[Reading Woes(?)] The Art of Shakespeare’s Science

No idea the exact source of image, but love it anyway
No idea the exact source of image, but love it anyway

The pleasure of reading does not come wholly from just ingesting the words that have been served on the page. The words do not sit there, lined up, waiting to be gobbled and then digested by the brain to be used for later.

Reading is treasure hunting! I always assume that the author is trying to be clever in some way, trying to play a bit of hide-and-go-seek with me, it is his/her right to, they did spend their time and effort to craft something, they should have some fun with it.

My most recent gem came from a surprising source, well surprising for a given value of surprising, in fact, my little discovery came while going through some Shakespeare.

The question as to why I was seemingly casually perusing Shakespeare will be saved for another day, but what I wanted to share with you, my dear gentle reader, is the fact that Shakespeare was a giant science nerd.

While many cite that Shakespeare’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy in Hamlet is one of the most iconic, recognizable, and, above all, poetic, commiseration of the wretched condition the human mind can fall into, I think it pales in comparison to Shakespeare’s true abilities which he displays in that same play.

I refer to what is more colloquially known as the “comic grave-digger” scene where we chance upon Yorrick, who we should have known oh so well.

As we walk through the scene, what unfolds is Shakespeare deceptively and beautifully telling us about the circle of life, in a way much better than Elton John ever was able do from The Lion King:


At supper … Not where he eats, but where a is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service – two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end.”

Shakespeare so eloquently puts together the rise and fall of life, giving us the detail of decomposition at the body undergoes with such artistry that we fail to see what a exquisitely compressed lesson of science the Bard provides of how life gives on to life.

Shakespeare betrays his more rational side even clearer when we look at The Tempest, despite its magical trappings and settings. Prospero, the one who commanded all the magics and and spirits of the island did not do so thanks to bargains with devils or any such dealings. Instead, we find Prospero studies his way to his magical skills and thus he commands it to his will. It this exertion of command that I find fascinating, Shakespeare would rather have the knowledge be earned than given.

It maybe all magical and artistic and beautiful, but Shakespeare liked the process of learning as well, a little pleasure I hope you would enjoy as well.


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