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Shakespeare and Science

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.323  Wednesday, 16 July 2014

 

[1] From:        Hugh Grady < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         July 15, 2014 at 1:12:47 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare and Science

 

[2] From:        Steve Sohmer < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         July 15, 2014 at 1:51:12 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare and Science 

 

[3] From:        Marianne Kimura < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         July 16, 2014 at 7:39:23 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare and Science 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Hugh Grady < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         July 15, 2014 at 1:12:47 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare and Science

 

In re: Shakespeare and Science. As someone who has looked into this issue a bit (certainly not exhaustively), I have to say that if any of this pans out I will be very surprised and will have learned something! To me it appears Shakespeare was a steadfast geocentric with an interest in the symbolic meanings of the heavens rather than what we would call “science.” My understanding, too, is that current scholars of early modern science have dropped the term “Scientific Revolution” because anything like a modern scientific worldview took until the late Enlightenment, maybe the nineteenth century, to arrive. Certainly Newton’s interest in alchemy and other strange ideas is an excellent example of what they mean. 

 

Now Donne really did pay attention to the astronomical discoveries (“The Anniversaries,” “Ignatius His Conclave”), but he was extremely skeptical towards them, to say the least. The astronomers (and Columbus!) all end up in Hell along with the founder of the diabolic Jesuits! 

 

Hugh Grady

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Steve Sohmer < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         July 15, 2014 at 1:51:12 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare and Science

 

Dear Friends,

 

Thanks to Hardy for the brief on ‘Shakespeare and Science’. Apparently, a little science can be a dangerous thing . . . particularly in the hands of some Shakespeareans.

 

How au courant was Shakespeare with the latest science? Well, I’ve argued myself hoarse about how well he understood the Gregorian reform, which was a triumph of mathematics and observational astronomy, and touched everyone’s life every single day. The calendar reform was something all the 16th century math wizards tangled with; Shakespeare’s great arithmetician, Michael Cassio, was from Verona (not as the liar Iago puts it, Florence; and the guy’s not married), as were Lilius, Pitati, and a squadron of other math men. But setting that aside . . .

 

Bear in mind that Leonard Digges is remembered for two (doggerel) poems he contributed (one post-mortem) to the forepages of the first two Folios. Does this suggest Shakespeare and the Diggeses were close? In 1576 Leonard’s dad, Thomas Digges, was first to publish the Copernican theories in English . . . and the first to conceive of space as infinite, which Copernicus did not (and which echoes in Hamlet 2.255ish). Thomas also published Stratioticos in 1579, which was in part based on work by his dad, another Leonard (I wish they wouldn’t do that, it’s so hard to keep them straight). AND Stratioticos was a significant source for Othello (I wrote a paper about Shakespeare’s borrowings from it; if anyone’s interested in that, email me and I’ll dig it out). I think it’s safe to say that Shakespeare was keeping up with the Diggeses.

 

But here’s the point on which I’d be glad to hear opinions from fellow SHAKSPERs:

 

In the Folio, Hamlet’s poem to Ophelia reads: “Doubt thou the starres are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move.” Now this has never made sense to me. Because Hamlet has been schooled in Wittenberg and that’s where Rheticus published the first edition of De Revolutionibus . . . and Copernicanism was taught there from at least 1543. So Hamlet knew (a) the stars are fire, and (b) the Sun did not move (or so they thought back then). Ophelia may not have believed the stars were fire, but as a good Catholic she certainly believed the Sun moved around the Earth every day.

 

On the other hand, in the cockamamie Q1 Hamlet the poem begins “Doubt that in earth is fire, Doubt that the starres doe moue” which, of course, makes no sense at all. But the appearance of Earth in the first line is intriguing. I don’t think the recorder would have thrown in the Earth if it weren’t somewhere in the Hamlet’s poem.

