Gina Maffey contemplates her next career move, having applied for positions both inside and outside of academia.
As the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth rolls round again, it’s salutary to recall just how long the hunt for science in the bard’s work has gone on. In 1917, for instance, Herbert Warren, reviewing Shakespeare’s England, mentions the bard’s “world-embracing interest” as encompassing zoology and medicine. And the playwright’s lifetime (1564-1616) certainly coincided with a panoply of key scientific events and figures.
Science is a noble enterprise with discovery of the laws of nature being the primary goal. And these laws are discovered by experimental observation. Science also studies the basic forces that govern the properties of matter, and the interaction of fundamental particles. In both these pursuits there is no room for blind belief. On the other hand, human emotions, values, and behaviour are the favourite themes of poetry.
Tyge (Latinized as Tycho) Brahe was born on 14 December 1546 in Skane, then in Denmark, now in Sweden. He was the eldest son of Otto Brahe and Beatte Bille, both from families in the high nobility of Denmark. In 1572 Tycho observed the new star in Cassiopeia and published a brief tract about it the following year. In 1574 he gave a course of lectures on astronomy at the University of Copenhagen. He was now convinced that the improvement of astronomy hinged on accurate observations. After another tour of Germany, where he visited astronomers, Tycho accepted an offer from the King Frederick II to fund an observatory. He was given the little island of Hven in the Sont near Copenhagen, and there he built his observatory, Uraniburg, which became the finest observatory in Europe.
The science of Shakespeare, award-winning science journalist Dan Falk turns his hand to the science, or rathernatural philosophy, of the early modern period. His book outlines the scientific climate and developments of Shakespeare’s time, and demonstrates the influence of science on the Bard’s works.There is no shortage of Shakespeare scholarship, and Falk is quick to acknowledge this. In this book, however, it is not the playwright who takes centre-stage. Rather, Shakespeare acts as a lens through which to explore the scientific context in which he lived and worked.
In assessing Shakespeare’s potential exposure to natural philosophy, Falk takes the reader on an eventful tour through science in the early modern era. We are introduced to the cosmologies of the ancients, before encountering some of the most influential figures in early modern science, including Copernicus, Galileo, Thomas Digges and Tycho Brahe. Several passages from Shakespeare’s plays are quoted, and the influence of particular scientific world-views upon them are analysed. For example, The science of Hamlet explores the role of Ptolemaic and Copernican cosmologies in Shakespeare’s most famous work.
That rich, strange mix pervades the exhortation that opens Henry VI Part I: “Comets, importing change of times and states,/Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky.” Perhaps this is what is most scientific in Shakespeare: the mirror he, as brilliant observer, holds up to nature and the human mind