The Moon: Shakespeare, Harriot and Galileo


Shakespeare and Galileo were both born in the same year, 1564. During their lifetime, modern physics was firmly founded through the efforts of Galileo, and Shakespeare wrote some of the finest texts in English literature. These giants of science and poetry shared a genuine curiosity for the natural world. The Moon has always been a source of fascination for poets, but Shakespeare, who lived in a ‘modern’ world of scientific observations through telescopes, shows a remarkable knowledge of astronomical facts about our satellite, in addition to his appreciation of its poetic and dramatic effects.

In the 20th century Jorge Louis Borges considered the Moon as a device enhancing the literary reality and used it in one of his best-known short stories, with an unintended, and surprising result. An important topic of the course concerns the invention and perfection of telescopes such as those used by Galileo and Thomas Harriot for their revolutionary observations of the Moon, as well as the inspiration exerted by this instrument on English writers.

The course will include a visit to the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, housing a fine collection of astronomical instruments, among which telescopes similar to those used by Galileo and Harriot, as well as an armillary sphere that belonged to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (whose name is linked by some critics to the genesis of Shakespeare’s play Love Labours Lost).

Programme details

Session 1

Introduction: a multi-faceted approach to looking at the Moon

Session 2

The Moon: a physical portrait

Session 3

Observing the Moon through the ages

Session 4

Galileo and the telescope

Session 5

Astronomical instruments and observations (session held at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford)

Session 6

Thomas Harriot and the first map of the Moon (with a visit to Trinity College)

Session 7

Galileo’s observations and the foundation of modern science

Session 8

The telescope as an instrument of imagination

Session 9

Shakespeare and the Moon

Session 10

Shakespeare and ‘The School of Night’ 

Session 11

The Moon and ‘the postulation of reality’ in literature

Session 12

The full Moon offers a clue in a detective story 


* Please note that the cost of any fieldtrips is included in the course fee.


Description Costs
Programme Fee (No Accommodation - inc. Tuition, Lunch & Dinner) £850.00
Programme Fee (Standard Single Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1485.00
Programme Fee (Standard Twin Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1245.00
Programme Fee (Superior Single Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1600.00
Programme Fee (Superior Twin Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1345.00


All fees are charged on a per week, per person basis.

Please be aware that all payments (and refunds) are subject to exchange rates at the time of processing.

Payment terms

  • If enrolling online: full payment by credit/debit card at the time of booking

  • If submitting an application form: full payment online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of invoice date

Cancellations and refunds

Participants who wish to cancel must inform the Programme Administrator in writing: by email to or by post to OUSSA, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK.

The following cancellation and refund policy applies in all cases:

  • Cancellation within 14 days of online enrolment / payment of fees – full refund of all fees paid

  • Cancellations received up to and including 31 May 2021 – OUDCE will retain an administration fee of £100 per week booked; all other fees paid will be refunded.

  • Cancellations received between 1-30 June 2021 – OUDCE will retain 60% of the fees paid; the remaining 40% of fees paid will be refunded.

  • Cancellations received on and after 1 July 2021 - no refunds will be made.

    Important note: You need to take out travel insurance to cover the programme fee and travel costs.


Dr Marina Debattista


Marina Debattista has a PhD in Physics specialising in quantum field theory and is currently interested in the popularisation of science, and in particular in the interconnections between art, literature, and physics.

Course aims

This course aims to provide a parallel between the scientific approach of understanding the Moon, through observation and measurement, and the literary attraction for our satellite.

Teaching methods

All summer school courses are taught through group seminars and individual tutorials. Students also conduct private study when not in class and there is a well stocked library at OUDCE to support individual research needs.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be expected to understand:

  • Why the actual observation of the Moon through the telescope constitutes a special moment in the history of astronomy and of science in general
  • How Shakespeare incorporated his knowledge about the Moon in some of his plays
  • Harriot’s role in the development of physics and mathematics
  • How reference to the full moon offers a very important temporal clue in Jorge Luis Borges’ short story The Garden of the Forking Paths

Assessment methods

Students are assessed during the summer school by either a 1500 word written assignment or a presentation supported by individual documentation. To successfully gain credit (10 CATS points) students should attend all classes and complete the on-course assignment. There is also a pre-course assignment of 1000 words set. Although this does not count towards credit, it is seen as an important way of developing a student's ideas and therefore its completion is mandatory.


To enrol online, click 'Book Now', above.  To enrol by post, please see details of the application process.

Covid-19 guidance for summer school participants

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of participants is our highest priority. We've introduced a range of measures to protect you when you are in university and college buildings, in accordance with University and UK government guidelines. These measures may include: enhanced cleaning regimes and additional facilities for hand washing and hand sanitising; spaces adapted to support social distancing with clear signage and markings; a requirement for the wearing of face coverings during in-person teaching and in indoor shared spaces.

You'll be required to follow University and UK government guidelines whilst in Oxford, and to sign a ‘Student Responsibility Agreement’ in advance of the course, confirming that you will do so (this will be similar to the version for University students, which you can review online).  Further information is available at You should particularly review the University’s Face Coverings policy, which you will need to comply with at all times on University property.

If UK government regulations require you to quarantine on arrival in the UK, then you will need to arrange this yourself at your own expense. Unfortunately, we aren’t permitted to let you quarantine in University accommodation. Travel is not encouraged – and may not be permitted – if you are travelling from or through a country on the UK government’s ‘red list’.

If we have to cancel your course

Should it be necessary to cancel your course, we will make every reasonable effort to give you as much notice of cancellation as possible, and we will refund all course fees paid by you (including the cost of accommodation, if booked through us as part of your course). Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than in pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the date they are processed.

The Department cannot be held responsible for any costs you may incur in relation to travel or accommodation bookings as a result of a course cancellation, or if you are unable to attend the course for any other reason. You are advised to check cancellation policies carefully and to purchase travel insurance.