Science Talk

Shakespeare and Science, Part 1

Dan Falk discusses his latest book, The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright's Universe 


Dan Falk discusses his latest book, The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright's Universe.

Podcast Transcript

Steve Mirsky:    Welcome to the Scientific American podcast Science Talk, posted on August 19th, 2014. I am Steve Mirsky.  On this episode...

Dan Falk:           There’s does seem to be something linking the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe to the play Hamlet.

Steve Mirsky:    And to paraphrase Shakespeare, what a piece of work is Dan, Dan Falk, that is.  He was last on this program in 2009, talking about his book In Search of Time, and he joins us again to discuss his latest work, The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright’s Universe.  By the way, there’s a brief excerpt from the book available free on our website, www.ScientificAmerican.com.  The excerpt is called “What Shakespeare Knew About Science,” just google “Scientific American” and “Dan Falk” to find it. 

Dan was visiting New York City from his home in Toronto in July and we sat down for the conversation that follows.  It’s in two parts, part one lasting just over half an hour, part two clocking in at a bit under 44 minutes.  Hey, an uncut Hamlet goes on for four hours.  Anyway, here’s me and Dan. 

Dan Falk, great to see you again.

Dan Falk:     Good to be here. 

Steve Mirsky:    Why the science of Shakespeare?  How did you decide that you wanted to investigate this story?

Dan Falk:           There were a few different things that led me to writing this book.  One of them is just noticing that Shakespeare lived at this remarkable time when discoveries were happening that now with, you know, the advantage of hindsight we can say this was part of – this was the beginning of the scientific revolution.  Nobody called it the scientific revolution at the time, nobody said, “Hey, it’s the late 1500s, we should start revolutionizing our science,” you know, it wasn’t like that.

Steve Mirsky:    Although Francis Bacon sort of did that.

Dan Falk:           Well, you know, that’s true.  And he did publish his first book around the time Shakespeare was writing King Lear, give or take.  I think it was 1605; I might be off by a couple years, but I think it was 1605.  That was Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning, and that’s where he begins to set out this path for illumination through science.  And he goes on to do that in more detail in the Novum Organum, if I’m – my Latin isn’t very good, but I hope I pronounced that right.  And Bacon was a very interesting figure in that regard.

But, you know, just looking at some of the basic milestones, I mean Copernicus had published his book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres 20 years before Shakespeare was born.  And by the way, it was a good year for science because that was also the year that Vesalius publishes his influential book on human anatomy, correcting some of the mistakes of the ancient Greek thinkers, which actually is what Copernicus was doing, too.

And then at the later – it was a little in between their different things like, you know, Magellan sailing around the world and-

Steve Mirsky:             Well, the crew made it around the world.

Dan Falk:           The crew.  That’s a good point; Magellan himself wasn’t quite so fortunate.  His crew made it around the world.  The first atlas was published, Mercator gave us that word.  And then just towards the end of that period, before Shakespeare retires, we have Galileo aiming his telescope at the night sky and the unexpected things that he saw when he looks through his telescope and the support that gave to Copernicus’ theory.  So all these things are going on and yet, I mean, you know, I took a Shakespeare course when I was in college, actually a couple of them, and of course that never comes up. 

Now there’s no shortage of things to talk about when you’re talking about Shakespeare, so we talked about, you know, the plays, his writing, how he builds, you know, a drama and what Elizabethan theater was like.  I mean there’s obviously no end of topics.  And there’s a whole sort of Shakespeare industry where, you know, not just biographies of Shakespeare, although there’s, you know, there’s usually a couple that come out almost every year and books about Shakespeare’s life and times, but there’s very little I’ve found about Shakespeare and the world of science.  I wouldn’t say it’s been completely neglected; about 90 years ago there was a book by Cumberland Clark called, well something like Shakespeare and Science.  It’s a completely forgotten book, nobody – you’d have to really dig to find a copy of that today. 

You know, so why has it been neglected?  Well, I mean that’s a whole thing we could try to figure out, but I thought, you know, at the very least this is an angle from which we can look at Shakespeare.  So that’s one of the things that made me want to write it.

Oh, you know, by the way, obviously just a coincidence of dates, but 1564, it was the year that Shakespeare was born and it also just happened to be the year Galileo was born.  So that’s kind of cool, all right.  I mean I know it’s just a point of trivia, but it does kind of hammer home this point of these figures sort of aligning up on our timeline. 

And then the last thing I would mention is just that we had a big birthday; Shakespeare turned 450 earlier this year, and that’s terrific and that’s, you know, I knew there was going to be a fair bit of attention focused on Shakespeare and maybe this would be a good time to write a book looking at the connections between Shakespeare and the world of science.

Steve Mirsky:    It’s a fascinating book.  There’s much of the first half is really an exploration of the science of the times, and a lot of that is astronomy and the conception of the place of the Earth and the Sun relative to each other and the other planets, basically, you know, the Copernicus business.  So let’s talk about what was going on there and what some people think they see in some of Shakespeare’s writings that’s related to that kind of development.

Dan Falk:           For sure.  So one of the reasons I think that people have been slow to investigate this is that if you just sort of give it a quick cursory glance – well, let me back up for a second; I mean when you go through Shakespeare’s plays you do find many, many references to the sun, the moon, stars, eclipses, comets, meteors; there’s a lot, there’s a whole litany of – right, I mean it’s not a rear thing for Shakespeare.  He seems to have sort of a passion for at least referencing different, you know, phenomena that are happening in the sky.  Sometimes it’s an intricate part of the plot, usually it’s not; usually it’s something that’s happening in the background. 

But the problem is that a lot of them are ambiguous in terms of what world view they commit you to.  So one example of this is in Troilus and Cressida, where one of the generals, Ulysses, it gives us this kind of remarkable speech; it’s very long, it goes on and on, and it’s sometimes called the “Degree” speech.  And he’s kind of comparing the social order down here on Earth with the cosmic order, and I’ll just take a moment to read part of it. 

“The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all the line of order;
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol – that’s S-O-L – the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthron’d and spher’d
Amidst the other”

And it continues further.

Steve Mirsky:    Right.  And the language is ambiguous and I’ll let you talk about how it’s – for some people it’s an affirmation of a Ptolemaic worldview or universe view, solar system view for others, it’s an embracing of the new Copernican view.

Dan Falk:           Right.  It can – that’s the problem, it can totally go either way.  I mean the business of spheres and proportion, I mean it doesn’t really tell you anything.  It’s the – it sounds – you can easily read that as the old Ptolemaic view, where the planets are embedded on these crystalline spears, for listeners who may not be familiar with this.  I mean this ancient idea, which actually continued well into Copernicus’ time, and it wasn’t until I think Kepler that they were finally sort of done away with.  And thus this idea that the planets don’t move sort of on their own, but they move because they’re attached to these invisible spears that rotate.  And for the ancient Greeks, of course they were thought to rotate around the Earth; the Earth was seen as being the center of everything.

But for people that want to look at it the other way, you know, it does say “the glorious planet Sol,” referring to the Sun.  You know, now it’s not a shock to read the Sun as a planet is actually in line with the old geocentric view, but, you know, eminence and throne, I mean putting the Sun in this sort of elevated position does sound maybe a little bit Copernican.  But you see kind of the problem you get into, right?  It’s not like you can point to that and go, a-ha, Shakespeare was thinking of either the old way or the new way.

And another one that’s similar to that is Hamlet’s love poem to Ophelia, which is already a very oblique sort of poem, you know, and it contains the line, “Doubt thou the stars are fire.”  Well, of course, I mean today we know the stars are fire, kind of, but of course even the wording is ambiguous because it’s not sure if he’s backing the idea that they’re made of fire or if he’s asking Ophelia to doubt the idea.  So it’s all very obtuse, right?  Yeah, and Hamlet is a very difficult play and also Hamlet has either gone mad or is pretending to be mad, so there are complications.

So that’s one of the reasons I think that there haven’t been like – you know, there isn’t a whole list of books or, you know, works where people have tried to read Shakespeare’s interpretation of the heavens from his works, because it doesn’t – it’s not something that pays off immediately.  However, if you dig a little deeper, and recently a few scholars have, then I think you can find some interesting things.  And that was one of my goals in this book, and I found some people – it’s actually a pretty small handful, but just, I mean to give one example, Scott Maisano at University of Massachusetts in Boston has written pretty extensively on this.  And a few other people too, including – well, I mean he’s a respected mainstream scholar, John Pitcher at the University of Oxford is another one who has sort of probed this a little bit.

So I think things have finally turned a little bit, just in the last – let’s say the last decade, as people come to see that maybe Shakespeare just had a slightly deeper awareness of some of the issues with regard to astronomy and cosmology than we might have traditionally thought.

