IN Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare follows Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, from 41 bce up to the founding of the Roman Empire in 30 bce. Ant. is as much a tragedy as it is a historical drama and love story, and it has ‘an unusually large variety of sub-themes’.1 One of these is contemporary cosmology, which is consistent with the play’s allusions to Earth, Sun, Moon, and stars. Sacerdoti argues that the play’s ‘new heaven, new earth’ refers to a passage in the Book of Revelations. We propose that Digges’ model of the New Astronomy is a reasonable alternative. To my knowledge, Sacerdoti is the first to interpret an entire Shakespearean play in a cosmic context.2 His book is titled Nuovo Cielo, Nuovo Terra (‘New Heaven, New Earth’), which refers to words spoken by Antony in the play’s first scene (Ant. I.i.14–17). Cleopatra and Antony enter and, judging from their conversation, Antony must have just told her that he loves her. The ensuing exchange poses a tricky question. CLEOPATRA If it be love indeed, tell me how much. ANTONY There’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned. CLEOPATRA I’ll set a bourn how far to be beloved. ANTONY Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth. Cleopatra wants Antony to quantify his love for her, but Antony asserts that true love is immeasurable. She disagrees, because she sets a limit (‘bourn’) within which she thinks Antony’s love must fall. Cleopatra has set a trap, for telling her that his love falls within the bourn would imply that he could love her even more.3 Instead, Antony’s reply, ‘Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth’, gets him out of the jam because Cleopatra must then find a model of the Universe that has no bourn. This challenge has both religious and cosmological connotations. The religious relevance stems from three passages in the Old and New Testaments: ‘I will create new heavens and a new earth’ (Isaiah 65:17); ‘But we look for new heavens [or heaven] and a new earth, according to his promise’ (2 Peter 3:13); and John’s report, ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away’ (Revelation 21:1).4 Shakespeare’s play repeatedly echoes the Book of Revelation ‘in its apocalyptic view of last things’, and it ‘repeatedly [features] conflicts between different points of view’.5 An alternative to Sacerdoti’s interpretation might exist, therefore. The cosmic meaning devolves from an interpretation of Samuel Johnson, who says that Antony advises Cleopatra to ‘set the boundary of [Antony’s] love at a greater distance than the present visible universe affords’.6 In 43 bce at the start of the Second Triumvirate, the model of the firmament inherited from Plato had a definite bourn because it was a relatively simple affair comprising a bounding shell that held the stars with the Earth at its centre. At that time, there was however, a second model that comprised an infinite Universe of monads (‘atoms’). Originally proposed by Leucippus and embellished by his student Democritus, atomism found support from Epicurus whose views Lucretius later popularized in his long poem De Rerum Natura (‘On the Nature of Things’). If Shakespeare is writing for that era, then Cleopatra suggests setting a limit that could not exceed the extent of the observable Universe, but Antony counters by suggesting that she find a new Universe that is larger to accommodate the extent of his love. In the case of a Platonic Universe, this places Cleopatra’s imagined bourn beyond the stellar sphere in the space imagined to house the gods. If Shakespeare intends this to be the case, then the ‘new earth’ could be an Earth repositioned in order to improve planetary ephemerides (predictions of positions) using geometrical contrivances introduced by Appolonius and Hipparchus7 before the time of the Second Triumvirate. Alternatively, Shakespeare may refer to the infinite monadic Universe, which is more plausible. Noteworthy is the fact that Antony is nourished by Epicurean cooks (Ant. II.i.24–25). On the other hand, if in c.1607 Shakespeare writes about contemporary cosmology, Cleopatra may refer to a bounded Universe of relatively small extent (the model of Tycho Brahe8), or one of relatively large but unknown extent (the model of Nicholas Copernicus9). When Antony replies, ‘Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth’, he implies that her imagined bourn does not exist and that the Universe is of unlimited extent. One model of a stellar infinity is that of Giordano Bruno who in 1584 published De l’Infinito Universo et Mondi (‘On the Infinite Universe and Worlds’). For Bruno, a finite Universe is ‘beggarly’ for it implies a limit to the Creator’s power. Like Nicholas of Cusa before him, Bruno proposed that an infinite distribution of stellar systems like the Solar System is more in keeping with the omnipotence of the Deity than a bounded distribution, and Gilberto Sacerdoti has argued10 that Shakespeare based Ant. on Bruno’s work. A priori, the argument is strong since Bruno’s book’s title ‘Infinite Universe and Worlds’ matches Antony’s ‘new heaven, new earth’, and moreover, in his poem De Immenso modelled on Lucretius’s poem, Bruno specifically mentions the new infinite Universe of John’s Revelations. Another