The Problem of Mars in Retrograde

12 views
Skip to first unread message

Nicholas Whyte

unread,
Jun 20, 2002, 6:17:51 PM6/20/02
to
Ken Kaplan's recent claim that Shakespeare referred twice to the
problem of "Mars in retrograde" prompted me to dig out my own research
on the matter.

The word "retrograde" occurs twice in the canon. In Hamlet I:2,
Claudius says:

"We pray you, throw to earth
This unprevailing woe, and think of us
As of a father: for let the world take note,
You are the most immediate to our throne;
And with no less nobility of love
Than that which dearest father bears his son,
Do I impart toward you. For your intent
In going back to school in Wittenberg,
It is most retrograde to our desire:
And we beseech you, bend you to remain
Here, in the cheer and comfort of our eye,
Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.

There is clearly no specifically astronomical reference in this scene.
The sun and heavens are indeed mentioned, but clearly in a
meteorological rather than astronomical context (and of course the Sun
does not disply retrograde motion). Had the author wanted to make this
an astronomical reference, there would have been ample opportunity to
invoke astrological metaphors in this scene by referring to the
theoretical characteristics of each planet. These references are not
present. The author is therefore using "retrograde" in the sense of
"contrary" without any astronomical or astrological resonance
intended.

In the first scene of "All's Well that Ends Well", Parolles and Helena
have this exchange (preceded by much banter about virginity):

HELENA
Monsieur Parolles, you were born under a charitable star.

PAROLLES
Under Mars, I.

HELENA
I especially think, under Mars.

PAROLLES
Why under Mars?

HELENA
The wars have so kept you under that you must needs
be born under Mars.

PAROLLES
When he was predominant.

HELENA
When he was retrograde, I think, rather.

PAROLLES
Why think you so?

HELENA
You go so much backward when you fight.

PAROLLES
That's for advantage.

HELENA
So is running away, when fear proposes the safety;
but the composition that your valour and fear makes
in you is a virtue of a good wing, and I like the wear well.

This scene includes numerous references by Helena to astrological
concepts. She refers to Bertram as "a bright particular star... In his
bright radiance and collateral light /Must I be comforted, not in his
sphere." She refers to herself as among "the poorer born, /Whose baser
stars do shut us up in wishes". But her conclusion sounds rather as if
at the end of the day she doesn't really believe that the stars do
finally determine one's fate:

"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven: the fated sky
Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull
Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull."

It's a nice set-up of Helena as a medical expert who naturally has
some understanding of astrology as any good Renaissance doctor should,
and of Parolles as a not very genuine soldier.

There is however no specific reference to any planet or star other
than Mars, or to any constellation of the zodiac. If the author had
himself been interested in astrology he would have supplied extra
detail; to be "born under" a star is a nice figure of speech but not
really in line with what professional astologers actually did (or do).
Apart from anything else, "predominant" is not the opposite of
"retrograde" in astrological terms.

If Chucer had written this scene, he would have used the right
terminology and probably worked out horosopes for all the main
characters. As it is, the plays are clearly written by someone who
accepts astrology as part of his world but has no serious technical
knowledge of either astrology or astronomy.

Nicholas

bookburn

unread,
Jun 20, 2002, 7:31:18 PM6/20/02
to

"Nicholas Whyte" <nichol...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:7b33cc41.0206...@posting.google.com...

> "retrograde" in astrological terms.; throwIt looks to me as

I assume you mean if the playwright had more interest in
astrology/astronomy, he could have added scholarly footnotes,
etc. But the author, for his purposes of dramatising predicament
and inner conflict, is evidently showing us a new kind of
rational hero against a backdrop of the old cosmology, for whom
retrograde is ironic.

See also possible allusion to the old "sacrifice of Venus on the
altar of Mars" formula for tragedy. As you say, the author is
working out destiny in terms of free will instead of the "fault
lying in the stars or in us."

