Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Shakespeare and Science

By the Favor of the Heavens

Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
November 19, 1572
6:05 p.m.

A middle-aged man turns to greet his son, one of a dozen schoolboys making their way out of the King’s New School and onto Chapel Lane. It’s getting cold; the man pulls his cloak to his chest. He’s thankful to be wearing his new fur cap rather than the felt one he’d had to make do with the previous winter. The boy, as full of energy as ever, doesn’t seem to mind the cold.

“You don’t need to walk me home, Father. I’m almost nine years old.” The boy’s breath is visible in the crisp winter air.

“Eight and a half is not ‘almost nine.’ But you’re right, William, you are a young man now,” the father replies. “It happens that I had some business at the church, and I was just on my way back. Let us make haste now, your mother and the children are waiting. I hope you didn’t give Master Hunt any trouble today?”

“Master Hunt had to leave for Alveston, on account of his mother being sick.”

The father is taken aback; usually he is the first to hear any news of that kind. “Is that so?”
“But another teacher took his place,” the boy continues. “Master Jenkins. We still had to do all of that Latin grammar. But we also talked about the Bible, and the children in the upper form read a poem by Horace, and got to act out a scene from a Roman play.”

“Horace was my favorite. Can you remember a few lines?”

“Let me think.… There is nothing that the hands of the Claudii will not accomplish—”
“Not in English. Horace isn’t meant to be read in English. In Latin, William, please.”
“Oh, Father, school is out. And I don’t like Latin.”

“Whether you like it is hardly the point. You must learn it to be a gentleman—and, for the next few years, to escape the birch. Now continue. In Latin.”

“Um … nil Claudiae non perficient manus, quas et … um … benignus numine Iuppiter—”
“Benigno numine,” his father interrupted, correcting the boy’s grammar. “It means ‘by the favor of the heavens.’ That’s enough for now. You did very well, William.”

The pair turn from Chapel Street onto High Street. It is now growing dark; the long winter’s night stretches ahead. The full moon will provide some relief, but it is only just creeping above the eastern horizon. It has been a cloudy day—a little snow fell earlier—but as the wind blows, the clouds finally begin to part. In the southeast shines mighty Jupiter—the same Jupiter the Romans had put their faith in as they marched into battle; the same Jupiter that Horace had rhapsodized over. As they reach Henley Street, William stops and gazes upward.

“What are you looking at, son?”

“It’s something Master Jenkins told us about. He said there was a new star in the sky. He said he had been in Oxford yesterday, and everyone was talking about it.”

The father lets out a hearty laugh. “Don’t be silly, William. I heard some talk of it also at the guild, but the reverend said it couldn’t be, and of course he is right. It could be a comet perhaps.”

“But Father, Master Jenkins said it was a star. In the constellation of—the queen with the funny shape. The queen shaped like an ‘M.’”

“Cassiopeia,” the father replies. In spite of himself, he turns northward to see what may be there. His son turns to follow his gaze. “The Lord doesn’t just create new stars, the way Mr. Smith hammers out horseshoes. God created the world thousands of years ago, and he doesn’t need to make improvements.”

A pause.

“I think that’s it!” William points to a bright star, eastward from the pole, just visible now that the clouds have passed. It stands just to the left of the unmistakable “M” of Cassiopeia.
The father has to admit there is something there. Whatever it is, it’s even brighter than Jupiter. Brighter even than Venus had been that morning, as far as he could recall.
“Father—what does it mean?”

“I don’t know, son. And I don’t know that it really is what it appears to be. It could just as well be the devil’s work as the Lord’s. And now we really must carry on, or supper will be cold. Not to mention my fingers.”

“I’m coming, Father.” But the boy lingers for one last look as his father heads off down the street. “It’s beautiful,” he says, and then runs to catch up. “I don’t think it’s a comet, Father, because comets have tails.”

“More nonsense from Master Jenkins? Well, cats have tails too, but Mrs. Olden’s cat doesn’t have one, and it’s still a cat.”

The boy pauses, seemingly deep in thought. “Why doesn’t Mrs. Olden’s cat have a tail?”

“They say Mr. Olden’s dog bit it off,” his father replies.

“Well, maybe a dog bit off the new star’s tail,” the boy offers.

“That’s quite an imagination you have, son. And how many dogs are there in the sky, William?”

Another pause—and then a wide smile. “Two, Father! You showed them to me last winter—the big dog and the little dog!”

The father laughs. “You do have quite a wit, don’t you, son? Now say their names in Latin, please.”

“Oh, Father! Canis … Canis Major and Canis Minor.”

“Very good, son. By Jove, I swear you’ll make a fine lawyer one day!

People think as scientifically as their world around.
Children then are more science oriented than the elders.
The above is a dialogue between the bard as child and his father.
Is it not interesting?
Don't squirm when a child asks an uncomfortable question.
Try to think like the child.
Not like your father.
That takes you further!!!

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