Sunday, August 30, 2009

Playwrights and the Zodiac

I wouldn't say I have a deep faith in astrology, but it fascinates me. As much as I'd like to be able to pronounce it all smoke and mirrors, I find myself unable to dismiss it altogether. Perhaps it helps that I believe my zodiac sign (Cancer) fits my personality quite well, better than most other signs would--even if I do not possess every single Cancerian trait.

I've known for a while that two of my favorite playwrights, Tony Kushner and Tom Stoppard, are Cancerians, and I recently learned that Clifford Odets is one as well. Then I wondered if this was just confirmation bias, me taking special notice of writers who have birthdays near mine. Or do certain professions actually correlate with certain zodiac signs? So I did a quick study: I thought of as many important/influential playwrights as I could, looked up their birthdays, and categorized them by sign.

I tried to cover playwrights from a broad range of countries and time periods, so as not to bias the results in any way. This would have been easier if there were an authoritative list of "100 Top Playwrights" I could use; instead, I had to think of names off the top of my head, as well as look at a few lists of award-winning writers. Still, I believe I managed to include all of the really canonical playwrights--except for the ancient Greeks and Romans, as there is no way to determine their birthdays.

I did this for 65 playwrights before I gave up. Therefore, an even distribution would show 5 or 6 writers per zodiac sign. Instead, the distribution is notably imbalanced.

10 Aries: Beckett, Williams, Wilder, McDonagh, Rostand, L. Wilson, Fo, Ludlam, Ayckbourn, Synge
9 Cancer: Stoppard, Odets, Kushner, Behn, Simon, Pirandello, Anouilh, Letts, Soyinka
7 Libra: Miller, Wasserstein, Wilde, Havel, O’Neill, Pinter, Buchner
6 Capricorn: Moliere, Calderon de la Barca, Racine, Friel, Durang, Orton
6 Aquarius: Chekhov, Strindberg, Congreve, Beaumarchais, Brecht, Kane
5 Taurus: Shakespeare*, A. Wilson, P. Shaffer, Reza, Inge
5 Saggitarius: Mamet, Coward, Ionesco, Osborne, Lope de Vega
4 Gemini: Jonson**, Sartre, Corneille, Lorca
4 Scorpio: Shepard, Sheridan, McNally, Schiller
4 Pisces: Ibsen, Albee, Foote, LaBute
3 Leo: Shaw, Hwang, Wedekind
2 Virgo: Churchill, Maeterlinck

*Of course we do not know Shakespeare's actual birthday--only that he was baptized on April 26. So he was likely Taurus, though could have also been Aries.
**Ben Jonson's birthday is also not known for certain, though it is speculated to be June 11.

10 Aries and only 2 Virgo--that has to be statistically significant, right? (And one of the Virgos is Maeterlinck, who is little-noted these days--I included him because he won the Nobel Prize.) Are there any great Virgo playwrights--or, indeed, any other canonical playwrights--whom I overlooked?

Then I wondered if an imbalance in the distribution of birthdays in the general population could have contributed to these results. A little research showed that more babies are born during certain months of the year than others. However, the most common months for births are July through September, and the least common are March through May (source). Whereas my study shows 15 playwrights born from March 21 to May 20, and only 5 born from July 23 to September 22! Counterintuitive, to say the least.

Another odd thing is that Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn--four of the top five results--are the four "cardinal" signs of the zodiac, supposed to be the most forceful, dynamic, and take-charge of the signs. Obviously these are useful skills for playwrights, as you need to be very self-willed to succeed in this profession!


Mead said...

Speaking of synchronicity....I was just writing about astrology on my blog, check it out. Also, I no longer have your personal email address due to a catastrophic computer meltdown; could you write me, so you'll be in my good books again, as it were?? I want to send you an amusing link about our favorite uxicidal maniac.

Marissa said...

Actually Mead, your post is one reason I decided to post this today. I was a little hesitant to write about astrology on my blog because some people think that it's nutty, but I thought "well, if the Marvelous Mr. Mead can do it..."

Meanwhile, check your inbox!