Today, we visit a 400-year-old revolution. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
Jacob Bronowski and Bruce
Mazlish paint an intriguing picture of the
Elizabethan age. When we think about the
Renaissance, we usually think about its origins in
Italy. But they tell us how, in England, it finally
died of Elizabethan excesses.
For me, the quintessential English renaissance man
was Sir Walter Raleigh -- skilled poet, seaman,
warrior, explorer, politician, and courtier. He
captured the essence of a violent age, filled with
duplicity and the struggle to find a philosophical
Renaissance humanism had mired into egocentricity.
Renaissance alchemy was being overshadowed by the
new sciences. Renaissance literature was trying to
leave its vocabulary of coded allusions so it could
regain some measure of directness and clarity.
Anyone who's ever sung Elizabethan madrigals has
eventually learned their secret innuendoes and
snickered at them. The language reflected the
times, filled with intrigue and double meaning.
Shakespeare has survived so long because he rebuilt
English into a language that could be understood by
everyone. What Shakespeare began, a committee set
up by Elizabeth's successor, King James, finished.
They translated the Bible into English so direct
and readable as to be a model of style until only
Elizabeth died in 1603 and Shakespeare in 1616. The
King James Bible was published in between -- in
1611. Meanwhile, the excesses of the Renaissance
Within the queen's court, the alchemist John Dee
had read her fortunes in the stars, while her
physician William Gilbert wrote a modern science of
magnetism in modern terms. Two years after Dee
died, Shakespeare mocked him (in a kindly way) as
Prospero in The Tempest. That same
year Ben Jonson's play, The Alchemist,
simply ridiculed him. Science was to be a decisive
battleground between old thinking and the new.
In 1609, Raleigh's tutor, Thomas Hariot, bought a
new Dutch telescope and used it to view the rough
surface of the moon and spots on the sun. Five
months later, Galileo did the same thing in Italy
and began his own scientific and religious
Like Galileo, Hariot had contradicted the old ideas
about perfect planets. And like Galileo he also
called for a new cosmology. When he wrote, "Out of
nothing you can make nothing," he told us we'd have
to go beyond the Biblical account to find our
So an era closed down in the early 1600s. Only a
few people saw the magnitude of the change coming.
John Donne was one. The
same year the King James Bible came out, he wrote:
The new Philosophy calls all in doubt
the element of fire is quite put out;
The sun is lost, and the earth, and no man's
Can well direct him where to look for it.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds