The Moon in Shakespeare

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The moon in Shakespeare’s play symbolizes Diana, the Roman personification of the moon, and the Wheel of Fortune. What does the Wheel of Fortune have to do with Diana? Shakespeare considered both of them to be much the same. Both have a cyclical nature: the moon waxes and wanes just like Fortune waxes and wanes. The motif of both figures in Shakespeare's plays reveals his belief that the moon is a symbol of the fickleness and changeability of fortune and luck, at once an omen and a blessing, and the result of the changeability of the moon/Wheel is the character's madness, leading to the audience's laughter (as in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Much Ado About Nothing) or catharsis (as in King Lear, Macbeth, or Hamlet). Diana figures mostly in the comedies, the most blatant example in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

We see that Shakespeare often uses the motif of the moon, in all of it's implications and various deities and properties, as a plot device to spur his characters, in comedy or tragedy, into some sort of confusion that leads to laughter or catharsis. Traditionally, Western literature has considered the moon to be a symbol of blissful romance. Shakespeare, however, shows us the Dark Side of the moon.

In Shakespeare's comedies, especially, the moon is personified as Diana, the Roman goddess of chastity. In these comedies, the foolish antics of lovers (literally, "lunatics") usually occur under the auspices of the chaste goddess, the lovers behaving like hounds about her feet that snap at each other in competition for her bounty. The moon as allegory for the lunacy of romance helps us understand Shakespeare's view of romance. In the tragedies, however, the moon can represent many things at once: Diana, the goddess of Chastity; the cyclical nature of Fortune; and Hecuba, the witch of insanity. These figures, as their names suggest, are feminine. The tragic heroes often refer to their wives as the moon. The wives are often seen as possessing, at different times, elements of the various associations with the moon. I assert that, by examining the several allegories of the moon to the principal women of the tragedies, we can see the multiplicity of Shakespeare's attitude toward women. Often in the tragedies, the moon serves as the allegory for the changeability of fortune, the fickleness of women, and--as a result--the cause of madness. For this paper, I will systematically show the various allegories of the moon present in several tragedies. Then I will show how the multiplicity of these allegories is similar to the multiplicity of the principal women of the tragedies.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off. (2.2.3-10)

In this passage Romeo uses an intricate conceit to express a simple desire: to take Juliet's virginity. Romeo begins by saying that the envious moon, i.e., Diana, goddess of the moon and patron of virgins, is jealous of her servant's (Juliet's) radiance. He then begs Juliet to be Diana maid no longer; for the virginal uniform (vestal livery) she wears as a follower of Diana is sickly green in color, and not to remove it (i.e., to remain a virgin) would be foolish.

Moon:
1. Rosaline (has Diana’s wisdom choosing not to get marry and continue to be a virgin) - The Roman goddess Vesta (goddess of home and hearth) had a special cult of female priests attached to her, called the Vestal Virgins, and they all took vows of chastity. ask Juliet don’t be like Rosaline 2. Sanctuary of virginity. It symbolizes the moon goddess, Diana, who was known to be the virgin goddess of childbirth and women. She was one of the three maiden goddesses, Diana, Minerva and Vesta, who swore never to marry....
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