Steve Mirsky:    Yeah, I mean there’s certainly the opportunity to interpret some of these lines in a multitude of ways, but you point out, and I was completely unaware of this, there’s no way that the characters’ names Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet, there’s no way that’s unrelated to the astronomer Tycho Brahe.  So why don’t you tell us about that?

Dan Falk:           Yeah, it’s very interesting.  And this whole case – this whole link allegedly, or I mean it does actually seem pretty solid.  I mean it seems like there’s something going on there, and the details are something we can debate, but there does seem to be something linking the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe to the play Hamlet.  So what’s going on?  Well, so a few things. 

First of all, Hamlet, although it’s an adaptation, there was an earlier play, it goes back to the Middle Ages, but Shakespeare sort of updates it and takes the setting of the play to be the Castle of Elsinore.  Well, Elsinore, it’s a real castle; it’s on the Danish mainland, but it looks out over a channel that today separates Denmark and Sweden.  At that time this was all part of the Danish kingdom.  And one of the things that you see when you look out over the ramparts is this little island called Hven, if I’m pronouncing it right; it’s usually spelled H-V-E-N.  And this is the island that the King of Denmark gave to Tycho Brahe, the Renaissance astronomer. 

So just for your listeners who may not know, ‘cause Tycho Brahe is not a household name like Copernicus and Galileo.  Tycho Brahe was the greatest of the pre-telescopic astronomers and he made very detailed observations of the stars, the planets, everything he could see in the sky, and he did it with sophisticated instruments, but he didn’t have a telescope.  So he was very keen, he built sort of actually a castle; he called it Uraniborg, which means “heavenly castle.”  And he was wealthy too, so he had a little crew of workmen and helpers assisting him with this – on this island.

So this island is sort of right next door to Hamlet – the castle that Shakespeare chooses to – it’s the setting for Hamlet.  His future patron, King James, at this time – when Hamlet was written James was only the king of Scotland and not yet the king of England, but King James actually visited Tycho Brahe, so Tycho was kind of famous and a bit of – maybe even a bit of a tourist attraction.  I know that’s an anachronism, but he was quite well-known.  And actually some of Shakespeare’s actor friends performed in court at Elsinore, so that’s kind of cool too.  There’s no evidence that Shakespeare did; we have actually no evidence that Shakespeare ever left England, although there are, you know, there’s various extravagant theories about how he must have visited Italy, blah blah blah, but there’s no proof to back that up.

But again, there are different routes by which Shakespeare could have come to know about Thyco’s work.  Another one, now this is going to sound like a tangent, but I will bring it back to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Shakespeare seems to have been friends with – well, either Thomas Digges, the great English astronomer, or at least Digges’ widow and sons.  And I go into that into some detail in the book, so I won’t try to talk through the whole thing here.  But they lived in the same part of London, I mean literally just a few houses apart for a while in the 1590s.  Now Thomas Digges, well, I have to explain why he’s significant. 

Thomas Digges was a lot of things; he was a military engineer, he was a member of Parliament, but in the history of science why we remember him is that he published an updated version of an almanac that had been written by his father, an astronomer and mathematician named Leonard Digges.  And what Thomas Digges does is he adds a chapter about the Copernican theory.  So it’s writing in English, it’s actually the first popularization of the Copernican theory in English aimed at an educated lay audience, and he’s sort of praising, you know, how noble and great the idea is.  So that is interesting. 

The fact that Shakespeare was a neighbor more or less of the Digges family is pretty interesting.  I’ll just mention that – I mean the connections, there’s kind of a list of connections, but one interesting one is that Thomas Digges’ son, now who also happens to be Leonard, because they named the kid after the grandfather, but this Leonard Digges became a poet and a fan of Shakespeare.  We know that because when you open the famous First Folio, this compilation of Shakespeare’s plays published after – a few years after Shakespeare’s death, one of the first things you see is – well, first there’s a little dedication from Ben Johnson.  Now Ben Johnson was a good poet, but you turn a couple more pages and you see a little, a similar poem of praise from Leonard Digges.  Leonard Digges was not not a very good poet, but the point is that they definitely – well, Shakespeare certainly inspired Leonard Digges, and they do seem to have sort of known each other.  So maybe Shakespeare had some exposure to Thomas Digges’ writings.

