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Home :: Archive :: 1991 :: December ::
Astral Navigation & Sonnet 166
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 332. Sunday, 22 Dec 1991.
 
 
(1)	Date: 	Sat, 21 Dec 91 11:11:22 EST
	From: 	Ronald Dwelle <
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	Subj: 	SHK 2.0331  Q: Sonnet 166 & Astral Navigation?
 
(2)	Date: 	Sat, 21 Dec 91 16:40:48 PST
	From: 	
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	Subj: 	SHK 2.0331  Q: Sonnet 166 & Astral Navigation?
 
	
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Date: 		Sat, 21 Dec 91 11:11:22 EST
From: 		Ronald Dwelle <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Subject: Q: Sonnet 166 & Astral Navigation?
Comment: 	SHK 2.0331  Q: Sonnet 166 & Astral Navigation?
 
 
          A most interesting question, Geoff, on 116, and one that
          I've contemplated frequently. Most memorable for me was six
          hours I spent reading and re-reading the sonnet, while
          becalmed in the Atlantic ocean about 200 miles from Bermuda.
          I frequently had to interrupt my reading to grab the sextant
          and shoot the sun through breaks in the overcast.
 
          To a contemporary celestial navigator, the lines can make
          sense in this way: a good star sight is always difficult,
          since in order to get the "height" or elevation of the star,
          you need to see the horizon and the star at the same time.
          The "height" is, by definition, the angle between the
          horizon and the star. The difficulty comes because at night
          it's often hard to identify the horizon accurately enough to
          get a precise angle--or, occasionally because of overcast or
          ship motion, it's hard to identify which star you're
          shooting.
 
          It is not unusual for a navigator (in poor conditions) to
          "shoot" any star he can. When you do that, you have a height
          (read off the sextant, or astrolabe), but you don't have a
          "worth"--that is, the navigator still has to calculate his
          position, to "reduce" the sight and convert it into a
          geographical position on the globe. Or simply guess which
          star he's working with.
 
          This is pretty sophisticated navigating for 1594, unless the
          star referred to is the North star or Pole star. By
          measuring the angle between the horizon and the North star,
          the navigator can make a fairly easy reduction to determine
          his latitude. Think of it this way: If the North Star were
          dead overhead, the height (angle) between the horizon and
          the star would be 90 degrees. And the ship would be at
          90-degrees north latitude (or the North Pole). If the North
          Star were dead on the horizon, the height (angle) would be
          0, and the ship would be located at 0-degrees latitude (or
          the equator). If the height (angle) were 45-degrees, the
          ship would be at latitude 45 degrees. Etcetera. This is a
          bit oversimplified, because several corrections have to made
          to the raw sight (defraction in the atmosphere, sextant
          mirror error, the fact that the pole star is not exactly
          over the pole, etc.) before the "worth" (accurate latitude)
          is known.
 
          This is all sensible in Shakespeare's time, since "latitude
          sailing" was the common way to traverse the ocean.
          (Longitude couldn't be easily determined until Captain
          Cook's time, since an accurate timepiece is required for
          that.) What the shipmaster did was sail "up" or "down" to
          the latitude of the home port or landfall (for example, the
          southern tip of Ireland), and then sail due east by compass
          until landfall was made. Frequent checks of the height of
          the north star had to be made, of course, to be sure the
          ship was not being set off course by currents or steered off
          course by poor helmsmanship, or forced away by contrary
          winds.
 
          So the sonnet's lines seem to be to be good navigation, or
          good navigational terminology.  Love is like the North Star
          to every wandering bark, but it's not a sure simple easy
          thing, because you have to work at it, taking heights and
          calculating worths, and you're always in the sort of medial
          stage that the navigator finds himself in--confident yet
          anxious--between the taking of the sight and its reduction.
          When you do finally get the reduction right (when you know
          the star's worth), it is heaven, man. (Don't take my
          word--ask any navigator at sea!)
 
          It does seem a little surprising that Shakespeare understood
          navigation that well, though perhaps he just picked up the
          concept and the language, as he did with so many other areas
          of knowledge and experience.
 
          Ron Dwelle (
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 ) (Sorry the preceding is a
          little incoherent--my local e-mail system has an unusable
          text editor, so what you get is my rough draft.)
 
	
(2)--------------------------------------------------------------------------
	
Date: 		Sat, 21 Dec 91 16:40:48 PST
From: 		
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Subject: Q: Sonnet 166 & Astral Navigation?
Comment: 	SHK 2.0331  Q: Sonnet 166 & Astral Navigation?
 
 
I thought that was the point, that is, that the worth
of a star is beyond navigational knowledge, as the value
of love is beyond calculation. No?
 

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