 

My hunch is Shakespeare wrote: “Doubt that the starres are fire, Doubt that the Earth does move.” This would make excellent sense coming from a post-Copernican Protestant boy from Wittenberg . . .  writing to a Catholic girl (who’s ordered to a nunnery and imagines her dead father on a pilgrimage).

 

My hunch is that’s what Shakespeare wrote: “Doubt that the Earth does move.” Pure Copernicanism.

 

If so, why did he change it to that silly Sun-move business in his Q2 rewrite? My guess: it was way over the head of the groundlings who didn’t know Copernicus from cupcakes. Or the guys in the tiring house fell to arguing about which goes around what. Or maybe some over-serious Christian folks accused him of blasphemy. After all, the Bible says the Earth cannot be moved and the Sun hasteth, etc.

 

Anyone want to weigh in on this?

 

All the best,

Steve  

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Marianne Kimura < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         July 16, 2014 at 7:39:23 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare and Science

 

Dear Editor,

 

“Was Shakespeare Aware of the Scientific Discoveries of His Time?”

 

I was absolutely delighted to read the article by Megan Gambino about Dan Falk’s new book on Shakespeare and Science. I completely agree with the premise of the book, i.e. “that the Bard was mindful of the developments happening in astronomy during his day and, in fact, used them as fodder in his plays.”

 

May I just add another name to the list? (Perhaps it is a name in Dan Falk’s book, but it was not mentioned in the article). The name is ‘Giordano Bruno’ (1648-1600), who used Copernicus’ heliocentric model to develop a “thermodynamic” (“Copernican Diagrams, Hilary Gatti, page 51 in her book Essays on Giordano Bruno) model of planetary movement Thus Bruno writes in De Immenso III,iii: “The Earth, in the infinite universe, is not at the centre, except in so far as everything can be said to be at the centre. In this chapter it is explained that the Earth is not central amongst the planets. That place is reserved for the Sun, for it is natural for the planets to turn towards its light and heat, and accept its law” (quoted in The Cosmology of Giordano Bruno, Paul Henri Michel, page 181)

 

Bruno starts Lo Spaccio della besta trionfante (The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast) with these lines: “He is blind who does not see the sun, foolish who does not recognize it, ungrateful who is not thankful unto it, since so great is the light, so great the good, so great the benefit, through which it glows, through which it serves, the teacher of 

the senses, the father of substances, the author of life.” (from A. Imerti’s translation)

 

The Smithsonian article also contains the line: “You have Romeo and Juliet analyzing the rising Sun”. Indeed, in my analysis, the line “Juliet is the sun” identifies Juliet as “the sun” in a historical play about mankind and fuel (man starts out using only solar energy, then makes the transition to fossil fuels (“Romeo and Juliet” starts out with lines about coal, which are rather negative about coal (“Gregory, on my word, we won’t carry coals”), then man returns to the sun as primary fuel again. 

 

The word “energy” didn’t yet exist as a scientific word as we use it today, but Bruno’s understanding of the importance of the sun’s “light and heat”, or its role as “the father of substances, the author of life” squares with the way I think we should understand the line “Juliet is the sun”—as, basically, energy.

 

It is Hamlet’s father who says “Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres..” and here, also I believe Shakespeare is referring to Giordano Bruno’s heretical idea that the spheres were nonsense (since Bruno posited an infinite universe, whereas Copernicus retained 

the spheres in his heliocentric model). It is worth noting that Juliet’s eyes are also compared to stars that have left their spheres: “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, Having some business, do entreat her eyes, to twinkle in their spheres till they return.” Therefore “leaving” the spheres could be a kind of coded reference to the idea of “leaving” the old astronomical ideas.

 

Why did Shakespeare hide the Brunian ideas by using double meanings and veiled or cloaked references? It was simply because Bruno was imprisoned for heresy in 1591 and executed in 1600. But my research shows that Shakespeare upheld Bruno’s ideas: “Hero” is the name of the lady falsely accused and who “dies” until people come around to seeing her blamelessness. Malvolio is subjected to a mock religious inquisition, complete with a question about the Pythagorean concept of the souls, as was Bruno. 

