(Not to be copied without authors’permission)
(A play in 2 acts)
by Carl Djerassi
Department of Chemistry
Stanford, CA 94305-5080
e-mail: email@example.com URL:http://www.djerassi.com
San Francisco, CA 94109-2012 LondonW9 1ED, United Kingdom
Tel: 415-474-1825 Tel.44-20-7289-3081
Fax: 415-474-1868 Fax:44-20-7289-5902
Virtually every survey of thepublic’s choice for the most important persons of the second millenniumincludes the name of Isaac Newton. A poll published in the 12 September 1999issue of the London Sunday Times Magazine ranked him first, even above Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, CharlesDarwin and similar canonized stars. Among his crowning achievements were hisresearch starting around 1670 on light and color (eventually published in 1704in his book Opticks), but he isbest known for his enunciation of the laws of motion and of gravitation andtheir application to celestial mechanics as summarized in one of the greatesttomes in science, the Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, usually shortened to PRINCIPIA-the first version of which was published in1687.
Putting physics on a firmexperimental and mathematical foundation-an approach coined Newtonism-earnedNewton the ultimate accolade as father of modern scientific thought. However, arevisionist historical analysis, based in part on the discovery by theeconomist John Maynard Keynes of a huge trove of unpublished papers anddocuments, has led some scholars to consider Newton the last great mysticrather than first modern scientist. While his work in physics and mathematicsset in motion the Age of Enlightenment, revisionist historians point out thatneither as a person nor an intellect did he belong to it. As debunking of someof the hagiography surrounding Newton commenced in the latter part of the 20thcentury, it became evident that Newton spent much more time on alchemy andmystical theology than on “science”-composing over 1 million wordson each of these two endeavors, much more than all his writings on physics combined!His alchemical library was huge and his alchemical experiments, though keptsecret from all but a few intimates and servants, consumed much of his wakinghours for decades. Even his religious convictions had to be kept secret,because his faith in Arianism (holding that Christ and God are not of onesubstance) was considered heretical within the Anglican Church.
Born on Christmas day in theyear of Galileo’s death, Newton was so convinced of his supernaturalpowers that he once constructed a virtual anagram of his name (IsaacusNeutonus) in terms of“God’s holy one” (Jeova sanctus unus). His position as a fellow of Trinity College andLucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge (a chair now held by StephenHawking), his subsequent elevation to the important government rank of Masterof the Mint, and conferment of a knighthood by Queen Anne all should haverequired open adherence to and even ordainment in the Anglican Church. YetNewton managed to sidestep it throughout his adult life, with open defianceonly surfacing in 1727 on his death at age 85 when he refused the last rites.Even that noncompliance did not prevent a state burial in Westminster Abbey northe unveiling there in 1731 of a monument in just recognition of his toweringcontributions to science and of his services to England.
As a person, Newton was notonly deeply complex, but also morally flawed. Adjectives that could be used todescribe facets of his personality are remote, lonely, secretive, introverted,melancholic, humorless, puritanical, cruel, vindictive, and perhaps worst ofall, unforgiving. Even one of the most famous quotes attributed to Newton,“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants” is open to different readings. Often cited asa sign of his modesty, it has also been interpreted as the ultimate poisonouslacing in a disingenuously polite letter addressed to one of his bitterestscientific foes, Robert Hooke, of pronounced dwarfish stature. It is worthnoting that the origin of the sentence long antedates Newton since it can betraced to at least John of Salisbury in the 12th century.
The character trait mostrelevant to the present play “Calculus” is Newton’s obsessively competitive nature.Frank E. Manuel wrote in 1968 in one of the great Newton biographies that“the violence, acerbity, and uncontrolled passion of Newton’sattacks, albeit directed into socially approved channels, are almost always outof proportion with the warranted facts and character of the situations.” While this statement characterizes some ofNewton’s best-known bitter conflicts such as the ones with the physicistRobert Hooke or the Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, it applied in spades tothe decades-long battle with a German contemporary of almost equal intellectualprowess, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz.
In addition to his monumentalcontributions to physics summarized in his PRINCIPIA, Newton was also aninventor of the calculus (which he first called the “method offluxions”). Up in Parnassus or down in his grave, he would immediatelyinterject: “A inventor? WasI not the creator of thecalculus-a bedrock of modern mathematics since it first revealed therelationship between speed andarea?” Why would such a genius even ask such a question? Because SirIsaac was also a fallible human being for whom priority-and especially priorityabout the calculus-counted above all else.
But priority can only bedetermined after a definition of the term has been agreed upon. No suchunambiguous definition has been produced in science, where multiple independentdiscoveries occur all too frequently. For instance, in the play “Oxygen” (written jointly with Roald Hoffmann), weasked whether the ultimate accolade for the discovery of oxygen-an event thattriggered the modern chemical revolution-should be assigned to the firstdiscoverer, to the person who published first, or to the one who firstunderstood the nature of the discovery. In the case of the calculus, it is nowclear that Newton was first in terms of conception, but Leibniz first in termsof publication. But since in Newton’s mind and words, “secondinventors have no right,”resolution of that priority dispute required for him a fight to the death, likea gladiator in a Roman circus. But unlike the gladiators, Newton was a consummatemaster of using surrogates, continuing the struggle even after Leibniz’sburial in in 1716.
The calculus prioritystruggle-with each protagonist ultimately charging the other with piracy-has,in the words of William Broad, “been fought for the most part by thethrong of little squires that surrounded the two great knights.” It is through the story of some ofNewton’s “little squires” that the play “Calculus” tries to examine one of Newton’sgreatest ethical lapses.
The stage was set by Nicolas Fatiode Duillier, a brilliant natural philosopher from a Geneva family, who becameNewton’s most fawning disciple. Indirect but reasonably persuasiveevidence of a homosexual (though unconsummated) attraction between Newton andthe 20-year younger Fatio has surfaced in recent years. At times called“the Ape of Newton,” Fatio shot the first brutal salvo openlyaccusing Leibniz of plagiarism. Like Newton, Fatio never married; like Newtonhe indulged in alchemical experiments and religious fanaticism; but unlike hismentor he went way beyond him in that regard by openly associating with theCevennes Prophets who spoke in tongues and became possessed during religiousecstasies. Fatio’s accusation of Leibniz was not pursued, partly becauseof the former’s religious excesses, but in 1708, another loyal followerof Newton, John Keill (a Fellow of the Royal Society as well as “awar-horse, whose ardor was so intense that Newton sometimes had to pull in thereins”), formally repeated thecharge of Leibniz’s plagiarism—an accusation published in the PhilosophicalTransactions of the Royal Society in1710. And when Leibniz, as a foreign member of the Royal Society, demanded anofficial retraction, Newton in his capacity of President created a commissionof eleven Fellows of the Royal Society (“a Numerous Committee ofGentlemen of several Nations”)to adjudicate the conflict. On April 24, 1712, a 51-page long report (partly inLatin and replete with references to private as well as published letters anddocuments primarily in the possession of Newton’s correspondent JohnCollins) was released by the Royal Society under the title “CommerciumEpistolicum Collinii & aliorum”(“exchange of letters from Collins and others”) in whichKeill’s accusation was totally supported.
Such a blatantly biasedprocedure, though clearly to be condemned, was nevertheless to be expected,considering that Newton as President of the Royal Society had indirectlyappointed the committee. But further scrutiny reveals much blacker details.
The composition of theCommittee that never openly signed the document, did not become acknowledgedfor over 100 years. Not only do we now know the identity of the eleven Fellows,but even more importantly, their dates of appointment. The famous astronomerEdmond Halley, the physician and well-regarded literary figure John Arbuthnot,and the little-known William Burnet, Abraham Hill, John Machin and WilliamJones were all appointed on March 6, 1712. Francis Robartes (Earl of Radnor)was added on March 20, Louis Frederick Bonet (the King of Prussia’sResident in London) on March 27, and three more members, Francis Aston and themathematicians Brook Taylor and Abraham de Moivre on April 17.
Why should these dates besignificant? Because it is patently impossible that at least the last threemembers, appointed on April 17, could have had anything to do with a lengthyand complicated report read openly 7 days later! In point of fact, noneof the eleven Fellows was authorially responsible, because Newton himself hadwritten the report! And in spite of the claim that the Committee consisted of“Gentlemen of several Nations,” only two out of the eleven-Bonet and de Moivre-couldbe categorized as foreigners. In the case of Bonet, so little is known of himthat even the Sackler Archive Resource of Fellows of the Royal Society does notcontain his date and place of birth, although German and Swiss archives do shedsome light on him. The question can rightfully be raised why such a diversegroup of Royal Society Fellows, some of them of major distinction, should haveallowed themselves to be so blatantly manipulated by Sir IsaacNewton-ostensibly to be chosen as watchdogs and then so quickly transformedinto barkless showdogs.
Calculus provides some speculative insight into thisscientific scandal through the personalities of John Arbuthnot and the twoforeigners, Louis Frederick Bonet and Abraham de Moivre, with most of thebiographical references firmly rooted in historical records. And while theparticular meeting of the playwrights Colley Cibber and Sir John Vanbrugh in Calculus is invented, both are historical characters whoserespective plays Love’s Last Shift and The Relapse: Or Virtue in Danger and their final collaboration, The Provok’dHusband, are part of the proud canonof British Restoration drama.
(Time: 1712 - 1731,London-mostly Drury Lane Theatre, ante-room of Royal Society or a salon)
CAST IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
Colley Cibber (1671 -1757), playwright, actor, theatre manager, eventually (1730) poet laureate.Literary friend of Vanbrugh, literary enemy of Alexander Pope and JohnArbuthnot. Author of “Love’s Last Shift” (1696) and other plays. CompletedVanbrugh’s “The Provok’d Husband” in 1728.
Sir John Vanbrugh (1664 -1726), playwright, architect (of Castle Howardand Blenheim Palace), advisor to George I. Author of “The Relapse: OrVirtue in Danger” (1696), ahighly successful sequel to Cibber’s “Love’s Last Shift,” as well as other plays. One of the firstdirectors of the Royal Academy of Music.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 - 1716), Leibzig-born, one of Germany’sgreatest polymaths. Promoted scientific academies including the BrandenburgSociety of Sciences (“Berlin Academy”) in 1700, appointed its lifepresident. Trained in law and philosophy, self-taught mathematical genius,eventually invented (independently of, though later than Newton) and publishedfirst (prior to Newton) the calculus with notations used to this day, alsointerested in a mechanical calculating machine. In 1710 published “ Théodicée,” rationalizing the existence of evil in a worldcreated by a good God. Universal letter writer (in French, German and Latin)with more than 1100 correspondents. Mostly in service of the court of Hanover,he never held formal academic teaching positions. Elected FRS 1673; FrenchAcademy of Sciences, 1701. Died in Hanover in 1716.
Tobe played by same actor as Colley Cibber with German accent
Sir Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727). England’s greatest mathematicianand natural philosopher, also immersed for decades in alchemy and hereticaltheology. Enunciated the laws ofmotion and gravitation and their application to celestial mechanics. Madefundamental contributions to light and color as well as inventing a form of thecalculus (termed by him “Method of Fluxions”). Author of two of themost important books in science: the Philosophiae naturalis principiamathematica (“Principia”) andOpticks. FRS 1672, President of Royal Society (1703 - 1727), 1669 elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics atCambridge University, appointed 1699 Master of the Royal Mint and knighted in1705 by Queen Anne. Notorious for ferocious struggles with scientists (e.g.Robert Hooke and John Flamsteed), but none fiercer and longer than the one withLeibniz. Buried in Westminster Abbey where his monument was unveiled in 1731.
Tobe played by same actor as Sir John Vanbrugh
Margaret Arbuthnot (? -1730), wife of John Arbuthnot, mother of 6 children.
(Speakswith perceptible Scottish accent).
LouisFrederick Bonet (1670-1762), citizenof Geneva, Minister of King of Prussia in London (1696-1719), then“syndic” and senator in Geneva. Trained in medicine and law,proselytizing Protestant. FRS 1711, Berlin Academy 1713. [Member ofanonymous Royal Society Commission of 1712].
(Speakswith perceptible French accent).
Abraham de Moivre (1667-1754), French-born and French educatedmathematician, spent his adult life since 1687 in England. FRS 1697.
[Member of anonymous RoyalSociety Commission of 1712].
(Speakswith distinct French accent)
John Arbuthnot (1667-1735), Scottish-born and Scottish educated,physician to Queen Anne, some mathematical (statistical) knowledge, wit andsatirical writer, friend of Pope, Swift, John Gay and Thomas Parnell (foundingmember of Scriblerus Club in 1714). Author of the political allegory“History of John Bull” describing the prototypical Englishman. FRS1704. [Member of anonymous Royal Society Commission of 1712].
(Speakswith perceptible Scottish accent).
Lady Brasenose, a London salonnière. (Speaks with distinctupper-class English accent).
A maid, in homeof Dr. and Mrs. Arbuthnot.
Polly, an ingénueat Drury Lane.
A dresser, at Drury Lane.
Remaining members of anonymous Royal Society Commission of1712
(Silentactors or dressed mannequins in Scene 3)
Francis Aston (1645-1715), friend of Newton, students together, andelected together as Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge.
William Burnet (1688–1729), subsequently Governor of New Yorkand New Jersey (1720), then of Massachusetts (1728) and New Hampshire (1729).
Edmond Halley (1656-1742). "But for Halley, Newton’sPRINCIPIA would not have existed.... He paid for all expenses, he corrected theproofs, he laid aside his own work in order to press forward to the utmost theprinting. All his letters show the most intense devotion to the work."
Abraham Hill (1633–1721) Founder Fellow of R. S., later successively treasurer,secretary, and vice president; friend of Edmond Halley.
William Jones (1675-1749), son of Welsh farmers, appointed to R.S.in 1712 just before the Committee met. Not an important mathematician, but heintroduced the symbol pi in its enduring meaning and in 1711 published Newton's"De analysi"--one of theearly shots in the priority battle with Leibniz.
John Machin (1680-1751),elected to R.S. in 1710, in 1711 became Prof. of Astronomy at Gresham Collegeon Newton's recommendation. Newton described him as the man who"understood the PRINCIPIA better than anyone."
