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The Science of Shakespeare

Goose Lane Editions


William Shakespeare lived at a time when the medieval world — a world of magic, astrology, witchcraft, and superstition of all kinds — was just beginning to give way to more modern ways of thinking. Shakespeare and Galileo were born in the same year, and new ideas about the human body, the earth, and the universe at large were just starting to transform Western thought. Shakespeare was not a scientist — the word did not even exist in Elizabethan times — but a handful of scholars are now examining Shakespeare's interest in the scientific discoveries of his time: what he knew, when he knew it, and how he incorporated that knowledge into his work.

His plays, poems, and sonnets were not "about" science — but they often reflect scientific ideas, and the more carefully we look at those ideas the better we can appreciate the scope of Shakespeare's achievement. A close reading of Shakespeare's works reveals the depth of his interest in the natural world.

Falk examines the world that the playwright and poet lived in, taking a close look at the science of his day — exploring where and how that knowledge is reflected in Shakespeare's work. He also delves into how other writers and artists of the period were influenced by the revolution in science unfolding around them — a subject that has received little attention beyond specialized academic works.

Throughout the book Falk stops to ask what Shakespeare knew, and how it may have influenced his work. Obviously, Shakespeare was not the Carl Sagan of the Elizabethan Age — his first commitment was to his stagecraft, not to philosophy or science. However, Falk argues that a close reading of Shakespeare's works reveals the depth of his interest in the natural world, and shows that he was more conscious of the changing conception of the cosmos than we usually imagine. Shakespeare's writing often reflects the scientific ideas of his time — and the philosophical problems they were raising — and the more carefully we look at those ideas the better we can appreciate the scope of his achievement. This book is aimed squarely at the lay reader — those who enjoy Shakespeare's plays and poems for the joy of it, and armchair astronomers and historians who enjoy a trip back in time.

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"Author! Author! Dan Falk is the finest science writer working today. This fabulous book will give equal joy to fans of the Bard and to history-of-science buffs. Note to Horatio: Read this — it'll bring you up to speed."

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"Dan Falk's book provides perhaps the best guide to the scientific worldview prevailing in the Elizabethan Age. We learn, for example, about what Giordano Bruno did while in England, about Thomas Harriot's telescopic view of the Moon's surface drawn some months before Galileo's, and of the appearance of atoms in several of Shakespeare's plays. Falk's narrative voice is smooth, reasonable, likable."

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"In this thought-provoking book, Dan Falk explores the intriguing connections between the Bard's writings and the dramatic scientific discoveries of the late Renaissance, introducing us to a fascinating cast of characters along the way."

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"There is science in everything, even the works of the immortal Bard. Dan Falk's rich and fascinating book brings to light the many ways in which Shakespeare and science influenced each other, from telescopes to blood-letting. A great read for anyone who enjoys words and ideas."

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"Dan Falk has written another splendid book. After Universe on a T-Shirt and In Search of Time, he moves back four centures to the science of Shakespeare's day. Falk sheds enormous light on the Elizabethan outlook and particular puzzles in the plays, all the while entertaining us in a most engaging way."

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"An engaging tour guide, Dan Falk takes us on a merry romp through Shakespeare's folio, revealing how the Bard might have been influenced by the Renaissance in science going on all about him. An absorbing, new perspective on the scientific revelations of the Elizabethan world."

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Dan Falk is a science journalist, author, and broadcaster. His books include In the Search of Time: Journeys along a Curious Dimension and Universe on a T-Shirt: The Quest for the Theory of Everything, winner of the 2002 Science in Society Journalism Award. He has written for the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Walrus, Astronomy, Sky & Telescope, and New Scientist; he has also been a regular contributor to CBC Radio's Ideas. Falk recently completed a prestigious Knight Journalism Fellowship at MIT, where he undertook much of the research for this book.

 
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Shakespeare and Canada

Makaryk, Irena R.Prince, Kathryn (Hrsg.) | University of Ottawa Press | Reappraisals: Canadian Writers


Shakespeare in Canada is the result of a collective desire to explore the role that Shakespeare has played in Canada over the past two hundred years, but also to comprehend the way our country’s culture has influenced our interpretation of his literary career and heritage. What function does Shakespeare serve in Canada today? How has he been reconfigured in different ways for particular Canadian contexts?

The authors of this book attempt to answer these questions while imagining what the future might hold for William Shakespeare in Canada. Covering the Stratford Festival, the cult CBC television program Slings and Arrows, major Canadian critics such as Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan, the influential acting teacher Neil Freiman, the rise of Québécois and First Nation approaches to Shakespeare, and Shakespeare’s place in secondary schools today, this collection reflects the diversity and energy of Shakespeare’s afterlife in Canada.

Collectively, the authors suggest that Shakespeare continues to offer Canadians “remembrance of ourselves.” This is a refreshingly original and impressive contribution to Shakespeare studies—a considerable achievement in any work on the history of one of the central figures in the western literary canon.

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The best of these essays provide interesting overviews of how Shakespeare is performed in this country, particularly at Stratford. C. E. McGee’s opening chapter on Stratford’s nine productions of The Merchant of Venice is particularly rewarding for its investigation of how Merchant’s characters have been made to evolve. Robert Ormsby offers a detailed analysis of Stratford’s “multinationalist” productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, cleverly tying director Leon Rubin’s imaginative concepts to Stratford’s role in creating cross-border tourism. Among the other thoughtful contributions are intriguing explorations by Kailin Wright and Don Moore of the CBC’s Slings & Arrows, the TV series inspired by the Stratford Festival; a tough, uncompromising, but gracefully written overview by Sarah Mackenzie of Stratford’s various attempts at acknowledging Indigenous traditions in Canada; and Annie Brisset’s fascinating take on the history of Shakespeare translations and productions in Quebec

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IRENA R. MAKARYK. Professor of English, cross-appointed to Theatre, at the University of Ottawa. Her research interests focus on Shakespeare’s afterlife, Soviet theatre, modernism, and theatre during periods of great social duress. Her most recent book is April in Paris 1925: Theatre, Politics, Space (forthcoming).

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KATHRYN PRINCE. Theatre historian at the University of Ottawa, where she is an Associate Professor and, in 2016, recipient of the Excellence in Education prize. Her current work focuses on the practice of emotions in early modern drama. She has published widely on Shakespeare in performance from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries.

 
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