Monday, October 24, 2011

"The Man in the Moon"

In Act II of the Tempest there are 7 instances where the word "moon" comes up. I wasn't even looking for it, and after a while, I just kept noticing it. So, then I had to go back and count...and find out Shakespeare's motive behind this particular word usage:

1. Gonzalo: "You are gentlemen of brave metal; you would lift the
moon out of
her sphere, if
she would continue in it five weeks without changing."
2. Antonio: "The man i' the moon's too slow..."
3. Stephano: "How camest thou to be the siege of this moon-calf?"
4. Trinculo: "I hid me under the dead moon-calf's gaberdine for fear of the storm."
5. Sephano: "How now, moon-calf! How does thine ague?"
6. Stephano: "Out o' the moon, I do assure thee: I was the man i' the
moon when time was."
7. By this good light, this is a very shallow monster! I afeard of him! A very weak monster! The man i' the moon!"

Here are a few things that I found with a good amount of Google-Searching:

"Elizabethans believed the earth was flat...There was a sharp division between everything beneath the sphere of the moon, and all the rest of the universe."

Moon-calf actually refers to an aborted fetus, "abortive, shapeless, fleshy mass" attributed to the influence of the moon.

According to the Oxford Companion to the Body, the moon is thought of as the most "human" in the heavens (probably because many people found people or faces in the craters of the moon), and as a result of its phases, it has been linked to many other life cycles. Its three most common connotations are: the feminine principle, controlling menstruation, and cause madness, (the term lunacy is derived from the Latin luna, which means moon!).

So What?

With all of this information, I think that Shakespeare is using the
"man in the moon" and "moon-calf" so often because in this act, one, because there is a lot of lunacy going on, but also for the other moon connotations that an Elizabethan audience would have caught. Caliban, for one, does not have a distinctive human or animal form, so it makes sense for the stranded men to call him "moon-calf." Plus, he is driven by natural human vices, such as alcohol consumption... Shakespeare refers to the female using the moon, cycles of life, as well as madness with mentions of "moon" in Act 2.


  1. I think the entire play is almost built off of the idea that there are different stages of our lives. I mean, there is Miranda and Ferdinand that love each other despite her Father's naggings, hoping one day to get out of that stage, there is the transition many of the characters to become king and thereby a new stage, and Prospero practicing magic for the last time. There might be something deeper here.

  2. That's really interesting! I didn't notice how much he referenced the moon. It helps me understand the character of Caliban more when I see how Shakespeare expected his audience to interpret the things other characters call him.

  3. Good point Eric. Maybe Shakespeare is using the Seven Ages of Man motif again, like in As You Like It. I will have to explore this one further...

  4. That is fascinating. I thought moon-calf was more like a fat joke, to be honest. I liked all the moon referencing. I've always felt very connected with the moon, does that sound too hippie?, and I enjoy it when others feel the same. To me, the man in the moon was like an extra protector when I was a child. It was like I could see Heavenly Father seeing me. I wonder how long the idea of a man in the moon has been around.

  5. I was curious about the origins of the Man in the Moon myself, Amanda, and did a little Google search. It is interesting, apparently he is carrying a bundle of sticks on his back, because he is the man that was said to have been banished there by Moses for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. (Numbers 15:32-36) is the reference there. So, I guess at least since Christians started studying the Bible...