This Week In History: April 23-29


This week in history: The Bard and the Richter Scale namesake are born and Newton presents his Laws of Motion. Read more below and dive deeper with The Great Courses Plus.

April 23, 1564 – William Shakespeare is Born

Though the exact date of Shakespeare’s birth is unknown, historians estimate that he would have been born on this day in 1564 in Stratford Upon Avon. Known colloquially as The Bard, Shakespeare was a prolific writer and dramatist, producing hundreds of sonnets and 38 plays, some of which are the most well-known dramatic works in history. Though he is most often associated with tragedies like Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, Shakespeare also penned comedies and more historical works detailing the turbulent lives of English monarchs. The distinctive cadence of Shakespearean prose is thanks in part to many of his works being written in iambic pentameter (think “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene”). While the Bard’s usage of this particular rhythm is the most well-known, he was far from the only writer who utilized it; iambic pentameter can be found in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Sackville, and others.
Learn more about Shakespeare and his works in Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies

 April 26, 1900 – Charles Francis Richter is Born

Charles Francis Richter, inventor of the Richter Scale, was born on this day in 1900 in Overpeck, Ohio. First developed in 1935, the Richter Scale was used to measure the magnitude of earthquakes by using a seismograph to record the motion of the earth as the earthquake was occurring. The magnitude of a quake refers to its intensity, and is determined by using a base-10 logarithmic scale; the higher the number, the more devastating the earthquake. Earthquakes that register as 2.5 or less on the Richter Scale occur frequently, but are usually imperceptible to humans. Large-scale damaging earthquakes, such as the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco, California (magnitude 6.9) or the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake (magnitude 9.1) are thankfully rare. The Richter Scale was used in the United States until the 1970s, at which point it was replaced by the Moment Magnitude Scale, which is still in wide use today.

Learn more about earthquakes and their devastating effects in Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology

April 28, 1686 – Isaac Newton Presents his Laws of Motion

According to legend, Sir Isaac Newton first observed the force of gravity when an apple fell from a tree and landed on his head. While it’s unlikely that this happened exactly as in the story, Newton’s three laws of motion would revolutionize the study of physics and create the foundation of classical mechanics. And as if ground-breaking scientific discoveries weren’t enough, Newton would also develop a new branch of mathematics -what we call calculus today- to help prove his findings. These three innovative laws, all published in the first volume of his masterwork Philsofiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, would be presented to the Royal Society in London on this day in 1686.

Learn more about Newton’s Laws of Motion in The Joy of Science