 

My paper on the sun (solar energy) and “Hamlet” was recently published by the Area Studies Journal of the University of Tsukuba. It is entitled “’Stand and Unfold Yourself’: Prince Hamlet Unmasked”. It is also at my academia site and slideshare site (and I presented it at the Societe Francais Shakespeare 450 conference in Paris this April). In it, I address the theory of Peter Usher, who comes so close to figuring out the puzzle—but neglects Bruno and focuses on Copernicus. 

 

Shakespeare focused on Bruno, rather.

 

Marianne Kimura

 
 
Another Hiatus and Update on Volunteers

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.322  Tuesday, 15 July 2014

 

From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Subject:    Another Hiatus and Update on Volunteers 

 

Dear All,

 

I am leaving early Friday morning, June 18th, for another ten days without Internet access in western Massachusetts. I’ll be home on June 28th and then on June 30th I leave for the UK for a couple of weeks of theater and the ISC. I will have the Internet in England and will edit SHAKSPER from London and Stratford.

 

On a related note, my call for volunteers has lead to a number of promising responses.

 

Here is how things stand at this point:

 

Position Filled: Shakespeare on the Internet Guide has not been updated in about five years. Someone has been recruited to update it and its links and will be working on it this summer: <http://shaksper.net/scholarly-resources/shakespeare-on-the-internet>

 

Position Filled: Shakespeare Spinoffs/Character Bibliography: These lists (found in the Reference files section of Scholarly Resources) were very popular during the early days of SHAKSPER but have not been updated since around the late 1990s. Someone has shared her list of similar titles with me to be combined with the existing lists, and is working on producing an up-to-date list for us. <http://shaksper.net/scholarly-resources/reference-files>

 

Position Filled: Shakespeare Plays and Festivals: I started this last summer from available resources. When I was a contributing editor to the Shakespeare Newsletter I compiled a similar list for some years. Someone has volunteered. We have a US list of festivals mounted and she is working on adding to it. <http://shaksper.net/scholarly-resources/shakespeare-festivals-and-plays>

 

Seeking Interested Person/s: Pedagogy: Teaching Resources: At present, this section of the web site contains only resources that I have used or made available. Pedagogy is a hot topic. I would like to recruit someone as an Assistant/Coordinating Editors who would be in charge of developing further this section of the web site: <http://shaksper.net/scholarly-resources/pedagogy-teaching-resources> Is anyone interested?

 

Preliminary Interest Expressed but would probably work best as a Panel: SHAKSPER Roundtable Discussions: I found these very interesting at the time but they did involve a tremendous amount of work. Again, if anyone is interested either for a single Roundtable or to act as an assistant editor in charge of this area, pleases let me know. However, these are for positions for established academics current with research in the discipline. <http://shaksper.net/scholarly-resources/roundtable-discussions>

 

Desperately Seeking Coordinator and Possible Panel Members: The SHAKSPER Book Reviews has been fallow for sometime now through no one’s fault. There is a Book Review Panel and I am looking for anyone who might wish to take the initiative and revitalize it. If the person would be interested in a limited commitment that is fine, but someone is interested in a long-term commitment of more than a year, I would offer the position as a Coordinating Editor.

 

I am now most interested in getting a Assistant/Coordinating Editor to get the Book Review Panel operating again. However, if you are interested in it, it is a peer-reviewed panel and I would only appoint someone who has submitted me a Brief CV and email expressing interest. We already have excellent Panel members but we have stalled on getting a coordinator. This is a time-limited commitment but does require periodic work coordinating submissions and Panel responses. We have many form letters already developed, so you would not be starting cold and I will give you the names of former coordinators should you volunteer. This is the kind of appointment from which I would look for an Associate Editor to take over editing from me when I am away. I am also interested in seeking possible Panel Members and would also require a brief CV and email expressing an interest.

 

For those of you who have volunteered: I am grateful for those who have taken on the projects listed above. 