Francis Robartes, Earl ofRadnor, (1650-1718), MP (1673-1718) also Commissioner of Revenue for Ireland(1710-1714), moved in social circles with Newton.
Brook Taylor (1685-1731) elected to R.S in 1712, educatedat Cambridge. He had not published anything at the time (1712) of his electionto the R.S. and his appointment to the committee was "a sure sign offavor" by Newton. One of the more voracious English mathematicians in theongoing dispute with the continent.
Scene 1. London, 1725. Colley Cibber and Sir John Vanbrughmeet in Cibber’s office cum storeroom at the top of Drury Lane Theatre.Cibber has just come off-stage and is removing his costume as Sir John enters.
VANBRUGH: Colley Cibber!
CIBBER: Sir John, I am your humble servant.
VANBRUGH: Why not just “John?” That’s whatyou used to call me.
CIBBER (Laughs):And you used to call me “Colley.”
VANBRUGH: And Colley it shall be. But has nothingchanged… other than a quarter of a century?
CIBBER: Then you wrote a play that still graces our stagefrom time to time.
VANBRUGH: It pleases me that you still recall The Relapse.
CIBBER: Your greatest triumph!
VANBURGH: It is my very favorite, yet our precious criticscondemned it for its “blatantly fleshy treatment of sex.”
CIBBER: Ah… critics!
VANBURGH:It would never have been written had I not seen the year before thepublic’s lust to see your Love’s Last Shift. “Giants in wickedness” they called usboth!
VANBRUGH: And accused me of “debauching the stage beyondthe looseness of all former times.”
CIBBER: After all these years - it still rankles?
VANBRUGH: Some insults continue to fester. But I will have myrevenge on those who aspire to cleanse our theatre in their holier-than-thouimage. Those pygmies of piety, attempting to destroy my reputation! Wishing todrive my plays from the English stage! Frothing with indignation in theirtracts and pamphlets! Anointing themselves a “Society for the Restorationof Manners”!… I’ll teach them manners!
CIBBER: From an architect of plays you have become anarchitect of palaces.
VANBRUGH: A sin?
CIBBER: Not at all! But their scale! First, Castle Howard,then Blenheim-
VANBRUGH: Blenheim Palace demanded it. A fitting tribute tothe Duke of Marlborough’s victory.
CIBBER: Indeed, indeed… the biggest palace everbuilt… and garnered you yourknighthood. But after all those years, revenging yourself on your critics?John, I advise you to forget … if not forgive…
(SirJohn falls silent)
CIBBER: Isee. (beat). You require revenge to lance the boil.
VANBRUGH:It’s an efficient method.
CIBBER:Depending on the choice of instrument. And what, may I ask, is yours?
VANBRUGH:Writing a play, of course. A scandalous play.
CIBBER:And thus opening yourself to renewed charges of moral deviation?
VANBRUGH:I started as a playwright… I was insulted as a playwright… I wishto end as a playwright… and revenge myself as one.
CIBBER: Through a scandalous play?
VANBRUGH: Yes… but without sex!
CIBBER: Ascandal… without sex?
CIBBER: Adalliance or two, perhaps?
CIBBER: How then can it be scandalous?
VANBRUGH: Must sex and scandal always be coupled?
CIBBER: It helps… especially on stage.
VANBRUGH: Colley, I will show that real scandal is of themind.
CIBBER: That intrigues me, John. And now you seek my advice?
VANBRUGH: That… and your assistance. You’re notjust an actor… you also excel as theatre manager and playwright…one day you might even become poet laureate—
CIBBER: Enough! You flatter me… what do you require ofme?
VANBRUGH: You’ve never held it against me to have builtmy play, “The Relapse,”on your success.
CIBBER: The theatre is large enough for both of us.
VANBRUGH: Well put, Colley… and thus a further argumentfor my proposal. Collaboration… even by those, presumed to becompetitors, has its merits… a lesson I shall teach through revenge.
CIBBER: But revenge on stage must also divert through aworthy plot.
VANBRUGH:The plot already exists… in real life.
CIBBER: A play of revenge based on real life?Take heed, John! I almost see the critics’ sneers. (Pause). Andscandal is your play’s theme?
VANBRUGH:It is corruption among the mighty…
CIBBER (Disappointed): Hardly a novel theme. Take Shakespeare’shistories.
VANBRUGH:My dear Colley! I am referring to the mighty of the mind… not of the realm.
CIBBER:Are its protagonists still alive?
VANBRUGH:All of them!
CIBBER: Ah! That warrants care as well as subtlety.
VANBRUGH:Subtlety takes time… a precious commodity... especially at my age.I’m sixty-one, Colley! Many consider me old.
CIBBER: Nonsense, John. (Grins) Though I must admit I was surprised… some whileago… to learn that you had suddenly decided… in yourmaturity… upon an exploration of marital bliss—
VANBRUGH:How old were you when you succumbed to that temptation?
CIBBER:Promise not to tell. (Simulates whisper) Not yet twenty-two!
VANBRUGH:(Shocked.) How rash!
CIBBER:It was an act of love… but also of madness, bearing in mind that myincome hardly sufficed for one.
VANBRUGH: Perhaps I’m more cautious. I was fifty-fivewhen I proposed to Henrietta.
CIBBER: Lady Henrietta is a handsome woman… (beat) and young…
VANBRUGH:In form as well as in figure. (Pause)Though not as young as yours.
CIBBER: Awise decision on your part.
CIBBER:My Catherine was overburdened by fertility. For every child she bore, I had towrite a play to support it.
VANBRUGH:Good God! Have you not written at least a dozen plays?
CIBBER:Twenty-five… to be precise…
VANBRUGH:(Startled) She bore youtwenty-five children?
CIBBER: (Laughing)Only eleven… but these in such rapid succession that I decidedupon… withdrawal. (Pause)But enough of me… and of my plays. We meet here to talk of yours. (Pause).If I may, John, a delicate question:this scandalous play will bear your name? (Pause). You are a celebrated playwright… people willrecognize your voice.
VANBRUGH:Indeed so! But I shall conceal myvoice by merging it with yours.
CIBBER: Oh… When do you wish to start?
VANBRUGH:Now. (He produces a script)
CIBBER: This moment?
VANBRUGH:I have your attention… so why not make use of it?
CIBBER: Yourservant, Sir John. (Cibber takes the script from him and begins to read): ”Calculus?” (Raising an eyebrow).
VANBRUGH (Quickly): A comedy!
CIBBER: Good… even if it should not prove true. (Briefpause). “By Sir JohnVanbrugh?”
(Amoment of embarrassed acknowledgement between them)
VANBRUGH: Of course, that can change—
CIBBER: I am relieved.
(Cibberflips through the pages)
Ah! “Sir IsaacNewton?” Well!
VANBRUGH: Read on.
(Cibber reads on. As hereads, muttering bits of the opening scenes of the play to himself, he beginsto look impatient. He skims ahead a couple of pages, looking for something.Sighs)
CIBBER: It’s promising, so far.
VANBRUGH: I hear a ”but” lurking about.
CIBBER: But Igather it is a disclosure of a scandal involving Sir Isaac Newton.
CIBBER: So…where is Sir Isaac? Where is theprotagonist? I wish to see him! Not the minions who circle around him likemoths attracted to a candle—
VANBRUGH: Who all get burned! Precisely what I wish to show.We have eleven minions tainted by this scandal, and all of them Fellows of theRoyal Society—
CIBBER: John, you cannot have all eleven in your play. Theexpense!
VANBRUGH: I have thought of that. I shall use but threeprincipals, and the rest will be supernumeraries.
CIBBER: John! I trust you will not take this amiss, but ifthe scandal deals with a dispute between Newton and this German fellow…what’s his name?… Leibniz… they must appear in your play. Youcannot rest your case on surrogates! Without Newton, there is no play. At thevery least, insert a scene for him before proceeding any further.
VANBRUGH: Suspecting you would say that, I came prepared.
(Heproduces a scene from his pocket)
CIBBER: What is this?
VANBRUGH: A scenebetween Newton and Leibniz.
(Cibberreads some of it)
CIBBER: Excellent! Let us read it now, together. I’llplay the German and you Newton.
VANBURGH: No, no, no. I couldn’t…
CIBBER: Oh go on, try… I beg you.
VANBURGH:Oh very well, if you insist.
(Cibber holds the play textin his hands and pretends to read Leibniz’s lines. Cibber uses a Germanaccent while playing the role of Leibniz. Vanbrugh plays Newton, and alreadyknows his lines since he wrote them.)
LEIBNIZ: So finally we meet Mr. Newton. (As Cibber) John, that opening line needs more work. Anyway,carry on.
NEWTON: There is nothing that I desire to avoid in mattersof Philosophy more than contention, nor any kind of contention more than one inprint.
LEIBNIZ: Yet your accusation of plagiarism was made inprint!
NEWTON: I wrote no such accusation.
LEIBNIZ (Sarcastically): I stand corrected. You caused one of your sycophants to do it.
NEWTON: A distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society…
LEIBNIZ: Distinguished? Bah! By turning into your sycophant,he loses all distinction.
NEWTON: How dare you?
LEIBNIZ: How dare you? You fabricate the suspicion that I won fame by deviouspractices. No fair-minded or sensible person will think it right that I, at myage, and with such a full testimony of life, should appear like a suitor before a court of law (Increasinglylouder). I, Gottfried WilhelmLeibniz, whose invention contains the application of all reason… ajudgment in each controversy…an analysis of all notions… avaluation of probability… a compass for navigating over the ocean of ourexperiences… an inventory of all things… a table of allthoughts… a general possibility to calculate everything. (Takesaudible deep breath, then, as Cibber).John, this is too obscure…
VANBRUGH: All German philosophers are obscure. And some alsoobtuse.
CIBBER: Nevertheless, the public, the critics, John! A re-write perhaps?
VANBRUGH: Please continue!
CIBBER: Very well (He continues as Leibniz). When I published the elements of my calculus in1684, there was assuredly nothing known to me of your discoveries in this area,beyond what you had formerly signified to me by letter…. But as soon as Isaw your PRINCIPIA, I perceived that you had gone much further. However, I didnot know until recently that you practiced a calculus so similar to mydifferential calculus. Of course you chose another name (hisses it withemphasis on final “s”):“fluxions.”
NEWTON (Aside, furious whisper): That viper in my brain… that Leibniz…not content with deriding my invention of the fluxions, now presents himself tothe world as inventor of the (hisses it with emphasis on final“s”)“calculus!” (Louder with faked calm). I had no hand in beginning this controversy.
NEWTON: Mr. Leibniz! In a letter exchanged between myselfand you ten years ago, I indicated that I possessed a method of determiningmaxima and minima…
LEIBNIZ: What of that?
NEWTON: In that same letter, I also wrote down the method.
LEIBNIZ: Your memory is at fault, Sir Isaac.
NEWTON: No, I wrote down the method. And at the same timeconcealed it.
LEIBNIZ: Wrote down… yet concealed? How?
NEWTON: In transposed letters-which, when correctlyarranged-express this sentence (slow and forceful tone): “Given any equation involving fluentquantities, to find the fluxions, and vice-versa.”
LEIBNIZ (Sardonic): Ha… ha! “Given anyequation involving fluent quantities, to find the fluxions, andvice-versa.” (Extremely fast and sarcastic) Five A’s, two C’s, one D, seven E’s,three F’s, one G, nine I’s, three L’s… no less than tenN’s!… four O’s, two Q’s, one R, three S’s, sixT’s, four U’s, five V’s and then one X and one Y… Ifall knowledge were transmitted in 70 transposed letters where would mathematicsor natural philosophy stand now? Are anagrams in science honest? Or are theyjust a joke? (Pause). As I find noH… as in “honesty” or “humor”… nor aJ… as in “joke” in your anagrammatic alphabet, neitherhonesty nor humor could have been the motivation. (Sardonic laughter). Indeed, as there is no letter M, even mathematicsis precluded!
NEWTON: How dare you?
LEIBNIZ: Did you not write in 1676: “Leibniz’smethod of obtaining convergent series is certainly extremely elegant, and wouldsufficiently display the writer’s genius even if he should write nothingelse.” (Pause). Well,Mr.Newton?
NEWTON: One my greatest lapses of judgment.
LEIBNIZ: Mr Newton. Are you accusing me of poaching… oftrespassing… on English turf? Of stealing?
NEWTON: Call it what you wish! I was the first to bite intothis apple… and expected to eat it at my leisure.
LEIBNIZ: An apple already bitten… especially an Englishone… does not attract me. Need I remind you that when you finally choseto launch your “method of fluxions” in print… years after Ihad published… few people equated it with my “infinitesmal calculus.” Your terminology was ajargon of flowing points and lines… your so-called “fluents.”And their rate of change… you called “fluxions.” Your addingor subtracting dots over letters to represent (derisive) “fluxions of fluxions or fluents offluents” is the clumsiest ofclumsy notations (Forcefully).Mine was algebraical; my language fresh and clear using the words“differential”… “integral”… and“function.” I do not find these in your writings!
NEWTON: My question is who discovered the method first. Priority is exclusive. It is an absolute, quantifiablefact.
NEWTON: One man is first! Be it by years, weeks, hours oreven minutes.
LEIBNIZ (Sarcastic):Is that not carrying mathematics too far?
(Cibber exits the scene as it were, observes last speechof Newton).
NEWTON: You will rue the day when you issued this challenge,Mr. Leibniz! Whether you found the Method of Fluxions… (disdainful) your calculus… by yourself is not the question. I shall appoint aCommittee of the Royal Society to deal only with the question who was the firstinventor. And I shall see that they do not stray from that narrow path! (Pause). The Committee will treat Leibniz assecond inventor, because (slow and loud) second inventors haveno rights! None! (Turns abruptly and walks toward Cibber).
(Vanbrughcomes out of character, as it were)
CIBBER: You are a born actor!
VANBRUGH: Thank you.
CIBBER: In God’s name, why is this scene omitted fromthe play?
VANBRUGH: Well, I’m of mixed mind.
