Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hamlet's Universe - 1 - Shakespeare's Astronomy

Note to Visitors: This topic is not part of the top-line Baconian evidence. It's just additional evidence when Shakespeare's astronomical or scientific knowledge is being considered.

Hamlet’s Universe   Part 1 of 9

A recurrent theme in Shakespeare studies seems to be that more and more continues to be found in the Shakespeare works the more that those with expertise in various fields examines them. This has been because on the surface many educated persons often didn’t see much depth of learning in them. I posted on this some time ago, especially in one of the posts on Ben Jonson and The Eton College Discussion. So it has taken experts in the Bible to notice all the biblical allusions through subtle metaphors and the like. It has taken experts in English literature to discover the variety of sources Shakespeare used. It has taken experts in English law to find many allusions to legal knowledge and to legal cases of Shakespeare’s era in the works. It has taken some expertise to show that Shakespeare likely had to be able to read Greek. And more research seems to show that he likely had to have travelled extensively in Europe.

Now, an expert in astronomy is showing that it also appears that Shakespeare was well versed in matters of astronomy and the discoveries and controversies happening in that field following the Copernican revolution. Prior to his investigations it seemed to many that Shakespeare may only have been superficially knowledgeable about the celestial heaven and the current beliefs about its nature.

Scholarly work by Peter D. Usher, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University, explores this new topic. He has described his research before the American Astronomical Society and other groups of scholars and Shakespeare enthusiasts. His bio can be found here:

He published Hamlet’s Universe in 2006 and later Shakespeare and the Dawn of Modern Science in 2010. I’ve read the first book and am just reading now the second book, but I have plenty to post on this topic already.

I won’t post here what can easily and more thoroughly be read elsewhere on the internet. Here are a few good sites to quickly get the gist of Professor Usher’s findings and thesis:

Much of the Shakespearean evidence Professor Usher provides easily escapes the non-astrophysist, especially if he/she isn’t familiar with the Copernican Revolution. So a background on this would be very helpful for readers:

Among the types of evidence presented in Hamlet’s Universe are Shakespeare’s knowledge of many astronomical terms, familiarity with many of the key individuals involved with astronomical research in Shakespeare’s time and before, and familiarity with various proposed models in competition to replace the Ptolemaic model of the heavens.

He argues that Shakespeare’s knowledge in this area, as other experts have shown in other areas, is presented indirectly through the language and characters and plots and subplots such that with the play of Hamlet it amounts to an allegory of the active astronomical research occurring at the time.

After more than ten years of this research and writing on this topic, Professor Usher must have been so convinced of the validity of his theory that he concluded, from the expertise shown in the Shakespeare works, as he sees it, that only one of the active researchers in this endeavor is likely to have been the author of the Shakespeare works. Though the English mathematician and astronomer Thomas Digges   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Digges   was the hero of Prof. Usher’s first book, by his second book he had come to the conjectured solution that Thomas’ father Leonard Digges was actually the true playwright Shake-Speare, in hiding, and who had not died in 1559 as has been thought. Prof. Usher is aware that there have been some 50 proponents as the ‘real’ Shakespeare (as opposed to the man from Stratford), though he doesn’t seem to have studied the Shakespeare authorship literature. He does though strive with  evidence and argument, helped with his decades of scientific training, to make what might seem a plausible case for Leonard Digges as Shakespeare.

A problem for his theory that proposes Leonard Digges as the real Shakespeare is that he needs to greatly stretch the circumstantial evidence to try and tie Digges to the name and body of work of Shakespeare. And this isn’t much different than has been done for William himself as his supporters try to show how he could appear to have the legal knowledge of a trained lawyer. The Stratfordian Hotson doesn’t doubt that Shakespeare used some of the work of Thomas Digges. But the Digges' connection to William, with their advanced astronomical knowledge, has a few degrees of separation too many for believability, if Usher is correct in the amount and accuracy of that knowledge that he sees in the Shakespeare works. So the argument goes that William “lived near the Digges" home in London, and after the death of Thomas Digges in 1595, Digges’ widow married Thomas Russell, the overseer of Shakespere’s will. And that supposedly, though there’s no evidence of this, Thomas Digges’ son Leonard (grandson of the original Leonard), who wrote a commendatory verse for the First Folio, became friends with William. So, the unspoken argument, apparently, is that Thomas Digges (or maybe even his father Leonard) dumped a very great deal of their astronomical knowledge into the brain of Thomas’ wife who then dumped it all into her second husband Thomas Russell, who then dumped it all over again into the head of William. And just because this somehow seems very plausible to them that therefore it must be true. 

What I intend to show, with Prof. Usher’s extensive research and new theory of Shakespeare’s cosmic allegory, is that the evidence again points to Francis Bacon. And that there is no need at all to jump through multiple hoops to strain a relationship between Shakespeare’s astronomical knowledge and a legitimate alternate author candidate.

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