 

I am currently working through responses from other volunteers and welcome anyone else who is interested.

 

Hardy

 
 
Is Titus Deranged?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.321  Tuesday, 15 July 2014

 

[1] From:        Markus Marti < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         July 14, 2014 at 1:30:46 PM EDT

     Subject:    Deranged or not deranged?

 

[2] From:        John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         July 14, 2014 at 2:02:03 PM EDT

     Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Is Titus Deranged?

 

[3] From:        Kirk McElhearn < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         July 14, 2014 at 4:27:20 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Is Titus Deranged? 

 

[4] From:        Lawrence Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         July 14, 2014 at 7:46:27 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Is Titus Deranged? 

 

[5] From:        Jim Carroll < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         July 14, 2014 at 10:19:43 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: Is Titus Deranged? 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Markus Marti < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         July 14, 2014 at 1:30:46 PM EDT

Subject:    Deranged or not deranged?

 

“Revenge is a kind of wild justice”, said Bacon, and revengers are “wild” persons. This applies to Hieronimo and to Titus, both mentioned in the same digest. Revengers pretending to be mad or being mad is a brand mark off Revenger’s tragedies. Whether they are really mad or not, is often hard to decide. Hamlet, one of the main characters of another revenge tragedies, announces it: he intends to “put an antic disposition on” (I.5.172), but we can never be quite sure whether this “antic disposition” is just “put on” or “real”—are not all revengers mad anyway? Titus as a cruel general of the Roman army and as a father who kills his sons he is certainly in many ways obviously mad from the beginning of the play . . . 

 

Markus Marti

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         July 14, 2014 at 2:02:03 PM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Is Titus Deranged?

 

I am persuaded by Robert Appelbaum’s comments on Titus Andronicus’s alleged madness. The problem raises itself again in that other ‘revenge’ play, ‘Hamlet’ which is in some ways a more sophisticated return to ‘revenge’ as a motif. In both cases the hero appears ‘mad’ relatively speaking because many of those around him try to persuade themselves that they are sane. In Rome—the Rome that Titus has defended and fought for—there is no justice once Tamora’s influence begins to exert itself. What is Titus to do? In Denmark, the court honours custom more ‘in the breach’ than ‘the observance’. As Hamlet tells Gertrude in the Closet scene: ‘Lay not that unction to your soul that my madness not your trespass speaks.’  Hamlet’s excess of emotion comes, not from madness but from disgust with his mother’s disloyalty to his dead father. Similarly, Titus’s responses to the horrors inflicted upon him are a rational response to a viciously irrational form of behaviour that manifests itself in murder and rape. If Rome is a ‘wilderness of tigers’ then Titus’s comparative isolation looks like ‘madness’ but isn’t. The issue finally revolves around the extent to which he (like Hamlet) is tainted by the forms of revenge outside the institutions of ‘justice’ that he is forced to seek.

 

Cheers

John Drakakis

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Kirk McElhearn < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         July 14, 2014 at 4:27:20 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Is Titus Deranged?

 

>So here is my question: is Titus really, from the beginning, 

>like Lear in the throes of disappointment, dementia and 

>rage? Is Titus really deranged? During one critical aside 

>Titus assures us that he is not deranged at all: ‘I know 

>them all, though they suppose me mad, / And will o’erreach 

>them in their own devices.’ It has in the past seemed to 

>me that what Titus and his audience go through is truly 

>horrible precisely because Titus is not mad, and that 

>Titus’s own tragedy-inviting violence is the violence of 

>man in full position of his wits, his authority, his military 

>values. Titus's horror is the horror of his rationality.

 

I don’t think he is, and I don’t think he should be on stage. He does come back from war with a heavy heart, having killed many men, and lost many sons. So he may be suffering form PTSD. But what makes him snap is what happens to Lavinia. 

 

I didn’t see the Globe production, but I did see last year’s RSC production twice:

 

http://www.mcelhearn.com/theater-review-titus-andronicus-by-the-royal-shakespeare-company/

 

I was able to meet with the director and there of the actors after the performance, and Stephen Boxer, who played Titus, said: “I think the key to Andronicus is the brutalization of war [ . . . ] and what it does to a human being.” 

 

So he saw Titus as having seen and done things beyond what one should do. In the play, he portrayed Titus as fatigued in the beginning, then had him go over the edge after Lavinia’s rape and maiming. I found it very convincing; there didn’t seem to be any of the kind of madness that Simon Russell Beale played in his recent Lear. 

 

I regret that the RSC hadn’t started filming the plays for that production of Titus. 

 

Kirk

Kirkville: http://www.mcelhearn.com

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mcelhearn

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Lawrence Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         July 14, 2014 at 7:46:27 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Is Titus Deranged?

 

At the beginning of the play, Titus exhibits signs of a personality disorder characterized by over-rigidity, but no psychosis. He is certainly sent around the bend by the events of the play (who wouldn't be), a form of PTSD I suppose. But at no point does he evidence dementia, at least as Shakespeare wrote it. But a director can do what he or she likes, I suppose.

 

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Jim Carroll < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         July 14, 2014 at 10:19:43 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Is Titus Deranged?

 

I would say that Robert Applebaum is correct in his assessment of Titus’ state of mind. The play as a whole is a kind of pre-Lear in that both plays involve men who voluntarily give up power and suffer the consequences, but the character of Titus is more a pre-Hamlet, feigning madness in order to right the wrongs that have been suffered. And as with “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”, Shakespeare’s tale is freely mis-interpreted by modern directors.

 

Jim Carroll

 
 
Shakespeare and Science

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.320  Tuesday, 15 July 2014

 

From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         July 14, 2014 at 5:33:23 PM EDT

Subject:    Was Shakespeare Aware of the Scientific Discoveries of His Time? 

 

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/was-shakespeare-aware-scientific-discoveries-his-time-180951198/

 

Was Shakespeare Aware of the Scientific Discoveries of His Time?

For his new book, Dan Falk followed a group of scholars who argue, unlike most, that the playwright was up to speed with the latest astronomy

By Megan Gambino

smithsonian.com 

April 23, 2014

 

You could read the line in Hamlet about shuffling off this “mortal coil” and think it has something to do with the helical structure of DNA, says Dan Falk. But, that would be crazy, right?

 

Perhaps equally wild, however, is this: Many Shakespearian scholars conclude that the playwright was not conscious of the Scientific Revolution that was happening around him.

 

In timing with the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth this month, Falk has released his new book, The Science of Shakespeare. In it, he argues that the Bard was mindful of the developments happening in astronomy during his day and, in fact, used them as fodder in his plays.

 

I recently had the chance to talk to Falk, a Shakespeare fan and amateur astronomer. He shared his ideas and those of a small sect of scholars who are rethinking the playwright’s grasp on science.

 

Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616. He wrote most of his works between 1589 and 1613. What was going on at this time scientifically?

 

Shakespeare lived and worked when some very interesting discoveries were happening. These are discoveries that we now think of as key developments in the Scientific Revolution. Of course, nobody called it the Scientific Revolution back then. That term wasn’t coined until maybe the 19th century. They didn’t even have the word science, at least not in the sense that we think of the term today. There was natural philosophy.

 

What was going on in science? We can remember that Copernicus published his groundbreaking book, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. That was 1543—21 years before Shakespeare is born.

 

There is a supernova that lights up the night sky in 1572, observed by Tycho Brahe in Denmark but also observed in England. We call it the Tycho star. Thomas Digges in England publishes an almanac in support of the Copernican system in 1576. He is expanding on an almanac originally written by his father Leonard Digges but he includes a diagram that shows the stars extending outwards seemingly towards infinity. This is something Copernicus never talked about, but here is a suggestion that maybe the universe is infinite.

 

Gerardus Mercator, famous for the Mercator projection, publishes his atlas in 1595. This is also the age of exploration, so we have new ideas about just how large the world is. For example, how small is the tiny island of Britain compared to the vastness of the world?

 

You have people like William Gilbert writing his treatise on magnetism in 1600. Aside from the first supernova, there is the second supernova. The star that we think of as Kepler’s star exploded in 1604. He could not have missed that. There were eclipses of the Sun and Moon in the fall of 1605 that Shakespeare could very well have seen.

 

Francis Bacon writes his book, The Advancement of Learning, in 1605, a book that for the first time was laying out the rules for science and how science ought to be done. The telescope is invented in 1609 in Holland and Galileo gets his hands on one, starts looking at the night sky, makes all these now very famous discoveries and then publishes them in a little book called Sidereus Nuncius, the Starry Messenger, in the spring of 1610.

 

Even if there was nothing interesting to be said between the relationship between Shakespeare and these discoveries—and I don’t think that’s the case—I think the fact that he lived and worked while this was happening is still a great excuse to use whatever he did write as a probe or a side door to get into this remarkable period of history.

 

For the most part, scholars have thought that Shakespeare was largely unaware of the groundbreaking science of his day. What has been said? On what grounds do they make this conclusion?

 

Shakespeare doesn’t talk about the so-called “new philosophy,” or the new ideas of Copernicus and later Galileo. It is not mentioned overtly, like it is when you read John Donne or John Milton. John Donne has this poem, “An Anatomy of the World.” The line is “new philosophy calls all in doubt.” Milton is writing a half-century later, but still in Paradise Lost you have this very overt story about the differences between the two world systems and which is better.

 

When he does talk about astronomy, you have Julius Caesar comparing himself to the North Star. You have Romeo and Juliet analyzing the rising Sun. In King Lear, they talk about eclipses of the Sun and Moon. There are actually many references like that, but it is not immediately clear that they have anything to do with these developments in science, the new philosophy. So, you can just dismiss it as being fairly medieval or pre-Copernican.

 

There are several places where he’ll talk about the spheres, meaning the heavenly spheres or the crystalline spheres that go back to Aristotle and are presumed to hold up the stars and planets. If you leave it at that, it’s like, well, so this is all very poetic, but he clearly doesn’t seem to have been engaged in science.

 

Eventually, we come to see these spheres as fictitious. If Shakespeare keeps talking about the spheres, does that peg him as old school? Who knows, right?

 

In Hamlet, one of the characters says “Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,” as in, I was so shocked at seeing the ghost that my eyes jumped out of my head, just like a star might be pushed out of its sphere. That alludes to the medieval cosmology, but that doesn’t mean that Shakespeare believed it. You see how tricky this is?

 

Plus, within one play, you might have a character who sees things one way and a character who sees things another way. Of course, you are left wondering, does either character represent Shakespeare?

 

You’ve found a small group of scholars who believe they’ve found ties in Shakespeare’s works to science. Peter Usher, an astronomer, for one, has an interesting interpretation of Hamlet.

 

Peter Usher has a very elaborate theory about Hamlet, in which the play is seen as an allegory about competing cosmological worldviews. There are actually three of them: the old Ptolemaic Earth-centered point of view, the new view of Copernicus and this kind of hybrid view put forth by Tycho Brahe.

 

Usher sees the characters in Hamlet as standing in for various astronomers or mathematicians. His starting point was the bad guy of the play, Claudius. Claudius is the uncle who has murdered Hamlet’s father, the old King Hamlet, and has married the queen and taken over the throne. So, Claudius happens to have the same name as Claudius Ptolemy, the ancient Greek mathematician and astronomer who we now associate most closely with the geo-centric Ptolemaic worldview.

 

Hamlet stands in for Thomas Digges and the new, correct Copernican worldview. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stand in for Tycho Brahe. He finds this one-to-one correspondence between the characters in Hamlet and various astronomers and philosophers either from ancient times or who were active in Shakespeare’s day.

 

Usher and others, including scholars Scott Maisano and John Pitcher, also make an argument about the play, Cymbeline, that you find to be strong evidence of Shakespeare’s scientific knowledge. Can you explain?

 

Scholars generally say that Shakespeare had nothing at all to say about Galileo. I think that’s too hasty. The obvious place to turn is this remarkable scene in Act V of Cymbeline.

 

I’ll give you the brief version: The god Jupiter descends from the heavens. He actually comes down to Earth and the four ghosts of the protagonist’s dead relatives—mother, father and two brothers—appear. The main character is British, but he was pretending to be Roman, so British soldiers capture him thinking that he is an enemy combatant. They put him in jail where he falls into a kind of a trance. He is having this dream and these four ghosts dance around him.

 

Does this prove anything? No. But it is very, very suggestive. We’ve got Jupiter and four ghosts moving in a circle. More or less in the same year that Cymbeline was written, Galileo has just published this book, Sidereus Nuncius, describing Jupiter and these four previously unknown moons that move around Jupiter. Maybe this scene in Cymbeline is Shakespeare’s way of at least alluding to it. Cymbeline is a complicated play, but that scene is bizarre compared to Shakespeare’s other plays. It is just a very strange thing, and at least the Galileo allusion is a kind of possible explanation for it.

 

How interested was he in [Galileo’s work?]? I don’t know. Maybe it was just one of a dozen things that he thought were topical and noteworthy at that time. This is not someone who was just sort of unaware of the news of the day. This suggests that he at least had some interest in this fascinating book written by an Italian scholar 1,000 miles away. Maybe this was his tip of the hat to that discovery.

 

I think discoveries like this one provided Shakespeare fodder for his plays. I think he was at least aware of some of these developments and thought, okay, that’s cool. What can I do with this? He didn’t obsess over it the way that John Donne and John Milton did, but that doesn’t mean he ignored it either.  

 
 
Is Titus deranged?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.319  Monday, 14 July 2014

 

From:        Robert Appelbaum < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:        July 12, 2014 at 7:14:37 AM EDT

Subject:    Is Titus deranged?

 

Dear SHAKSPERians, 

 

I have just come back from one of the last performances this season of Titus Andronicus at the Globe in London. It was a successful performance, I thought, which kept the audience engaged throughout, struggling to maintain its balance. Farce or tragedy? Should we laugh or should we cry? There were people who fainted among the groundlings, but more I think from heat and exhaustion than from horror at the violence on stage, horrible though it sometimes was.

            

I was not entirely taken by William Houston’s performance as Titus, though. From the start of the play, Houston’s Titus was deranged, with a cracked voice, a harassed demeanour, a bent body, an uncontrollably agitated temperament. One reviewer compared Houston’s Titus to Lear, and the director, Lucy Bailey, has also made that connection: ‘Shakespeare’s imagery in Titus is very elemental’, she is quoted as saying in the program notes. ‘It is as if Titus, Lear-like, is adrift in this storm and doesn’t know if he is awake or sleeping; he is in the midst of a terrible nightmare’.  

            

So here is my question: is Titus really, from the beginning, like Lear in the throes of disappointment, dementia and rage? Is Titus really deranged? During one critical aside Titus assures us that he is not deranged at all: ‘I know them all, though they suppose me mad, / And will o’erreach them in their own devices.’ It has in the past seemed to me that what Titus and his audience go through is truly horrible precisely because Titus is not mad, and that Titus’s own tragedy-inviting violence is the violence of man in full position of his wits, his authority, his military values.Titus's horror is the horror of his rationality.

            

I wonder if SHAKSPER readers agree with me, or rather think that Bailey and Houston were right to create a Titus who ‘doesn’t know if he is awake or sleeping’?

 

Robert Appelbaum

Professor of English Literature

Engelska Institutionen

Uppsala Universitet

http://www.engelska.uu.se/Personal/Appelbaum

www.robertappelbaum.com

 
 
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