But let me get back to Tycho Brahe, because this all kind of ties together.  Tycho had been sending his astronomical discoveries – he had actually had his own printing press right there on the island, ‘cause the king really set him up for life, so he was sending – he was publishing his astronomical discoveries and then sending them to colleagues across Europe, including colleagues in England.  He actually mentions Thomas Digges in one of his letters.  He never mentions Shakespeare, that’s not a surprise, but he actually does – Tycho Brahe was very I think somewhat full of himself, and he actually says in one of his letters to an Englishman, “and maybe one of our talented English poets would like to pen some words of praise on my behalf.”  So we don’t know if that ever happened or not or, you know, Shakespeare doesn’t seem to have been involved in that.  But that’s kind of – it tells you something about how Tycho regarded himself.

Okay, that’s not quite the end of the story, though, because you asked about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  So on the front of these astronomical letters that Tycho was sending out he has this engraving that he had – it’s a copperplate engraving, he had it commissioned in Amsterdam, and it shows Tycho himself in the middle, sort of looking very pompous, and then around the outer perimeter of this engraving you see the crests or coats of arms of various relatives, Tycho Brahe’s sort of noble extended family members.  And on each crest there’s a name if you look at sort of the fine print of this engraving.  And there’s about ten of them; I’ve forgotten the exact number.  And you look up close and sure enough, Tycho Brahe had relatives named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. 

So that’s pretty cool, right?  And this fact seems to be sort of discovered and then forgotten and then rediscovered every 30 years or so.  You know, so it’s not like – you know, I didn’t discover this; Leslie Hobson knew about it writing in the 1930s and, you know, people have mentioned it over the years.  But it’s very interesting.  And again, if there was nothing to connect Tycho Brahe to William Shakespeare then you could say, “All right, that’s interesting that Shakespeare coincidentally chose these names,” but, you know, King James visited Tycho Brahe; Shakespeare’s actor friends performed at Elsinore, a few miles away from Tycho Brahe’s observatory; and Shakespeare seems to have been friends with either – well, at a stretch Thomas Digges himself, but at the very least his widow and their sons. 

I’ll just mention one more little connection which is just sort of intriguing, is that after Thomas Digges died, his widow, Ann, remarries.  Now who does she marry?  She marries a guy from Stratford, from Shakespeare’s hometown, a guy named Thomas Russell, and we know that Russell is a friend of Shakespeare’s, because when Shakespeare is writing his will he entrusts Russell to be one of the executors of his estate.

So there’s a lot of funny little, you know, none of this is hard-and-fast truth; if it was people would just be talking about this every day, but it’s a lot of interesting little connections between Shakespeare and Thomas Digges, and then by extension arguably Tycho Brahe.  So it’s pretty interesting, I thought.

Steve Mirsky:    And some people think that Tycho Brahe’s island laboratory is a model for the island in The Tempest.

Dan Falk:           Yeah, that’s also an interesting claim.  And I mentioned Scott Maisano at UMass Boston; I think he supports this view.  So even though there’s a lot to connect – well, I have to choose my words carefully, it could be seen as a lot to connect Tycho Brahe to the play Hamlet, but maybe also to The Tempest, because after all, we have this magician – well, not magician, but, you know, Tycho Brahe is a great scientist, and in those days scientists, wizards, magicians, they were all kind of lumped together, you know, in the public eye these were very comparable pursuits.  And as I try to emphasize in the book, I mean what today we think of as modern science was just gradually coming into existence.  So yeah, this kind of great thinker with special abilities or special powers on an island with different people that he’s commanding, I mean yeah, that sounds like a description of either Tycho Brahe or Prospero in The Tempest.  So that’s interesting.

                           Although another figure that’s often been associated with Prospero is John Dee.  Yeah, so John Dee was another English – early-English scientist, advisor to Queen Elizabeth, but also seen as a bit of a magician.  When he was young, when he was in university he was actually putting on plays and he – I hope I’m telling the story right, but he made this giant beetle appear, or I think maybe the beetle flew through the air.

Steve Mirsky:    He ______ to fly, right.

Dan Falk:           It appeared – it gave the appearance of flying, and so people were all, “Well how did you do that?” blah blah blah.  Now of course how he did it, I mean he wasn’t ashamed of telling people, like, “Look, it’s a mechanical device.  It works through mechanical principles.”  But he had this reputation of being a conjurer, and that’s a derogatory term, so people were always kind of worried, like, well, you know, these magicians, you know, these tinkerers, like are they up to something good or are they up to evil, you know.  So this was all a bit murky in those days.

