Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Bacon and Shakespeare Theory of Spirits - 6

The Bacon and Shake-Speare Theory of "spirits"

part 6 of 9 

(g)  the swelling of spirits which shortens life

First, Shake-Speare's Timon of Athens 3.5.101-4

The senators banish Alcibiades for ever, and the 1st Senator warns him:

"If after two days shine Athens contain thee,
Attend our weightier judgment.
And not to swell our spirit,
He shall be executed presently".

In other words, he shall be executed at once if he has not left Athens within two days. The Arden editor notes on "not to swell our  spirit": "There have been many emendations, most involving the substitution of "your" for "our". The Folio text may be interpreted satisfactorily if it is remembered that the "spirit" was often thought of as the seat of angry feeling (O.E.D.). So [the line means] "without giving further rein to our anger". The full and true meaning is, I think, provided by Bacon texts. For a start, we find Bacon using the terminology of spirits "swelling". In his Natural History he says:

"As for the cold, though it take hold of the tangible parts, yet as to the spirits, it doth rather make them swell than congeal them; as when ice is congealed in a cup, the ice will swell instead of contracting, and sometimes rift".

And in the same work he matches the Timon of Athens line with:

"Anger causeth...in some...swelling".

But why does the 1st Senator say: "And not to swell our spirit"? The reason, I suggest, is that he knew such swelling would damage the Senators' own health. In his History of Life and Death, when dealing with an analogous topic, Bacon wrote:

"We should likewise take care that a body fully nourished and not reduced by any of these spare diets, does not neglect a seasonable use of sexual intercourse, lest the spirits grow too full and soften and destroy the body".

"Lest the spirits grow too full" is of course tantamount to "Lest the spirits swell". And the grave consequence of passions damaging the spirits is emphasized again by another Bacon text. In his De Augmentis he wrote:

"The prolongation of life is to be expected rather from working on the spirits and from the softening of the parts than from the modes of alimentation. The spirits are immediately affected both by vapours and passions which have strange power over them".

In his History of Life and Death he wrote:

"The spirits most absorb and consume the body, so that a larger quantity of them or a greater inflammation and acrimony, greatly shortens life".

It looks then as though what the 1st Senator meant by "not to swell our spirits" was "not to shorten our own lives by prolonging our anger". At least, Shake-Speare had this idea in mind, even if it was above the heads of the Senators and his audience.

end of (g) and of part 6

No comments:

Post a Comment