CIBBER: No. We must use it!
VANBRUGH: We shall see.
CIBBER: What the plague is the matter with it? (Beat) Are you perhaps afraid?
VANBRUGH: Of Sir Isaac? No. Nor do I have a surfeit of respectfor the man.
CIBBER: Then what?
VANBRUGH: Only that the true scandal happened behind the scenes.
CIBBER: Hm. Very well then. So you say now. But let me seehow you say it here (shaking the script in his hands).
(Hecarries on reading the script AS THE LIGHTS DIM).
END OF SCENE 1
Scene 2. Cibber (reading the stage directions): “London,1712... so that’s thirteen years ago… a reception room at the homeof Dr. John Arbuthnot. The Maid enters. Mrs. Arbuthnot sits in a chair, a teaservice on a table by her side.”
MAID: Ma’am… Mr. Bonet has arrived.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT (Throughout with Scottish accent): Show him in.
BONET: Dr. Arbu… (catches himself)…Oh!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT (As she rises from her chair to greet him): Mr. Bonet.
BONET: Mrs. Arbuthnot, your servant.
MRS ARBUTHNOT: What a pleasure to make your acquaintance. We bothfrequent Lady Brasenose’s salon—
BONET: Yet have never chanced to meet.
(Hekisses her hand)
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Please, be seated.
(Shesits down, while Bonet remains standing.)
BONET (Throughoutwith French accent): You are mostgracious for receiving me on such short notice.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Not at all. Our very great pleasure. (A polite pause). Will younot sit down?
BONET:Much obliged, but… with the greatest of respect… I have urgentbusiness to attend to this morning… a brief conversation with yourhusband—
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: I apologize on his behalf, but he is not available.I hope I may be able to entertain you in his absence.
BONET (Disappointed): You are most kind. (beat) When will he return?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Return? (beat) He is upstairs… indisposed.
BONET: Oh. (beat).I trust he will recover soon.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: My husband is upstairs… in his study…not in ill health, but ill-tempered in disposition.
BONET (Aggrieved tone): Oh? I take it then he does not wish to speak to me?
MRS ARBUTHNOT: Dr Arbuthnot refuses to speak to any member of theCommittee…
MRS ARBUTHNOT:… on the grounds it may prejudice any decisiontaken by the Committee…
MRS ARBUTHNOT: Thus I dare not mention to him that you are here.
BONET: Isee. I assume he has told you nothing of the Committee’s concerns.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Not about its concerns.
BONET: Perhaps it would be better if I took my leave.
MRS ARBUTHNOT: I trust his behavior has caused you no offence. Dr.Arbuthnot places his principles above all else, including manners I’mafraid to say.
BONET: No apology is required. If I seem disappointed, itis because I had hoped… well, no matter. Good day, Mrs. Arbuthnot.
MRS ARBUTHNOT: Perhaps I may be able to dispel some of yourconcerns.
BONET:I’m afraid not. The Committee was convened to adjudicate a very delicatematter—
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Delicacy is a subjective notion… What isdelicate to one may be tedious to another, as my husband is so fond of saying.But since he’s not just a physician and savant… but also a writeron human foibles… I alwaystake to heart such remarks.
BONET: Awise decision… to accept your husband’s perspicuity.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: I said “take them to heart,” Mr Bonet. Idid not say I always accept them.But you called your Committee’s purpose “delicate”—
BONET (Forceful): I consider it exceedingly delicate.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: I shall not contradict you.
BONET (Itlooks as though Bonet is about to leave. Then he realizes something.): You are quite sure your husband did not mentionanything to you of the Committee’s brief? A matter not even disclosed toall Fellows of the Royal Society?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Of the Committee’s brief? Yes, that he did. (Pause). But you spoke of concerns… not of a brief.
BONET: Itrust you do not take this question amiss: but why would your husband discusswith you delicate (catches himself)…or… if you please… confidential tasks of our Committee?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Because I am his wife!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: You do not take your wife into your confidence?
BONET: Ihave no wife… yet.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: But if you had one?
BONET: Iwould not talk about such matters.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Yet with my husband… a near stranger…you are prepared to exchange questions that you would keep from your wife? Why?Because you trust my husband?
BONET: Ihave no reason not to trust him.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Yet you’d distrust a wife? (Pause). Since you have none yet, I would advise you tochoose prudently… as did my husband. (Pause). But I’m being carried away. I should haveoffered some refreshment… would you take some tea?
BONET: Iwould prefer to continue with our conversation… though perhaps in a slightlydifferent direction.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: I would be pleased to oblige.
BONET:May I ask a question that I had intended solely for your husband’s ears?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Well, yes… if you consider it appropriate.
BONET: Doyou know if all members of the Committee are equally well informed about itspurpose?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: I assume… on good authority… that thisis not the case. But you, Mr. Bonet… a diplomat? Surely, you areinformed.
BONET: Diplomats always desire more information than isoffered.
MRS ARBUTHNOT: I suspect I violate no confidence by saying that thepoint at issue solely involves Sir Isaac Newton… or rather, his work onfluxions.
BONET:You are referring to the accusation against Mr. Leibniz?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Indeed. But there is more to it than just priority.
Consider that quite difficultmathematics… fluxions and calculus… is at stake here… andespecially the question who invented what first. Yet nearly half the members ofyour Committee are not even mathematicians: Abraham Hill… WilliamBurnet… the Earl of Radnor… Francis Aston… (Pause)… and you, the King of Prussia’s Ministerto London.
BONET:What about your husband? He is Queen Anne’s physician…
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: The best she ever had.
BONET: Heis prominent in literary circles-
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: And now collaborating with John Gay and AlexanderPope in a play…
BONET:That I did not know.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: It’s called “Three Hours after Marriage.”
BONET: Anambiguous title.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Depending on one’s view. It’s meant to be a comedy.
BONET (Astonished): Physician and man of letters I can understand. Butplaywright of comedies?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: One comedy… and (aside) his last, I pray.
BONET:And is mathematics another of his talents?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Indeed. Just consider his essay “On the Usefulness ofMathematical Learning.”
BONET: Isee. (Pause). But now my question:Has he received as yet the evidence we’re asked to weigh… theevidence behind the accusation? Against Mr Leibniz. I’ve receivednothing.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: You are not alone, Mr Bonet.
BONET:But there are exceptions?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Perhaps. (Quickly backtracks). But that is only intuition… a woman’s intuition andhence of little value.
BONET: Ishall, of course, not ask about your husband, but could you venture a guess?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Mr. Moivre may be one...
BONET (Angrily):Who was appointed last!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Time of appointment may not relate to position ofrank within the Committee.
BONET: I fail to comprehend—
MRS. ARBUTHNOT (Interrupts):I suspect that comprehension will dawn tomorrow when your Committee will searchfor light… an endeavor in which Sir Isaac is pre-eminent. But yourdeliberations will focus on the moon reflecting light from the sun. I wonderhow many of you will notice that all heat is missing.
BONET: I’m afraid I do not follow you, madam.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Eventually you will, Mr. Bonet. But now, , I fear you must take yourleave before my husband comes down.
BONET: Very wise. I am in your debt, Mrs. Arbuthnot.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: In that case I’m pleased, Mr. Bonet.
END OF SCENE 2
Scene 3. Vanburgh reads the stage directions: “London,1712 –as before. An antechamber of the Royal Society. Food laid out on atable. Mr. Moivre meets Mr. Bonet. By contrast to Mr. Bonet, Mr. Moivre isdressed in threadbare clothes.”
MOIVRE: Monsieur Bonet, your servant, sir.
BONET: Monsieur Moivre, good day to you sir.
MOIVRE (Cautiously looking around): We seem to be among the first to arrive.
BONET: We are early.
MOIVRE (Moves to side table, pointing to food): I have not eaten all day. My occupation… youknow… hardly offers an opportunity.
BONET (Reluctantly): No one will see you.
(MOIVRE starts wolfing down food)
MonsieurMoivre… you know the reason for this meeting?
MOIVRE (Quickly takes another bite and thensurreptitiously puts some food, perhaps a roll, into his pocket): The first gathering of the full Committee.
BONET: Of course and yet…may I ask you a frankquestion?
MOIVRE: I shall be more than pleased to be of service to theminister of the Prussian King...
BONET: Why was I chosen… some three weeks afterArbuthnot and the others?
MOIVRE: But not all others! Taylor, Aston and I wereonly invited two days ago.
BONET: And why eleven Fellows?
MOIVRE: Perhaps precluding a Judas among Newton’sApostles? (Quick). Of course,I’m only jesting. (Pause).But why ask me?
BONET: You’ve been a Fellow for some years-
MOIVRE: Fifteen… to be precise.
BONET: Precision befits a mathematician… which I amnot. Yet the Committee’s charge concerns mathematics… so whyappoint me who is most deficient in this field? And who did so? I only receiveda letter from the Secretary without stating a reason.
MOIVRE (Coyly):The reasons will soon become clear, no doubt. If it had been solely for mymathematical competence… which I claim openly… I should have beenamong the first group… among Edmond Halley, one of Sir Isaac’sgreatest supporters…
BONET: I don’t know him.
MOIVRE: Seven years ago, he observed a comet in the sky andpredicted its return.
BONET: Was he correct?
MOIVRE: Alas, we must wait sixty-eight years to findout… Or William Jones, who sensibly introduced the symbol p… (Pause). YetI… though a mathematician… was among the very last… evenafter you.
BONET: Could you offer a simple definition of fluxions? Iwould be loath to admit my ignorance when the Committee meets.
MOIVRE: Fluxions are merely the velocities of evanescentincrements… of infinitesimals, such that if a quantity is increased ordecreased by an infintesimal, then that quantity is neither increased nordecreased.
BONET:You mean zero?
MOIVRE:Larger than that… yet smaller than any other number. Is that simpleenough? (Noting that Bonet is still dubious). Then try this. What Sir Isaac called the method offluxions, Leibniz termed calculus… a method (clear and slowly) thatfinally related time with space.
BONET (with a dubious expression): I thank you.
(Moivrecan see that Bonet doesn't understand.)
MOIVRE: It is a method that determines the rate of change atany moment of a quantity that itself is changing in relation to… oh, very well. Let medemonstrate… with an apple. (He picks up an apple). I shallnot drop it… I shall eat it while you count the time ittakes… in seconds.
(Hestarts eating. Bonet counts under his breath. Suddenly Moivre stops. Pauses.Starts eating again. Eats faster. Stops again. Picks his teeth for a second.Starts again. Stops again.)
MOIVRE (Conversational): The weather at present is quite inclement. Rather English, I wouldsay.
(Heresumes eating. Slows down. Then speeds up… and finishes the apple, pips,core and all.)
MOIVRE: Stop! How long did that take?
BONET: I'm not sure… let us say, one minute.
MOIVRE: Very well, one minute. Now: at thirty seconds, howfast was I eating?
BONET: How fast? It's impossible to say.
BONET: Well, for one thing, your speed was not constant.
MOIVRE: Good… you paid attention. But now, (occasionallyspeaks faster, even bordering on incomprehensibility) take aninterval of time… say, between fifteen and forty-five seconds. Estimatein ounces how much of the apple I ate in that interval. Divide this quantity bythe time, namely one half of a minute and you get an average velocity in ouncesper minute. Note! Ounces per minute! Now. (Switches back to ordinary voiceand speed). Can we improve this approximation, do you suppose?
BONET (Pretends reflection): Taking a shorter interval of time?
MOIVRE: Excellent! (Again speaks very fast, bordering onincomprehensibility). So take the interval between twenty-five andthirty-five seconds. Determine the average velocity over this period. Or if youare able, determine the average velocity in ounces per minute betweentwenty-nine seconds and thirty-one seconds. The smaller the increment, thebetter the solution. Thus, our velocity at any given moment is the“limit,” as we say, of our average velocities over smaller and smallertime intervals containing that given moment. (Switches back to ordinaryvoice and speed). You follow me?
BONET: I believe so.
MOIVRE (Relieved):In that case, I congratulate you. You have mastered what Leibniz called thedifferential calculus.
BONET: You mean, there is another kind?
MOIVRE: Integral calculus.
BONET (Reflects, then tentative): The inverse?
MOIVRE: We will make a mathematician of you yet! I shalldemonstrate once more!
(Hereaches for another apple. Bites into it. Hurts his mouth.)
MOIVRE: Ouch… ouch…
BONET: That one is made of wax. (beat) Ibelieve you have another in your pocket—
MOIVRE (Embarrassed): I'm saving it for later. But enough of experimentation.
(Heputs the wax fruit back where it belongs.)
BONET: Very well. But, what if I give you this—
(Bonetpoints to a large fruit like a watermelon. Moivre waves it away.)
MOIVRE:Your contribution to the Committee’s deliberation will not depend on yourunderstanding further details. A quick tutorial is insufficient. However the calculusof probability has caught my attention for a number of years now. First,to study gambling odds, but then to address the probability of lifeitself… to calculate annuities and similar properties… even thedate of my own death.
BONET: Your own?
MOIVRE:Now, at age 45, I have increasing need of sleep… very small incrementseach night. I shall pass into eternal sleep when the total reaches 24hours… which I calculate will occur at age 87.
BONET: But your wife may keep you awake from time totime… thus ruining your arithmetical progression… and at the sametime prolonging your life.
MOIVRE: Iam not married.
BONET: Your future wife then.
MOIVRE (Interruptsalmost angrily): I cannot afford awife.
BONET: Are numbers your whole life?
MOIVRE:There is literature. I know many works by heart…Rabélais… Molière. I could recite for you Le Misanthrope in its entirety—
(Startsreciting pompously some lines in French from Le Misanthrope)
Tousles pauvres mortels, sans nulle exception,
Seront enveloppés dans cette aversion?
Encor, en est-il bien, dans le siècle où nous sommes...
BONET (Hastily): Ça suffit! Some other time. But now to thematter at hand: to what circumstances do I owe my selection to the committee?
MOIVREYou would not be pleased to hear my explanation.
BONET:Still… may I hear it?
MOIVRE:They want a foreigner, who does not understand the issue.
BONET:But you… who understands the issue… are also a foreigner.