Steve Mirsky:    Now you say that Tycho Brahe did not have a telescope.  He also didn’t have a nose. 

Dan Falk:           I was wondering where you were going with that.  Yeah, that’s right.  So that’s just a funny – I mean from what I mentioned before about, you know, I think he was kind of a pompous sort of person, but yeah, when he was in his 20s he got into a duel with – I think he was in university at the time, so he got into a duel with another student.  I don’t think we know what they were fighting about, but at a certain point he got the middle part of his nose, I guess the bridge of his nose chopped off or badly damaged by his enemy’s sword, and then throughout his adult life he had to wear either a prosthetic – I think that was the deal basically, he had different kinds of prosthetic noses that he wore and he was always like applying some ointment to keep the prosthetic in place, so his other enemies would make fun of him, you know, “Ha ha, you’re that guy without a nose, aren’t you silly?”  So yeah, yeah.

Steve Mirsky:    It’s a shame, but if Prospero didn’t have a nose then we would really have some solid evidence to connect it to, but.

Dan Falk:           Yeah, that would be pretty interesting.  But alas, we don’t quite have that.

Steve Mirsky:    There’s this amazing thing that happens in I think it’s 1573, that this nova is very clearly visible, even during the day, and that seems to be a pretty important event in this whole time to shake up the view of the heavens.

Dan Falk:           Yeah.  So I think it’s 1572, I think?  At any rate, within a year, that was the date, yeah.

Steve Mirsky:    Yeah.  Mm-hmm.

Dan Falk:           And it challenged what people – it challenged the way people envisioned the cosmos, because in their tradition view the stars were the stars, they were fixed, and they were fixed for life, and there aren’t supposed to be new stars popping into view.  So Tycho Brahe, our friend, the Danish astronomer, was among the first to notice this new object.  Actually if you read his notebooks they’re actually quite funny, because he says, you know, “I was fishing one day and then I looked up and there was an unusually bright star in the constellation Cassiopeia, and because I have known all the stars of the sky since childhood, you know, I immediately” – right, so again, this idea that he’s just a little bit full of himself, I think.  But at any rate, he was right, this star wasn’t there the day before and today we call it a supernova, the result of a big explosion. 

                           So they didn’t know what it was.  It was called on his diagram it’s called nova stella, meaning new star, and it was bright for quite a few months, and in fact it took about a year before it finally faded from view.  And Tycho was I think the first to publish on it, so he had a book that was printed just with, you know, within a few months.  But Thomas Digges, who I mentioned earlier, also observed it; Thomas Digges, the English astronomer, and others saw it throughout Europe.  And it was one of the things that pushed Tycho Brahe to rejecting the old ancient Greek world view.  Now there were some complications there because Tycho was not ready to embrace the Copernican view, he didn’t like the idea of a moving Earth. 

So remember, if you adopt this heliocentric view then all the planets are running around the Sun, which to us in the 21st century it’s like, hey, that’s all right.  But they had a lot of trouble with the idea that the Earth was in motion, because if it’s in motion why don’t we feel it; you know, why aren’t the birds swept backwards; why if you drop a heavy object from a tall tower, why doesn’t it land near the base of the tower, shouldn’t it be wooshed away?  So there are all these objections.  And Copernicus actually, to his credit, thought threw these, ‘cause he was used to hearing them, so he kind of gives you some arguments that you can use and he talks about that.  But it was controversial and Tycho Brahe actually didn’t – he doesn’t like the old view and he didn’t like the Copernican view, so he came up with a sort of hybrid view in which the planets go around-

Steve Mirsky:             The Sun.

Dan Falk:           -the Sun, and the Sun-

Steve Mirsky:             And the Sun goes around the Earth.

Dan Falk:           -goes around the Earth, yeah.  I have to say it slowly or I get it wrong.

Steve Mirsky:    Right.  Right.

Dan Falk:           But exactly right.  So it was this kind of whatever you might call that, heliogeocentric or I just say Tychonic or Tycho’s system. 

                           Now let me see, what were we talking about a second ago?  ‘Cause I was going to-

Steve Mirsky:    We were talking about the supernova.

