European and English science during the time of Shakespeare (1564–1616), as revealed in his works. It’s a peculiar juxtaposition, but it works…mostly.
Science writer Falk (In Search of Time: The Science of a Curious Dimension, 2008, etc.) has done an admirable job of boning up on the output of the playwright whose works contain lines, hints and metaphors that refer to the latest discoveries. Over the centuries, scientific revolutions are a dime a dozen. The author resists the temptation to single out his era but emphasizes that big changes were occurring (“Looking back after four centuries, it’s obvious to us that Shakespeare lived in a remarkable time”), and the biggest was a new description of the universe. In 1543, Copernicus’ publication of On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, which replaced the Earth with the sun at the center of the universe, created no popular stir, but natural philosophers (“scientist” is a 19th-century word) noticed. Galileo, born the same year as Shakespeare, is best known, but several obscure Englishmen made major contributions. Thomas Harriot (1560–1621) may have examined the sky with a telescope at the same time. Thomas Digges (1546–1595), a neighbor of Shakespeare, was the first Englishman to promote Copernicus’ findings. Shakespeare himself makes liberal reference to this new universe but does not ignore astrology, still a respectable branch of astronomy, as well as Elizabethan medicine, magic, psychology and even theology. All Christian creeds find much to admire in Shakespeare, but skeptics also claim him as one of their own. Leaving no stone unturned, Falk devotes perhaps too many pages to enthusiasts who have pored over the works and discovered astonishing allegories, hidden messages and discoveries far ahead of his time.
An odd but appealing mixture of science and literary analysis.