> If Chucer had written this scene, he would have used the right
> terminology and probably worked out horosopes for all the main
> characters. As it is, the plays are clearly written by someone
who
> accepts astrology as part of his world but has no serious
technical
> knowledge of either astrology or astronomy.

You put good stuff on the table in showing us the theme and
evidence, then take it away again? Must be an astronomical term
for that kind of move.

bookburn

> Nicholas


Ken Kaplan

unread,
Jun 20, 2002, 11:50:48 PM6/20/02
to
I never mentioned that Shakespeare refers to Mars retrograde twice. I
mmentioned that he refers to the problem of it. But he never refers to
Kepler's solution in 1605. I contacted the astronomer who gave the
paper at the Devere conference. If he gets back to me we can clarify
his position. I took it from him.

Ken Kaplan


nichol...@hotmail.com (Nicholas Whyte) wrote in message news:<7b33cc41.0206...@posting.google.com>...

Neuendorffer

unread,
Jun 21, 2002, 11:32:09 AM6/21/02
to
nichol...@hotmail.com (Nicholas Whyte) wrote:

> Ken Kaplan's recent claim that Shakespeare referred twice to the
> problem of "Mars in retrograde" prompted me to dig out my own research
>

--------------------------------------------------------------------
Rabelais' _Pantagruelian Prognostication_
at the end of the Urquhart-Motteux translation

<<Of the eclipses of the year Pantagruel says:
"SATURN will be retrograde, VENUS direct, MERCURY unfixed as
quicksilver. . . For this reason the crabs will go sidelong and the
rope-makers backward. . . bacon will run away from pease in Lent; the
belly will waddle before; the bum will sit down first; there will be not
a bean left in a twelfth-cake, nor an ace in a flush; the dice will not
run as you wish, though you cog them. . .BRUTES shall speak in several
places; Shrovetide will have its day. . .such a hurly-burly was
never seen since the devil was a little boy; and there will be
above seven-and-twenty irregular verbs made this year,
if Priscian do not hold them in. If God do not help us,
we shall have our hands and hearts full.">>

http://www.geospact. A Saxon rune poem states that
the TYR-star keeps faith with princes.

TYR is associated with two holidays,

Disting (Imbolg - February 1) and
Thingstide (Lughnasadh - August 1).

Both are Things, in which the people can ask that the
law be exercised on their behalf. Disting is the time of swearing of
oaths, (the signing on to war-bands and Viking crews), as it is the
beginning of the war season. Thingstide, the end of the war season, is
the annual time of making treaties, marriages, and was the time for
trials. The legal practices, like wergild and strictly controlled
duels, were not abstract, but were designed to stop a fight. TYR's
loss of his hand to Fenris in a knowingly false bond may have resulted
in what Dumézil called "a pessimistic view of the law" where we do
what we must to keep the peace.

TYR's followers not only need to keep their oaths, but must also
take an active role in enforcing justice.

Möge Ihre Ehre und Ihr Mut immer glänzen!
May your honor and courage ever shine!>>
-----------------------------------------------------------
Art Neuendorffer

Nicholas Whyte

unread,
Jun 21, 2002, 12:31:16 PM6/21/02
to
Kenka...@yahoo.com (Ken Kaplan) wrote in message news:<81b80d38.02062...@posting.google.com>...

> I never mentioned that Shakespeare refers to Mars retrograde twice.

Actually, you did.

http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=75f2d918.02041...@posting.google.com
:

"Shakespeare was clearly interested in the outstanding astronomical
problems of his day, their disappearance post 1604 is puzzling. The
chief examples are the resolution of the retrograde motion of Mars by
Kepler in 1605 (the problem mentioned by Shakespeare *twice*), the
supernova of October 1604, and the discoveries of Galileo."

> I
> mmentioned that he refers to the problem of it. But he never refers to
> Kepler's solution in 1605.

Since, as I demonstrated in my previous post, he doesn't refer to the
"problem" of Mars in retrograde at all, it's not surprising that he
doesn't refer to the solution!


>I contacted the astronomer who gave the
> paper at the Devere conference. If he gets back to me we can clarify
> his position. I took it from him.
>
> Ken Kaplan

This would be the hilarious paper by Eric Altschuler, available at
http://xxx.lanl.gov/PS_cache/physics/pdf/9810/9810042.pdf ? It has
been discussed at length here before now.

In fairness, I think Altschuler may have a point with the Henry VI
part 1 lines:

"Mars his true moving, even as in the heavens
So in the earth, to this day is not known"

which could well be a reference to the fact that existing tables of
planetary motion did not predict the position of Mars perticularly
well. It should of course also be read in the context of the opening
lines of the previous scene,

"Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
Comets, importing change of times and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars
That have consented unto Henry's death!"

which taken together demonstrate little serious interest in
cutting-edge astronomy, indicating once again that the plays are


clearly written by someone who accepts astrology as part of his world
but has no serious technical knowledge of either astrology or
astronomy.

Nicholas
Nicholas

Nicholas Whyte

unread,
Jun 21, 2002, 12:42:25 PM6/21/02
to
"bookburn" <book...@yahoo.com> wrote in message news:<uh4sshm...@corp.supernews.com>...

> "Nicholas Whyte" <nichol...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
> news:7b33cc41.0206...@posting.google.com...

[re All's Well That Ends Well, Act 1 scene 1]

> > It's a nice set-up of Helena as a medical expert who naturally
> has
> > some understanding of astrology as any good Renaissance doctor
> should,
> > and of Parolles as a not very genuine soldier.
> >
> > There is however no specific reference to any planet or star
> other
> > than Mars, or to any constellation of the zodiac. If the author
> had
> > himself been interested in astrology he would have supplied
> extra
> > detail; to be "born under" a star is a nice figure of speech
> but not
> > really in line with what professional astologers actually did
> (or do).
> > Apart from anything else, "predominant" is not the opposite of
> > "retrograde" in astrological terms.
>

> I assume you mean if the playwright had more interest in
> astrology/astronomy, he could have added scholarly footnotes,
> etc.

No, I don't mean that at all; why on earth would I expect a playwright
of that period to include scholarly footnotes? What I meant was that
if he had had specialised knowledge he would have used it by
contrasting "retrograde" with "direct" rather than "predominant" and
would have identified a particular planet in a particular astronomical
position as a "charitable star", etc. That he does not do so indicates
that the plays are clearly written by someone who accepts astrology as


part of his world but has no serious technical knowledge of either
astrology or astronomy.

>But the author, for his purposes of dramatising predicament


> and inner conflict, is evidently showing us a new kind of
> rational hero against a backdrop of the old cosmology, for whom
> retrograde is ironic.

Who do you consider to be the "rational hero" in "All's Well That Ends
Well"?

Nicholas

Nicholas Whyte

unread,
Jun 21, 2002, 12:57:38 PM6/21/02
to
"bookburn" <book...@yahoo.com> wrote in message news:<uh4sshm...@corp.supernews.com>...
> "Nicholas Whyte" <nichol...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
> news:7b33cc41.0206...@posting.google.com...

[re All's Well That Ends Well, Act 1 scene 1]

> > It's a nice set-up of Helena as a medical expert who naturally


> has
> > some understanding of astrology as any good Renaissance doctor
> should,
> > and of Parolles as a not very genuine soldier.
> >
> > There is however no specific reference to any planet or star
> other
> > than Mars, or to any constellation of the zodiac. If the author
> had
> > himself been interested in astrology he would have supplied
> extra
> > detail; to be "born under" a star is a nice figure of speech
> but not
> > really in line with what professional astologers actually did
> (or do).
> > Apart from anything else, "predominant" is not the opposite of
> > "retrograde" in astrological terms.
>

> I assume you mean if the playwright had more interest in
> astrology/astronomy, he could have added scholarly footnotes,
> etc.

