars will feature prominently in the future of the human race.

Astronomy is available to all, from the small child with his toy rocketship, to the octogenarian peering through her telescope at a crater on the Moon. Few endeavours are so wide in scope, so rich in detail, or so marvelous in implication. I invite you to join in.

Watch the video: The Moonless Night - The Wise Mans Fear (August 2022).