Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bacon and Shakespeare - Interest in Philosophy

Opinions, attitudes and interests of Shake-Speare and Bacon.

Philosophical Bent

A.L. Rowse, comparing Bacon and Shake-Speare in a newspaper article, wrote that Bacon was "a kindred spirit, though with a more intellectual cast of mind". For my part, I cannot see that Shake-Speare is any less intellectual than Bacon, when due allowance is made for the hugely different media their acknowledged works occupy. Obviously, intellectuality in overtly philosophical works will be far more concentrated than in plays and poetry. But one never ceases to be amazed by the intellectual density of the Shake-Speare works. He was as addicted to philosophizing as Bacon was. In Shake-Speare it mainly took the form of world-wise comments on the human condition. Such comments were fairly common in Elizabethan drama, but according to William Creizenach in his English Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (English translation, 1916), p. 127, "It was certainly the example of Shakespeare which led other dramatists to vie with one another in adorning the lines of their tragic hero with philosophic or would-be philosophic utterances." 

Even more remarkably, Shake-Speare's philosophizing was not limited to wise saws but extended to technical doctrines of philosophy and natural science, which are quite often dragged in for no dramatic purpose but simply because they were of interest to the author. An example is Hamlet 3.4.71-3. Hamlet is upbraiding his mother for marrying his uncle, and says to her: "Sense sure you have, / Else could you not have motion; but sure that sense / Is apoplex'd." These lines (which are in Quarto 2 but not in the Folio) were only introduced because, as the Arden editor notes: "It was an Aristotelian maxim that the external senses are necessarily present in all creatures which have the power of locomotion." Bacon refers to this doctrine in his The Advancement of Learning and in his Natural History. One is left with the impression that the philosophical and scientific side of Shake-Speare's work meant at least as much to him as the poetic.

Was William Shakspere of Stratford too "all sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought"? With the possible exception mentioned below, none of the stories about him, whether true or apocryphal, present him in his light. Nor can his Stratford upbringing or the hurly-burly of the London Theatre, have conduced to a habit of philosophical reflection.

Here are some quotes from Shakespeare's Philosophy by Colin McGinn (2006). McGinn has taught philosophy at University College of London, Oxford, and Rutgers University, and is currently distinguished professor of philosophy at the university of Miami.

"If I were to award him [Shakespeare] a single label, it would be "naturalist." "
p. 15

"He has the curiosity of a scientist, the judgment of a philosopher, and the soul of a poet. ...He is a beady-eyed naturalist of raging human interiority and social collision. ...In both Montaigne's and Shakespeare's work, there is a kind of appalling, but exhilarating, candor. And some of that ruthlessness is philosophical: the determination to expose reality for what it is, to undermine dogma and complacency. In the end, of course, this is nothing other than a dedication to the truth".
p. 16

"Here we see Shakespeare the empirical naturalist, the proto-scientist."
p. 30

"He [Shakespeare] also approached the mind in the spirit of a scientist--he is interested in how it works, what the components are, and how they interact".
p. 164

"Shakespeare, as a dramatic naturalist, must give us a rendering of this part of nature."
p. 179

Some quotes regarding Bacon:

"He was poet, orator, naturalist, physician, historian, essayist, philosopher, statesman, and judge."
Edwin Reed

"If a man will begin with certainties, he will end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he will end in certainties." Bacon

"There are and can be only two ways of searching into and discovering truth."

"For myself, I found that I was fitted for nothing so well as for the study of truth; as having a Mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the Resemblances of Things (which is the chief point) and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their Subtler Differences; as being gifted by Nature with Desire to seek, patience to Doubt, fondness to Meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and as being a man that neither affects what is new nor admires what is old, and that hates every kind of Imposture. So I thought my Nature had a kind of familiarity and Relationship with Truth."  Bacon, On the Interpretation of Nature

And finally:

“For of all the strange things about this man William Shakespeare one of the most remarkable is the fact that he could contrive no scene so theatrical, no stage effect so comic or dialogue so nonsensical, as to protect himself from the insertion right in the midst of it of touches of nature scientific in their veracity. Such was the grip that truth seems to have had on him.”

The Meaning of Shakespeare, (1951) by Harold C. Goddard, vol. 1, p. 288

No comments:

Post a Comment