Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Bacon and Shakespeare Theory of Spirits - 5

The Bacon and Shake-Speare Theory of "spirits"

part 5 of 9 

(d)  the concept of vital spirits being seized

First, Shake-Speare:
from Romeo and Juliet 4.1.95-97

Quarto 1 says of the drug to be given to Juliet to put her into a sleep which feigns death:

"When presently through all thy veins shall run
A cold and drowsy humour which shall seize
Each and vital spirit".

Bacon in his History of Henry VII says of a pestilent fever:

"It seemeth not seated in the veins or humurs...only a malign vapour flew to the heart and seized the vital spirits; which stirred nature to strive to send it forth by an extreme sweat".

Did other writers speak of something "seizing the vital spirits"?  (The words "which shall seize each vital spirit" are omitted from the later Quartos and from the First Folio).

end of (d)

(e)   inflamed spirits

from Shake-Speare's 2 Henry IV 4.3.92-4

Falstaff:  They are generally fools and cowards - which some of us would be
              too but for inflammation [i.e. excitement through drink].

Comments: In his Novum Organum Bacon says:

"Some opiates, when taken in moderation, do strengthen the spirits, render them more robust and check the useless and inflammatory motion [i.e. some opiates, if taken in moderation, do not excite unduly]".

The O.E.D. gives the Shake-Speare text as the first and only instance of "inflammation", meaning excitement through drink or drugs. But here Bacon uses "inflammatory" in the same sense. Further, in his History of Life and Death also Bacon three times speaks of the inflammation of the spirits, namely:

"And there is no question that the spirits most absorb and consume the body, so that a larger quantity of them or a greater inflammation and acrimony greatly shortens life".

"Next follows the inquiry for restraining the motions of the spirits, for motion evidently alternates and inflames them. This restraint is effected in three ways; namely by sleep, by avoiding strong labour, too much exercise and all fatigue, and by controlling uneasy affections [passions]".

"The vital spirit has in it a degree of inflammation and is like a breath compounded of flame and air".

A little later in the same speech from 2 Henry IV Falstaff links the vital spirits and the heart, as Bacon does in the Henry VII text above. In line 106 Falstaff says that one benefit of drinking sherry is that

"then the vital commoners, and inland petty spirits, muster me all to their captain, the heart; who great and puffed up with this retinue, doth any deed of courage".

Thus Shake-Speare thinks of the natural science doctrine of vital spirits even when giving Falstaff a joke about drinking sherry.

end of (e)


(f)  from Othello 23.273-5

"O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee Devil!"

Bacon in his Natural History wrote:

"Drunken men...reel, they tremble, they cannot stand nor speak strongly. The cause is, for that the spirits of the wine oppress the spirits animal and occupate part of the place where they are".

Here, Bacon, and apparently Shake-Speare, extend the theory of spirits to wine; Bacon being one of those, as we have seen who made the extension to inorganic bodies. And why does Shake-Speare call the spirit of wine "invisible"? Possibly in keeping with Bacon's view that the spirits were "altogether intangible and without weight" (to quote Spedding's summary).

end of  (f) and of part 5 of 9

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