model of a stellar infinity is that of 1576 contained in an essay of Thomas Digges and entitled A Perfit Description of the Cælestiall Orbes. The essay contains a cartoon of the model, embedded in which is the inscription: THIS ORBE OF STARRES FIXED INFINITELY VP EXTENDETH HIT SELF IN ALTITVDE SPHERICALLYE AND THEREFORE IMMOVABLE THE PALLACE OF FOELICITYE GARNISHED WITH PERPETVALL SHININGE GLORIVS LIGHTES INNVMERABLE FAR EXCELLINGE OVR SONNE BOTH IN QVANTITYE AND QVALITYE THE VERY COVRT OF COELESTIALL ANGELLES DEVOYD OF GREEFE AND REPLENISHED WITH PERFITE ENDLESSE JOYE THE HABITACLE FOR THE ELECT.11 Digges suggests that the stars extend outward12 ‘infinitely’ to where angels hold court. This relationship between stars and Heaven was new in 1576, and the embedded Copernican Solar System was new in 1543, so between the two, Digges’ model has a ‘new heaven, new earth’.13 Antony’s advice to Cleopatra is that she should use such a model to define the extent of Antony’s love. Thus, it seems reasonable to suppose that Antony challenges Cleopatra to set the bourn at the physical but unknown limit of Digges’ inductive extrapolation to infinity. This is the more plausible since the dialogue prompted by the presence of a soothsayer uses the word ‘prognostication’ (Ant. I.ii.48), which is in the title (A Prognostication Everlasting) of the almanac founded by Thomas Digges’ father Leonard and in which A Perfit Description appeared. The New Astronomy is a precursor to modern cosmology, and since Shakespeare was ever ahead of his time, I credit him with the prescience to know this. At the same time, the soothsayer claims to read a little of ‘nature’s infinite book of secrecy’ (Ant. I.ii.8), which must include the infinite model. We conclude that the Ant. conversation above is consistent with the Digges model.14 Footnotes 1 Burton Raffel (ed.), Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare (New Haven, 2007), xviii. 2 Gilberto Sacerdoti, Nuovo Cielo, Nuovo Terra (Bologna, 1990). 3 Jan H. Blits, New Heaven, New Earth (Lanham, MD, 2009), 17. 4 David Bevington (ed.), Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare (Cambridge, 2012), I.i.17n. 5 Bevington (ed.) Antony and Cleopatra, 12. Cynthia Marshall Antony and Cleopatra: A Modern Perspective, in Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine (eds), Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare (New York, 1999), 297–308 at 297. 6 Bevington (ed.), Antony and Cleopatra, I.i.17n. 7 Arthur Berry, A Short History of Astronomy (1898). (New York, 1961), 40–61. 8 Albert van Helden, Measuring the Universe. (Chicago, 1985), 50. 9 Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543). Trans. Charles Glenn Wallis (New York, 1995). 10 Gilberto Sacerdoti, Nuovo Cielo, Nuovo Terra, 401–12; and ‘Three Kings, Herod of Jewry, and a Child: Apocalypse and Infinity of the World’, in Michele Marrapodi and Giorgio Melchiori (eds), Italian Studies in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Cranberr,y NJ, 1999), 165–84, at 176–81. 11 Thomas Digges’ vision has an empirical basis and amounts to an inductive leap from the physical world of stars to a theological Heaven, imagined extending to ‘the very court of celestial angels’. His empiricism devolves from his father Leonard who credits Roger Bacon for initiating his interest in optics, and from Leonard receiving credit for developing a two-element optical magnifier called a Perspective Glass. Minutes of the Royal Society of 1682 state that in about 1530, Fracastorius discovered things at a distance with the help of two spectacle glasses set apart from one another, and that Leonard Digges ‘had a method of discovering all objects pretty far distant … by the help of a book … of Roger Bacon’ (Thomas Birch, The History of the Royal Society. 4 vols (London, 1756–7), at IV, 156–7). Evidence suggests that Bacon assembled a functioning device now called a ‘telescope’, and Clegg and Johnson agree (Brian Clegg, The First Scientist: A Life of Bacon (London, 2003), at 48–9; Francis R. Johnson, Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England: A Study of English Scientific Writings from 1500 to 1645. (Baltimore, MD, 1937), at 178–9). 12 On average, stars diminish in apparent brightness spherically outward from the point of observation, but this does not mean that the Universe is spherical, merely that the observer is at the centre of his own perceptions. This is clear from the square diagram that accompanies Digges’ paper, where stars appear uniformly distributed to its borders. 13 Digges’ model is inhomogeneous, unlike Bruno’s. Digges preserves the uniqueness of the Solar System, thereby maintaining humanity’s special place in Creation. I have argued (Peter D. Usher, ‘Thomas Digges’s Perception of Stellar Sizes and Distances’, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, cviii.5 (2014), 200/205–7, at 207) that Digges introduces his model reverentially in order to minimize risk of censure. Thus, inhomogeneity is a safer course. By contrast, Bruno was censured for this and other impieties and in 1600 suffered death by immolation. 14 I thank Gilberto Sacerdoti for valuable correspondence and suggestions. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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