a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|A play about Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke which presents "the dark side" of Newton. Emphasis is put on his egotism (not only does he think that he is incomparably brilliant, but he also seems to think that he is somehow divine as evidenced by his birthdate coinciding with Christmas), and his cruelty (both to those with whom he is intimate and to his professional "enemies").
The author does a good job of presenting without bias the difficult question of whether Newton deserves all of the credit he receives for the invention of calculus and laying the foundations of physics. At times during the play, one is convinced that Newton is nothing more than a jerk who took credit for all of the good ideas of the people around him, while at other times it seems instead that the others are just jealous of his genius and are unwilling to admit how much more he can do than they can.
In the play, Newton is presented as a repressed homosexual. I do not know what historical evidence there is to support this thesis one way or another, but it is presented believably. We see Isaac becoming emotionally intimate with two young men who are mesmerized by his brilliance, but both eventually leave him disappointed by his cruelty to them and his inability to come to grips with who he is.
Robert Hooke, on the other hand, is not presented as repressed but rather as a man who is so obsessed with sex that he keeps a diary explicitly describing his sexual encounters with his young niece. (Apparently, according to the preface to the play at least, this is true and we have the diaries to prove it.)
I would have said that the play was written amateurishly, since much of the dialogue struck me as forced. However, it appears that Pinner is a professional, with many years of experience in the theater and even claims to be the author of a new musical about Marx and Engels called Marx and Sparks. (He's kidding, right?) I found the play interesting to read because I learned a bit about what Newton was like, or at least, what he might have been like. Still, it was not quite to my tastes and so I cannot say that I think it was a brilliant work of art. Perhaps others who have read it (or even better, seen it performed!) could write in with their own opinions? (Please use the link below near the "ratings" to enter your own ratings and post your own comments.)
This play appears in a book with Carl Djerassi's Calculus.
Note that the novel Quicksilver also addresses the historical relationship between Newton, Hooke and Leibniz.
Note: Another play about Newton and Hooke is "Isaac's Eye" by Lucas Hath. However, aside from one reference to "a type of mathematics that deals with infinite stuff", there is no math in it. (This is perhaps surprising since Hnath claims to be the son of a mathematician.) Consequently, I am not giving "Isaac's Eye" its own entry in this database. Let me briefly mention here that this play is interesting in that it uses modern language for dialogue a blackboard for writing footnotes during the performance. However, Hooke's claim in the play that Newton's calculus was already invented by someone else is anachronistic since the play supposedly takes place as Newton was applying to the Royal Society, but Leibniz's work on the calculus was not published until a decade after he was admitted.
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)