No, I don't mean that at all; why on earth would I expect a playwright


of that period to include scholarly footnotes? What I meant was that
if he had had specialised knowledge he would have used it by
contrasting "retrograde" with "direct" rather than "predominant" and
would have identified a particular planet in a particular astronomical
position as a "charitable star", etc. That he does not do so indicates

that the plays are clearly written by someone who accepts astrology as


part of his world but has no serious technical knowledge of either
astrology or astronomy.

>But the author, for his purposes of dramatising predicament


> and inner conflict, is evidently showing us a new kind of
> rational hero against a backdrop of the old cosmology, for whom
> retrograde is ironic.

Who do you consider to be the "rational hero" in "All's Well That Ends
Well"?

Nicholas

Paul Crowley

unread,
Jun 21, 2002, 1:53:57 PM6/21/02
to
"Nicholas Whyte" <nichol...@hotmail.com> wrote in message news:7b33cc41.0206...@posting.google.com...

> There is however no specific reference to any planet or star other


> than Mars, or to any constellation of the zodiac. If the author had
> himself been interested in astrology he would have supplied extra
> detail; to be "born under" a star is a nice figure of speech but not
> really in line with what professional astologers actually did (or do).
> Apart from anything else, "predominant" is not the opposite of
> "retrograde" in astrological terms.
>
> If Chucer had written this scene, he would have used the right
> terminology and probably worked out horosopes for all the main
> characters. As it is, the plays are clearly written by someone who
> accepts astrology as part of his world but has no serious technical
> knowledge of either astrology or astronomy.

The 'technical knowledge' was readily available
to, and indeed scarcely avoidable by, all educated
people of Elizabethan times. Very roughly (as all
such parallels must be) it would have been some-
thing like the Evolution/Creationism debate of today.
It would have been virtually impossible for an
educated adult not to have had an opinion on it.
Most people believed that stars had a great
influence. Shakespeare had clearly considered
the question, and did not think much of astrology.
His _characters_ 'getting things wrong' was
probably deliberate rather than careless, and
indicated his attitude.

Paul.
--
See Southampton/Lady Norton Overlay
http://www.crosswinds.net/~crowleyp/


Ken Kaplan

unread,
Jun 21, 2002, 2:44:18 PM6/21/02
to
It appears you are making incorrect assumptions based on our modern
knowledge. The retrograde motion of Mars in Shakespeare's time was an
*Astronomical* problem, not an *Astrological* one. Here is a section
from a web site devoted to Mars in the sky.

"Mars's usual motion among the stars is from east to west. Around the
time of opposition, however, it suddenly stops, reverses direction,
and moves "retrograde" for a time, then stops again and resumes its
usual motion from east to west. (Jupiter and Saturn do this as well,
but because they move more slowly---and travel through smaller
arcs---the movements are less obvious than in the case of Mars.) So
baffling were these motions that Mars was the despair of the naked-eye
astronomers. The Roman Pliny, who perished while trying to observe
(too closely) an eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, called it
"inobservabile sidus"; and at least one later astronomer who attempted
to calculate the motions of Mars is said to have become deranged in
his mind, and in a fit of rage to have bumped his head against the
walls!1

After completing a loop, Mars resumes its westward drift relative to
the fixed stars. Its light grows gradually weaker as it approaches and
finally passes behind the Sun (into superior conjunction). It then
emerges from the Sun into the morning sky and brightens again, until,
after two years and two months, it comes once more into opposition and
shines like a burning coal upon the night sky.

The ancient Greeks took for granted that the Earth was the center of
the universe. They also assumed that the planets moved uniformly in
perfect circles. Unfortunately, uniform motion around simple circles
did not account for the complicated movements the Greeks actually
observed, and they faced the problem of "saving the
phenomena"---showing how the observed movements could be reconciled
with their principle of uniform circular motions."

