Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Science of Shakespeare (Thomas Dunne Books)

Shakespeare and his works have been analyzed for centuries. With so much mystery surrounding the man, and such controversy surrounding his works and authorship, we dissect his works and pick a key theme to analyze. Some people argue about which play is best. Others look for themes of religion and politics in them and how they played a role in his life. Others analyze his individual characters and how they reflect his view of mankind. Author Dan Falk is no different in picking an element to explore, except the element he's chosen is science. In his book, The Science of Shakespeare, the author looks at the Bard and his writings through the lens of the scientific revolution that followed the Renaissance.

The first thing one notices when reading this book is that the title is misleading. Instead of focusing on various fields of science, Falk focuses primarily on astronomy and the change from a geocentric worldview to a heliocentric world view. In fact the first hundred or so pages barely mention Shakespeare, if at all. Instead we learn about different astronomers, scientific theories, and speculations that Shakespeare could have met them or read their writings. These were interesting chapters that made you at least pause and think. After this, there is a chapter on medicine and a chapter on magic. It would have been great if there had been more devoted to other sciences.

The last chapter of the book provided the most trouble for me. In this chapter, Falk made the mistake that many people make and equated science with atheism. He tries and in my opinion fails to make a case that Shakespeare was an atheist. It's a shame the book took this route, especially given the fact that he discouraged people from buying into fringe theories, and it seems he did just that. It is widely accepted the Shakespeare was Christian, and perhaps even a secret Catholic (secret because Catholics were persecuted in England during this time). Overall, I wasn't too impressed with this book. It felt like Falk tried really hard to make his theories fit to suit his book. It also was a 300+ page book that could have been condensed to 100 pages. I'd give this book 2.5 stars.

This book was provided to me for free by Macmillan Publishers in exchange for an honest review.