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posted by LaminatorX on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:44AM   Printer-friendly
from the Bright-Bards dept.

Dan Falk writes in Scientific American that in the last few years, scholars have begun to look more closely at William Shakespeare's interest in the scientific discoveries of his time-asking what he knew, when he knew it, and how that knowledge might be reflected in his work. Astronomer Peter Usher argues that examples of the playwright's scientific knowledge can be found in works spanning his entire career and has taken a particular interest in Hamlet, which he sees as an allegory about competing cosmological worldviews. "According to Usher, the play references not only Copernicus, but also Ptolemy, as well as Tycho Brahe (PDF), who pushed for a hybrid model of the solar system (a compromise that preserved elements of the ancient Ptolemaic system as well as the new Copernican model). Digges, too, is central to Usher's theory. When Hamlet envisions himself as "a king of infinite space," could he be alluding to the new, infinite universe described-for the first time-by his countryman Thomas Digges?" Usher's proposal may sound far-fetched-but even skeptics do a double take when they look at Tycho Brahe's coat of arms, noticing that two of Tycho's relatives were named "Rosencrans" and "Guildensteren."

According to Falk, Shakespeare's characters were connected to the cosmos in a way that seems quite foreign to the modern reader. Whether crying for joy or shedding tears of anguish, they look to the heavens for confirmation, calling out to "Jupiter" or "the gods" or "the heavens" as they struggle to make sense of their lives. "[Shakespeare] lived in an age of belief, yet a streak of skepticism runs through his work, especially toward the end of his career; in King Lear it reaches an almost euphoric nihilism. His characters often call upon the gods to help them, but their desperate pleas are rarely answered. Was Shakespeare a closet atheist, like his colleague Christopher Marlowe?

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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by Jaruzel on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:49AM

    by Jaruzel (812) on Thursday April 24 2014, @06:49AM (#35382) Homepage Journal

    For those of us in the UK, last weeks issue of New Scientist are also running these articles. It should still be on newsagents shelves (just).

    Summaries are also on the website [] but the meat is behind a paywall.


    This is my opinion, there are many others, but this one is mine.
  • (Score: 2) by Geezer on Thursday April 24 2014, @10:40AM

    by Geezer (511) on Thursday April 24 2014, @10:40AM (#35441)

    I'm not certain we can ever discern the Bard's true personal belief system from his own works or those of his contemporaries.

    Aside from the very interesting new ideas concerning his scientific interests, it is well to remember that he, like Geoffrey Chaucer, often interspersed his works with holdover references to what we sometimes romantically refer to as the "old ways", the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon and Celtic folk beliefs that never really completely died out. An example: the three Wyrd Sisters in Macbeth. Yes, the word "wyrd" refers to the A-S term for their understanding of Fate, and is the linguistic root of the modern "weird".

    So was he a scientist, a pagan, or just a great writer who wasn't really concerned about spirituality in any form one way or the other?

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Hairyfeet on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:20AM

      by Hairyfeet (75) <{bassbeast1968} {at} {}> on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:20AM (#35462) Journal

      I thought there was still some debate over whether the man even existed or if he was a front for one of the nobles? I know that watching his plays its pretty obvious that whomever wrote them was classically educated and knew court dealings yet nothing we have been able to find indicates that the man known as William Shakespeare and considering the amount of backstabbing going on in the royal courts I would probably lean for the latter. After all given what we known and Occam's Razor it seems to fit the facts the best, it gives the noble a way to get in his digs without reprisal, gives the playwright inside dope and free plays, seems to fit what we know the best.

      ACs are never seen so don't bother. Always ready to show SJWs for the racists they are.
      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:50AM

        by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:50AM (#35473) Journal

        Agreed. Given how much uncertainty there is about the man (some people still aren't convinced that the Will Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon is the same Will Shakespeare of London) , and about how much of the plays we all celebrate were actually penned by him. It seems crazy to be trying to psychoanalyse him via something he may or may not have mostly written half a millennia ago.

        I love Shakespeare, and the idea of him as an Elizabethan atheist astronomer polymath vampire hunter really appeals to me, but barring the discovery of a lot more evidence I really don't think we'll ever have enough to really see into his mind.

        Anyone who has never seen the RSC perform in Stratford or the Globe - I strongly recommend you do it if you ever get the opportunity. Even if the language seems opaque, good actors make it come alive every time.

        • (Score: 2) by Hairyfeet on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:32PM

          by Hairyfeet (75) <{bassbeast1968} {at} {}> on Thursday April 24 2014, @01:32PM (#35516) Journal

          Well I'm a firm believer in Occam's Razor and given what evidence we have the only William Shakespeare we have conclusive evidence of (Stratford-Upon-Avon) simply didn't have the education nor palace access to write what we have now....unless he was a front for somebody else, which given at the time pissing off the wrong regent could get you killed? I would say that Stratford-Upon-Avon being a front for an insider (a classical Wikileaks if you will) best fits the evidence we currently have.