So obviously this was a real problem for astronomers, especially
laboring under the Ptolmeic system. Dr. Altschuler's paper included
this because (as you have printed the reference), Shakespeare clearly
knew about it and was interested enough in it to use it both as a
reference and a metaphor. Kepler's solution was published in 1609 (not
1605, that's when he made the discovery). Kepler's work was a
tremendous leap forward. Dr. Altschuler's position is that if
Shakespeare knew enough and was interested in the phenomenon prior to
1609, why was he not interested in the solution, and its gigantic
ramifications.

Taken alone one could argue that perhaps he lost interest. But given
the Supernova of October 1604 (Shakespeare referers to the one in 1572
in Hamlet),
and its lack of mention, plus the absence of the findings of Galileo,
one has to wonder. The entire understanding of the Cosmos was shifting
, yet Shakespeare is not connected.

I am not saying Shakespeare was an expert astronomer. Only that he
displayed interest and knowledge of current astronomical thinking.
That he did not maintain currency past 1604 raises questions.(And the
supposed eclipses of 1605 for Lear are not solid.)

For a more esoteric view that claims Shakespeare was much more
advanced in his astronomical thinking, check out Peter Usher's work on
his website at Penn State or perhaps in older Elizabethan reviews. He
claims within Hamlet is a hidden allegory on the Copernican vs
Ptolmeic systems and that Shakespeare was highly aware of the new
paradigm. Unfortunately one could not openly proclaim it because the
Earth as center of the Universe had parallels with the Monarch's
central relationship to the state.

Whether Usher is completely credible, I don't know, but he makes a
forceful case for certain oblique references to a famous mathematician
in the graveyard scene.

Ken Kaplan

P.S. Usher is a Stratfordian and a professional astronomer. I asked
him if news of Galileo's discoveries would have been available to
Shakespeare. He said, certainly. I then asked why he didn't refer to
them at all. His answer was that Hamlet was his masterpiece, after
that he lost interest. (So Lear, Othello, Macbeth, Tempest are chicken
feed). A cop out in my opinion.

nichol...@hotmail.com (Nicholas Whyte) wrote in message news:<7b33cc41.0206...@posting.google.com>...

Ken Kaplan

unread,
Jun 22, 2002, 4:33:07 PM6/22/02
to
nichol...@hotmail.com (Nicholas Whyte) wrote in message news:<7b33cc41.02062...@posting.google.com>...

> Kenka...@yahoo.com (Ken Kaplan) wrote in message news:<81b80d38.02062...@posting.google.com>...
> > I never mentioned that Shakespeare refers to Mars retrograde twice.
>
> Actually, you did.
>
> http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=75f2d918.02041...@posting.google.com
> :
>
> "Shakespeare was clearly interested in the outstanding astronomical
> problems of his day, their disappearance post 1604 is puzzling. The
> chief examples are the resolution of the retrograde motion of Mars by
> Kepler in 1605 (the problem mentioned by Shakespeare *twice*), the
> supernova of October 1604, and the discoveries of Galileo."

Well this is a typical technical argument, but lets follow the
thought. I quikly looked back and missed my original post of months
ago. I was quoting Altschuler. But looking it over, I believe I was
right and you are misunderstsanding what Shakespeare said.


>
> > I
> > mmentioned that he refers to the problem of it. But he never refers to
> > Kepler's solution in 1605.
>
> Since, as I demonstrated in my previous post, he doesn't refer to the
> "problem" of Mars in retrograde at all, it's not surprising that he
> doesn't refer to the solution!

(See below), Since according to my reading he *does* mention the
problem (twice)it is intriguing that he would not have included the
knowledge of its solution, available in 1609. More serious is the lack
of mention of any of the discoveries of Galileo.


>
>
> >I contacted the astronomer who gave the
> > paper at the Devere conference. If he gets back to me we can clarify
> > his position. I took it from him.
> >
> > Ken Kaplan
>
> This would be the hilarious paper by Eric Altschuler, available at
> http://xxx.lanl.gov/PS_cache/physics/pdf/9810/9810042.pdf ? It has
> been discussed at length here before now.

What is hilarious, except that to you he posits Oxford's relationship
to the events? The attributions of occurances are fairly solid. You
concede some credibility to him by citing the lines below.


>
> In fairness, I think Altschuler may have a point with the Henry VI
> part 1 lines:
>
> "Mars his true moving, even as in the heavens
> So in the earth, to this day is not known"

Excuse me, I assume by now you read my other post, but this is also a
reference to Mars retrograde and its *problem*. (Mars his true
moving...to this day still **is not known.**") Just because the word
retrograde does not appear doesn't change the meaning. Is this not the
_second_ reference? THank you for including it.


>
> which could well be a reference to the fact that existing tables of
> planetary motion did not predict the position of Mars perticularly
> well. It should of course also be read in the context of the opening
> lines of the previous scene,

If you read my post, with the exerpt, or articles on the subject, then
the preceding paragraph is moot. It was a well known issue, at least
in scientific circles. It disturbed the entire Ptolmeic system.
Obviously Shakespeare was aware of it.


>
> "Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
> Comets, importing change of times and states,
> Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
> And with them scourge the bad revolting stars
> That have consented unto Henry's death!"
>
> which taken together demonstrate little serious interest in
> cutting-edge astronomy, indicating once again that the plays are
> clearly written by someone who accepts astrology as part of his world
> but has no serious technical knowledge of either astrology or
> astronomy.

Please give me examples of "cutting edge tecnnical astronomy" of the
time, pre Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. I'd say including the issue
of Mars in retrograde as a dramatic and metaphorical device, twice, is
quite sophisticated. Who in the audience would catch the reference? Of
course Shakespeare accepted Astrology, at least in part. Read Bacon on
the interpretation of Divine Will being responsible for plagues as an
example of how non "scientific" conventional thought could be, even by
the most learned. By the way, I just logged on to the concordance for
Ben Jonson. Seven plays, the word retrograde does not appear. Neither
does the word "comet" or "comets". Shakespeare uses the word (comet)
six times. Just for your information, when comet Kahoutec appeared,
nine heads of state were toppled. Interesting Shakespeare's words.
>
> Nicholas
> Nicholas

Nicholas Whyte

unread,
Jun 23, 2002, 10:46:43 AM6/23/02
to
Kenka...@yahoo.com (Ken Kaplan) wrote in message news:<81b80d38.0206...@posting.google.com>...

> It appears you are making incorrect assumptions based on our modern
> knowledge.

Please show me what incorrect assumptions I have made.

>The retrograde motion of Mars in Shakespeare's time was an
> *Astronomical* problem, not an *Astrological* one.

In Shakespeare's time there was little difference between the two; the
problem of Mars' motion (both direct and retrograde) was of practical
relevance only for astrologers. The reference in "All's Well That Ends
Well" is clearly based on a partial understanding of the astrological
characteristics attributed to the planet, and therefore (in your
terms) has nothing to do with astronomy.

>Here is a section
> from a web site devoted to Mars in the sky.
>

> ["]The ancient Greeks took for granted that the Earth was the center of


> the universe. They also assumed that the planets moved uniformly in
> perfect circles. Unfortunately, uniform motion around simple circles
> did not account for the complicated movements the Greeks actually
> observed, and they faced the problem of "saving the
> phenomena"---showing how the observed movements could be reconciled
> with their principle of uniform circular motions."

> So obviously this was a real problem for astronomers, especially
> laboring under the Ptolmeic system.

A little learning is a dangerous thing. The Ptolemaic system, as you
would have learnt if you had read the article properly, pretty much
resolved the question of retrograde motion of the outer planets by
introducing the concept of epicycles. The "problem of the motion of
Mars" in Shakespeare's/Kepler's day was not so much the fact that Mars
sometimes displays retrograde motion, it was the fact that neither the
Ptolemaic nor the Copernican system predicts the planet's position
accurately, whether its motion is direct or retrograde. Kepler's
breakthrough was to propose an elliptical rather than circular orbit
for Mars.

>Dr. Altschuler's paper included
> this because (as you have printed the reference), Shakespeare clearly
> knew about it and was interested enough in it to use it both as a
> reference and a metaphor. Kepler's solution was published in 1609 (not
> 1605, that's when he made the discovery). Kepler's work was a
> tremendous leap forward. Dr. Altschuler's position is that if
> Shakespeare knew enough and was interested in the phenomenon prior to
> 1609, why was he not interested in the solution, and its gigantic
> ramifications.

Even if Dr Altschuler's rather heroic interpretation of Shakespeare's
astronomical interest were true, a couple of references to astronomy
early in his career hardly counts as intense interest!

> Taken alone one could argue that perhaps he lost interest. But given
> the Supernova of October 1604 (Shakespeare referers to the one in 1572
> in Hamlet),
> and its lack of mention, plus the absence of the findings of Galileo,
> one has to wonder. The entire understanding of the Cosmos was shifting
> , yet Shakespeare is not connected.

Shakespeare does *not* refer to the 1572 supernova in Hamlet; the
remarkable thing about that supernova was its visibility in daylight,
whereas the star referred to in Hamlet is visible in the west at about
1 am, which means it could be pretty much any star (since we don't
know what month Hamlet is set, and since we are not even told that
this is a particularly bright star). Altschuler is making it up.

> I am not saying Shakespeare was an expert astronomer. Only that he
> displayed interest and knowledge of current astronomical thinking.
> That he did not maintain currency past 1604 raises questions.(And the
> supposed eclipses of 1605 for Lear are not solid.)

All we have shown is that 1) Shakespeare knew that Mars displays
retrograde motion (which is obvious to anyone who can recognise the
planet Mars in the sky and can follow it over a period of months - for
obvious reasons, Mars' retrograde motion tends to coincide with the
times when it is most easily visible); 1a) although he knew this, he
was not so familiar with astrology that he knew the opposite of
"retrograde" to be "direct" rather than "predominant"; and 2) he knew
astronomers had problems predicting Mars' motion (whether retrograde
or not). That's not "current astronomical thinking"; astronomers had
been having difficulty predicting the motion of Mars for two
millennia.

It would help your case slightly if you could demonstrate with actual
proof that Kepler's discoveries were widely disseminated and
unanimously accepted in England as soon as they had been made. However
that would involve actual research on your part so I don't think it
will happen.

> For a more esoteric view that claims Shakespeare was much more
> advanced in his astronomical thinking, check out Peter Usher's work on
> his website at Penn State or perhaps in older Elizabethan reviews. He
> claims within Hamlet is a hidden allegory on the Copernican vs
> Ptolmeic systems and that Shakespeare was highly aware of the new
> paradigm.

Heroic assumptions again. I think there would be more direct evidence
if this were the case.

Nicholas

Nicholas Whyte

unread,
Jun 23, 2002, 4:24:43 PM6/23/02
to
Kenka...@yahoo.com (Ken Kaplan) wrote in message news:<81b80d38.02062...@posting.google.com>...
> nichol...@hotmail.com (Nicholas Whyte) wrote in message news:<7b33cc41.02062...@posting.google.com>...
> > Kenka...@yahoo.com (Ken Kaplan) wrote in message news:<81b80d38.02062...@posting.google.com>...
> > > I never mentioned that Shakespeare refers to Mars retrograde twice.
> >
> > Actually, you did.
>
> Well this is a typical technical argument,

"technical" in the sense of "correct", you mean...

> but lets follow the
> thought. I quikly looked back and missed my original post of months
> ago. I was quoting Altschuler. But looking it over, I believe I was
> right and you are misunderstsanding what Shakespeare said.

Shakespeare refers to the problem of Mars' motion in 1H6. That is
*not* a reference to Mars being retrograde, because the problem was of
the same nature whether Mars' motion be direct or retrograde. He
refers jokingly to a character being born under Mars retrograde in
"All's Well That Ends Well" because he goes so much backwards when he
fights. That is *not* a reference to Mars' poorly understood motion,
it's a joke based on a partial understanding of astrological
terminology (partial because "retrograde" is contrasted with
"predominant" whereas astrologically you could have Mars both
predominant *and* retrograde).

> > > I
> > > mmentioned that he refers to the problem of it. But he never refers to
> > > Kepler's solution in 1605.
> >
> > Since, as I demonstrated in my previous post, he doesn't refer to the
> > "problem" of Mars in retrograde at all, it's not surprising that he
> > doesn't refer to the solution!
>
> (See below), Since according to my reading he *does* mention the
> problem (twice)it is intriguing that he would not have included the
> knowledge of its solution, available in 1609. More serious is the lack
> of mention of any of the discoveries of Galileo.

Even on your reading he mentions it twice in what, three dozen plays
written before 1609? Hardly looks like he was an expert.

> > >I contacted the astronomer who gave the
> > > paper at the Devere conference. If he gets back to me we can clarify
> > > his position. I took it from him.
> >

> > This would be the hilarious paper by Eric Altschuler, available at
> > http://xxx.lanl.gov/PS_cache/physics/pdf/9810/9810042.pdf ? It has
> > been discussed at length here before now.
>
> What is hilarious, except that to you he posits Oxford's relationship
> to the events? The attributions of occurances are fairly solid.

Hilarious because there is a joke on every page.
* Edward de Vere described as "13th Earl of Oxford"
* Ben Jonson described as a "playwrite"
* repeated claims that astronomical events visible to both Shakespeare
and Oxford are "more likely" to have been remembered by Oxford, with
no reason given
* pathetic attempt to read geomagnetism into "Troilus and Cressida"
* claiming that the description of parhelia in 3H6 shows Shakespeare
to have been "a most keen observer" of the Sun when in fact they are
visible to anyone who happens to live in the right climate
* repetition of a complete sentence on the penultimate page
* assuming that Shakespeare must have been dead rather than simply not
interested in astronomy

>You
> concede some credibility to him by citing the lines below.

A stopped clock is right twice a day...

> > In fairness, I think Altschuler may have a point with the Henry VI
> > part 1 lines:
> >
> > "Mars his true moving, even as in the heavens
> > So in the earth, to this day is not known"
>

> > ...little serious interest in


> > cutting-edge astronomy, indicating once again that the plays are
> > clearly written by someone who accepts astrology as part of his world
> > but has no serious technical knowledge of either astrology or
> > astronomy.
>
> Please give me examples of "cutting edge tecnnical astronomy" of the
> time, pre Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. I'd say including the issue
> of Mars in retrograde as a dramatic and metaphorical device, twice, is
> quite sophisticated. Who in the audience would catch the reference?

There is no mention of the problem of Mars in retrograde, because
there is no problem. There is a problem of Mars' motion with no
reference to retrograde, which is referred to in 1H6, and I am
inclined to agree this is a rather obscure reference perhaps thrown in
to suit the cosmological theme of the previous scene and would have
passed by most of the audience. There is a joking reference to Mars in
retrograde, with no reference to a problem, in "All's Well that Ends
Well", which would have been quite clear to anyone with a vague
acquaintance with astrology (ie the entire audience) though those with
a more technical knowledge would have twitched at the inaccurate
contrast of "retrograde" with "predominant".

> Of
> course Shakespeare accepted Astrology, at least in part. Read Bacon on
> the interpretation of Divine Will being responsible for plagues as an
> example of how non "scientific" conventional thought could be, even by
> the most learned. By the way, I just logged on to the concordance for
> Ben Jonson. Seven plays, the word retrograde does not appear. Neither
> does the word "comet" or "comets". Shakespeare uses the word (comet)
> six times. Just for your information, when comet Kahoutec appeared,
> nine heads of state were toppled. Interesting Shakespeare's words.

So tell me, do you believe that the comet had something to do with it?

And will you learn how to spell its name next time?

Nicholas

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages