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Session 24 - HAD II.
Oral session, Monday, January 13
Pier 4,

[24.01] A New Reading of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

P. D. Usher (PSU)

I argue that Hamlet is an allegory for the competition between the cosmological models of the contemporaries Thomas Digges (1546-1595) of England and Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) of Denmark. Through his acquaintance with the Digges' family, Shakespeare would have known of the essential elements of the revolutionary model of Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) as well as Digges' extension of it. Prior to 1601 when the writing of Hamlet was completed, Shakespeare knew also of Tycho and his relatives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and would have seen that Tycho's hybrid geocentric model was a substantial regression to the well-known geocentricism of Ptolemy (fl. 140 A.D.). It has been suggested that Polonius is named for a fictional character Pollinio, an Aristotelian pedant. I suggest that Claudius is named for Claudius Ptolemy for whom Polonius would have been a suitable attendant. I suggest further that the slaying of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is the Bard's way of killing the Tychonic model. The slaying of Claudius signals the demise of Ptolemaic geocentricism, both ends being prolonged, the former dramatically, the latter as a matter of historical fact. But the climax of the play is not the slaughter of the chief protagonists; it is the triumphal arrival of Fortinbras from Poland and his timely salute to the ambassadors from England. By means of this apparent incongruity, Shakespeare celebrates the Copernican and Diggesian models and states poetically the nature of the new universal order. I present literary and historical evidence for the present reading which, if essentially correct, suggests that Hamlet evinces a scientific cosmology no less significant than its literary and philosophical counterparts. The last year of the sixteenth century saw the martyrdom of Bruno, but the first year of the next century saw the Bard affirm that there are more things in heaven than were dreamt of in contemporary philosophy.

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