Shakespeare and the Making of Early Modern Science: Resituating Prospero’s Art
Abstract

This article argues that art functioned as the mechanism through which early modern culture shifted from Aristotelian scholasticism to modern fact-based experimental science and situates Shakespeare’s play The Tempest within that larger epistemological shift. It provides an account of two developments that were important for the emergence of early modern science: first, the development of maker’s knowledge traditions; second, changes in philosophical attitudes toward the meaning of accidents. Both art and accident had been excluded from the primary Aristotelian categories of knowledge, but they are central to The Tempest and to early modern culture more generally. Prospero’s “Art” expresses the remarkable power of this model of art as a knowledge practice; yet, the play also suggests reasons why the Renaissance conception of art as knowledge was ultimately displaced by a modern science of facts. Through the example of The Tempest, Spiller argues that we must reassess our understanding of what counted as knowledge in order to understand the role that art, poetry, and drama had on the early modern development of science.


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