MOIVRE:Do you resent being picked solely for your foreign credentials and ignorance ofmathematics?
BONET (Laughs): You do not mince your words! But frankness deservesa frank answer. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have taken it as aninsult.
MOIVRE:What is different this time?
BONET:Diplomats often adjust their agenda to the circumstances facing them.
MOIVRE: (SeesArbuthnot approaching). Ah…here comes…
(Moivrequickly stuffs another item of food into his pocket)
ARBUTHNOT:Mr. Moivre, your servant.
MOIVRE:Monsieur Bonet, may I introduce Dr. Arbuthnot.
BONET:Ah… Dr. Arbuthnot… your delightful wife… (He stopshimself.)
ARBUTHNOT:My wife? You know my wife?
BONET:Ah, no, I apologize. A case of mistaken identity.
ARBUTHNOT:Monsieur Bonet, if you have spoken with my wife, it would be better for you if yousaid so.
BONET: Dr. Arbuthnot… mymistake, I do assure you.
ARBUTHNOT (decidingto let matter rest for the moment):Well, since my wife has nothing to dowith the business at hand, we shall let the matter lie.
(Bonet bows graciously. Lady Brasenose enters)
ARBUTHNOT (Takenaback): Lady Brasenose!
LADY BRASENOSE: Gentlemen.
DR ARBUTHNOT:With the greatest of respect, this is the Royal Society.
LADY BRASENOSE: And hardly known for its welcome of women. But this is not its innersanctum. Solely an antechamber.
DR ARBUTHNOT:Still, how did you gain entry?
LADY BRASENOSE: I am a lady of some reputation, Dr. Arbuthnot.
BONET: Mylady, we are all aware of that. (Kisses her hand).
LADY BRASENOSE: I do not ask permission to enter an antechamber.
BONET:May I ask why you are here?
LADY BRASENOSE: I might ask you gentlemen the same. You, M. Bonet, are a diplomat.Fluent in words, but hardly so in fluxions. (Turns to Arbuthnot). And you, my good doctor? You could have claimedconcern for a patient.
ARBUTHNOT:Why should I do that, Lady Brasenose? I’m a Fellow of the Royal Societyand as such, it is my duty to deliberate on matters of concern to that Society.
LADY BRASENOSE (Ironic): And to itsPresident?
ARBUTHNOT (Angry): And its President!
LADY BRASENOSE (Abruptly turns to MOIVRE).And you, Mr. Moivre? (Offers her hand, which he kisses). You’rea skillful mathematician… I am told… but were you not appointedjust two days ago to the Committee? Why did he wait so long?
LADY BRASENOSE: (Ironic): Would youprefer me to say “they?” Very well, I shall oblige you. (Lookshim over). Why did they?
MOIVRE:Because it dawned on them that they had need of some foreigners!
LADY BRASENOSE: Undoubtedly also the reason why my diplomatic friend (points toBonet) was chosen… unless (smilescoquettishly) he hides from me a competence in mathematics of whichI was hitherto unaware-
BONET:Few things escape Lady Brasenose.
LADY BRASENOSE: True so far... and I hope still for years to come. So why, Mr. Moivre? There are otherFellows who are distinguished mathematicians and yet not English. Or are theynot foreign enough?
MOIVRE:In England, not being English is already too foreign.
LADY BRASENOSE: Touché. But whywas it you were appointed?
MOIVRE (Vexed): I already told your Ladyship—
LADY BRASENOSE: Because you are a mathematician, a Fellow… and not consideredEnglish? None of those reasons would have caused him… (pretends tocatch herself)… I beg yourpardon… I meant them… to appoint you but two days ago!Barely in time for a gathering of your Committee… the first… and likely also last meeting!
ARBUTHNOT(Irritated): I see. LadyBrasenose, you’ve now added fortune telling to your other skills.
BONET:These days, news seems to reach my Lady even before it occurs.
LADY BRASENOSE: You seem to forget that you now live in England—an assembly of voluntary spies. (Turnsto Arbuthnot). And why did youaccept?
DR ARBUTHNOT:Your ladyship, forgive me. This is not a woman’s concern.
LADY BRASENOSE: I doubt that your wife would agree with you, Dr Arbuthnot. I’msure she had much to say to Mr. Bonet yesterday.
ARBUTHNOT:So you did meet her!
BONET: Myapologies sir.
ARBUTHNOT:Enough of this. What are you doing here?
LADY BRASENOSE: I fear Newton is making your bed and is about to blow out the candleto put your Committee to sleep.
MOIVRE: No, that’sinconceivable!
BONET: Sowhat is your aim?
LADY BRASENOSE: To keep the candle lit.
ARBUTHNOT: The Committee is about to meet thePresident. Lady Brasenose you mustdepart at once.
LADY BRASENOSE: Very well. I shall takemy leave because I have said what I came to say. (Offers him her hand, whichhe kisses rather stiffly). I only hope that you have heard it. Good day,gentlemen. And remember that you are always welcome at my salon, where I shall forever be the soul ofdiscretion.
(She goes out slyly.)
DR ARBUTHNOT:Gentlemen, I urge you to make no mention to anyone of this unfortunateinterruption by Lady Brasenose.
ARBUTHNOT:Nor to give any credence to her words. Otherwise the very foundations of thecase may be prejudiced irreparably.
ARBUTHNOT:Good, we are agreed, then. (A bell sounds from outside the antechamber forthe Committee to convene.) And now,gentlemen, it is time. Shall we enter?
(They enter the chamber.)
(Once inside, they take a seat around the longtable at which other committee members are already seated. Everyone sits inexpectant silence.)
(The door at the back opens slowly to reveal ashadowy figure: Newton. He says nothing. He brings in copies of the report forall members. The copies are passed along the table.)
(When all have copies, Newton stands at the far endof the table mysteriously. Then, without a word, he leaves.)
(A pause, then:)
ARBUTHNOT:What are we to make of that?
(The other two shake their heads, equally baffled.)
(All three look at the report, as do all themembers of the committee. They read the frontispiece.)
ARBUTHNOT(After a little while):Um…excuse me, gentlemen. Have you read the first page?
BONET:Yes. Yes, I’ve just read it.
ARBUTHNOT:I fail to comprehend this document. May I suggest we read that pageagain… aloud?
BONET: Ifyou so wish. (Reads in ceremonious tone). “An account of the book entitled Commercium EpistolicumCollinii & Aliorum.” (Turnsto Moivre). “CommerciumEpistolicum Collinii?”
MOIVRE (Impatient): An exchange of letters with Mr. Collins.
BONET: Ofcourse. But who is Mr. Collins?
ARBUTHNOT(Even more impatient): JamesCollins… an intimate acquaintance of Sir Isaac… but now deceased.Please proceed.
BONET (Resumesreading out loud): “Published by order of the Royal Society, inrelation to the dispute between Mr. Leibniz and Mr. Newton, about the right ofinvention of the method of fluxions, by some (looks at Moivre) calledthe differential calculus.”
MOIVRE (Readsin similarly affected tone):“This commercium is composed of several ancient letters and papers. Andsince neither Mr. Newton nor Mr. Leibniz could be witnesses, the Royal Societytherefore appointed a numerous committee of gentlemen of severalnations.” (In loud, ordinary tone). That’s us—
ARBUTHNOT:Please go on.
MOIVRE:“… to search old letters and papers, and report their opinions uponwhat they found.” I presume these letters and papers will be provided tous to form our judgment.
BONET: Iwonder. It says, “And bythese letters and papers it appeared to them that Mr. Newton had the method inor before the year 1669, and it did not appear to them that Mr. Leibniz had itbefore the year 1677.” (A beat).
ARBUTHNOT:May I request that you repeat that?
BONET (Moreslowly and emphatically): “And by these letters and papersit appeared to them that Mr. Newton had the method in or before the year 1669,and it did not appear to them—”
ARBUTHNOT (Interrupts): How can this be?
(Other members of the committee, now noticing theoddity, react.)
MOIVRE:How can what be?
ARBUTHNOT:“It appeared to them.” (Louder). “It appeared to them?”Exactly what does Sir Isaac require of us? (Pause) Are we a committee or aren’t we? Are weconvened here to judge the issue or not?
MOIVRE:It’s a very long report. (Shuffles pages to look at the last one). Fifty-one pages. Perhaps the statement “it appeared tothem” is designed to hurry things along.
ARBUTHNOT:Nonsense! (Pause). Rather itappears to me that Sir Isaac is presenting his evidence and expects us toaffirm and sign it without further scrutiny.
ARBUTHNOT:It is an outrage!
MOIVRE:So it seems.
ARBUTHNOT:Far worse than any common or garden insult! This is a scandal! As men ofprinciple and conscience, we must not… cannot… will not…tolerate being manipulated like this by Mr Newton!
ARBUTHNOT:We shall of course refuse to sign such a cynical document, Mr Bonet.
MOIVRE (Amoment’s hesitation): Yes... (A beat)
ARBUTHNOT:Is there something you wish to add, Mr. Moivre?
MOIVRE:Let me recall to you gentlemen how I discovered Newton’s PrincipiaMathematica.
ARBUTHNOT (Impatient): I fail to comprehend its relevance to the matter athand.
MOIVRE:You will. Calling one day on the Earl of Devonshire, I saw in the antechamber acopy of the Principia that Newtonhad come to present to the Earl that very day. I opened it and found, to myastonishment, that, strong as I thought myself to be in mathematics, I couldonly just follow the reasoning. The next day I procured a copy and tore out thepages. You see, London is very large, and being a tutor to moneyed Englishdullards, much of my time is employed solely in walking. That is what reducesthe profit and cuts into my leisure for study, but by tearing leaf after leaf from the Principia and carrying a few at a time in my pocket, I couldperuse it on my walks. Soon thereafter, I was elected to Fellowship in theRoyal Society.
BONET: I wonderhow many other Fellows were elected for mutilating a book.
MOIVRE:Whatever the reason, I was grateful to have been elected. For me, the creatorof the Principia Mathematica cando no wrong.
(Bonet and Arbuthnot exchange looks.)
ARBUTHNOT:Oh…I see. (beat) Mr. Bonet?You are of course with me on this.
ARBUTHNOT: And I am sure between the two of us we can persuadeMr Moivre to consider placing the obligations of morality above the quiteunderstandable feelings of gratitude towards—
BONET (Quickly):Quite so. Nevertheless, it would bebetter if the committee adjourned before deciding whether to sign thisdocument.
ARBUTHNOT: One moment! Why would the committee require time toconsider? Do you not agree—
BONET: Of course, my dear doctor. Of course I agree. I agreeentirely… in principle.
ARBUTHNOT: In principle?
ARBUTHNOT: If you have an objection to my reasoning, you hadbetter out with it at once, Mr Bonet, before I mark you down as an ally.
BONET: Come, come, what is this talk of “allies”?Of course I have no objection… none whatsoever!
BONET: I merely recommend the committee adjourn for a periodof individual reflection.
ARBUTHNOT: Reflection upon what?
BONET: Who can say? (perhaps indicating Moivre) Upon one’s conscience, perhaps.
ARBUTHNOT (Glancing at Moivre): Ah, indeed, upon one’s conscience.
COMMITTEE (ad lib):Aye, aye, one’s conscience, hear, hear, let’s adjourn.
MOIVRE (after a moment): Well, shall we adjourn then, gentlemen?
COMMITTEE (once more, ad lib): Aye, aye… adjourn.
ARBUTHNOT: In that case, let us all meet again tomorrow at thesame hour.
(Theyall get up.)
ARBUTHNOT: Good day, gentlemen.
COMMITTEE (ad lib):Good day.
(Theyall leave, including Arbuthnot. Moivre detains Bonet.)
MOIVRE: M.Bonet, a propos of Herr Leibniz: As he is President of your Academy in Berlin,I had hoped he would secure a university chair on my behalf.
BONET: I would advise you not to inform Dr. Arbuthnot ofthat.
MOIVRE: No indeed, he is a man of principle, and actsaccording to his precepts. But it matters not, since my request fell on deafears.
BONET: Ah. Howinconsiderate of Herr Leibniz.
MOIVRE: Ibelieve your King appointed Leibniz President for life?
BONET: That hedid! And with a handsome stipend… also for life.
MOIVRE: We have no president for life in the RoyalSociety… nor does he receive remuneration.
BONET: I’m aware of that.
MOIVRE: Ofcourse you are a member of your own Berlin Academy?
BONET: I am not.
MOIVRE: Yet you became a Fellow of the Royal Society but a fewmonths ago. Would it be discourteous to inquire why you are not a member ofyour own Academy?
BONET: I believe I shall become one, and soon.
MOIVRE: Oh? Splendid! In which class? Not mathematics, Ipresume?
MOIVRE: For which Leibniz will propose you?
BONET: Whoknows, M. Moivre… who knows?
(Notwishing to push his luck any further, Moivre merely smiles politely. They go.)
MOIVRE (as they leave): Do you suppose there’ll be a dinner laid on for us?
END OF SCENE 3
Scene 4. Cibber again reading stage directions: “London, 1712, the same day as the previousscene. Lady Brasenose’s salon.”
LADY BRASENOSE: Why? (Pause, then with increasing intensity). Why? Why? Why? (Longer pause). Mr. Bonet! Why?
(Bonetwalks to the window, remains quiet, whereupon Lady Brasenose assumes formaltone)
Mr. Bonet, did you hear me?
LADY BRASENOSE: Then why do you not reply?
BONET: Because your Ladyship wouldn’t understand.
LADY BRASENOSE: I lack intelligence?
BONET: My dear Lady Brasenose…those are yourwords… not mine.
LADY BRASENOSE (Falsetto and French accent): “My dear Lady Brasenose. Not solely yourbeauty and breeding… it’s your brain that always lures mehere.” (Resorts to ordinary tone). Those were your words.
BONET: A long time ago.
LADY BRASENOSE: Is 6 years that long ago? Long enough for my beautyto have wilted? Long enough for my breeding to have deteriorated? Long enoughfor my brains to have desiccated? Is that it?
LADY BRASENOSE: Then why not let me into your confidence? Do youintend to sign?
BONET (Facing her, firmer): My lady is not a Fellow.
LADY BRASENOSE: You will not tell me because I’m not a Fellow?The Royal Society does not believe it needs women—
BONET: Of course we need women…
(Sexualtension between them.)
LADY BRASENOSE: Do you?
BONET: That’s why I always accepted your invitations.
LADY BRASENOSE: That had nothing to do with the Royal Society.
BONET: Being part of your circle surely helped me become aFellow. Everyone seeks your invitations.
(Shegets closer to him and with her fan touches his heart.)
LADY BRASENOSE: Then do not sign that paper…
(Hebreaks away from her.)
BONET: A man of God must not be swayed by temptation.
LADY BRASENOSE (Disappointed, she changes tack): You have changed Mr. Bonet. Discreet temptation usedto tempt you. But morality… not temptation… should persuade a manof God not to sign that paper.
(Atthis point CIBBER interrupts the action and it freezes.)
CIBBER: Morality! What the plague! Is there to be noromance, no dallying, between these two?
CIBBER: SirJohn, I think you will find it will be missed.
VANBRUGH: Be that as it may—
CIBBER:Allow me to compose a passionate scene for you—
CIBBER: I know, I know. He is a man of God, that’s hischaracter. It’s deuced inconvenient of him.
VANBRUGH: The critics damned me for licentiousness, Colley.This time, I will not give them the satisfaction.
CIBBER: Nor give the public theirs, it seems. Very well,let’s carry on, and see if our Lady Brasenose may find another…altogether more refined… form of persuasion.
(Backto the scene)
LADY BRASENOSE: I suspect Dr. Arbuthnot will refuse—
BONET: That may be a mistake.
LADY BRASENOSE: He is a Fellow. Did not Newton himself select himfor the Committee?
BONET: Sir Isaac may yet regret it.
LADY BRASENOSE: Is that what counts? Newton’s regrets?
BONET: Yes… that is important. But you would notunderstand.
LADY BRASENOSE: I beg to differ, Monsieur Bonet… I beg todiffer quite firmly. But let us consider Sir Isaac Newton. He’s 69 andsingle… I know of no women in his life… not one… and I knowwhy—
BONET (Interrupts):But that is true of many other men. I’m not married.
LADY BRASENOSE: You are almost 30 years younger. You will marry someday… and of course produce children.
BONET: Why “of course”? Your ladyship ismarried… yet you have no children.
LADY BRASENOSE: Men produce children… women bear them. (Pause). Ichose not to bear that load.
BONET: Few women have that choice.
LADY BRASENOSE: Because most men won’t grant them thatprivilege. But I am privileged—
BONET: In more ways than one, my lady.
LADY BRASENOSE: As you especially should know. Now... you arecautious… but you will marry. You do not dislike women... as I,especially, should know.
(Amoment as he considers the meaning of this.)
BONET: Sir Isaac dislikes women?
LADY BRASENOSE: Even worse… he fears them. He will nevermarry.
BONET: He took you into his confidence?
LADY BRASENOSE: Once…(beat)
BONET: That I can believe. I’ve often heard yoursalon called London’s confessional.
LADY BRASENOSE: I would hardly consider that a tribute… comingfrom so Protestant a mouth as yours.
BONET: My Lady, accept it as praise, since I… aconfirmed Protestant… have visited you so often out of my own free will.
LADY BRASENOSE: Spareme your compliments. But as Isaid, I know why Newton has remained single.
BONET (Intensely curious): That I find intriguing! Could you divulge yoursource’s identity?
LADY BRASENOSE: If Idid, my salon would turn into a confessional of ill repute if confidentialitywere not honored. But my dear Bonet, how well do you… a diplomat…know Sir Isaac?
BONET (Hesitates):Not well.
LADY BRASENOSE: But you have met him?
BONET: But once.
LADY BRASENOSE: In private?
BONET: At the Royal Society when I signed the book as a newFellow.
LADY BRASENOSE: I conclude then that you do not know him at all! Yetyou should not only be aware of his qualities—
BONET (Interrupts):His merits are well known—
LADY BRASENOSE (Interrupts in turn): But also his foibles, quirks… and more. Forinstance take his fondness for anagrams.
BONET: Anagrams? Is that of relevance?
LADY BRASENOSE: I have heard it said that when Newton first thoughtof his method of fluxions, he wrote it down in his notebook—
BONET: Surely that is not unusual. Where else should hehave written it?
LADY BRASENOSE: But disguise it in secret anagrams? Or have anagramsnow become the mode in scholarly writings? (Waves her hand in dismissal). No matter. Newton has gone beyond mathematics in that regard. He once showed me thewords Jeova sanctus unus. Ofcourse, he would deny it now.
BONET: Why deny it? Surely the Latin words for“God’s holy one” are not sacrilegious?
LADY BRASENOSE: Consider that in Latin the letters J and I are usedinterchangeably.
BONET (Annoyed): I fail to see the relevance.
LADY BRASENOSE: You would if you rearranged the letters in Jeova sanctus unus and then arrived at“Isaacus Neutonus.”
BONET: Sir Isaac’s Latin names?
LADY BRASENOSE: Indeed. And should the President of the RoyalSociety consider himself “God’s holy one”? Because he wasborn on Christmas Day with no father alive? Daubing himself the divinemessenger possessed with the confidence of a holy son to construct a picture ofGod’s design for nature?
BONET: He mayhave diverted himself with anagrams. No one means all he says!
LADY BRASENOSE: That may be true of diplomats… like you. Butthose who know him, will tell you that Newton says all he means. (Pause). You claim to be a man of God now. Will you signyour name in support of such a low, heretical… if not alsoperverted—
BONET (Interrupts angrily): I refuse to be questioned in this fashion! Even byyou, Lady Brasenose. In time you shall learn the answer. (Pause). If not from me, then surely from some one lessrestrained.
LADY BRASENOSE: A temptation I shall not resist… even if itrequires loosening tighter lips than yours.
END OF SCENE 4
Scene 5. Vanburgh reads directions: “London, 1712,later that same day. Dr. Arbuthnot and Mrs. Arbuthnot in heateddiscussion”.
ARBUTHNOT: Why? Why? Why? (Longer pause, then withincreasing intensity). Margaret! Whydon’t you answer me?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: I cannot.
ARBUTHNOT: But why? After I gave strict instructions that noone associated with the committee should be admitted.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: I did not invite him, John. He arrived wishing tospeak with you. What could I do?
ARBUTHNOT: What did you do?
MRS ARBUTHNOT: I offered him refreshment. We exchangedpleasantries.
ARBUTHNOT: You didn’t talk?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: We did not sit there… struck deaf and dumb.
ARBUTHNOT: Margaret, do not trifle with me. Did you discuss theCommittee?
MRS ARBUTHNOT: How could I? What do I know of that, since youwon’t tell me anything of substance?
ARBUTHNOT: I did tell you … too much, in fact. And now regret it. What else transpired?
MRS ARBUTHNOT: Nothing. He left… disappointed that you wouldnot talk to him.
ARBUTHNOT: Very well, we will let it lie. (beat) You’re absolutely certain you didn’t saya word?
MRS ARBUTHNOT: No… nothing. John… will you not favoryour wife with your confidence, now that the Committee has met and its businessis finished?
ARBUTHNOT: The business is not finished.
MRS ARBUTHNOT: What do you mean… it is not finished?
(Pauseas he considers telling her.)
Who was there?
ARBUTHNOT: All eleven.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: No one else?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Of course Newton… but who else?
ARBUTHNOT: No one. Newton is clever… but also cautious.Why invite unnecessary witnesses? The Committee is already inundated withNewton’s toadies.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Would it not have been politic of Newton to includesome Fellows less beholden?
ARBUTHNOT: There were a few.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Mr. Bonet?
ARBUTHNOT: He’s one.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: And you.
ARBUTHNOT (Tired nod):And I.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT (Impatient):Oh John! Tell me what happened.
ARBUTHNOT: I wanted to be honest.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Was that not ill-judged?
ARBUTHNOT (Nods):Yet, does truth not bear the same relation to understanding as music does tothe ear or beauty to the eye?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Newton is concerned with understanding the universe.That truth concerns him… but no other music reaches his ear. What did he say?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Nothing at all?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT (More exasperated): John! I’ve never had to push you like this.Do you not trust me?
ARBUTHNOT: It’s a matter of shame… not trust.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT (Warmer):Then confide in me… I’m your wife.
ARBUTHNOT: I thought of Flamsteed, our Astronomer Royal. Heonce sent me a note that said, “Those that have begun to do illthings, never blush to do worse to secure themselves.” Ithought he was talking about Newton at the time, and now I am sure of it.
MRS ARBUTHNOT: What do you mean?
ARBUTHNOT:We were presented with the finished report before the Committee had properlymet. And worse was to come! Newton’s conceit exceeds perversity.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT (Impatient):How could it be worse? John! You must tell me!
ARBUTHNOT: Newton alone had written it—
MRS. ARBUTHNOT (Shocked):That I cannot believe! Not even Newton could be that brazen.
ARBUTHNOT: He was… and cunningly termed the report,“An exchange of letters between Collins and others.”
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: John Collins?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: But he’s dead!
ARBUTHNOT: Aye… letters written to the late JohnCollins and other deceased correspondents by Leibniz and Newton… and nowselected by Newton… to bolster his case in his own words withoutcontradiction by the dead.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: That is barefaced. And you were expected tosign… without further debate?
ARBUTHNOT: All of us were.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: And youdid? I would not want you to suffer the wrath of Sir Isaac. We both know hisunparalleled cunning. You did sign, didn’t you?
ARBUTHNOT: No pen was set to paper!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Oh!
ARBUTHNOT:The committee is reconvening tomorrow. By then we must decide.
MRS ARBUTHNOT: So there is still time. (Pause). John… I’mafraid.
ARBUTHNOT: Of me… your husband?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Not of you… but for you! I’m afraid of theconsequences if you don’t sign.
ARBUTHNOT: Margaret,I’m a Fellow of the Royal Society—
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: But he’s the president.
ARBUTHNOT: He’ll understand when I explain—
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: He may understand… but he will never forgive you.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: John… you’re being foolhardy.
ARBUTHNOT: I promise to be diplomatic… but honest. Anuntruth is best contradicted by truth… not another untruth.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Have you not been listening to me, John? That will never work withhim. Diplomacy? Perhaps. But honesty?
ARBUTHNOT: That is an unwarranted conclusion!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: However diplomatically delivered, Newton will never accept an honestexplanation that criticizes him…
ARBUTHNOT:I shall not criticize him.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: He will consider your refusal to sign public criticism.
ARBUTHNOT:I shall explain in private.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Your name’s absence from that document alone will be sufficientinsult.
ARBUTHNOT: I shall prove you wrong
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: John! Sign. You cannot afford the risk. He will spit on you… (beat) and then convince you it’s raining.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Have you forgotten his cruelty? As Master of the Mint, Newtonapplauds the flaying and hanging of many a man who crosses his path.
ARBUTHNOT:It is the duty of the Master of the Mint to ensure the soundness and safety ofour country’s coinage. Forgers must be punished!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: But attend in person the execution of every forger and clipper…and do so for years? Hardly a requirement for an occupant of so high an office.(beat) John, you must sign thatreport! For my sake if not your own.
ARBUTHNOT:Why will you not support my decision?
MRS ARBUTHNOT: Sign. Or he will flay and hang you!
ARBUTHNOT:Margaret, he is no monster!
MRS ARBUTHNOT: John, for pity’s sake. Sign!
ARBUTHNOT:Everywhere I turn, I am surrounded by… moral… turpitude! And nowyou, my own wife—
MRS ARBUTHNOT: Do it! Please!
ARBUTHNOT:No, madam, I will not sign away my reputation! Do you not know your ownhusband? Let them hang me from Tyburn as a traitor to my country, but Iwill… not… sign that foul document!
(He storms out. She goes after)
(CIBBER turns to VANBRUGH.)
CIBBER:If I were you, Sir John, I’d place an interval right here.
VANBRUGH:Sound advice. In any case, I need a piss.
END OF SCENE FIVE
END OF ACT 1
Scene 6. Cibber:“London 1712. Mr. Newtonwaits in the shadows of an antechamber at the Royal Society. Dr. Arbuthnotenters carrying the report. Mr. Newton gestures for him to sit down while heremains towering over him”.
ARBUTHNOT:Sir Isaac: I deduce that not a word is to be altered in this report?
(Newton is silent.)
ARBUTHNOT:And thus be published unamended… even if some members demur?
(Somewhatthreatening silence from Newton.)
ARBUTHNOT:I see… yes… of course. (Long pause). Suchprotest would be apostasy in your eyes?
(Faintnod by Newton)
ARBUTHNOT:Unacceptable to the President of the Royal Society?
NEWTON (Threateningtone): Second inventors have norights, Dr Arbuthnot. None!
ARBUTHNOT:Indeed not… none whatsoever. Yet for myself, Sir Isaac… and I speaksolely for myself… I hold open disputes in distaste.
NEWTON:But so do I, Dr. Arbuthnot. No open disputes.
ARBUTHNOT:If I may make a proposal, Sir Isaac?
(Newton is silent.)
ARBUTHNOT:What is needed here is a published… unanimous report-
NEWTON (Raisesindex finger—or other gesture—for emphasis): Unanimous! All eleven!
ARBUTHNOT:Naturally. No exception. None! (Pause).But for that the identity of theCommittee could remain undisclosed.
NEWTON (Nods): A“Numerous Committee of Gentlemen of several Nations”.
ARBUTHNOT:Precisely. But once granted that, would logical reasoning then not support myrequest (questioning, perhaps even pleading look at Newton)…
(Silence from Newton.)
ARBUTHNOT:… that unanimity by vote of an anonymous Committee… need notfurther be confirmed by signature?
(Silence from Newton.)
ARBUTHNOT:Publication should suffice. (beat).Surely it does, Sir Isaac… does it not?
(Silence from Newton.)
ARBUTHNOT:And further, may I venture to assert that …under such conditionsunanimity might be assured… Sir Isaac? By all eleven!
