Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Bacon and Shakespeare Theory of Spirits - 4

The Bacon and Shake-Speare Theory of "spirits"

part 4 of 9 

(c)  one is never merry when one hears sweet music because it stills (and dulls) the spirits

First, Shake-Speare:

from The Merchant of Venice 5.1.69-70 and 83-6

Jessica:  I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
Lorenzo:  The reason is, your spirits are attentive.
              The man that hath no music in himself,
              Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds
              Is fit for treasons, strategems and spoils,
              The motions of his spirit are dull as night,

Commentary: The Arden editor, misunderstanding "spirits" in line 70, paraphrases it as "mind, faculties of perception". But Shake-Speare's true meaning is shown by Bacon's Natural History:

"...some noises...help sleep; as the blowing of the wind, the trickling of water, humming of bees, soft singing, reading. The cause is that they move in the spirits a gentle attention and whatsoever moveth attention, without too much labour, stilleth the natural and discursive motion of the spirits."

So Jessica is never merry when she hears sweet music (such as soft singing) because it stills her spirits - if she were merry, they would be "lively and stirring (see (a) above). Shake-Speare had no need to introduce lines 69-70, but he did so to air his theory of spirits. Compare Shake-Speare's "attentive" with Bacon's "attention"; and "the motions of his spirit" in line 86 with Bacon's "the natural and discursive motion of the spirits".

Bacon twice more associates sound or music with "the spirits". In his Natural History he says: "The sense of hearing striketh the spirits more immediately than the other senses...So it is no marvel if they [tunes] alter the spirits, considering that tunes have a predisposition to the motion of the spirits in themselves". In the same work he says: "The objects of the ear do affect the spirits (immediately) most with pleasure and offence". One should add before passing on that "concord of sweet sounds" in line 84 is also a very Baconian expression that was posted earlier.

The above passage from The Merchant of Venice immediately precedes the earlier parallel in which Portia speaks of the greater hiding the less, and silence making sounds sweeter by night. Thus Bacon's thought is dense in this scene.

end of (c) part 4 of 9

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