She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Phantasmatic Shakespeare: Imagination in the Age of Early Modern Science, and reported the following:
This page, like many others in the book, closely parses Shakespeare’s language, with a view to uncovering implicit connections with scientific knowledge. I unpack a speech by Romeo, who, confronted with the latest violent brawl between the two feuding families of Verona, feels there is something terribly wrong with the order of things:Learn more about Phantasmatic Shakespeare at the Cornell University Press website.
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.Carnage is a sign of “hate,” but hate can be the result of a too-strong “love” of something else. Nothing in creation, Romeo realizes, is what it seems. Everything carries its own opposite. Can we really tell lightness from heaviness, coldness from fire, “anything” from “nothing”? All the comparisons Romeo lists have to do with the elemental world; he is, in a way, pondering the nature of matter, like a cosmologist. Beyond the phenomena that present to our senses—coherent “well-seeming forms”—there may be an entirely different “misshapen chaos.”
Why, then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first created,
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep that is not what it is—
This love feel I, that feel no love in this. (Romeo and Juliet, 1.1.170–77)
This page comes from a chapter about matter theory—specifically, the Epicurean theory of atoms, revived with the rediscovery of Lucretius by Renaissance scholars. Atomism opened up a philosophical and theological can of worms, because it said that nothing can come from nothing—atoms can’t be created or destroyed, only rearranged—and therefore contradicted the metaphysics of Christian creation. Atomism also raises questions about cognition: if everything is made of matter, does that include our thoughts and dreams? What is the substance of an imagination, a mental phantasm? Romeo and Juliet points to the kinds of doubts that sixteenth-century thinkers were starting to have about the nature of the universe. Juliet and Romeo both seem strangely attuned to the material nether-reality, rushing eagerly to meet it, fantasizing of death and dissolution. The way that scientific notions disrupted conventional ideas about the mind thus deepens Shakespeare’s tragedy. What I do here with atomism I repeat with optics, zoology, anatomy, and other knowledge areas in the book’s other chapters.