Sixteenth-Century Astronomical Telescopy (2001)

Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet is named for the "moist star" which in mythology is the partner of Hamlet's royal Sun. Together the couple seem destined to rule on earth just as their celestial counterparts rule the heavens, but the tragedy is that they are afflicted, just as the Sun and Moon are blemished. In 1.3 Laertes lectures Ophelia on love and chastity, describing first Cytherean phases (crescent to gibbous) and then Lunar craters. Spots mar the Sun (1.1, 3.1). Also reported are Jupiter's Red Spot (3.4) and the resolution of the Milky Way into stars (2.2). These interpretations are well-founded and support the cosmic allegory. Observations must have been made with optical aid, probably the perspective glass of Leonard Digges, father of Thomas Digges. Notably absent from Hamlet is mention of the Galilean moons, owing perhaps to the narrow field-of-view of the telescope. That discovery is later celebrated in Cymbeline, published soon after Galileo's Siderius Nuncius in 1610. In 5.4 of Cymbeline the four ghosts dance "in imitation of planetary motions" and at Jupiter's behest place a book on the chest of Posthumus Leonatus. His name identifies the Digges father and son as the source of data in Hamlet since Jupiter's moons were discovered after the deaths of Leonard ("leon+hart") and Thomas (the "lion's whelp"). Lines in 5.4 urge us not to read more into the book than is contained between its covers; this is understandable because Hamlet had already reported the other data in support of heliocentricism and the cosmic model discussed and depicted by Thomas Digges in 1576. I conclude therefore that astronomical telescopy began in England before the last quarter of the sixteenth century. This 2001 paper and “Jupiter and Cymbeline” of 2003 are the first to identify the four ghosts and the deity Jupiter in "Cymbeline" with the four moons of planet Jupiter (cf. Dan Falk, "The Science of Shakespeare" 2014, pp.207-8.)



Work Title Sixteenth-Century Astronomical Telescopy (2001)
Open Access
  1. Peter D. Usher
  1. telescope
  2. Hamlet
  3. Jupiter's moons
  4. Ophelia
  5. Shakespeare
License CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike)
Work Type Research Paper
Deposited August 07, 2019




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