Shakespeare’s Poetics of Science

  • St. John’s College • Great Hall 1160 Camino De Cruz Blanca Notre Santa Fe, NM, 87501 United States

In the past several years, a small group of Shakespeare scholars have begun to take note of the many allusions to scientific theories and technological innovations that appear in Shakespeare’s plays. Some have explored Shakespeare’s presentation of Copernican astronomy in Hamlet; others have explained the significance of atomism and corpuscularism for King Lear; and still others have observed Shakespeare’s attention to novel technologies, including gunpowder, the compass, and the printing press. This line of research is significant because it draws our attention to the fact that Shakespeare, in addition to being a profound interpreter of human nature, also used his plays to explore the challenges of scientific change.

By familiarizing ourselves with the science that Shakespeare explores, we can begin to see how one of the greatest poet-philosophers used his dramatic poetry to respond to the burgeoning scientific world. To explore Shakespeare’s poetics of science, I will turn to Hamlet, King Lear, and a selection of other plays to show how Shakespeare presents to us the human implications of scientific change. In doing so, I will make the case that Shakespeare offers a historically fascinating view of the scientific debates of early modernity, and presents a model for responding to the scientific debates of our own time.

Presented by Natalie Elliot.

Enough, sweet Suffolk; thou torment’st thyself;
And these dread curses, like the sun ’gainst glass,
Or like an overcharged gun, recoil,
And turn the force of them upon thyself.
— Queen Margaret in 2 Henry VI