Shakespeare, Cymbeline and Galileo

Galileo's and Giacomo's observations

In 1609, Galileo Galilei learned of a telescope that had been made in Holland, and he immediately set about building one of his own. He trained it on celestial objects and was astounded by what he saw: nebulosities in the Milky Way gave way to a multitude of faint stars so close together as to appear to the naked eye as a nebulous haze; the  Moon was cratered; and planet Jupiter had four specks of light revolving about it, which Galileo correctly identified as moons. He made a series of sketches of them as they revolved about Jupiter, and announced his results in March, 1610 in a booklet known as The Starry Messenger. Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline before the end of that year. In the play, an Italian Giacomo  emerges from a trunk and observes Immogen's bedroom, its stars and Jupiter's moons, and in Shakespeare's day, another word for "telescope" was "trunk." 

Giacomo happens to be the nickname of the person who transmitted to Galileo news of the Dutch telescope invention. He wagers that he can compromise the virtue of Posthumus's beloved Immogen. He travels to England, but she spurns his advances and he resorts to deceit to access her bedchamber. He tells her that he has purchased jewels and has stored them in a trunk, which he persuades her to keep safe for him. He hides in the trunk, has it delivered, and soon after Immogen falls asleep at midnight, he emerges. Auditors presume that he intends to win his bet forcefully, but instead he makes sketches and takes notes on the contents of her bedroom. Of interest to him are "ten thousand meaner movables" that are "above." In Hamlet, 10,000 was the number of stars in the sky visible to the naked eye, which refers to Galileo discovering with his telescope that there were thousands of stars that the eye alone could not see. And he identifies four Jovian moons whose periods are less than the Earth's Moon.  


Galileo's trunks c.1609-10

A trunk

Jupiter's four brightest moons, in 1610, and...

 Posthumus masquerades as a soldier in the Roman army that had invaded Britain, and the troops of the British King Cymbeline capture him. He is incarcerated awaiting trial when he falls asleep and dreams of the four ghosts of his deceased parents and two brothers who dance around in imitation of celestial orbits. They beseech the god Jupiter to intervene on his behalf, and with spectacular theatricality, Jupiter descends from the heavens seated on the back of an eagle, 

...how they appear today (NASA montage)

the Bird of Jove. He brings with him a tablet that morphs linguistically into a book, and lays it on Posthumus's breast. In 2001, the idea emerged that the godly gift is Galileo's book The Starry Messenger in which he announced observations of the four ghostly satellites of Jupiter. Others agree. The Diggeses engaged in telescopy long before 1610, and on the next page we speculate that the bard refers to the Jovian satellites in an earlier play.