          ACs are never seen so don't bother. Always ready to show SJWs for the racists they are.
      • (Score: 2) by Geezer on Thursday April 24 2014, @12:53PM

        by Geezer (511) on Thursday April 24 2014, @12:53PM (#35498)

        Quite possible, but consider that palace intrigue was not invisible to the many educated people in the financial, merchant, clergy, and civil servant classes. In fact, no landed baron could wield power without a substantial supporting faction besides his indentured yeomanry. William of Avon need not have been a peer himself to write from an informed viewpoint.

        This is one of the mysteries that invites all manner of investigation, supposition, and wild conspiracy theories.

        Here's one: Shakespeare was really but one incarnation of a cursed line that included Petronius Arbiter, Jonathan Swift, and Mark Twain. A lettered Blackadder!

        • (Score: 2) by Hairyfeet on Thursday April 24 2014, @05:19PM

          by Hairyfeet (75) <{bassbeast1968} {at} {}> on Thursday April 24 2014, @05:19PM (#35674) Journal

          The key word being "educated" which we so far have zero evidence that William of Avon had more than the most basic of education at best, certainly no evidence that he had the extensive classical education that would have been required to write what has been attributed to him.

          Until we have concrete evidence to support his higher education and formal training I will still lean to him being the classical form of wikileaks, with someone on the inside who feared reprisal writing his plays. Given what evidence we have it fits the evidence closest IMHO.

          ACs are never seen so don't bother. Always ready to show SJWs for the racists they are.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @07:31PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @07:31PM (#35738)

        He wrote the plays. Deal with it. This has been discussed to death. Sorry he wasn't a nobleman. Sorry he doesn't fit your preconceptions of someone who would be that gifted with language.

        Kindly put your ancient conspiracy theories away. Maybe you should talk about the Kennedy assassination instead? That's fresh! ubb=get_topic;f=102;t=000704;p=0 []

        (Just one of many discussions.)

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @08:16PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @08:16PM (#35762)

          Here's the relevant WP piece.

 ip_question []

          Note that real live actual academics verify his authorship through normal scholarly principles and the preponderance of evidence.

          Other wackos fall into HairyFeet's inanity. Sorry Mark Twain was among 'em, but no one's perfect. (And Twain just liked to start shit sometimes.)

  • (Score: 2) by oodaloop on Thursday April 24 2014, @10:55AM

    by oodaloop (1982) <reversethis-{moc.ohoz} {ta} {ffonimakj}> on Thursday April 24 2014, @10:55AM (#35448)

    I much preferred the Reduced Shakespeare's 5 second version of Hamlet. Everyone runs out on stage and dies.

    Many Bothans died to bring you this comment.
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Thexalon on Thursday April 24 2014, @12:27PM

      by Thexalon (636) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 24 2014, @12:27PM (#35485)

      I always liked the wonderful physics demonstration [] in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (as well as the probability discussion).

      The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
    • (Score: 1) by hendrikboom on Saturday April 26 2014, @12:22PM

      by hendrikboom (1125) on Saturday April 26 2014, @12:22PM (#36576) Homepage Journal

      Are you sure it was Hamlet you saw in five seconds? Your summary seems more like Titus Andronicus to me.

  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:49PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:49PM (#35567)
    The summary was intriguing but the link provided just goes to the Stoppard play, which has ZERO information related to Brahe.

    Instead, one can find the actual coat of arms and a relevant summary at []

    "The two names of Rosenkrans and Gyldenstern stand out because of the pair of Shakespearean characters (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern) in the Tragedy of Hamlet, prince of Denmark, which William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote around 1601 (the year Brahe died). The relevant ancestors of Tycho Brahe (ahnentafels #22 and #23) are Erik Rosenkrantz (1427-1503) and Sophie Gyldenstierne (+1477), parents of Kirstine Rosenkrantz (+1509), the maternal grandmother of Tycho Brahe's mother, Beate Bille (1526-1605). It seems most likely that the two famous Shakespearean characters were modeled after an inseparable pair of vocal students from the University of Wittenberg (founded 1502), Knud Gyldenstierne and Frederick Rosenkrantz, who visited England and Scotland in 1592, as part of the Danish legation. Both, like Tycho Brahe himself, were from the close-knit Danish nobility. Not surprisingly, the three men were relatives. Frederick Rosenkrantz is presented as a third cousin of Tycho Brahe's. Incidentally, Rosenkrantz returned to London in 1600 just as Hamlet was being written (he had just visted Tycho Brahe in Prague, traveling with Johannes Kepler). This piece of trivia keeps popping up on the Internet, with various speculations next to elements of the above explanation"

    Also, Brahe's Wikipedia entry notes "In 1998, Sky & Telescope magazine published an article by Donald W. Olson, Marilynn S. Olson and Russell L. Doescher arguing, in part, that Tycho's supernova was also the same "star that's westward from the pole" in Shakespeare's Hamlet."