Dan Falk:           Yeah.  So one of the things that’s just kind of natural to ask is could this have influenced Shakespeare.  And I have in the first couple of pages of the book I have a prologue which is made up.  So it’s the only part of the book that’s fiction, but I just imagine young Shakespeare witnessing this.  Now I guess you could say the catch is that he was only 8 years old, but I think an 8 year old, or about 8.5 in those days was a bit more than what we think of an 8 year old kid today.  Now this is a little bit hard to prove, but I mean he would’ve already had his first year of grammar school under his belt, he was learning or beginning to learn Greek and Latin, you know, learning passages from the Bible.  I think, okay, we know very little about the young Shakespeare, but I think it’s a pretty safe guess that he was very curious about how things – you know, why things are the way they are and what goes on in the world.  I mean his real interest obviously was human nature and what drives human beings to do different things.

                           Anyway, but, you know, could he have seen it?  I mean, you know, he was 8 years old and, you know, in the prologue I invent this little encounter, you know, this little dialogue between him and his father reacting to this object in the night sky.  But we, you know, we don’t know if he saw it.  But all right, he was 8 years old when that happened.  He was 40 years old when Kepler’s star, the next supernova appears in the sky.  So he couldn’t have missed Kepler’s supernova, so there you go.  So Shakespeare had two chances to see a supernova and, you know, poor us in the 21st century, we have not – in fact, there hasn’t been a supernova within the Milky Way galaxy since Kepler’s star of 1604.  And it’s true, we did have one in the Large Magellanic Cloud in, what in 1980-

Steve Mirsky:    1980-something.

Dan Falk:           Yeah, 1980-something.

Steve Mirsky:    But you needed a telescope for that.

Dan Falk:           You needed a telescope and you had to be in the Southern Hemisphere, didn’t you? 

Steve Mirsky:    Yeah.  It was discovered in Chile, I believe.

Dan Falk:           That’s right.  So you wouldn’t have been able to see it from the latitude of England at any rate.  So we’re overdue for a supernova and maybe we’ll be lucky on that one.

Steve Mirsky:    I mean these were supernovas that you could see with the naked eye, especially at night, they would really have left quite an apparent mark on the sky.

Dan Falk:           Yeah.  And, you know, here’s another point worth making, I mean I think the sky was a bigger deal back then than it is now.  I mean now we all live in cities, our urban skies are very light polluted, so, you know, all right, you wait for, I mean today happens to be cloudy, you wait for a clear day, you wait for a clear night, you go outside.  But we’re recording this in New York City, I mean it’s – the skies aren’t great.  I was in Central Park a few days ago after nightfall, and yes, you could see Arcturus and you could see Mars.

Steve Mirsky:    The Big Dipper.

Dan Falk:           Yeah, you could see – with difficulty you could see the Big Dipper, that’s right, and you could see Vega, and that’s about it.  I mean if you really tried you could see another six or seven or eight or nine stars, but it was very, very challenging.  But in Shakespeare’s time – and by the way, I live in Toronto, where it’s the same challenge.  I mean yes, you can see 15 or 20 stars from an urban setting, but it’s not impressive.  In Shakespeare’s time there really wasn’t any – I mean yes, there were, you know, people were burning wood fires and there was smoke, but I mean only in London, right?  I mean basically where Shakespeare grew up, in Stratford, I mean the skies were pristine.  Now there was still clouds, you had to wait – you might have to wait a few days for the clouds to part, but when you had a clear sky the sky – a clear night, the sky would’ve been spectacular, and it would’ve I think just been part of – have been part of the culture.  You know, a shepherd would’ve easily known the different constellations, a farmer, I mean someone whose – of course whose livelihood depended on knowing the seasons would’ve had this sort of intimate familiarity, right; they would actually know. 

Like today, think about it, how few of us can say, “Well, what phase is the moon at?”  Now I know because I’m into this kind of thing and so I watched the full moon a few days ago, and so I know that the moon is a few days after full.  But if we just stopped people on the street I think a lot of people wouldn’t know.  Or if we asked them, “So right now is Venus a morning star or is Venus an evening star?” and you know, that would be tricky for people.  But I think back then – I mean yes, of course people had to get on with their lives and there was like just the struggle for making ends meet and so on and working the fields and tending to the animals and so on, but I think people would have had a kind of basic awareness of the night sky.

Steve Mirsky:    That’s it for part one of Dan Falk talking about his book The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright’s Universe.  We’ll be right back with part 2.

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