Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Bacon and Shakespeare Theory of Spirits - 1

The Bacon and Shake-Speare Theory of "spirits"

This subset of parallels represents the third (of four) subsets that Cockburn felt by themselves were remarkable enough to prove common authorship. The previous two mentioned were from Troilus and Cressida and from The Tempest. He also felt that there could be others that were similarly special, though he didn't specify them. Personally, I would add the set from Julius Caesar with these. This subject of "spirits" takes up 8-9 pages in Cockburn's book and I don't see an easy way to abridge it without losing much of the force of the argument. So I'm going to break it down into a number of smaller posts that can be digested and reviewed in chunks. In addition to the authorship argument contribution they make, Shake-Speare enthusiasts can also find the insight into this topic interesting in the light they throw upon the understanding of the plays they are found in.

So this is Part 1 of 9

Bacon tells us in his Natural History that the "spirits" as a principle of life were "scarce known" and that there were no less than five theories about them; namely, that they should be equated with (1) a vacuum; or (2) air; or (3) natural heat; or (4) the quality of tangible parts; or (5) (in the case of animals) the soul.

Bacon's own theory of "spirits" is summarized by his main biographers (Spedding and Elis) in the preface to Bacon's History of Life and Death as follows:

"The principle of life resides in a subtle fluid or spirit which permeates the tangible parts of the organization of plants and animals...Bacon was one of those by whom this idea was extended from organized to inorganic bodies; in all substances, according to him, resides a portion of spirit which manifests itself only in its operations, being altogether intangible and without weight...In living bodies he conceived that two kinds of spirits exist; a crude or mortuary spirit, such as is present in other substances, and an animal or vital spirit, to which the phenomena of life are to be referred. To keep the vital spirit, the wine of life, from oozing away, ought to be the aim of the physician".

Bacon believed that motion was the prime characteristic of the spirits and essential to them. In his History of Life and Death he says: "The living spirit seems to require three things for its subsistence", the first being "Suitable motion". In the same work he says: "The living spirit perishes immediately when it is deprived either of motion or refrigeration or of aliment". In his Novum Organum he refers to the spirits' "eager and restless motion". He speaks regularly of the "motions" of the "spirits". For example, in his History of Life and Death he says: "Next follows the inquiry for restraining the motions of the spirits".

Time and time again throughout his works, especially in his Natural History and his History of Life and Death, he seeks to explain some phenomenon of animate or inanimate nature by reference to the supposed activities of the spirits. For "the spirits are the agents and workmen that produce all the effects of the body"; and "they are never almost at rest and from their motions principally proceed...most of the effects of nature".

Bacon's obsessive theory of the spirits is reflected in the Shake-Speare plays. They mention "spirits" or "spirit" (usually the latter) about 360 times. Usually the word is not used in a sense which is obviously technical but rather in today's general sense - e.g., "he had a fine spirit" or "his spirits were low". Or occasionally of course to denote phantoms. But sometimes Bacon's theory shows its head and I shall cite and explain several instances of this in (a) through (i) below [in the following posts]. And added will be (j) three more texts (one of them a famous crux) which provide interesting Bacon/Shake-Speare parallels in terminology, though their "spirits" are not transparently technical.

end of part 1, the next post will begin with the (a) mentioned above.

No comments:

Post a Comment