Heliocentric Hamlet: The Astronomy of Hamlet

If imagination is the lifeblood of literature, then each new scientific advance which extends our scope of the universe is as fruitful to the poet as to the astronomer. External and environmental change stimulates internal and personal tropes for the poetic mind, and the new Copernican astronomy of the late 16th- and early 17th-centuries may have altered the literary composition of the era as much as any contemporaneous political shifts. Marjorie Nicolson, in "The Breaking of the Circle," argues that the heliocentric system greatly influenced the metaphysical poets, especially John Donne, as it necessarily mated the concept of a universal macrocosm with the preexisting notions of a personal microcosm and earthbound geocosm. Nicolson claims that the Elizabethans, Shakespeare included, failed to apply the new motion of heavenly bodies to their own bodies of work, and that their obsolete cosmology confers obsolescence upon their literary endeavors.

I will argue that Hamlet, written in the aftermath of Copernicus's De Revolutionibus and Tycho Brahe's cosmological observations, not only follows many of Nicolson's tenets for the metaphysical poetry of the time, but stands as a central metaphor for the ambiguous...

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