(A brief pause. Newton rises. Arbuthnot rises.Giving nothing away, Newton leaves.)
END OF SCENE 6
Scene 7. Cibber:“London, 1712, The Arbuthnothome. Mrs. Arbuthnot paces impatiently. Looks up as her husband enters”.
MRS ARBUTHNOT: John—
ARBUTHNOT: It’s over. And there is nothing more to say!
(Hestorms across the stage and out. Then returns. Sits down. She waits.
ARBUTHNOT: I started out on the wrong foot.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: You mean with honesty? (Seeing him nod wearily,she continues more gently). John, Ihad warned you. (Reaches over to pat his hand or other gesture of affection). What did you say?
ARBUTHNOT: I thought of Francis Bacon: “There is littlefriendship in the world… and least of all between equals.” I wantedto ask, “Why not prove Bacon wrong?”…
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: And didyou?
ARBUTHNOT: No, the Committee’s concern is withsuperiority… of British science. Friendship is irrelevant. If it wasproper for Germans to pin on Leibniz another’s garland, it was the dutyof the committee to restore to Newton what is really his own.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT: Andthat’s what you told Newton?
ARBUTHNOT: We hardly had to… We’re all toadiesnow…
MRS ARBUTHNOT: At least the sordid business is over.
ARBUTHNOT: Is it?
MRS ARBUTHNOT (Worried):John, please tell me you signed.
ARBUTHNOT: I didnot sign, madam.
MRS ARBUTHNOT: Oh, God!
ARBUTHNOT: None of us signed because the report is to be publishedanyway. With our “anonymous” approval. That was my proposition andNewton is satisfied with it. And I hope, madam, that you’re satisfied aswell. (He makes to leave.)
MRS ARBUTHNOT: John… that is unjust. My concern was theprotection of my husband and my children. We both know what he would have doneif you had crossed him.
ARBUTHNOT: “Those that have begun to do ill things, neverblush to do worse to secure themselves.” I thought Flamsteed’swords referred to Newton. Now, I am not so certain. (beat) I am off to my study… to compose my thoughts. Iwould be grateful if you left me in peace.
LIGHTS ON CIBBERAND VANBRUGH, while Mrs. Arbuthnot fades in darkness.
CIBBER: A pithy scene.
VANBRUGH: Pithiness has its place… even on the stage.
CIBBER: Granted… in this case. But as for Newton, I fear your public needs to learn more.
CIBBER: Everyone knows why he became President of the RoyalSociety… the greatest natural philosopher and mathematician of our time,and so on. But…we need more scandal!
Theythink for a bit. Cibber pours a drink for them both.
VANBRUGH: Of course, some asked why he left Cambridge toaccept his Majesty’s appointment as Master of the Mint.
CIBBER: That is obvious: a great deal of money—
VANBRUGH: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” 1 Timothy 6.10.
CIBBER: Quoting the New Testament is hardly scandalous,John.
VANBRUGH: Excessive love of money might be…
CIBBER: Well then we should use it!
CIBBER: Yes,out with it, man!
VANBRUGH: There was his South Sea Company speculation… but (brusquely): I prefer not to raise that painful subject. Itshowed we did not learn from the Dutch tulip mania.
CIBBER: You also bought shares?
VANBRUGH: And lost them all!
CIBBER (Thinking):Any other character in the play suffer the same fate by any chance?
VANBRUGH: I believe Arbuthnot. (beat). Andalso Alexander Pope. “’Tis ignominious not to venture,” hewrote to his broker.
CIBBER: Hm….ButSir Isaac?
VANBRUGH: He hadmade an 100% profit on his investment as the stock rose. Further evidence ofhis genius with numbers…
CIBBER: Hardlya point worth emphasizing in the play. But, continue.
VANBRUGH:The stock kept rising… and rising…
CIBBER: Afamiliar story even today.
VANBRUGH: Untileven the great Newton… by then Master of the Mint… speculatedagain.
VANBRUGH: Twenty thousand pounds.
CIBBER (Shocked, yet gleeful): Twenty thousand! Shall we use it?
VANBRUGH(Wags his head in doubt):It’s tempting… yet all too common… especially today. It willdilute the point I wish to make.
(Theyhave another drink and another think.)
CIBBER: Very well, we must have something else equallyscandalous.
CIBBER: Alchemysounds promising.
VANBRUGH: Newtonwasn’t just interested in alchemy… he was obsessed by it. Butunfortunately… for us… he was after the philosopher’sstone… the unity of nature… not after gold. But Sir Isaac wascareful! He never wrote or spoke in public on the subject. Furthermore,it’s not relevant to the dispute at issue, which deals with mathematics.
CIBBER (Annoyed and impatient): Oh,mathematics! The public would hardly stomach more mathematics! (beat). Of course if you suggest that sex is in some wayakin to mathematics?
VANBRUGH (Sarcastic):I must admit that such resemblance has escaped me… so far. I know of yourcompetence in one endeavor… but both?
CIBBER: If competence in mathematics is required for aplaywright, no plays will ever be written about mathematicians.
VANBRUGH (Amused):In that case, enlighten me about the kinship between sex and mathematics.
CIBBER: Both can produce practical results… evenunexpected ones… but that is not foremost in the practitioners’minds when they indulge in it. (beat).Most often it is pleasure.
VANBRUGH: Not curiosity?
CIBBER: Satisfying one’s curiosity often leads topleasure.
VANBRUGH: Colley,I fear this is getting us nowhere.
(Theydrink – a hiatus in the conversation.)
CIBBER: Well,so much for Newton and scandal.
VANBRUGH: Colley,as I said before–-
CIBBER: Yes,yes, the minions… those damned minions! But, for heaven’s sake, why bring in the King ofPrussia’s Minister to England… hardly a scandalous occupation?
VANBRUGH: None of my characters have scandalousoccupations… least of all Bonet. It’s their scandalous behavior Iwish to unmask.
CIBBER: Germans are never scandalous. Learned? Yes…Hard working? Always… Dull? Often… Cruel? Perhaps… Butscandalous?
VANBRUGH: Our Bonet is not German. Some would call himSwiss—
CIBBER: Swiss? Good heavens, John! Even worse than German!For the Swiss… what is not prohibited is proscribed. I advise eliminatinghim from the play.
VANBRUGH: This Bonet is from Geneva.
CIBBER: Why didn’t you say so? That is a mitigatingfact… possibly even promising. French scandals are the best… andGeneva is right at the border.
VANBRUGH: He studied medicine in Leyden at age 15.
CIBBER: I would never mention that in the play!
VANBRUGH: Because Leyden is in Holland?
CIBBER: I am referring to his age. Precocity is neverappreciated on the stage. No, no, we can’t have any of this in the play.It won’t do, John, and that’s my final word on the subject.
VANBRUGH: Isee. You will join me as my collaborator no further than your whimsy allows.
CIBBER: Mywhimsy? Or the public’s appetite for amusement?
(Stalemate.Vanbrugh impishly suggests:)
VANBRUGH: Would you allow me to refer to the fact that inLondon Bonet first joined the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel andfour years later the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge?
CIBBER: What the plague! I am beginning to dislike theman—
VANBRUGH: But why?
CIBBER: I cannot stomach pious proselytisers. Besides theydo not care for the theatre.
VANBRUGH: That may be so… but his religion is relevantto our play as I will now demonstrate.
CIBBER: Indeed…wellthis had better be good!
END OF SCENE 7
Scene 8. Vanbrugh: ”London, 1712. At LadyBrasenose’s salon. Lady Brasenose, Dr. Arbuthnot and Bonet inanimated… even contentious conversation”.
LADY BRASENOSE: Now tell me: did Sir Isaac get his way?
ARBUTHNOT:Why ask us?
LADY BRASENOSE: Because you were there!
ARBUTHNOT:But so were nine others.
LADY BRASENOSE: I had more confidence in you… both of you.
BONET: MyLady uses the past tense. You have no confidence now?
LADY BRASENOSE (Sharp, yet smiling): Youlisten to nuances…
BONET: Indiplomacy, precision in language leads to imprecision in meaning.
LADY BRASENOSE (Laughs outright): I amtempted to pursue this line of conversation… it does suit a salon. But Ishall resist. So out with it! The report is at the printers. Was yourCommittee’s decision unanimous?
LADY BRASENOSE: Without giving notice to Leibniz? Without inviting him to offer documentsin his defense?
ARBUTHNOT:Without such actions.
LADY BRASENOSE: Yet you all signed? Shame on you!
BONET:You’re overlooking the nuances, Lady Brasenose! I said the decision wasunanimous—
ARBUTHNOT:But we did not sign.
LADY BRASENOSE (Taken aback): How didthe two of you accomplish that?
LADY BRASENOSE: Sir Isaac is more malleable than I thought.
ARBUTHNOT:Not more malleable… just more subtle.
LADY BRASENOSE: Or more devious? (Makes dismissive gesture). No matter. What caused his change of mind?
BONET (Pointsto Arbuthnot): Our doctor’sdiplomacy.
LADY BRASENOSE: If our physicians now turn into diplomats, what happens to ourdiplomats?
ARBUTHNOT:I’m afraid my Lady’s question is not applicable to the case at hand.Both the physician (points to himself)and the diplomat (points to Bonet)chose prevarication.
BONET:Dr. Arbuthnot… you’re too severe.
ARBUTHNOT(Turns to Bonet): Am I? What is aprevaricator in your eyes?
BONET: Aquibbler… or equivocator.
LADY BRASENOSE: In other words… a diplomat.
ARBUTHNOT(Quietly): We were cowards…
LADY BRASENOSE: Cowardice and diplomacy are not mutually exclusive! But Dr.Arbuthnot! I’ve never before seen you wear a hair-shirt… at leastnot in my house. It’s time you discarded it. Enlighten me… both ofyou! I have always thought of you as men of principle.
BONET:Principles exist to be broken… at least at times.
LADY BRASENOSE: Is that the diplomat speaking...?
BONET: Orthe churchman. “Thou shalt not kill” has never prevented religious wars.
LADY BRASENOSE (Impatient): I want tohear about the prevarication… not its rationalization.
BONET:The identity of the Committee will remain undisclosed. (Points to Arbuthnot). The good doctor can explain… as it was hisinitiative.
ARBUTHNOT:Unanimity by a “Numerous Committee of Gentlemen of several Nations” doesn’t need to be confirmed bysignature. Publication suffices.
LADY BRASENOSE: Like the death warrant for Charles I?
ARBUTHNOT:An apt comparison. Killing a scholar’s reputation is also murder.
BONET: (Pause). Dr. Arbuthnot’s proposal was carriedunanimously.
LADY BRASENOSE (Admiringly): I neverrealized prevarication could be so effectual.
ARBUTHNOT:Lady Brasenose… and Mr. Bonet. Forgive me, but I must take my leave. Apatient waits who must not be kept waiting.
LADY BRASENOSE (Turns to Bonet): But youcould have been the honorable exception to unanimity. You have the least tofear of Newton. His wrath will not follow you to Geneva. But now that we are alone,I trust you will answer honestly.
BONET: Idid not vote for Newton… I voted against Leibniz.
LADY BRASENOSE: You proclaimed Leibniz a plagiarizer?
BONET: Iam not qualified to pass judgment in mathematics.
LADY BRASENOSE: But that was the issue!
BONET: Tome it was a question of higher truth… not subject to adjustments, howeverinfinitesimal. In a religious calculus, adjustments cannot be tolerated.Leibniz’s latest writings justify theodicy, which I find unacceptable. (Pause). And so does Newton.
LADY BRASENOSE: The “Odyssee”? How does Homer enter the argument?
BONET (Impatiently): Not the Odyssey. (Spells it, loud and slowlyusing French alphabet). T H E O D I C Y.
LADY BRASENOSE (Laughs): Oh,Theodicy! And I take it Newtonshares your views on religion?
BONET (Quick): We both abhor reunification of Protestantism andPopery. Yet Leibniz, though claiming to be Lutheran, moves easily in Catholiccircles… and wishes more of us to do so. (Vehement). That crypto-Catholic! And on theodicy, Newton and Isee eye to eye.
LADY BRASENOSE: On theodicy, I’d take Leibniz’s side. Does not theodicyargue that an omnipotent God would allow evil to exist, because sin isunavoidable? That sin is not the agency of God but arises out of the necessarylimitation of Man?
BONET (Shocked): Argument?It’s idle speculation of the worst kind. True heresy!
LADY BRASENOSE: Speculating about the existence of evil in a world created by a goodGod does not seem idle to me. Theodicy would claim that as Man cannot beabsolutely perfect, Man’s knowledge and power is limited. Thus we are notonly liable to wrong action, but it is unavoidable or we would have absolutelyperfect action from a less than absolutely perfect creature. How otherwiseexplain that God allowed Newton’s manipulations? (Pause). Or do you attribute absolute perfection to SirIsaac?
BONET:Lady Brasenose… now you are toying with me.
LADY BRASENOSE: Did you truly support Newton in an argument about the mathematicalcalculus by invoking religious reckoning… whatever that may be? Theremust be more.
BONET (Losinghis temper): There is more.The Royal Society honored me… a foreigner… by election to itsillustrious fellowship. But my own King’s academy has not! Whichacademy’s president would you support?
LADY BRASENOSE: Supporting Newton is unlikely to garner you election inLeibniz’s academy.
BONET:But voting against Leibniz will.
LADY BRASENOSE: You have now piqued my curiosity.
BONET:You will hold this in confidence?
LADY BRASENOSE: If it merits such treatment.
LADY BRASENOSE: Very well.
BONET:Election to the theology class of our Academy is my desire. Its director,Daniel Ernst Jablonski, who also preaches at the King’s Court, supportsme. He founded the Academy with Leibniz. Whereas Leibniz as President receivesa salary for life from the King, Jablonski and his colleagues receive nothing.
LADY BRASENOSE: Whereupon envy raised its ugly head!
BONET:Perhaps… but Leibniz’s attention has since wandered far from theAcademy.
LADY BRASENOSE: So that a stipend forlife is not further justified?
BONET:Putting it at the disposal of Jablonski… who labors night and day for theKing’s Academy… seems only just.
LADY BRASENOSE: And if you report Newton’s victory to your King,Leibniz’s merits will diminish?
BONET (Admiringly): My lady’s acumen has not been blunted in sixyears.
LADY BRASENOSE: On the contrary, it has sharpened. (Pause). So as Minister, it will be your duty to report theRoyal Society’s conclusions to your court?
BONET: Ishall dispatch a copy of the Commercium Epistolicum to Berlin. No commentary on my side will benecessary. It is damning enough.
LADY BRASENOSE: Because Newton wrote it.
BONET: Nooutsider is privy to that information.
LADY BRASENOSE: And your participation in the Committee?
BONET:Why disclose it when the Royal Society itself will not?
LADY BRASENOSE (Ironic): My dear Bonet.You have just provided unimpeachable evidence in favor of theodicy…
(He is about to protest when Moivre enters.)
MOIVRE: LadyBrasenose, I kiss your hand. Monsieur Bonet, your servant.
(Looks around, addresses Bonet but is overheard byLady Brasenose).
It appears I arrived too tardily for refreshments.
BRASENOSE:Have you no shame, sir? (He looks at her.)
MOIVRE:Your Ladyship is already informed of the Committee’s decision, I take it?
(She smiles coldly. Pause. He smiles benignly.)
MOIVRE: I am moved by your Ladyship’s concern for themoral welfare of our Committee, although I do not fathom the reason.
LADY BRASENOSE: Is that not obvious?
MOIVRE: Obvious? Perhaps… (He smiles again.) But areyou aware that at age 20, I was incarcerated for refusing to convert toCatholicism? I fled to England and have lived here ever since… yet theystill call me French. (Bitter). Asa Huguenot émigré, I eke out a living from tutoring listlessstudents… from solving problems of chance in coffee houses… evenfrom calculating odds for gamblers…
LADY BRASENOSE: I find that shocking.
MOIVRE: And so do I, my dear lady… though probably forother reasons. I have still to find a true patron to open the door to aposition of merit… in this country or the Continent.
LADY BRASENOSE (Following his train of thought): But now?
MOIVRE: Precisely! For the first time... the burden hasturned into an advantage… that I shall use to the fullest. Because yousee, the President needed foreigners.
LADY BRASENOSE (Coldly).I congratulate you for not having been born in England.
MOIVRE: I am not in the habit of refusingcongratulations… especially not if offered by your Ladyship. (beat) Whatever the reasons may be.
(Bonetlooks at Lady Brasenose. She remains quiet.)
(Allrise. Moivre kisses Lady Brasenose’s hand.)
MOIVRE: My lady… your most humble and obedientservant.
(Moivregoes to the door and waits.)
BONET: (Kissing her hand) Lady Brasenose, it is time I also took my leave.
LADY BRASENOSE: As you wish. But you are always welcome in my salon.
(A moment between them. He offers a smilebut she rejects him with a look away. Bonet parts from Lady Brasenose and thetwo men leave.)
(She is left alone in deep thoughts. ThenARBUTHNOT returns.)
LADY BRASENOSE: Oh, Dr. Arbuthnot… you startled me. I thoughtyou were long gone.
ARBUTHNOT: No, I waited… I realised I’d forgottensomething.
LADY BRASENOSE: Andwhat was that?
ARBUTHNOT: A confession… and a request.
LADY BRASENOSE (Highly curious): In that case, please, beseated.
(They sit. A silence. Then.)
ARBUTHNOT: Has your Ladyship ever met Flamsteed, the AstronomerRoyal?
LADY BRASENOSE: More than once… in this very house.
ARBUTHNOT: You know of his enmity with Newton?
LADY BRASENOSE (Nodding): Newton hates Flamsteed, inspite of his position as Astronomer Royal.
ARBUTHNOT: Or because of it. Though hardly a justification tohave the Astronomer Royal ejected from Fellowship of the Royal Society for latepayment of fees. (Pause) And didyou know that I demanded of Flamsteed that he deliver up his life’swork… his lunar tables… to Newton?
LADY BRASENOSE: At her Majesty’s command, no doubt…
ARBUTHNOT: After furious prompting by Newton.
LADY BRASENOSE: He used you.
ARBUTHNOT: As so many others. My wife is afraid ofNewton’s wrath… evenat the cost of abandoning my honour.
LADY BRASENOSE: Your wife’s concerns are colored by affectionand practicality. Mine by morality and…curiosity.
ARBUTHNOT: Mere curiosity?
LADY BRASENOSE: Is that not sufficient… a lady’scuriosity.
ARBUTHNOT: My lady, you’re so much more than just a lady.Why did this matter concern you so deeply.
LADY BRASENOSE: (A beat) Do I have your confidence,Dr. Arbuthnot?
ARBUTHNOT: You may be sure of it Lady Brasenose.
LADY BRASENOSE (Pause): Newton wounded me once andever since, I must confess, I have… disliked him… intensely.
ARBUTHNOT: I see.
LADY BRASENOSE: And you? After all, most men can deal withconflict… but the real test is how authority is deployed when all can seeit.
LADY BRASENOSE: For Newton, your Committee was nothing but acollection of barkless watchdogs.
(Arbuthnot is silent.)
LADY BRASENOSE: But such dogs expect to be fed. And not all canineshave the same appetite. For instance, Moivre is thankful for some scraps.
ARBUTHNOT (After a moment’s thought): Whereas Ithink… this would be a fine subject for a morality play…
LADY BRASENOSE: You write for the theatre, Dr. Arbuthnot?
ARBUTHNOT: Not yet. But with the right partner?
(A moment of bonding between them.)
(CIBBERenters the scene reading the last page of the script. VANBRUGH follows.)
CIBBER (Reading):“…But with the right partner?” (Pause). Apuzzling last line.
VANBRUGH: Some day you’ll understand.
CIBBER: If yousay so. In any event, that’swhere I’d end the play. “CURTAIN. THE END.”
CIBBER: I have a question.
CIBBER: Who is the source for all of this?
VANBRUGH: I cannot say.
CIBBER: Ah. ‘Tis a pity. Then I fear it will not bepossible to produce this play at Drury Lane.
CIBBER: Libel,John… the danger of libel. Ishall need to know.
VANBRUGH: My source does not wish to be revealed.
CIBBER (Beat, impishly): Lady Brasenose, perhaps?
VANBRUGH: What makes you say that?
CIBBER: So it isLady Brasenose. She appears in the play… a very mysterious creature… and privy to every falsestep or nefarious motive. A fascinating woman! May I meet her?
VANBRUGH: I have promised to protect the reputation of mysource—
CIBBER: Yes, yes, of course. As you wish. Still, it’s ashame. (beat). Well, with sometinkering here and there, we may yet have ourselves a play.
VANBRUGH: Good. Excellent. Thank you, Colley.
CIBBER: For what?
VANBRUGH: For taking a gamble.
CIBBER: Not at all. I’m a theatre manager. Gambling ismy life. And what is life withoutrisk?
VANBRUGH: So, I shall await your further instructions?
CIBBER: Yes… yes, leave it with me. As soon as I judge the time to be right, I willset the wheels in motion. Leave it with me.
CIBBER: Welcome back to the theatre, John. But…
CIBBER: Wecannot use your name.
CIBBER: Ananagram, perhaps?
VANBRUGH: You have one for “Vanbrugh”?
CIBBER: I do. (Hetakes a deep bow). “H…Van… Grub.”
VANBRUGH: Sounds Dutch, Colley… but why not? (Mockbow). Your servant. Mr. Cibber.
CIBBER: And I,Mr. Van Grub, am yours.
(Vanbrughleaves. Cibber takes a drink.Leaves. We hear the sound of an audience in the theatre, perhaps mixed with afew lines from a play. Then it’s over. Applause.)
END OF SCENE 8
Scene 9. London 1731. Applause as CIBBER (offstage) getsinto Newton’s wig etc. The lights change – footlights and thecurtain come down. CIBBER comes on and takes a deep bow to the applause. Thenhe hushes the audience for his epilogue speech.
CIBBER: Thushave you seen the sorry consequence
When principles desert ourmen of sense.
And yet, our moral criticshere will find
No greater vice than scandal- of the mind.
Since Lust is locked away industy attics,
While foppish wits brush uptheir mathematics;
When Lady Brasenose finds hersalon dull;
And Sin, it seems, growsintellectual.
But pray you, gallants, thinkno wrong of us
For making sport withNewton’s Calculus.
He stood on giant’sshoulders; if I may,
I’ll dare to stand upfor our humble play;
And if, while we werestriving for your pleasure,
Sir Isaac frowned – weshall repent at leisure.
Besides, in conscience,nothing should be said
Against the play, because thewriter’s dead.
Though H. Van Grub in lifewas known by few,
His immortality now restswith you.
Hebows again to applause. With a theatrical sweep upstage he exits behind thecurtain. A moment of applause. The quality of the sound changes to becomemuffled, and the lights change to Cibber’s study. He reappears throughthe door in his costume. Closes the door. He gets a bottle from his desk andhas a drink. Then he pulls back the curtain to reveal a portrait of Newton thathas been placed on the wall behind the curtain. He offers a toast to theportrait.
CIBBER: Tous… in fame… and infamy. Long may it-–
Heis interrupted by a knock at the door. He answers. At the door is a youngactress in Lady Brasenose’s dress from Scene 8. She is breathlesslyexcited.
CIBBER: My pet!
Sherushes in, leaving the door open. They embrace. Clearly they’re having anaffair.
CIBBER: Quite promising a performance! (Attempts a kiss,which she deflects, whereupon hecontinues). In fact… rathergood!
ACTRESS: Rather?(beat). Not very good? (Quicklykisses him).
CIBBER: Flirting with your fan with Monsieur Bonet in thesalon scene...
Hedemonstrates what she did in the salon scene 4 to Bonet. She laughs.
ACTRESS: It wasn’t too much?
CIBBER:No, no! Quite subtle!
Theyembrace. He throws his wig off with:
CIBBER: Wigsget in the way!
ACTRESS: Colley…I want more…
CIBBER: Thenmy pet, you shall have more!
Hemakes to unlace her dress.
ACTRESS (Stops him): More dialogue, Colley… morescenes… more in line with my talent—
CIBBER: I’msure that can be arranged….
Proceedsto unlace her.
CIBBER: Witha little persuasion…
Shedrops to her knees and starts loosening his breeches.
CIBBER: Lockthe door, for God’s sake…
ACTRESS (Excited, ignoring that last remark): Oh,Colley!
Toolate. Cibber notices Arbuthnotstanding in the open doorway. Seeing him, Cibber changes tack at once.
CIBBER: Hussey! Don’t you know I’m married? Out! At once!
ACTRESS (Taken aback). Colley!But why?
CIBBER: Out I say, strumpet!
Cibberbundles the actress out of the door past Arbuthnot.
CIBBER (Dismissive): Those pressing actors! Please come in, sir.
DrJohn Arbuthnot (now age 64, in poor health, suffering from gout and kidneystones from which he will die within 4 years) enters slowly and laboriouslywith the aid of a cane, while Cibber shuts the door on the actress.
CIBBER: A silly creature… she will not leave me alone.
CIBBER: And whom do I have the honor of—
ARBUTHNOT: My name is Arbuthnot, sir.
CIBBER: Dr. Arbuthnot? I am, sir, your must humble, mostobedient…
ARBUTHNOT: Never mind that, Mr Cibber. Why? Why? Why? (beat) Why?
CIBBER: Why what?
ARBUTHNOT: Why did I have to wait 6 years to witness this perversion—
(He indicates theportrait of Newton on the wall).
CIBBER(Interrupts): I take it you mean my performance?
ARBUTHNOT: Your performance was the least of it!
CIBBER: Thank you. So you saw it just now?
ARBUTHNOT: I did.
CIBBER: The sixth performance…and still a full house.
ARBUTHNOT:A mob flocking into the theatre sheds little light on a play’squality… or veracity.
CIBBER:Since when is veracity on stage judged a virtue?
ARBUTHNOT:When it is not used to hide distortion.
CIBBER:Ours was applauded… your play Three Hours after Marriage was hissed. Yours was virtually stillborn in 1717 anddid not make it past the second performance. I know of no revival.
ARBUTHNOT:That is hitting below the belt.
CIBBER: Whose belt? John Gay’s, Alexander Pope’sor yours? (Scornfully). Requiring three cooks for a thin theatricalpudding… meant to contain wit but in the end not tasting of wit at all. (Shortsarcastic laugh). Asking the actorsto do a good job while burdened with a bad script… meaning they had to begood at being bad!
ARBUTHNOT: Much too clever… and thus not worth recapture.You’re more likely to be remembered for your sharper pen than for yourtongue.
CIBBER (Prickly):How so?
ARBUTHNOT: You had the audacity… some even called itimpertinence… to adapt Richard III, but you added a line… “Off with his head… so muchfor Buckingham”… that I wager will be remembered longer than allthe words you ever spoke on stage.
CIBBER: Is that a compliment or an affront?
ARBUTHNOT: The choice is yours! It is your play Calculus I wish to address… a true affront. Is a stagethe place to wash dirty linen in public?
CIBBER: Where else do such laundry? The stage is the onlyplace where nothing need be hidden.
ARBUTHNOT: You put Sir Isaac upon the stage and called him byhis real name. A country requires heroes… unsullied ones. What purpose is served by showing thatEngland’s greatest natural philosopher is flawed… like othermortals?
CIBBER: Why not take him for what he was: a tainted hero.Inventor of the calculus? Yes! But also corruptor of a moral calculus.What about Leibniz… does he not deserve some defense?
ARBUTHNOT: Let that be the concern of the Germans.
CIBBER: Our Newton rests in Westminster Abbey under ahero’s monument. But whatever their tomb, both continue to rot.
ARBUTHNOT: A medical or another moral judgment?
CIBBER (Conciliatory): As you are a doctor, let it be medical. We’ve wrangled enough.
ARBUTHNOT: Andwhat was your hand in this?
CIBBER: Sir John created the setting, he chose thecharacters, he dug up the dirt and he spread it around. I only helped withbroom and shovel… except for the very end. On his deathbed, Sir John asked me to complete theplay… even offering me the epigraph: frango ut patefaciam.
