Shakespeare and the Tarot


NightVision said:
The reason for my query is thus; The character of the Fool in King Lear is connected with the theme of nothingness, and as we know the Fool bears the number of zero.

Shakespear is full of puns on the 'nothingness', not only Shakespear it was a common literary devise in the 15th and 16th century in works from Italy, England and France; it is also often connected with the fool in various plays.



hi Nightvision

I'm particularly interested in this area, but not in a reading mode just at the moment, -I meant to look some things up too. But please do post your findings, and I'll also eventually get a chance to go over some notes. I remember All's Well -having someinteresting bits in it in this way. Am just about to look over Coriolanus for another purpose... k i t.

And thanks Cerulean, I don't really have a strong historical approach -more an associative one. good endeavours,
regards, namesoftrees


Scion said:
Also, the attribution of the number 0 to The Fool doesn't occur until the Golden Dawn in the Late 19th century, so the link there doesn't carry much weight, althought the Fool/Vagabond in the early Italian decks is seen as the lowest rung on the social ladder, occupying the "0" position as it were.


The association of the unnumbered Fool card with 'nothingness' and zero is not a Golden Dawn innovation. The cards illustrated in de Gebelin has the card numbered zero; indicating his model was perhaps an Italian deck [zero appears to be most common on the Italian decks] or a Swiss such as the Schar [c.1750]. Compte de Mellet in Monde Primitif describes the fool as the 'zero of magical computation'. Etteilla numbers the Fool both 0 and 78. Both Christian and Levi associate the Fool with nothingness and zero. One of the two cards illustrating the Fool in the Tarot of the Bohemians by Papus is numbered zero. Though Wirth follows Levi in placing the letter Shin on his Fool, he does not consider it as 21, but as 22/0, stating it is both beginning and end, as in a circle. Matto is numbered 0 in the 15th century sola busca.



namesoftrees said:
There was a lot of concern about alchemists at the time being badly behaved men who wanted to con some quick cash, (The Alchemists - Johnson (?)) and devil-addled power-addled mishandlers of magic, so they were dumbed down or put down by the regime of course.

Er, well, not entirely. In fact, John Dee was a very well-respected advisor to Elizabeth 1, and a well-known alchemist. Yes, there was anxiety about con-men, but alchemy was also taken seriously and respected as a science.

Edited to add - oh, and I meant to say that King Lear follows the pattern of an old fairy/folk tale that appears in many versions. We've used it in the "Water and Salt" variation in our fairytale tarot, but it is an old and much-travelled story with, as I say, many variants - interestingly many of them English. It's much more likely that it forms the basis of Lear (although possibly indirectly) than that the tarot was the inspiration. Of course, as Scion says, a shared culture underpins both.

Here is a list of many tales that fall into the "Love like Salt" category:


One by any other Name...

In my copy of Cardenio, the character Alephius speaks
of being Le Bateleur "first as letter, first as number." :)


Fulgour said:
In my copy of Cardenio, the character Alephius speaks
of being Le Bateleur "first as letter, first as number." :)


Are you referring to Shakespeares lost play Cardenio? As here:

I am not aware of a character called Alephius in either of the plays claimed to possibly be the lost play, nor a 'bateleur' nor your quote. Are you refering to another Cardenio?

The play by Lewis Theobald (1688-1744) entitled Double Falshood; or, The Distrest Lovers, that Theobald claimed was based on the lost play Cardenio by Shakespeare, many scholars have accepted as being such but by both Shakespeare and John Fletcher (1579-1625), and based on an episode in Miguel de Cervante's Don Quixote.

Go to, you’re a Fool. No doubt, You have old Stories enough to undo you.— What, you can’t throw yourself away but by Precedent, ha?— You will needs be married to One, that will None of You?

From Double Falshood, claimed by some to be the lost Shakepeare Play Cardenio


Fleet Street Blues

My copy of Cardenio is one of those old 6 penny quartos,
and while it was right here a minute ago ~ it's lost again!


yes yes Baba Prague,

I'm in agreement,

There's quite a lot of reference to Dee in the theatre then too. I was upholding the prevalence of alchemical thought in relation to the political milieu at the time! It was a time of power struggles in thought and expression. There was undoubtedly a public veneer that was discrediting individualist pursuits. What's new I spose. ;)

What I'm saying is that I personally think Shakespeare in his Wicked Brilliant Cunning, subversively upheld a societal balance. His plays coveted an audience in society that went so far beyond immediate political differences that it gave answers to all that were looking, and to the artisans and the sophists and also the alchemists amongst them.

I'm remembering the zero quote from all's well now... that's it, I'm going to have to dig sum books..

Usually I have it on hand!

"Thank you all for the wonderful in-depth response to my question. I think, as an exercise, I'm just going to go through my Shakespeare and see if I can find anything else..."

I hope you're still following this thread Nightvision, becasue I've remembered that I should say the writer who's rather leading the realm on processes of individuation in Shakespeare is of course Harold Bloom.
So look up his book Called 'Shakespeare - the invention of the human'

I have to admit now, that I bought it as an investment, but -ridiculously, I haven't been reading much at all for a while, ah- too busy?. So I'm short on opinions on it except that I suspect that it's very VERY clever.

I'm rather in the mood for becoming cleverer right now, so I should read it myself!

yours in a not so very scholarly enough fashion, :)


edited to add: BabaPrague - I guess your link illustrates an infinite history of a natural alchemy doesn't it? I think Shakespeare's talent for condensing the themes of faery-tale and current event, histories, royal saga's and essential symbology suggests a life's work of someone who's life work was as good as hiswords. :D


King Lear...

on Cordelia's death:

"Oh Oh Oh Oh..."

One of the hardest lines for anywould be Lear to deliver say me!


Hey Nightvision,

just found this:

Love's Labours lost

I don't know this play so well, but it's an extraordinary piece that I think truly answers your initial question.

It's sexy, funny, self-reflexive as the author, a comment on the very essence of 'learning', a comment on religion, and on the quintessential element! it's full of magic and it touches on how things should be but also parodies the ego of it's speaker who is in a stage of his own 'processing' lol.

implying a mishandling of godliness?
note particularly the use of O. in line 315 ( and the fools come in later ;) )

I must not say more I have NOT read it, or the play recently. So please scholars -I'm not armed for a debate on this, but nightvision, I think your search will be a rich one :)