- Time, Space, and Motion in the Age of Shakespeare
This book is for neither the faint of heart nor the dabbler. Angus Fletcher has distilled a vast number of early modern English texts and subsequent criticism into a complex and compelling argument about the intersections of "time, space, and motion," as of course clearly referenced in the title. The second part of the title, "the Age of Shakespeare," however, must be understood carefully to mark an ample era rather than to indicate the flourishing years of the authorial namesake. Through clear prose and with few (but important) endnotes, the introductory and eight primary chapters chronicle the changing representations and stakes of time, space, and motion in such influential works as Galileo's Sidereal Messenger, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Donne's First Anniversary, and Milton's Paradise Lost as much as to Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale; and to prose exposition, lyric, oration, and epic as much as to drama. Fletcher sets out the obstacles of his task in the introduction: "There is no easy way to describe the obscure relations between [End Page 1409] verbal expression and mathematical expression" (7). So he leads his readers slowly and at times even tenderly through a "language of science," as Galileo called mathematics. (But, of course, "slowly" is deceptive, and therefore mimetic of Fletcher's claims about time: for the chapters are engagingly brief, pithy.) We are able to apprehend the conversation between the beleaguered Tuscan artist's inability to capitulate to conservative powers encapsulated in the famous observation attributed to him, "And yet it [the earth] moves" (12, 11), and the unique "movements" (36) of an early modern drama and lyric that would, in turn, lead to Wallace Stevens's serious, deliciously ambiguous, and, most importantly, modern assessment of poetry, that "it must move" (37).
"Chapter One: Galileo's Metaphor" adds depth to the long-acknowledged, and therefore often ignored, relationship between scientific concepts and verbal text to claim convincingly that "the Church's more repressive responses were an immediate fear of translation, a fear that the discourse of scientific nature and its motions would translate dangerously into uncontrolled commonsense images of movement on the plane of social, political, and religious behavior and organization" (18). After illuminating the participation of themes (in chapter 2) and genre (chapter 3), Fletcher adeptly focuses in on the profound importance and interactions of thought, theme, genre, narrative, and meter in "Chapter Four: Marlowe Invents the Deadline." Thankfully, the chapter recovers the vital power and attraction of Marlowe's artistry, so often lost in the mix of biographical and bibliographic discussions. This chapter joins recent works like David Riggs's The World of Christopher Marlowe (2004) to mark a welcome trend of mature handling of the historical and artistic in non-Shakespearean public drama. For example, Fletcher observes that, "The invisibility-plot of [Doctor Faustus] measures out time in action, while its spatial adventures are made entirely imaginary in the same fashion —as if both space and time could be compressed into hallucinatory warps and leaps across gaps in the continuum" (67). The chronological and thematic chapters lead to the satisfying final chapter "Chapter Eight: Milton and the Moons of Jupiter," a close reading of the overt allusions and governing influence of Galileo's and the New Science's new understanding of time, space, and motion. Fletcher characterizes the "errant sideways wandering" of Milton's Adam and Eve as the eventual descendent of "the Myth of the Lateral Fall" (147) that Spencer was able only to outline at the beginning of the extended Age of Shakespeare.
An important element of Fletcher's analysis is the easy recuperation of literary and theoretical criticism from the early and mid-twentieth century. We can only hope that others will give as much careful thought to the critical works of the entire twentieth century —which has also been called another Scientific Revolution —in order to assess adequately the Scientific Revolution of the late-sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. [End Page...