ARBUTHNOT: “I break in order to reveal.”
CIBBER: Your Latin is faultless. I acceded… with somereservation to finish the play.
ARBUTHNOT: You did not just finish the play, you played in it!
CIBBER: I’m an actor as well as writer.
ARBUTHNOT: A better actor than an author.
CIBBER (Aside):A judgment I’ve heard before. The play was meant as revenge… thoughrevenge, like love, is rarely consummated by surrogates. Yet directing retribution at thearbiters of our mores suited me. Was I not also the object of their derision? (Pause) Kindness is not a virtue in a play… nor areplaywrights kind.
ARBUTHNOT: What about fairness? This is England… we havelaws about fairness. (Pause).Consider libel.
CIBBER: I did. When Sir John died, Newton was 84 and ailing.I thought I’d wait—
ARBUTHNOT: For Newton to die?
CIBBER: The dead cannot be libeled… even ifilluminating human frailty were considered a ground for libel.
ARBUTHNOT: A legal opinion?
CIBBER: A logical one… in a country where the bestlaws often protect its worst people…. Vanburgh was right: deepestcorruption… and thus vilest scandal… is intellectual… notsexual.
ARBUTHNOT: Yet the mirror you use in your play was ourcommittee.
CIBBER: Well put, Dr. Arbuthnot!
ARBUTHNOT: And since I was on the Committee—
CIBBER: You were also in our play.
ARBUTHNOT: Hardly as a minor character! Are actors not supposedto show rather than tell? There were eleven members of that committee, butI’m the one you have doing most of the talking.
CIBBER: Is this a cause for complaint?
ARBUTHNOT: A major one… considering how you depict me. (Angrily). I’m still alive!
CIBBER: And brimful of vigor as you just demonstrated.
ARBUTHNOT: I’m in terrible health! I suffer deeply from mysterious fevers anda great stone in my right kidney… And now the gout! (Grimacing, pointsto his foot with his cane). I haveburied six of my children and recently my wife…. and now find myreputation buried as well!
CIBBER (Uncomfortable): Please accept my condolences-
ARBUTHNOT: From you… who lashed me with a whip?
CIBBER: A moral whip… gently at that… and onlyin a play
ARBUTHNOT: And therefore worse… with exposure all toopublic and thus with pain that much greater. But was it justified? You thinkyou’ve been so clever Mr. Cibber, but where did you learn the facts youpurport to describe?
ARBUTHNOT:Aha! And he?
CIBBER: I suspect from Lady Brasenose. What we learn allleads to her…even the infamous anagram.
ARBUTHNOT (Dismissive):Oh yes… anagrams! (Affected tone). As in “Calculus:a Morality Play by H. Van Grub andColley Cibber.” (Dismissive).How utterly transparent!
CIBBER: Sir John had planned to use an alias, and I proposedhe choose“H. Van Grub”… Ithought it clever. After all, to “grub” is to dig… usuallyfor dirt.
ARBUTHNOT: I’m all too familiar with that meaning, MrCibber. And where do you suppose Lady Brasenose got her information?
CIBBER: From various sources… for instance Bonet.
ARBUTHNOT: How do you know that Lady Brasenose had met Bonet?
CIBBER: Because… (Pause)… because she said so.
ARBUTHNOT: You heard her say so?
CIBBER: Our paths have never crossed. She told Sir John.
ARBUTHNOT: He said so?
CIBBER: I assumed… because he so implied.
CIBBER: Was my assumption wrong?
(Arbuthnotgives nothing away.)
CIBBER: Are you saying all Lady Brasenose knew about Bonetshe learned from someone else?
ARBUTHNOT: Heavens, man! Are you obtuse as well as dissipated?
CIBBER: If I knew what you meant… I might be. But howthen does Moivre fit into all this?
ARBUTHNOT (Sarcastic):What do we learn from him… in Calculus? That he was poor? Every Fellow of the Royal Societyknew of his poverty… and those that could have helped him overcomeit… didn’t… not to this day.
CIBBER (Even more defensive): He spoke about fluxions... and calculus…and—
ARBUTHNOT (Short sardonic laugh): Mathematics? There is precious little about that inyour Calculus… other thaneating an apple. But why shouldthere be? It is about two giants in their field.
CIBBER: And their moral calculus. By showing how even smallincremental changes over time… call them fluxions in our behavior…lead to measurable conflicts between their minions: The traders offlattery… begetters of lies… spreaders of gossip… the toadiesof this world… the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern characters… whom weactors know all too well… and find again in this play. When Sir Johnspoke of revenge… he meant revenge by shedding light upon such men and asociety that fosters them.
ARBUTHNOT: I did not favor any of their conflicts. I prefer to resolve discord…
CIBBER: Even at great personal cost, it would seem.
ARBUTHNOT: Sometimes. I have come here to ask … no, to insist… that you cancel allfuture performances of my play—
CIBBER (Interrupts sharply): I begyou to repeat your last remark.
ARBUTHNOT: I said… I insist on you canceling all futureperformances of—
CIBBER: “My play.”
CIBBER: You said “my play.”
ARBUTHNOT (Irritably):Yes, yes… your play.
CIBBER: You did not say “your play,”…meaning me. You said, “my play”… meaning you.
ARBUTHNOT: A slip of the tongue.
CIBBER: Was it?
ARBUTHNOT: What are you driving at, Mr. Cibber?
CIBBER: It was you! Wasn’t it?
ARBUTHNOT: What was?
CIBBER: You provided Lady Brasenose with the clues,didn’t you?
ARBUTHNOT: Why would I do that?
CIBBER: Revenge, perhaps?
ARBUTHNOT: No… certainly not revenge.
CIBBER: But it was you, wasn’t it? (Pause). Or can you persuade me otherwise?
ARBUTHNOT: No one could have told anything to LadyBrasenose… because she never existed.
CIBBER (Totally taken aback): I beg your pardon?
ARBUTHNOT: Lady Brasenose is the product of pure invention.
CIBBER: What the plague? You mean Sir John created her?
ARBUTHNOT: He did... at my suggestion.
CIBBER: Yet never told me? Impossible! Sir John was a man ofhonor.
ARBUTHNOT: Of course. He gave me his word to protect myidentity… and evidently stuck to his promise.
CIBBER: And thus lied to me?
ARBUTHNOT: He did not lie. He chose not to volunteer unaskedinformation. Perhaps a sin of omission… but surely not commission of alie.
CIBBER: But why did you approach Vanbrugh in the firstplace?
ARBUTHNOT: I once belonged to a writing club with such wits asPope, Swift and Gay. We often ridiculed pretentious erudition and scholarlyjargon. But Newton’s and Leibniz’s erudition was neither pretensenor their scholarly dispute jargon. Much of it was poison that demeaned themboth. Ridicule was not a cure. I tried compromise and reason… yet in theend failed. And since all parties die at last of swallowing their ownlies…
CIBBER: Iseem to have read that somewhere.
ARBUTHNOT:It’s from The Art of Political Lying… a book I wrote myself.
CIBBER:Self-quotation does not guarantee veracity.
ARBUTHNOT:Nor exclude it. I felt a serious message was indicated… a form of moralrevenge. Why not a play… a morality play… but suitably disguisedand libel-proof… to teach a lesson? I even chose the title. After all,everyone was calculating in one way or another… even the ones who knew nocalculus.
CIBBER: Butif you disapproved, why did you not write the play yourself?
ARBUTHNOT(Sarcastic): As Newton preached, though never practiced,“no man is a witness to his own cause.” But was not Vanbrughskilled in writing plays about real persons well disguised? I turned to himwith a proposition: I would provide him … step-by-step… withinformation… which he would then plot well… but alsodiscreetly… into a play to teach a lesson… a moral lesson…not the libelous assault you produced.
CIBBER:And Sir John agreed?
ARBUTHNOT:With one condition. I would not see the text until the first performance.
CIBBER:And you agreed to that?
ARBUTHNOT:I did… I trusted his discretion as a gentleman and his good judgment as aplaywright. Though I now regret having acceded to his demand for untrammeledauthorship.
CIBBER:And my role in all this?
ARBUTHNOT:Unknown to me… until tonight.
CIBBER: Iam dumbfounded.
ARBUTHNOT:And so was I… tonight when I sat in the audience. I expected a play thateven Newton could have seen. Of course, not liked… but seen…because the author’s subtlety would have prevented open accusations.
CIBBER: I thought, it was to teach a lesson.
ARBUTHNOT:Yes but morality plays should teach a lesson the accused can witness. I wantedto wound Newton without leaving a mark. But with your Calculus… to besmirch him permanently… you had to wait forhis burial.
CIBBER:Sir John insisted on naming Newton.
ARBUTHNOT:Oh… Sir John insisted, did he? When I’d specifically asked that he not do so?
CIBBER (Backtracks):Well… perhaps not insist… but he did not object.
ARBUTHNOT:In spite of my insistence that Newton not appear in the play?
CIBBER:He never told me not to… because he never told me that you told him not to tell me—
ARBUTHNOT:Because I never knew of your participation—
CIBBER:Nor I of your involvement.
CIBBER:He never told me how he wanted to end the play… and then he died.
ARBUTHNOT:And how did you expect it to end, Mr. Cibber? With the triumph of truthand justice over moral turpitude? I wanted somebody to write a play about the costof destroying reputations… whereas (sarcastic)… “H. Van Grub” and you simply chose to destroyreputations... whatever the cost incurred. You could have changed it, Mr.Cibber. It was within your power. You could have changed everything.
CIBBER: Ionly wrote some of the words to fit the information openly disclosed to me. Butif you dislike the role you played, you could have cast yourself as the hero.
ARBUTHNOT:There are no heroes in this play.
CIBBER (Surprisinglykind voice): Nor are you the villain.But none of us cast you as such. Not even you. The true fault rested elsewhere.
ARBUTHNOT:My wife went to her grave with theknowledge that her husband was not the man of unshakeable principle she tookhim for. Is that not enough for me to bear, without the public knowing it too?
CIBBER:Perhaps we all miscalculated.
ARBUTHNOT:Perhaps we did, Mr. Cibber… perhaps we did
CIBBER:Your servant, sir.
(Arbuthnotpainfully rises, leaning heavily on his cane and starts hobbling away).
END OF PLAY
CARL DJERASSI, novelist, playwright and professorof chemistry emeritus at Stanford University, is one of the few Americanscientists to have been awarded both the National Medal of Science (for thefirst synthesis of an oral contraceptive) and the National Medal of Technology(for promoting new approaches to insect control). He has published shortstories (The Futurist and Other Stories),poetry (The Clock runs backward)and five novels (Cantor’sDilemma; The Bourbaki Gambit; Marx, deceased; Menachem’s Seed; NO)—that illustrate as“science-in-fiction” the human side of science and the personalconflicts faced by scientists-as well as an autobiography (ThePill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas’ Horse)and a memoir (THIS MAN’S PILL: Reflections on the 50thbirthday of the Pill).
During the past seven years he has focused on writing“science-in-theatre” plays. The first, AN IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION, premiered at the 1998Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was subsequently staged in London (New EndTheatre in 1999 and Bridewell Theatre in 2002), San Francisco (Eureka), NewYork (Primary Stages), Vienna (Jugendstiltheater), Cologne (Theater am Tanzbrunnen), Munich (Deutsches Museum),Berlin (Gorki Theater), Sundsvall (Teater Västernorrland), Stockholm(Dramaten), Sofia (Satire Theatre), Geneva (Theatre du Grütli), Tokyo(Bunkyo Civic Hall Theatre), Seoul, Los Angeles (L.A. Theatre Works), andLisbon (Teatro da Trindade) with a Singapore production (Singapore RepertoryTheatre) scheduled for November 2004.The play has been translated into 10languages and also published in book form in English, German, Spanish andSwedish. It was broadcast by BBC World Service in 2000 as “play of theweek” and by the West German (WDR) and Swedish Radio in 2001 and NPR inthe USA in May 2004.
His second play, OXYGEN,co-authored with Roald Hoffmann, premiered in April 2001 at the San DiegoRepertory Theatre, at the Mainfranken Theater in Würzburg in September2001 through April 2002 (with guest performances in 2001/2002 in Munich,Leverkusen and Halle), at the Riverside Studios in London in November 2001, andsubsequently in New Zealand (Circa Theatre, Wellington), Korea (Pohang andSeoul), Tokyo (Setagaya Tram Theatre), Toronto, Madison, WI, Columbus,OH,Ottawa, Bologna (Italy), Bulgaria (Sofia Satire Theatre) as well as many otherGerman and American venues. Both the BBC and the WDR broadcast the play in December2001 around the centenary of the Nobel Prize—one of that play’smain themes. It has so far been translated into 10 languages and has alreadyappeared in book form in English, German, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese,Chinese, and Korean.
His third play, CALCULUS,dealing with the infamous Newton-Leibniz priority struggle, has had stagedrehearsed readings in Berkeley (Aurora Theatre), London (Royal Institution),Vienna (Museum Quartier), Munich (Deutsches Museum), Berlin (BrandenburgAcademy), Dresden (Semper Oper) and Oxford (Oxford Playhouse). A fullproduction opened in San Francisco (Performing Arts Library and Museum) inApril 2003, with a London premiere opening in the New End Theatre in July 2004.A music version (composed by Werner Schulze) will open in Zurich in May 2005.It has already appeared in book form in English as well as German. His first “non-scientific”play, “EGO,”premiered at the 2003 Edinburgh Festival Fringe; its themes are furtherexplored in “THREE ON A COUCH,” which opened in London (King’s HeadTheatre) in March 2004. A German translation has already appeared in book formand has been broadcast by the WDR in June 2004.
Djerassiis the founder of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program near Woodside,California, which provides residencies and studio space for artists in thevisual arts, literature, choreography and performing arts, and music. Nearly1400 artists have passed through that program since its inception in 1982.Djerassi and his wife, the biographer Diane Middlebrook, live in San Franciscoand London.
(There is a Website about Carl Djerassi’s writing at http://www.djerassi.com)