The title of this post refers to the date when Galileo Galilei, physicist, mathematician and astronomer, spots the moons of Jupiter through his new telescope. Their presence, and his subsequent discovery that Venus waxes and wanes like the moon, proved to Galileo and his followers that Copernicusâ€™ theories about the universe were right, and that the earth revolves around the sun.
Heady Stuff! Under the direction of Lynn Parker, Rough Magicâ€™s excellent cast play out the political impact of this discovery in Brechtâ€™s series of dialogues between Galileo, the central force of the play, and the bodies revolving round him. The Church, businessmen, politicians, his students, his religious daughter, all present conflicting views and needs to Galileo. He must balance them with his his search for knowledge, a balance as delicate as the universe itself, if he is to survive with his discoveries intact.
On a round set, segmented like a compass, canny Venetian and Florentine businessmen appear disinterested in theology, hoping Galileo can go back to inventing looms and pumps and compasses that shunt progress along. The church princes who dabble in science beg him to keep schtum, concerned his discoveries will reduce humanity to despair. What point is there to suffering and toil if man is not the centre of the universe, one of them asks Galileo? What indeed! His students thirst for knowledge and truth, and see political compromise as a betrayal of science. His daughter hopes to draw him back to her Catholic faith. The revolutionary set, represented by a group of street performers, use Galileoâ€™s egalitarianist tendencies and his ideas to promote liberty, equality, and fraternity amongst the peasants of the Campagna.
Galileo, a man addicted to knowledge, fine wine and good food, cannot play the political game at this level of intensity. His outspoken views force his good friend and fellow scientist, Pope Urban VII, to bow to the pressure, and his arrogance brings the Inquisition on his head. Galileo has â€˜the instrumentsâ€™ shown to him. There is no need to use them: fear of torture makes him recant his theories. His toppling reverberates across Europe, and other Catholic scientists begin to self-censor. The New Age falters: Galileo retires to secluded house arrest, where his work is supervised and locked away each night by smug, middle-ranking Church officials.