The Shakespearian Tarot by Dolores
Ashcroft-Nowicki; Illustrated by Paul Hardy
Review by Eileen Croutch
The author has undertaken to find passages and images from the complete works of William Shakespeare to make a tarot deck. The author mentions The Servants of the Light Tarot often and so this leads me to believe the Shakespearian Tarot is a variation of the aforementioned deck. This deck is certainly no Rider-Waite clone. This deck comes with a book that describes the plays mentioned, interesting information about the plays, an upright meaning and a reversed meaning. There is no box for the deck once you break the cellophane and there is no little white book (LWB). Not that you need it with the large book.
The numbered title of each card goes across the top, a picture comprised of a scene from one of Shakespeare's plays is beautifully rendered in the center, and a quote from the pictured play is written on the bottom, including the title of the play. The back is a brownish orange and has an urn with a plant growing and flowering from it. Because of the design, this deck does not do reversals well (or at least not without you knowing in advance when you are going to turn over an inverted card), even though reversed meanings are provided by the author.
This deck is beautiful and the information on Shakespeare and the plays is very interesting. The artwork is very detailed. My first complaint comes with the description of the High Priestess. Cleopatra is used as the High Priestess and being into Egyptology, I noticed the error immediately. The crown Cleopatra is wearing is described as "the vulture crown of a Queen of Egypt embellished with the horns and full moon symbol of Isis." First of all, it's the horns and solar disk, not full moon. Second, that's the symbol of Hathor, not Isis. Isis is always shown with a throne on her head.
Next problem, for me, is The Chariot. There's no chariot in this picture...just a stone block called a cubic altar. This card usually speaks of movement and direction to me but I just don't see that with a square block and no wheels. The Hermit is usually a solitary figure but not in this deck. Death usually shows transformation but I have problems seeing that in this deck.
The Devil card appeals to me. It shows how we do it to ourselves or are the ultimate cause of our own suffering by allowing outside influences to override our own intuition. The Tower is quite different, giving us a view from within the tower as the storm rages and two boys are thrown from a window to the ground below.
The suits are Swords, Crowns, Orbs, and Sceptres. Swords and Sceptres are obviously Swords (air) and Wands (fire). But I found a great deal of confusion with the other two (and continue to have problems with them). Crowns I assumed were Pentacles, but upon reading the descriptions of some, I wondered if they weren't Cups instead. The Ace of Orbs is described as pertaining to property and finance and so it sounded like the Orbs were the Pentacles. The Two of Crowns, Dolores says, is titled the Lord of Love (in the Servants of the Light Deck), so I then thought Crowns must be Cups....right? The Three of Crowns speaks of marriage and birth... more Cups, right? The Four of Crowns looks and sounds like the Four of Pentacles, The Miser. The rest of the Crowns look and sound close to Pentacles but none of the cards have the traditional meanings I've come to know with Rider-Waite style decks.
The Orbs must then be Pentacles if Crowns are Cups... I think... but the Two of Orbs is Romeo and Juliet on the balcony. Two cards of love??? The author says the card is about choice but so can the chess match of the Two of Crowns. A balcony scene looks like love to me. When I look at the Ace of Orbs, I see nothing. Nothing at all.
The Four of Orbs then should be the Four of Pentacles, that seems to work since they call this the Lord of Earthly Power and it speaks of losing wealth. The Five of Orbs just doesn't work at all for me, though I suppose an insane man could replace three beggars. But then we have the Six of Orbs.... it shows a fairy putting dew on spider webs. I don't see the connection to generosity or to memories of past loves.
The oddest bit is the Ten of Orbs. The quote in the book is attributed to Romeo and Juliet but on the card it is to the Merchant of Venice. Oops. Someone needs a proofreader. The Three of Sceptres' meaning and picture just don't match. If I can't see the meaning in the card, I just have to make up a new meaning that fits.
Now the Nine of Sceptres screams of a meaning not fitting the picture. In this picture, people are dancing around the God of Marriage statue. Does this say "A Great Strength" to you? It doesn't even come close to it for me.
The courts are Kings, Queens, Lords and Ladies. Not very typical. The author's only meanings for the court cards are as people the querent should know. The Queen of Crowns which is Pentacles (or was that Cups?) is depicted as very cruel. I've never seen either Queen that way.
There are three interesting spreads at the end of the book: The Jesse Tree, The Wheel of The Year, and Triangles. They are very different from anything you usually get with decks. And they even avoided the Celtic Cross which has been done to death! This, at least, gets a thumbs up from me.
In summary, this is a beautiful deck. If you love Shakespeare, the book with this deck will be very interesting. Can you read with this deck? A good reader can read with seventy-eight post cards if they want, so yes, you can. Is it a good deck for a new or intermediate reader? Definitely not. The meanings given by the author often don't match the pictures, the meanings are not the typical Rider-Waite style, nor are they easily understandable, and the Crowns and Orbs are very confusing if you try to compare them to Pentacles and Cups. So a collector's deck it is.
The Shakespearian Tarot by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki; Illustrated by Paul Hardy
Publisher: Caxton Editions by Diamond Books (first published by Aquarian Press, 1993)
Eileen Croutch is a Certified Tarot Grandmaster with the Canadian Tarot Network, an affiliate of the American Tarot Association. She is also the Executive Director for the CTN. Eileen is currently working on developing her own tarot deck which is, at this time, still unnamed. Eileen is a single mother of two children and lives in the Vancouver area in British Columbia, Canada. Her favorite decks are the Ancient Egyptian Tarot by Clive Barrett and the Robin Wood Tarot by Robin Wood.
Review © 2001 Eileen Croutch
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes