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Shakespeare and Saturn

Accounting for Appearances


Peter D. Usher

In the mid-sixteenth century, Copernicus asserted that the Earth was not the center of the universe as was generally believed, but that the sun lay there instead. The relegation of the Earth to the rank of an orbiting planet meant that humankind lost its privileged position as well, thus prompting re-evaluation of all facets of human existence. This transformation in worldview gathered momentum throughout Shakespeare’s writing career, yet his canon appears to lack reference to it. Peter D. Usher has studied Hamlet and other Shakespearean plays and has uncovered a consistent pattern of reference to phenomena that prove the correctness of the new worldview, including reference to the infinite universe of stars. These data could not have been known without telescopic aid, which indicates that systematic telescopic study of celestial objects began before the generally accepted date of 1610. In Shakespeare and Saturn, Usher summarizes earlier results and shows that in All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare takes account of the last supernova eruption of 1604 known to have occurred in the Milky Way galaxy. He shows further that in Much Ado About Nothing and The Comedy of Errors Shakespeare makes observations concerning Saturn’s spectacular ring system that are remarkably accurate.
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Chapter 4. The Comedy of Errors




Time is that great gift of nature, which keeps everything from happening at once. C.J. OVERBECK

The themes of comedy and tragedy place The Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare (herein Errors or CE) in the genre of tragicomedy, which was developed by Plautus (c.254–184 BC) (Dorsch and King 5–6; unattributed references are to Dorsch and King). Aristotle had ordained that comedy should not be mixed with tragedy, so it is not surprising to find Shakespeare mixing the two as he had little respect for the Peripatetic School. Aristotle also enjoined that drama should adhere to the three unities of Time, Place, and Action, according to which everything happens on the same day at a fixed place, and have only one plot. In this present disquisition, I argue that, in keeping with Shakespeare’s opinion of the Stagirite, Errors has a subtext that gives the play two plots, one terrestrial and one celestial, the latter placing it in Shakespeare’s celestial genre. For Shakespeare, the discovery of new truths about celestial phenomena and the beauty of their existence epitomize Good, while Evil acts to prevent them from entering the encyclopedia of world culture. This is the view espoused by Copernicus (8), who states that through the study of the heavens, “we are transported to the contemplation of the highest Good.” In Errors, as in Hamlet and other plays of the celestial genre, a contest occurs ← 163 | 164 → between Good and...

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