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Of Mites and Motes: Shakespearean Readings of Epicurean Science

Abstract

This chapter is devoted to the rediscovery of Lucretius in the early modern period. Even though Shakespeare had no access to writings by Epicurus, there is a strong likelihood that he knew the De rerum natura by Lucretius, were it only via Montaigne’s Essays. It is Jonathan Pollock’s contention that the prevalence of weather imagery in Shakespeare’s later plays not only results from his propensity to cloud-gazing but also from his interest in Lucretius’s use of meteorological models in order to explain the creation and disintegration of material objects and living beings. Epicurean science recognizes only (atomic) matter and void, it denies the reality of a spiritual “substance” (God or an immortal soul). It would seem that Shakespeare uses Lucretian doctrine as a means of establishing dialectical oppositions: set against Lear’s naive paganism or Cordelia’s redemptive figure, for instance, atomism portrays a world without Divine Providence of any sort, subject to purely material forces.
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hal-02457792 , version 1 (28-01-2020)

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Jonathan Pollock. Of Mites and Motes: Shakespearean Readings of Epicurean Science. Sophie Chiari; Mickaël Popelard. Spectacular Science, Technology and Superstition in the Age of Shakespeare, Edinburgh University Press, pp.119-132, 2017, ⟨10.3366/edinburgh/9781474427814.003.0007⟩. ⟨hal-02457792⟩

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