Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Bacon and Shakespeare Theory of Spirits - 3

The Bacon and Shake-Speare Theory of "spirits"

part 3 of 9 

(b)  if one's sprits are imprisoned, one will be a dulled or tired

First, Shake-Speare:

From Love's Labour's Lost 4.3.301-4 & 323-6

[Berowne is objecting to the proposal that he and his fellows should forswear women in favor of studies]
"Why, universal plodding poisons up
The nimble spirits in the arteries
As motion and long-during action tires
The sinewy vigour of the traveller".
"But love, first learned in a lady's eyes,
Lives not alone immured in the brain,
But with the motion of all elements,
Courses as swift as thought in every power".

Comments: The Arden editor comments on "poisons up" in L.301: "Dyce pointed out that the Folio misprints poison'd for prison'd in 1 H6, V.IV.120. Halliwell and Furnivall retain 'poisons'. Furnivall says: "You don't want the metaphor of nimble spirits struggling to burst their prison: you want them dulled and numbed by poison'...Much may be said on both sides, but it is better to adhere to the originals".

But in my view Shake-Speare obviously wrote "prisons up". Though there is no such verb as either "poison up" or "prison up", Shake-Speare coined the latter by analogy with "pent up" - the metre requires "prison", not "pent" in connection with spirits. In a letter to the Duke of Buckingham in 1621 thanking him for procuring Bacon's release from the Tower, Bacon wrote: "Wherein your Lordship, by the grace of God, shall find that my adversity hath neither spent nor pent my spirits". Bacon's theory explains the consequences of the nimble spirits being imprisoned in the arteries - they cannot reach the outward parts, so that they and their owner are not "lively and stirring" (to use Bacon's words already quoted--see (a) in previous post).

Bacon speaks a number of times of spirits being imprisoned or detained. For example, in his Natural History he lists as one of the causes of putrefaction "closeness and stopping which detaineth the spirits in prison more than they would". In his History of Life and Death we find at p. 283 "detains the spirit within"; at p. 286 "the spirit being shut in"; and at p. 287 "all spirit (which like flame is fanned by motion) by being shut up becomes languid and therefore less active...slow in motion". This in essence is what Berowne says. -- If the nimble spirits are prisoned up in the arteries, they become slower in motion like a tired traveller.

In line 325 of the passage we again have Bacon's beloved word "motion". Shake-Speare was probably thinking of the motion of the lover's spirits throughout his body, engaging all his faculties. As to "spirits of the arteries", this part of Berowne's lines accords with an Elizabethan doctrine of which Shake-Speare was evidently aware. Hall's Work of Anatomie (1565) says: "The arterial spirit is more subtle, and pierceth sooner unto the quickening of the members than doth the venal or nutrimental blood". Thus Berowne's line expresses the medical theory (which prevailed before William Harvey) that the arteries were not the conduits of the blood but of the vital spirits.

end of (b) part 3 of 9

No comments:

Post a Comment