Interplay - A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos - Dava Sobel

A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos - Dava Sobel (2011)

Part II. Interplay


You, who wish to study great and wonderful things, who wonder about the movement of the stars, must read these theorems about triangles. Knowing these ideas will open the door to all of astronomy.

AUTHOR OF THE Epitome of Ptolemy’s Almagest AND On Triangles

Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.

And the Sun stood still, and the Moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the Sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel.

—JOSHUA 10:12-14

And The Sun Stood Stills

A Play in Two Acts



COPERNICUS, age 65, physician and canon (church administrator) in Varmia, northern Poland

BISHOP (of Varmia), age 53

FRANZ, age 14, the Bishop’s acolyte

RHETICUS, age 25, mathematician from Wittenberg

ANNA, age 45, house keeper to Copernicus

GIESE, age 58, Bishop of Kulm (another diocese in northern Poland) and canon of Varmia


A native of Torun, Copernicus lived thirty years in Frauenburg, “the city of Our Lady,” in the shadow of its medieval cathedral. Frauenburg, the seat of the Varmia diocese, is the setting for the play.

Act I

Scene i. In the Bishop’s bedroom
House Call

The time is May 1539, in northern Poland, near a medieval cathedral ringed by fortified walls.

Darkness. The sound of someone retching. Lights up on COPERNICUS, standing over the BISHOP, his patient, who sits on the edge of the bed in his richly appointed apartment, vomiting into a basin.

FRANZ, the frightened young acolyte, hovers and helps as needed.

BISHOP. Oh, God. Oh, Heaven help me.

COPERNICUS. I think that was the last of it, Your Reverence.

COPERNICUS takes the basin, but the BISHOP grabs it and vomits one more time, then collapses back onto his bed.

BISHOP. Oh, Lord have mercy. Ohhh.

COPERNICUS. Take this away, Franz. There’s a good lad.

FRANZ bows, exits with the basin.

The BISHOP writhes, groans.

BISHOP. I thought I would surely die.

COPERNICUS. The pain will subside, now that the emetic has rid your body of that toxin. You should be fine by tomorrow.

BISHOP. “Toxin”?!

COPERNICUS. It’s all gone now. You’ve expelled it.

BISHOP. Poison?!

COPERNICUS. No. No, a toxin is …

BISHOP. Lutherans!


BISHOP. I’ve been poisoned. If you hadn’t come, I’d be dead.

COPERNICUS. Not poison, Your Reverence. More likely something you ate.

BISHOP. Of course it was something I ate. They put it in my food. How else would they get it into me?

COPERNICUS. It could have been a bite of rotten fish.

BISHOP. The kitchen staff! That shifty-eyed cook must be a Lutheran sympathizer.

COPERNICUS. Just an ordinary bit of bad fish. Not poison.

BISHOP. The Lutherans want to assassinate me.

COPERNICUS. Or maybe too much eel. Your Reverence is extremely fond of eel.

BISHOP. I should have known better. Banishing them from the province was not enough to eliminate the threat.

COPERNICUS. Swallow this, Your Reverence. To settle your nerves and bring on sleep.

BISHOP. Sleep?! How can I sleep when Lutheran dogs are stalking me?

COPERNICUS. Sleep will be the best thing now.

BISHOP. Worse than dogs. Vermin! Evil and dangerous. They simply ignore the law. They’re below the law. Here in our midst, waiting for the moment to strike. Oh, Nicholas, what if they try it again?! Suppose they make another attempt on my life, and you don’t get here in time? What if … ?

COPERNICUS. Take this, please, Your Reverence.

The BISHOP refuses the medicine, pushes COPERNICUS away.

BISHOP. We must prosecute them more forcefully. Threaten offenders with harsher punishment. I won’t let them get me the way they got Bishop Ferber.

COPERNICUS. Bishop Ferber?

BISHOP. I see it all now.

COPERNICUS. No one poisoned Bishop Ferber.

BISHOP. They didn’t have to! He let them do as they pleased. They walked all over him. Until God Almighty intervened to smite him for not smiting them.

COPERNICUS. Bishop Ferber died of syphilis.

BISHOP. One of God’s favorite punishments.

FRANZ returns, busies himself tidying the room.

BISHOP. Aah! It’s done now. He’s in his grave, and may he rest in peace. But why did he have to leave the whole Lutheran mess in my hands?

The BISHOP starts to get out of bed, but COPERNICUS restrains him.

BISHOP. I must deal harshly with them. I cannot afford to show weakness.

COPERNICUS succeeds in settling the BISHOP in bed.

BISHOP. Oh, my heart. Franz! Bring me a glass of my Moldavian wine. And one for Doctor Copernicus.

FRANZ exits.

BISHOP. That wine is the better tonic. To strengthen me for the fight. I’ll issue a new edict. This time I’ll ban their books, too, so they can’t … Ban them and burn them. And their music is anathema.

FRANZ returns with two filled glasses.

BISHOP. No one may sing those hateful hymns any longer. On pain of … Aaahhh. Here’s our spirit.

COPERNICUS takes a glass, puts the medicine in it, and hands it to the BISHOP, who drinks it.

BISHOP. Agh! Curse that poison! It’s killed the taste of pleasure.

COPERNICUS. (raising the other glass) To good health, Your Reverence.


They both drink.

COPERNICUS gives his glass to FRANZ, prepares to leave.

BISHOP. Don’t hurry off, Nicholas.

COPERNICUS. Sleep will be the best company now, and will soon arrive.

BISHOP. Stay and have another glass. Your conversation is a comfort to me.

At a signal from the BISHOP, FRANZ exits.

COPERNICUS. I should go now.

BISHOP. What’s your hurry?

COPERNICUS. I must not keep Your Reverence from the sleep I have prescribed.

BISHOP. Rushing home to your … manly duties?


BISHOP. Don’t give me that innocent look. You know what I’m talking about. COPERNICUS. I don’t …

BISHOP. Your harlot!

COPERNICUS. You mean my … ?

BISHOP. You know damn well who I mean.

COPERNICUS. She’s not …

BISHOP. You should get rid of her.


BISHOP. She’s not Lutheran, is she?


BISHOP. Get rid of her anyway.

FRANZ returns with more wine, pours.

BISHOP. I’m serious, Nicholas. I want her out of your house. It looks bad. Keeping an unmarried woman like that.

COPERNICUS. She cooks and cleans for me.

BISHOP. She’s not even related to you. It’s unseemly.

COPERNICUS. If I had a female relative who could …

BISHOP. And much too good-looking.

COPERNICUS. She’s done nothing wrong.

BISHOP. Get yourself an old hag. Or a boy, to take care of your … needs. (drinks his second glass) Listen, Nicholas. For myself, I don’t care who’s in your bed. I understand a man’s appetites. God knows, I sowed my oats. Fathered a child or two, here and there, before … But it’s different now. With Luther and his devils screaming to high Heaven and Rome about Church abuses, a man in your position … A canon of this cathedral! You must appear above reproach.

COPERNICUS. Yes, Your Reverence.

BISHOP. (yawning) Go on home now. Tell her to find a new position. Someplace far away from here.


Lights fade. A bell tolls the hour: 3 o’clock.


Minutes later, outside the cathedral wall, COPERNICUS walks home with a lantern. At the door of his house, he discovers RHETICUS lying on the ground. COPERNICUS jumps back, then bends down to examine him, checking his pulse, loosening his clothing.

RHETICUS awakens with a cry, lashes out.

RHETICUS. Ho! Get off me!

COPERNICUS. Are you ill?

RHETICUS. Get away from me! Thief !

COPERNICUS. I was just trying to …


RHETICUS pounces on

COPERNICUS; they scuffle.


RHETICUS. What did you take?

COPERNICUS. I didn’t … Oh!

RHETICUS. Give it back!


RHETICUS. (pinning COPERNICUS to the ground) Give it back or I’ll strangle you.

COPERNICUS. (choked, gasping) I’m a doctor.


COPERNICUS. I’m a doctor. I thought you were hurt. I was trying to help.

RHETICUS releases COPERNICUS, then stands, pats his body to make sure he has his belongings, looks in his satchel.

COPERNICUS tries to stand.

RHETICUS. Don’t move.

COPERNICUS. Who are you?

RHETICUS. You scared me to death.

COPERNICUS. I thought you were dead. I thought …

RHETICUS. I was just waiting there, when you came along and …

COPERNICUS. You were lying on the ground.

RHETICUS. Right there. I was sitting right over there.

COPERNICUS. (struggling to rise) Who are you?

RHETICUS. I was waiting to see …


RHETICUS. Are you hurt?

COPERNICUS. My ankle. I think I …

RHETICUS. You must have twisted it when you fell.

COPERNICUS. (indicating RHETICUS’S satchel) Give me that, will you?

COPERNICUS props the satchel under his foot, ties his handkerchief around his ankle.

RHETICUS. I’m sorry I hurt you, Doctor. I didn’t know …

COPERNICUS. What are you doing here?

RHETICUS. I’m waiting for Canon Copernicus. This is his house, isn’t it?

COPERNICUS. What do you want with him?

RHETICUS. Is he sick? Is that why you’ve come?

COPERNICUS. No, he’s not sick.

RHETICUS. Thank God. Imagine if I’d come all this way, only to find the great canon, the starry canon, too sick to receive me.

COPERNICUS. What did you call him?

RHETICUS. Please forgive me, Doctor. I don’t normally get into fistfights. You may not believe this, but I’m a scholar by profession.


RHETICUS. A mathematician.


RHETICUS. Professor of mathematics, in fact. (extending his hand) My name is RHETICUS, sir. Georg Joachim Rheticus.

COPERNICUS starts to extend his own hand.

RHETICUS. Of the mathematics faculty at Wittenberg.

COPERNICUS. (withdrawing his hand) Wittenberg?!

RHETICUS. You’ve heard of it, of course?

COPERNICUS. You came here? From Wittenberg?

RHETICUS. To tell you the truth, I was actually stopping at Nuremberg when I decided to come here.

COPERNICUS. But Wittenberg is …

RHETICUS. Nuremberg is even farther. It added another hundred miles to my journey.

COPERNICUS. But it’s not safe.

RHETICUS. Not safe to travel anywhere these days. Between the bandits and the dogs. And the rain! Twice in one day I was almost drowned fording rivers.

COPERNICUS. From Wittenberg.

RHETICUS. The canon will know its reputation …


RHETICUS. As a place where the study of mathematics has always flourished.

COPERNICUS. (returning the satchel) Here, take this back.

RHETICUS. Keep it, please. Use it as long as you like.

COPERNICUS. (rising with difficulty) This is Poland, Professor. Catholic Poland.

RHETICUS. I’m sure Canon Copernicus will welcome me, as a natural philosopher.

COPERNICUS. He will do no such thing. He cannot.

RHETICUS. We’ll see what he … Whoa, there, Doctor. Are you sure you can walk?

COPERNICUS. (indicating the house) I don’t have far to go.

RHETICUS. Here? But … You mean you are … ?


RHETICUS. (kneeling) Oh, no. Oh, my God! Oh, please forgive me!

COPERNICUS. Now, now. Don’t …

RHETICUS. All the times I pictured our meeting, and to think … Dear Lord, how I’ve botched things!

COPERNICUS. It’s all right. I’m fine. But you had better move on. This is no place for you.

RHETICUS. If only you knew how I …

COPERNICUS. Please, get up.

RHETICUS. The whole way here, I rehearsed, over and over, what I would say when I met you.

COPERNICUS. Say it, then. On your feet.

RHETICUS. (rising) Canon Copernicus, I … Is that the right way to address you, sir? Or should I call you “Father”? Did you say you were a doctor?

COPERNICUS. It doesn’t matter. Say your piece.

RHETICUS. Begging your pardon, Canon sir. Doctor. I have letters here from … (fishing in his satchel) Letters of introduction from …

COPERNICUS. Don’t bother with that.

RHETICUS. Here they are, sir. From Schöner in Nuremberg. And another one here from Hartmann, and also Peter Apian, and …

COPERNICUS. Did you say, from Schöner?

RHETICUS. Yes, sir. (handing him the letter) Here, see for yourself. He was gracious enough to let me stay several weeks with him, in his home. This one is from Camerarius, in Tubingen. He tried to convince me not to look for you. He said you must be dead by now. Excuse me, sir. I meant no offense. It’s just that no one has heard from you in so long. They’re all waiting. They wonder why you’ve kept silent all this time.

COPERNICUS finishes reading the letter.

COPERNICUS. I have … nothing to say.

RHETICUS. You are too modest, sir. What you’ve done … Why, you have made the greatest leap in astronomy since … Ptolemy introduced the equant. (brandishing the letters) Everyone speaks of you. “The Polish canon,” they call you, “who spins the Earth and makes the Sun and stars stand still.” They say you’ve been working at your thesis for more years than I’ve lived.

COPERNICUS. I’m finished with all that now.

RHETICUS. You’ve finished? You’re ready to release the details?

COPERNICUS. There’s nothing here for you, Professor. You should go back to Wittenberg. I’m sure your students miss you.

RHETICUS. With all due respect, sir. Classes are suspended for the summer holiday. And besides, I have been on special leave the past two semesters, on a personal mission, meeting with the most learned mathematicians of our time. I believe that you, sir, are the culmination of my quest. The very key to the perfection of the heavenly spheres.


RHETICUS. Sir, I seek to restore the queen of mathematics, that is, Astronomy, to her palace, as she deserves, and to redraw the boundaries of her kingdom.

COPERNICUS. I can’t help you.

RHETICUS. Only you can help me.

COPERNICUS. Good night, Professor.

COPERNICUS starts for his door.

RHETICUS. And I can help you, too. Let me tell you my plan.

COPERNICUS. I wish you a safe journey.

RHETICUS. Hear me out!

COPERNICUS. Hush. I’m telling you, for your own safety, to leave this place. RHETICUS. In the middle of the night? After I’ve traveled weeks just to find you?



Moments later, COPERNICUS enters the main room of the house (not as ornate as the BISHOP’s palace, though comfortable).

The house is dimly lit, but very gradually, through the scene, dawn begins to lighten the room.

RHETICUS follows

COPERNICUS into the room.

COPERNICUS. You can spread out your bedding in there.

RHETICUS. I’m not the least bit tired. I wonder whether we could just take a few moments to …

COPERNICUS. In the pantry, you’ll find some bread. You may take what you need for your …

RHETICUS. Oh! I almost forgot! In all the confusion, sir, I never gave you the gifts I brought.

COPERNICUS. I can’t accept gifts.

RHETICUS. (pulling books from his satchel) You must. This is Ptolemy.

COPERNICUS. Thank you, but no. I have studied Ptolemy, of course. Every astronomer has studied …

RHETICUS. You would have read a Latin translation, from the Arabic or Hebrew. This is the original Greek text.


RHETICUS. Only recently recovered and now published for the first time.

COPERNICUS. Let me just have a look at that.

RHETICUS. And this is Euclid’s Geometry, also in Greek. And here, Regiomontanus, on triangles. I love the part at the beginning, where he says, “No one can bypass the science of triangles and reach a satisfying knowledge of the stars.”

COPERNICUS. These are magnificent volumes.

RHETICUS. I chose the ones I knew you would like, Canon sir.

COPERNICUS. I couldn’t. I … You keep them for your own library.

RHETICUS. I’ve already inscribed them to you.

COPERNICUS. (reading) “To N. Copernicus, my teacher …” Your teacher?

RHETICUS. I was hoping …

COPERNICUS. I have no students.

RHETICUS. I know that, sir.

COPERNICUS. No followers of any kind.

RHETICUS. That is why I have come.

COPERNICUS. I’m sorry, Professor.

RHETICUS. To be your disciple. Whatever problems have interfered, kept you from bringing your work to completion, I want to help you solve them. I showed you my letters. Even Melanchthon says I have exceptional aptitude.

COPERNICUS. Philip Melanchthon?!

RHETICUS. “The teacher of Germany,” yes.

COPERNICUS. Luther’s own chosen successor? His right hand?! RHETICUS. He said I was born to study mathematics.

COPERNICUS. Tell me, Professor: Are you on intimate terms with Luther, too?

RHETICUS. Oh, now I see what you … But I swear to you, sir, I do not share the Reverend Luther’s opinion of your ideas. No, indeed.

COPERNICUS. Martin Luther has an opinion about my … ?

RHETICUS. It’s only his opinion. Whereas, I feel, astronomy requires precisely the kind of bold new approach that you take.

COPERNICUS. What does he say about it?

RHETICUS. Oh. Things come up at faculty meetings. Lunches. At table. You know how it is.


RHETICUS. Someone gave him the gist of it, and …



COPERNICUS. What did he say?

RHETICUS. He said, only a fool would turn the whole of astronomy upside down, merely for the sake of novelty.


COPERNICUS. I suppose “fool” is a mild insult, coming from him.

RHETICUS. And of course he knows nothing of mathematics. He only rejected your theory because it contradicts the Bible. He quoted Joshua 10:12. You know the part, where Joshua says, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon.”

COPERNICUS. Yes, yes. I know it all too well.

RHETICUS. “And thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.”

COPERNICUS & RHETICUS. (together) “And the Sun stood still.”

RHETICUS. Exactly, sir. The Sun stood still. And that’s his point. Because, if the Sun were already standing still, as you claim, then why would Joshua have commanded it to do so?

COPERNICUS. Why do you think?

RHETICUS. I say, mathematics is for mathematicians. Scripture doesn’t enter into it.

COPERNICUS. Is that what you told him?

ANNA enters the room, in robe, shawl, and nightcap, carrying a candle.

ANNA. Is everything all right?

COPERNICUS. (going to her) Anna. What are you doing up at this hour?

ANNA. Have you been hurt, Mikoj?

RHETICUS. She wouldn’t let me in when I arrived.

COPERNICUS. It’s nothing.

ANNA. What happened?

COPERNICUS. I sprained it, that’s all.

RHETICUS. I thought she was going to throw water on me.

ANNA. He came to the door after you left.

RHETICUS. I tried to tell her I was only …

ANNA. I was afraid to let him in.

COPERNICUS. You did the right thing.

While ANNA and COPERNICUS talk, RHETICUS fishes in his satchel for some papers.

ANNA. What does he want?

COPERNICUS. He? He’ll be leaving in just a few …

ANNA. What about the bishop?


ANNA. Not … ?

COPERNICUS. No, no. He’s … resting. Go back to bed, dear. I’m sorry we woke you.

ANNA. I’ve been waiting up worrying the whole night, Mikoj.

COPERNICUS. Everything’s all right now.

ANNA. I don’t like the look of him.

COPERNICUS. I’ll take care of this. Don’t worry.

Reluctantly, ANNA exits.

COPERNICUS. I hate to be inhospitable, Professor. I wish …

RHETICUS. There’s something else I brought you, sir.

COPERNICUS. No, please. No more gifts.

RHETICUS. These are from Schöner. Some recent observations he collected, of Mercury. He insisted that I give them to you.

COPERNICUS takes the sheets of paper, studies them.

RHETICUS. He didn’t make the observations himself. He said he got them from someone else, but he remembered that you always wanted …

COPERNICUS shakes his head with wonder, nods in admiration, sighs.

RHETICUS. He said you’d be pleased. He was sure you would. You haven’t really given it up, have you, sir? You must still be working on it. Am I right? Sir?


RHETICUS. I said, you haven’t quit. Have you? It’s just taking time. Isn’t that right? That’s why I thought I could …

COPERNICUS. No. I’m sorry. Even if I wanted to, I … My hands are tied. The bishop, you see, has … He, uh … I’m afraid there’s no nice way to say this, Professor. The bishop has banished Lutherans from this diocese.

RHETICUS. What has that got to do with me?

COPERNICUS. You mean you’re not? Lutheran?

RHETICUS. I’m not looking to settle down here. I just want to talk to you, about your work.

COPERNICUS. Even that would not be … No.

RHETICUS. I’m a mathematician, not a theologian. Couldn’t you explain that to him? Perhaps he would grant us a … What do you call it? An indulgence?

COPERNICUS. A dispensation. But, no. There’s no chance of that.

RHETICUS. Oh, please try. You can promise him that our discussions will have nothing to do with faith. We’ll limit ourselves strictly to arithmetic and geometry. The wings of the human mind. On such wings as those, we can transcend our religious differences. Transcend all religious differences. Didn’t Abraham teach astronomy to the Hebrews? And Moses, another Jew? And Heaven knows, all those Islamic astronomers, praying to their Allah five times a day, then watching the stars all night. Even going back to the Egyptians, the Greeks! Prometheus and the theft of divine fire! The very crime for which he suffered an eagle to devour his liver! What does that mean, if not that Prometheus delivered the light of astronomy to mortals?


COPERNICUS. How young you are, Professor.

RHETICUS. You’re not afraid to talk to him, are you?

COPERNICUS. I? I am the bishop’s personal physician.

RHETICUS. Well, then.

COPERNICUS. I was summoned to his side tonight, after he was “poisoned” by a Lutheran spy.


COPERNICUS. No. It was nothing like that. But knowing the intimate details of his digestion gives me no leverage to sway his opinion. On any subject.

RHETICUS. (kneeling) Please try! I implore you. If you do, I swear I will …

COPERNICUS. Come, Professor. You must leave off this genuflecting and swearing. Remember, you are not a Catholic, and I am not a priest.

RHETICUS. You’re not?

COPERNICUS. Only minor orders. Never ordained. But I do administer the cathedral’s business affairs. I’m an officer of the Church. I cannot harbor a heretic.


COPERNICUS. I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. I meant no disrespect for your beliefs.

RHETICUS. You mean … I’d be a danger to you?

COPERNICUS. You are a danger to yourself, young man. Rushing off to unknown places, knocking on strangers’ doors, shouting about missions and quests.

RHETICUS. I only meant to …

COPERNICUS. (picking up satchel, pressing it on RHETICUS) Now you be careful on the roads, mind you. Watch out for yourself out there.

RHETICUS. You won’t let me stay after all?

COPERNICUS. I’m sorry to disappoint you.

RHETICUS. What will I do now? How will I ever … ? Oh, God!

COPERNICUS. If you really want to pursue my ideas, why don’t you write to me? After you get back to Wittenberg, you could … I don’t mean write directly. You would need to send your letters through an intermediary. Perhaps Schöner would agree to serve as a … a point of contact for us. I would like that.

COPERNICUS goes to RHETICUS, puts a friendly arm around his shoulders, to shore him up.

COPERNICUS. Now then, Professor. Gather your things. Take the books, please. I could not keep them in good conscience. I hate to send you away like this. But we are victims of these times.

RHETICUS glumly does as he’s told. Together they walk to the door. When COPERNICUS opens it, daylight floods the room.

COPERNICUS. Oh, for Heaven’s sake!

COPERNICUS shuts the door and pushes RHETICUS back into the room.

COPERNICUS. You can’t go now!


COPERNICUS. It’s too late. Look! Daylight already. I’ll have to … Where … ? I know!

COPERNICUS moves aside a bench to reveal a trapdoor, which he struggles, unsuccessfully, to open.

RHETICUS watches, dumbfounded.


RHETICUS snaps to and pulls on the trapdoor until it opens.

COPERNICUS. Now come this way. Hurry.

They disappear through the trapdoor, closing it behind them.

The stage is empty for a moment as the dawn light continues to brighten. An all-male choir can be heard chanting Matins.

Someone knocks urgently at the front door.

ANNA enters from an interior room, dressed, tying on an apron.

ANNA. Who’s there?

She looks around the room, replaces the bench, tries to restore normal order, goes to the door.

FRANZ. (entering) Oh, Miss Anna! You’re still here.

FRANZ throws his arms around her, as a child to a mother, near tears.

ANNA. What is it, pet? What’s the matter?

FRANZ. You’re here. You’re still here.

ANNA. There, there, now. Where else would I be?

FRANZ. I don’t know. Oh, Miss Anna, I don’t want you to go away.

ANNA. What’s got into my brave little man? Oh, poor lamb. There, there.

FRANZ. He said you had to go away.

ANNA. Who said such a thing?

FRANZ. The bshop said.

ANNA. The bishop?

FRANZ. I heard him.


FRANZ. He did. He told the doctor to make you go away. Oh, please don’t go, Miss Anna! Please don’t go.



The BISHOP, in his bed, tosses in the throes of a nightmare.

A knock at the door exaggerates the terror of his dream, but also wakes him, and he cries out.

GIESE. (offstage) So sorry to disturb you …

The BISHOP slowly recognizes his surroundings, comes out of the dream.

GIESE. (opening the door) It’s the day of our chess game, Johann. Remember? May I come in?

BISHOP. (throwing off the bedclothes, sitting up) No.

GIESE. (entering) What’s the matter with you? Why are you still in bed?

BISHOP. Did the boy let you in?

GIESE. Are you ill?

BISHOP. Yes. No! But I feel addled. Like a horse kicked me in the head. GIESE. We should send for Nicholas to come and examine you.

FRANZ enters with a pitcher and basin, sets them on a washstand, exits.

BISHOP. Nicholas was here all night. An awful night I had. Some cursed Lutheran tried to poison me.

GIESE. Poison?!

BISHOP. Tried to kill me. And very nearly succeeded.

GIESE. Heaven forbid.

BISHOP. Agh! I ask you, Tiedemann: If I’m not safe in my own dining room, where am I safe? Lutherans everywhere. In the kitchen. In the soup.

GIESE. Have you apprehended a suspect?

BISHOP. I can’t tell who is trustworthy anymore. I may have to torture someone to get at the truth.

The BISHOP rises, goes to the washstand, and, through the following dialogue, removes his nightshirt, grooms himself.

GIESE. Are you sure it was poison? What did Nicholas say?

BISHOP. Nicholas! His skills may combat a single instance of poisoning. And thank God for that. But his medicaments cannot stanch the spread of the Lutheran plague. It oozes and festers all around us. As God is my witness, it has reached epidemic proportions!

GIESE. You talk like a soldier, Johann.

BISHOP. And you, Tiedemann! You sit idly by, and watch. You do nothing to stem the tide.

GIESE. What would you have me do? Lay siege to Wittenberg?

BISHOP. You have still not adopted my edict in your diocese. Have you?

GIESE. Now, Johann.

BISHOP. You won’t do even that much.

GIESE. You know how I feel about …

BISHOP. We’re the only ones left, Tiedemann. You and I. We’re the last holdouts in the whole region. Every other bishop, to a man, has bowed to that dev il Luther. God help us, even the duke has converted. We are surrounded. We must crush the menace.

GIESE. We are men of God, Johann.

BISHOP. The Church calls us to her defense. I need your support. As long as you allow Lutherans to live and work in Kulm …

GIESE. Our Lutherans in Kulm don’t cause any trouble. They just …

BISHOP. Listen to me, Tiedemann. If we have trouble here in Varmia, you have trouble in Kulm. We have the same troubles, you and I. How do you know my assassin wasn’t one of your Lutherans?

GIESE. These are peasant farmers. Merchants. Tradesmen. The same people who have lived among us for generations, since long before …

BISHOP. They have betrayed us, by betraying the Church. You cannot let them go about with impunity.

GIESE. In your heart, you know there’s a better path to reconciliation with our Protestant brethren.

BISHOP. Oh, please, Tiedemann! When will you face the facts?!

GIESE. We’re all Christians in the eyes of God.

BISHOP. Haven’t the past twenty years taught you anything? That sniveling little monk! He has whined and complained and … and gained himself a huge following! How did it happen? Hm? Who ever thought anyone would listen to him? Now look at him. He sings a few hymns, and half the continent thinks he’s the Second Coming.

The BISHOP finishes his grooming, throws down his towel like a gauntlet.

BISHOP. It’s an abomination.

GIESE. The Church has weathered worse storms before this. If we are steadfast in our faith, and treat our fellow citizens with compassion …

BISHOP. You mean you refuse to back me?

GIESE. I’m saying that the changing times challenge us to summon new reserves of patience, so we can negotiate peaceably with …

BISHOP. You have more tolerance for Lutherans than you have for me.

GIESE. Let us pray together, for guidance. “Our Father, Who art in Heaven …”

BISHOP. I bet you’d just love for one of them to do away with me. So you could take my place, and be bishop here yourself.

GIESE. Don’t give in to such dark thoughts, Johann. Pray with me now. “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name …”

GIESE keeps praying, whispering under the BISHOP’s lines, speaking louder between them.

BISHOP. That’s why you keep your canonry here, isn’t it? You want to have your foot in the door, so when I die …

GIESE. “Give us this day our daily bread. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us …”

BISHOP. Why didn’t I see it before? Why else would you remain a canon here in Varmia?

GIESE. “Amen.”

BISHOP. You should give up your canonry!

GIESE. What?!

BISHOP. You have no right to be a canon here any longer.

GIESE. Don’t be silly, Johann. I have every right …

BISHOP. I want you to resign. Right now. You should step down of your own volition. Don’t make me force you out.

GIESE. You cannot force me to … It’s a lifetime appointment. Everyone knows that.

BISHOP. Nevertheless, you are free to leave it.

GIESE. Why would I? I rely on my income from the canonry.

BISHOP. You’re Bishop of Kulm now.

GIESE. Kulm is such a poor diocese. You know that better than anyone, Johann. When you were Bishop of Kulm …

BISHOP. You cannot be Bishop of Kulm and canon of Varmia, too.

GIESE. Of course I can. You did. When you were Bishop of Kulm, you didn’t give up your Varmia canonry.

BISHOP. What I did has nothing to do with what you should do.

GIESE. But it’s exactly the same situation. You remained a canon here the whole time you were Bishop of Kulm. If you hadn’t done that, you could never have been elected Bishop of Varmia.

BISHOP. Aha! You admit it, then! You do want to take my place!

GIESE. I’m older than you, Johann. I’m not likely to outlive you.

BISHOP. Not likely, no. Except in the event of my untimely death.

GIESE. You cannot accuse me of such treachery!

BISHOP. Can’t I?

GIESE. It’s the principle of the thing. And the income, of course. And I … I still belong to this community. These are my lifelong friends. Nicholas and I go back …

BISHOP. Don’t expect your friend Nicholas to come to your rescue now. He’s on very shaky ground himself.

GIESE. Nicholas?! He keeps all of us alive!

BISHOP. I could have him excommunicated.

GIESE. Have you gone mad, Johann?

BISHOP. I refuse to look the other way any longer while that harlot comes and goes as she pleases.

GIESE. You mean the housekeeper?

BISHOP. Housekeeper, harlot. What’s the difference? What do you take me for? A simpleton? You think I don’t know a harlot when I see one?

GIESE. But he has trained her, Johann. About herbs and … Medicinal herbs, I mean. She makes … medicines. She …

BISHOP. I had no idea you were so fond of her, Tiedemann. Why don’t you take her home with you? That would solve everything. The harlot goes. Nicholas is absolved. And you are content to stay home in Kulm with your Lutherans and your new concubine.

Blackout. The choir chants Lauds.


Dim lights reveal the tower room as small and spare, dusty from disuse, almost scary, with minuscule windows and a low door. The furnishings include a table and chair, a cot, and the World Machine, a globe-like nest of intersecting rings, about the size of a manned spacecraft capsule, perched on a pedestal.

RHETICUS. (offstage) Where are you taking me, sir?

COPERNICUS. (offstage) Only a little farther now.

RHETICUS. (offstage) But where … ?

COPERNICUS. (offstage) We’re nearly there … Ah!

COPERNICUS enters, breathless, with a lantern.

COPERNICUS. Here we are.

RHETICUS follows him in, stays close.

COPERNICUS. You can stay here.


COPERNICUS. This is it.

RHETICUS. What is this place?

COPERNICUS. You’ll be safe here.

RHETICUS. Is it your observatory?


RHETICUS. Not a prison cell, is it?

COPERNICUS. Oh, no. It’s a retreat. A safe house. We all have rooms like this.

When there’s danger, from outside, we come up here, and … and we stay here until … until it’s safe to leave.

RHETICUS. You really expect me to stay here?

COPERNICUS. No one will think to look here now. In peacetime.

RHETICUS. For how long?

COPERNICUS. Just till tonight.

RHETICUS. The whole day?!

COPERNICUS. After sunset, you can go. As soon as it’s dark, I’ll come fetch you.

RHETICUS. You’re not staying with me?


RHETICUS. But now we have all day.

COPERNICUS. I can’t stay with you. I have to …

RHETICUS. Oh, please. Stay and seize this day with me. Look how God has provided a space of time for us, after all. This is our chance to talk. One mathematician to another. I …

RHETICUS sees the Machine.

RHETICUS. What’s that?


RHETICUS. What is it?

COPERNICUS. Just … something I made.

RHETICUS. You built it?

COPERNICUS. A long time ago.

RHETICUS. But what is it? Some kind of observing instrument?

COPERNICUS. No. No, it’s … more of a model, really.

RHETICUS. Like an armillary sphere?

COPERNICUS. You might say.

RHETICUS. Only larger.


RHETICUS. Much larger.

COPERNICUS. I don’t use it anymore.

RHETICUS. Why so big?

COPERNICUS. Well, the person inside needs room to …

RHETICUS. There’s someone inside it?!


RHETICUS. No. But a person could … ?

COPERNICUS. Yes. The person has to sit inside it, to get the effect.

RHETICUS. And what effect would that be? Inside?

COPERNICUS. The sense of … the consequences, really, of my theory.

RHETICUS. So, you sat in there, while you were figuring out how to … ?

COPERNICUS. No. I stood out here, to operate it.

RHETICUS. Someone else was inside?


RHETICUS. So you did have a student? Before me?


RHETICUS. Then why … ?

COPERNICUS. No, I made this for my … for a friend. Someone who couldn’t grasp the mathematical concepts. Who needed a way to … visualize the spheres.

RHETICUS. You certainly went to a lot of trouble.

COPERNICUS. I suppose I did.

RHETICUS. For your friend.

COPERNICUS. Yes. Well, then. You wait here, and …

RHETICUS. Could I try it?

COPERNICUS. No, I don’t think so.

RHETICUS. I’d really like to see what it does.

COPERNICUS. No one’s used it in years. I doubt it still works.

RHETICUS. Let’s try it and see.

COPERNICUS. There’s no need. You, of all people, can follow the math.

RHETICUS fumbles about the Machine, looking for a way in.

RHETICUS. I was hoping to read your work, sir. I didn’t know I could ride in it.

COPERNICUS. Don’t touch that.

RHETICUS. How do you get in?

COPERNICUS. Not there. No, not like that.

RHETICUS. Show me, then. Please.

COPERNICUS. Let go of that. It’s over here. You climb in through here.

RHETICUS dives in, but finds entry a struggle.

RHETICUS. This is a lot smaller than it looks. There’s hardly room to … Your friend must have been half my size.

COPERNICUS. Maybe you shouldn’t …

RHETICUS. All right. I’m in.

COPERNICUS closes the hatch.

The lights suddenly go out.

RHETICUS. Oh, my God! What happened?

COPERNICUS. It will take a moment to …

Very dim lights come up, just enough to show RHETICUS inside the Machine.

RHETICUS. It’s pitch-black in here. I can’t see my hand in front of my face.

COPERNICUS. I’m lighting it now … Just another moment …

RHETICUS. Stuffy, too. I can hardly breathe.


Little twinkling star lights appear, as in a planetarium.

RHETICUS. What the … ?

COPERNICUS. Do you see anything?

RHETICUS. Oh, my God!


RHETICUS. Oh, dear God. It’s … There are stars everywhere. All around. How did you do that?

COPERNICUS. Now I turn you.


COPERNICUS. I said, I’ll turn you around now.

RHETICUS. I can’t hear you.

COPERNICUS. (grunting with effort, muttering) Turn. I have to turn … ugh …

RHETICUS. Oh, turn. Is that what you said?

COPERNICUS. Ugh … It’s stuck. Wait …

RHETICUS. Should I do something?

COPERNICUS. No … Ugh … Ah, there it goes!

RHETICUS is rotated in his seat. He continues rotating slowly through the following dialogue.

RHETICUS. Good God! What’s happening? Oh, this is … This is unbelievable.

COPERNICUS. You see? What it does?

RHETICUS. Oh, sir! You have reproduced the night. The effect is … It’s so lovely. So … Oh, look! The zodiac constellations.

COPERNICUS. The thing to look for …

RHETICUS. There’s the Ram, the Bull …

RHETICUS’s seat gives a lurch.

RHETICUS. Whoa! What was that?

His seat speeds up.


COPERNICUS. I’m sorry.

RHETICUS. Merciful heavens!

COPERNICUS. Something slipped. I’m trying to …

RHETICUS’s seat slows down.


COPERNICUS. I’m sorry. I told you the machine was …

RHETICUS. Oh, please, continue.

COPERNICUS. I’m afraid I can’t keep this up much longer.

RHETICUS’s seat slows down more.

COPERNICUS. Not as strong as I used to be.

RHETICUS’s seat slows to a stop. The stage lights return.

COPERNICUS. You’d better come out now.

RHETICUS. (emerging from the Machine, wobbly) Oh, my. That was …

COPERNICUS. Steady, there.

RHETICUS. I’m still seeing stars.

COPERNICUS. Let your eyes adjust to the light.



RHETICUS. Thank you, sir.

COPERNICUS. Did you find it convincing?

RHETICUS. Convincing?


RHETICUS. Convincing of what, sir?

COPERNICUS. Of the motion.

RHETICUS. Oh, most definitely.

COPERNICUS. Good. Well, then.

RHETICUS. All the stars moved. I could see them spinning round and round.

COPERNICUS. No, the stars didn’t …

RHETICUS. It was great.

COPERNICUS. That was you going around. Not the stars.

RHETICUS. No, I saw the … The stars turned around me.

COPERNICUS. You turned. In that little seat. That’s the only part that moves.

RHETICUS. But I didn’t feel it move.

COPERNICUS. You’re not supposed to.


COPERNICUS. No. That’s just it. You think the stars are turning, but really it’s you turning. Well, it’s really me turning you. And once you realize that it’s you going around, then you make that shift in perception. You see?

RHETICUS. I’m not sure I do. No.

COPERNICUS. The machine gives you a physical appreciation. For what the turning of the Earth … You know: how the Earth, by its rotation, makes the stars appear to spin around it. And the planets, too. I tried to build in the planetary effects … the stations and retrogrades … but I had trouble aligning them.

RHETICUS. Do you mean to say … ?

COPERNICUS. I think those parts must still be around here, somewhere …



RHETICUS. You mean, you really do mean to turn the Earth?

COPERNICUS. You knew that.

RHETICUS. But … really turn it?

COPERNICUS. What did you think?

RHETICUS. I didn’t think you meant to turn it … physically.

COPERNICUS. How else would it turn, if not physically?

RHETICUS. It would turn … theoretically. You know. In a hypothetical way. On paper. In order to …


RHETICUS. Theoretically. Mathematically. But not …

COPERNICUS. No, the motion is real. Of course it is.

RHETICUS. Oh, my God.

COPERNICUS. I thought you understood my work.


COPERNICUS. Didn’t Schöner explain it to you?

RHETICUS. He, uh … I …

COPERNICUS. What did he tell you?

RHETICUS. I don’t think he sees it quite the way you do, sir.

COPERNICUS. How can that … ?

RHETICUS. He didn’t mention anything about a real motion.

COPERNICUS. Are you sure?

RHETICUS. All he said was … No, he didn’t say anything about …

COPERNICUS. You mean, he doesn’t understand it either?!

RHETICUS. I think he must not have interpreted it … literally.


RHETICUS. Why would he?


RHETICUS. Why would he leap to that conclusion?

COPERNICUS. Oh, dear God!

RHETICUS. Honestly, sir, I don’t think anyone realizes exactly what it is that you have in mind.

COPERNICUS. What can they think I’ve been doing all these years?

RHETICUS. Even just to … to use the idea as the basis for new calculations, would … But, to claim the motion as reality?!


RHETICUS. I am … dumbstruck. I … Look! You and I. We’re just standing here. The Earth …

RHETICUS stamps his foot a few times to make the point.

RHETICUS. It doesn’t move.


COPERNICUS. Yes it does.

RHETICUS. You really believe the Earth is … turning?

COPERNICUS. It’s not a question of belief, Professor. I know it turns.

A peal of bells begins, continues through the following dialogue.

RHETICUS. What do you mean, you “know”?

COPERNICUS. I mean the evidence has convinced me.

RHETICUS. What evidence?

COPERNICUS. (hearing the bells) Goodness, the time!

RHETICUS. You mean the Earth leaves some kind of wake behind it? Like a boat?

COPERNICUS. I’m sorry. I must leave you now.

RHETICUS. No, wait a minute.

COPERNICUS. You must excuse me. I’ll come back to night.


COPERNICUS. They’re expecting me in the …

RHETICUS. Just because I raise a few questions? You walk away?

COPERNICUS. Don’t you hear the bells? That’s the call to Mass. If I’m not seen in the cathedral, then …



The bells continue, grow louder.

RHETICUS stares at the door, incredulous at what he’s just heard, also furious and afraid. He glares at the Machine, grabs hold and shakes it.

Blackout. Pealing turns into tolling of the hour: 12 o’clock.


About two hours later, GIESE lets himself into the house.

GIESE. Hello? Nicholas? Are you here?

ANNA. (offstage) Mikoj?! Oh, thank goodness. I’ve been so worried all this … (entering) Oh! Oh, forgive me, Reverend Father.

GIESE. He’s not here?

ANNA. No, Your Reverence.

GIESE. I was supposed to meet him after Mass.

ANNA. He wasn’t at Mass?

GIESE. Of course he was at Mass.

ANNA. Yes, of course. Of course he was.

GIESE. And now?

ANNA bows her head to hide her face.

GIESE. I understand. What a difficult time this must be for you.

ANNA. Your Reverence, I … May I confide in you?

GIESE. You wish to make a confession?

ANNA. No, just … just to let you know something. A secret. As a good and loyal friend of this house.

GIESE. You need not tell me anything.

ANNA. Last night, I …

GIESE. Now, now, you mustn’t take all the blame on yourself. It’s never one-sided in these situations. I know that. To be frank, I feel I am partly responsible. I’ve known about it all along. And yet I said nothing. As Nicholas’s friend, I should have counseled him. I could have saved him from this … this ridiculous threat. But don’t fret. Nothing bad will happen to him if you are brave and do what’s required of you. Tell me, do you have family who could take you in?


GIESE. Or a friend, perhaps? Someplace where you know people, where you’ll feel welcome?

A scuffling sound comes from under the floor, at the trapdoor, and something bumps against it from below.

ANNA jumps, cries out in fright.

GIESE. What was that?

Another thump sounds from the trapdoor.

COPERNICUS. (offstage; panting, whispering) Anna?

GIESE. Good heavens!

COPERNICUS is trying to lift the trapdoor from below.

GIESE. There’s someone in the passage.

COPERNICUS. (offstage) Tiedemann? Is that you? Let me up.

GIESE moves the bench, lifts the door with great difficulty, as COPERNICUS pushes it from below.

COPERNICUS, panting, drags up the unconscious body of RHETICUS.

ANNA screams, then recovers herself and moves to help. The three of them pull RHETICUS into the room. ANNA puts her shawl under his head, touches his face.

ANNA. He’s burning up with fever.

COPERNICUS, exhausted from the effort, sits on the floor near Rheticus.

RHETICUS shakes with chills, moans.

GIESE. Who is this?

ANNA. I’ll get some blankets.

COPERNICUS. And willow bark.

ANNA. (exiting) I know.

GIESE. Poor fellow. What’s wrong with him?

COPERNICUS continues to catch his breath.

GIESE. Oh, never mind. You can tell me later. But what were you doing there, Nicholas?

COPERNICUS. (squeezing GIESE’S hand) So good to …

GIESE. I know. I won’t ask you any more questions now … Goodness, I haven’t been up there since …


GIESE. Do you still have your … your machine, with all the … ?

ANNA. (returning with blankets, water) Why didn’t you leave him in the tower?


COPERNICUS holds up RHETICUS’S head, pours a few drops of medicine into his mouth.

GIESE. What’s wrong with him?

COPERNICUS. Ague. Exposure. God only knows where he’s slept in weeks of travel.

GIESE. Where did he come from?

ANNA. His clothes are drenched with sweat.

COPERNICUS. Better get them off.

ANNA and COPERNICUS undress Rheticus , wrap him in blankets, through the following dialogue.

RHETICUS shakes with chills, moans, resists them mindlessly.

ANNA. How will you explain this … ?

COPERNICUS. I’ll think of something.

ANNA. You should never have let him in the house.

GIESE. What’s going on here?

COPERNICUS. I’ll say I was coming home, from the bishop’s, late at night, when I found him, lying in front of my house.

ANNA. You can’t say you …

COPERNICUS. That much is true. He was ill. How could I leave him out there, weak and sick?

GIESE. You dragged him into the house? And up to the tower? And then back down from the … ?

COPERNICUS. No, Tiedemann. He walked into the house. And then … We had to … But I did find him lying out there. So I took him in.

ANNA. A total stranger?

COPERNICUS. It was the Christian thing to do.

ANNA shakes her head, continues tending to RHETICUS.

GIESE. I would have done the same. But he’s much better off here, with you. It was his great good fortune that Providence delivered him to your door, Nicholas.

COPERNICUS. That’s it! Providence delivered him. So that I could care for him in his hour of need.

ANNA. But, a Lutheran?

GIESE. What?

COPERNICUS. How did I know? He was unconscious.

GIESE. He’s a Lutheran?

COPERNICUS. Later he became delirious. It was impossible to make any sense of what he said. We still have no idea who he is. Or where he came from. All his papers had been stolen. By robbers. Highwaymen.

ANNA. Why are you protecting him?

COPERNICUS. Anna, please. Make up a bed for him in the pantry. There’s nothing else to be done until his fever comes down.

ANNA, still disapproving, goes to the pantry as told.

COPERNICUS slumps, head in hands.

GIESE goes to him, pats and rubs his shoulders.

GIESE. All right, my friend. From the beginning now. Who is this prodigy among us?

COPERNICUS. Of all the times for someone like him to … Someone of his talents … Why now? Agh! If only he’d come to me twenty years ago.

GIESE. Twenty years ago he was still in swaddling clothes, from the look of him.

COPERNICUS. It wouldn’t have made a difference then either. My ideas are too disturbing to see the light of day.


GIESE. He came to you about that?

COPERNICUS. So he said.

GIESE. What about it?

COPERNICUS. Nothing. It doesn’t matter. He didn’t really understand it anyway.

GIESE. But he traveled here? To find you?

COPERNICUS. Incredible, isn’t it?

GIESE. From where?

COPERNICUS. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.

GIESE. What did he say?

COPERNICUS. Came all this way. With letters from … He had a letter of introduction from Schöner.

GIESE. Nuremberg Schöner?

COPERNICUS. And Hartmann, too. And a stack of books he wanted to give me. Ptolemy in the original Greek. Can you imagine? And here. Look at these.

COPERNICUS gives GIESE the notes.

GIESE. What’s this?

COPERNICUS. You and I never saw Mercury at an angle of western elongation like that. Nowhere even close to those values.

ANNA. (returning) It’s ready.

All three pick up RHETICUS and carry/drag him toward the pantry.

FRANZ enters, unnoticed by the others, takes in the scene.


COPERNICUS. How long have you been here, lad?

FRANZ. I … His Reverence sent me, Doctor.

COPERNICUS. Did you see … ?

FRANZ. His Reverence wishes Bishop Giese to attend him in his chambers, to witness the signing of the edict.

COPERNICUS. (to GIESE) He’s gone and done it? Already?

GIESE takes a last, appreciative look at the observations.

GIESE. One thing is certain, Nicholas. The Lord surely works in mysterious ways.

GIESE gives back the notes to


ANNA returns.

COPERNICUS. The bishop’s boy was here.

ANNA. Again?

COPERNICUS. Do you think he saw anything?

ANNA. What did he overhear, Mikoj? Between you and the bishop?

COPERNICUS. He told you about that?

ANNA. It’s true, then? (rushing into his arms) Oh, Mikoj!

COPERNICUS. (embracing her) He was overwrought last night. Sick and fearful. He’ll forget about us.

ANNA. Bishop Giese said something to me about …

COPERNICUS. No, no. Hush.

ANNA. Yes, he did. He asked me where I was going. And did I have family to take me in.

COPERNICUS. Don’t worry, dearest.

ANNA. Oh, Mikoj!

COPERNICUS. I won’t let anything happen to you.

ANNA. He can’t really make you send me away? Can he?

COPERNICUS. He’ll have to kill me first.

They kiss, continue to hold each other.

ANNA. I won’t go. I won’t leave you, Mikoj.

COPERNICUS. I won’t let you.

RHETICUS cries out from the other room.

COPERNICUS and ANNA turn, start in his direction, but he quiets, so they stay where they are, clinging to each other.



The BISHOP sits at the desk where he signs and seals the edict. FRANZ stands behind him, GIESE facing him.

BISHOP. He just took him in? Without even knowing his identity?

GIESE. That’s Nicholas for you. If he sees a person is sick, he simply acts.

BISHOP. But this fellow could be a spy, for all he knows.

GIESE. No, he’s a mathematician.

BISHOP. I thought you said no one knew anything about him.

GIESE. That’s right. No papers. But he had several books. In his travel bag.

BISHOP. Books in a bag don’t prove a person’s profession.

GIESE. These were large textbooks, about mathematics. That the robbers did not take.

BISHOP. No wonder.

GIESE. I think he came here on purpose, Johann. Expressly to engage Nicholas about his theory. To shake him out of his paralysis.

BISHOP. So what if he did? What of it?

GIESE. Think what it would mean, Johann. You know how I’ve always said one day Nicholas will bring glory to Varmia through his mathematical work.

BISHOP. That is one harebrained idea, that theory of his. I thought he was wise to put it aside.

GIESE. He should be encouraged to take it up again.

BISHOP. He should let it lie. It’s a dangerous notion.

GIESE. It’s controversial, I grant you, but …

BISHOP. It may even be heretical.

GIESE. Oh, no, Johann.

BISHOP. Then it’s a laughingstock. You should hear what they used to say about him at court. How he mistook the Earth for a side of beef. So he put it on a spit, and tried to roast it in the Sun’s fire.

GIESE. His ideas are beyond the comprehension of ordinary minds like yours and mine.

BISHOP. Even mathematicians have common sense, Tiedemann. Now, then. Stop changing the subject. And add your name to this document. Will you do that? Will you stand with me to protect Varmia? And Kulm. And the rest of our province, and Poland, and the world, from a clear and present danger?!

GIESE. I cannot condone the punishment of innocent people.


BISHOP. I have already written my recommendation to the provost of the chapter, requesting that you be relieved of your canonry. I have it right here, just waiting for my signature and seal. You sign the edict, Tiedemann, and I’ll tear up the letter.

GIESE. I must be getting back to Kulm now.

BISHOP. Sign, damn it!

GIESE. I have preparations to make, to receive my guests. I’ve invited Nicholas to bring his unfortunate visitor to Kulm, as soon as the youth is well enough to travel.

BISHOP. The sooner he leaves here, the better.

GIESE. And the nurse, to look after him until he’s completely …

BISHOP. Good riddance.

GIESE. And Nicholas, of course.

BISHOP. Nicholas isn’t going anywhere.

GIESE. He will leap at the chance to engage another mathematician in learned discourse.

BISHOP. You can have the stranger. But I won’t let you take Nicholas that far away.

GIESE. How I shall enjoy hearing them discuss the wanderings of the planets through the visible heavens, while I tend to the invisible one.

BISHOP. I need him here with me. He belongs to me.



COPERNICUS and ANNA huddle together in an embrace, as before; they jump when …

RHETICUS staggers in, wrapped in a blanket.

ANNA. Good God!

RHETICUS. What happened? Why didn’t you tell me?


RHETICUS. It’s dark now. Can’t you see? It’s dark!

RHETICUS stumbles, starts to fall.

ANNA and COPERNICUS catch him, sit him down.

COPERNICUS. Bring him some of that broth.

ANNA exits.

RHETICUS. You promised you’d tell me when it got dark.

COPERNICUS. You’re ill. Do you remember? You’re not going anywhere to night.

RHETICUS. Where are my clothes?

COPERNICUS. (taking off his cassock, putting it around RHETICUS) You’re still weak. You need to …

RHETICUS. I can’t stay here.

RHETICUS tries to stand up, falls back into the chair.

COPERNICUS. In another day or two, you’ll be stronger. Then you can do as you please. But for now you’re in my care.

RHETICUS. This is your house. We were in this room.

ANNA enters, with a cup.

COPERNICUS. Here, drink this.

RHETICUS. But this isn’t where we … We went somewhere else to …

COPERNICUS. Go on, drink it. It’s good for you.

ANNA goes to the room where RHETICUS was resting.

RHETICUS. You put me in that … machine.

COPERNICUS. Drink this, now. It’s full of medicine.

RHETICUS. (taking the cup, then dropping it) Oh, no !

COPERNICUS. It’s all right. There’s more where that came from.

ANNA. (returning, with RHETICUS’S clothing) His clothes are still wet.

COPERNICUS. Please brew some more broth for him.

ANNA. (exiting) I’ll hang these by the kitchen fire.

RHETICUS. Now I remember. Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no.

COPERNICUS. You must have been dreaming.

RHETICUS. I thought you would save me.

COPERNICUS. Sometimes fever causes very vivid, frightening dreams.

RHETICUS. You! I thought you could help me.

COPERNICUS. I’ve done everything I know how to …

RHETICUS. What will I do now?

COPERNICUS. You’ll be fine.

RHETICUS. What will become of me?

COPERNICUS. Good as new, you’ll see.

RHETICUS. I came here in good faith …

COPERNICUS. Yes, yes. I know.

RHETICUS. And what do I find? A lunatic! A deluded old … a … a recluse! Obsessed with an insane idea.

COPERNICUS. Get hold of yourself, now.

RHETICUS. (jumping up, stronger now) Where are my clothes? Where’s my satchel?

COPERNICUS. You don’t need any of that now.

RHETICUS. My horoscopes are in there.

COPERNICUS. I don’t have to see your horoscope. I know how to treat your symptoms without that.

RHETICUS. You don’t understand. Where is that satchel?

COPERNICUS. Calm yourself.

ANNA. (returning with another cup) You must have left his things up in the tower.

COPERNICUS. They can wait there for now. Here.

RHETICUS resists, but then weakens again, drinks the broth.

ANNA. I think we all need something to eat.

ANNA exits.

RHETICUS. I know it by heart. I can recite the whole thing without looking at it.

COPERNICUS. What can you recite?

RHETICUS. Every house, every aspect, every conjunction and opposition. Every indicator of doom.

COPERNICUS. Don’t tell me you believe in that?

RHETICUS. It’s not as though I have a choice.

COPERNICUS. You should know better.

RHETICUS. If only I could forget what I know.

COPERNICUS. (a little sarcastic) Change it, then. If you don’t like what your horoscope portends, you can simply reconfigure it. Isn’t that right? Reapportion the houses, or adjust the presumed time of birth, and … make it say something else. Something better. Whatever you like.

RHETICUS. (dead serious) I’ve tried that. Tried all those things. It always comes out the same.

COPERNICUS. I’m sorry, Professor. I can’t help you with your horoscope.

RHETICUS. And you call yourself a mathematician?

COPERNICUS. What do you take me for? A fortune-teller?

RHETICUS. The fates of empires depend on the positions of the planets.

COPERNICUS. No, Professor. The fates of empires depend on the positions of armies on battlefields. Not the planets in the heavens. The sky does not enter into human affairs.

RHETICUS. You don’t understand.

COPERNICUS. A man’s fate is in God’s hands.

RHETICUS. Tell that to your pope! Don’t you know he brought his favorite astrologer to Rome?!

COPERNICUS. Doesn’t your Luther denounce the whole practice?

RHETICUS. I told you, he knows nothing about mathematics.

COPERNICUS. Is that all you came here for? Some new trick for casting your horoscope?

RHETICUS. Not just mine! Yours. Schöner’s. Everybody’s! Wars. Floods. Plagues. All the global predictions for the coming year. For years to come! That’s what I saw as the fruit of your labors. The long march of history. The rise of Luther. The fall of Islam. The Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

COPERNICUS. I give you the true order of the planets. The workings of the whole heavenly machinery, with every one of its former kinks hammered out. But all of that is useless to you, unless it provides excuses for every petty human failing.

RHETICUS. You think you can just twirl the Earth through the heavens like some … like a … like … Oh, my God. Wait a minute. If the Earth moved … then … If the Earth moved through the heavens …

COPERNICUS. It does move.

RHETICUS. If the Earth moved among the planets, then it would approach them and recede from them, and maybe even … It would! Yes! If that happened, it would magnify the effect of every planetary influence.


RHETICUS. That would have to happen, as a natural consequence. An enhancement of the influence that each planet exerted on the individual …

COPERNICUS. The one thing has nothing to do with the other.

RHETICUS. How can you be sure? Have you checked for those effects?


RHETICUS. Not even in your own chart? That would be so easy to do. To compare, say, Mars at opposition with Mars at solar conjunction, and then to …


RHETICUS. This is better than I’d hoped. Better than I ever dreamed! Think what it means! This truly could dispel the whole fog of absurdity that hangs over your theory.

COPERNICUS. If you want to know the future, you should go slaughter a goat and examine its entrails. And leave the planets out of your predictions.

RHETICUS. I think there’s really something to it. Let’s say, just for the moment, just for argument’s sake, that the Earth … turns. How fast would it … ? It has to spin around very fast, right? For the turning to cause day and night?

COPERNICUS. It is rapid, yes.

RHETICUS. How rapid?

COPERNICUS. You do the math.

RHETICUS. All right. The circumference of the Earth is … What? Twenty thousand miles?

COPERNICUS. Twenty-four.

RHETICUS. Twenty-four thousand, right. And it has to make a full rotation every … twenty-four hours.

COPERNICUS. Not a very difficult calculation, is it?

RHETICUS. God in Heaven! A thousand miles an hour?

COPERNICUS. That’s what it must be.

RHETICUS. But that can’t be. We would feel that.

COPERNICUS. No. We don’t feel it.

RHETICUS. We don’t feel it because we don’t really turn.

COPERNICUS. We don’t feel it because we move along with it. Like riding a horse.

RHETICUS. When I ride a horse, I feel it.

COPERNICUS. On a ship, then. Sailing on a calm sea. You move along in the direction of the wind, but you don’t have any sense that you’re moving.

RHETICUS. Yes, I do. I see the shore receding. I feel the breeze in my face.

COPERNICUS. Go inside the cabin, then.

RHETICUS. (crestfallen again) It won’t work. It’s too … It’s … If the Earth turned as fast as you claim, there would be a gale, like the wind from God, howling and blowing against us all the time.

COPERNICUS. No, there’s no wind.

RHETICUS. That’s what I’m saying.

COPERNICUS. There’s no wind because the air turns along with the Earth.

RHETICUS. The air? Turns?

COPERNICUS. It’s all of a piece, yes. They turn together, as one. The Earth and the air. And the water, of course.

RHETICUS. We could not be moving that fast and not feel anything. It’s impossible.

COPERNICUS. (grabbing RHETICUS by the shoulders to shake him) It’s turning!

All the time, it’s turning. And that turning is what makes the Sun appear to rise …

COPERNICUS turns RHETICUS by the shoulders, roughly, so he faces away (his back to COPERNICUS ).


COPERNICUS turns RHETICUS the rest of the way around, so they face each other again.

COPERNICUS. And rise again on the following day.

COPERNICUS holds RHETICUS there for a moment, their faces close, then pushes him away, drops his hands, steps back.

RHETICUS. What about the other motion?

COPERNICUS. You think I don’t know it sounds crazy? Do you have any idea how long it took me to accept it myself? To go against the judgments of centuries, to claim something so … so totally at odds with common experience?

RHETICUS. Tell me about the other motion, around the Sun.

COPERNICUS. It’s the same thing. You don’t feel it. It’s part of you, like breathing.

RHETICUS. No, I mean, is it … just as fast?





COPERNICUS. It’s faster.


They turn away from each other.

RHETICUS. (turning back to COPERNICUS) How fast does it go?

COPERNICUS. Around the Sun?

RHETICUS. Around the Sun, yes.

COPERNICUS. I don’t know.

RHETICUS. Oh, come on. Tell me.

COPERNICUS. (turning to RHETICUS) I really don’t know. No one knows the actual distance that the Earth would have to go to get all the way around, but it must be in the millions … It must be many millions of miles. Which means we go around the Sun at least … at least ten times faster than we spin.

RHETICUS. So, ten thousand miles per …

COPERNICUS. Maybe a hundred times faster.

RHETICUS. A hundred times a thousand miles?


RHETICUS. That’s where it all falls apart.



COPERNICUS. Why does it make more sense for the Sun to go around the Earth? The Sun should stand as a light for all creation, unmoved, at the center of the universe. The way a king or an emperor rules from his throne. He doesn’t hurry himself about, from city to city. Once you let the Sun take his rightful place at the hearth, the Earth and the other planets arrange themselves in perfect order around it. And they take their speed from his command. That is why Mercury, the nearest to him, travels around him the fastest. And after Mercury, each successive planet takes a slower course, all the way out to Saturn, the slowest of them all.

RHETICUS. Really? They line up like that? In order of their speed?

COPERNICUS. It’s as though they draw some kind of motive force from the Sun’s light.

RHETICUS. What could it be? What kind of force?

COPERNICUS. I don’t know. I am still in the dark on that matter. But it’s there. And that’s why all their motions are interrelated, as though linked together by a golden chain. You could not alter a single one, even so much as a fraction of an inch, without upsetting all the rest.

RHETICUS. The way you talk. It’s as though you know God’s plan.

COPERNICUS. Why else would you study mathematics? If not to discover that?


RHETICUS. And the stars?

COPERNICUS. The sphere of the stars, like the Sun, also holds still. It cannot spin around the Earth every day. It’s too big.

RHETICUS. I’m trying to see it your way. Really, I am. But if the Earth moves around the Sun … Shouldn’t we see some change in the stars?

Wouldn’t some of them look … I don’t know … closer together sometimes, or farther apart? There should be a change, from spring to fall, that people who paid attention would notice.

COPERNICUS. You would think that would happen.

RHETICUS. I don’t know what to think.

COPERNICUS. But no. You don’t see any seasonal difference. Because the stars are so much farther away than anyone has imagined. The scale of the universe is all but inconceivable. The distance to the stars is so tremendous that it dwarfs the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Compared to the distance from Saturn to the stars? The distance from the Earth to the Sun is … negligible.

RHETICUS. Negligible?

COPERNICUS. It shrinks to just a point, really.

RHETICUS. You’re making this up. It’s your own fantasy. The stars get in your way? You just wave them off to some other place.

COPERNICUS. Don’t impose any puny, human limits on Creation. As though the whole cosmos were just a crystal ball for your own little personal affairs.

RHETICUS. In the name of the Creator, then: What is the use of all that empty space between Saturn and the stars?



COPERNICUS. What is the use of grandeur? Of splendor? Of glory? Thus vast, I tell you, is the divine handiwork of the one Almighty God!

Brief blackout in which the planetarium effect returns, spins, then disappears. End of Act I.


Word of Copernicus’s astonishing theory, first released around 1510, challenged scholars to consider a world in motion. Almost a decade before Rheticus arrived in Frauenburg, this map became the first to suggest the Earth’s rotation around a central axis, powered by cherubs turning crank handles at the poles. Published in Basel in 1532, the map has been variously attributed to Sebastian Münster and Hans Holbein.

Act II
Scene ix. Tower room

Very little time has passed since the preceding scene. COPERNICUS
riffles through a tall stack of pages, looking for a certain section.

RHETICUS still wears COPERNICUS’s cassock, which is too big for him.

RHETICUS grabs at random pages and reads them with growing excitement.

RHETICUS. I can’t believe you did all this work yourself.

COPERNICUS. I want you to see the section on Mercury. I’ve always known there was something wrong with my value for the anomaly. Maybe now, with Schöner’s observations to add to …

RHETICUS. How long did it take you to make this many observations?

COPERNICUS. Here it is.

RHETICUS. There’s enough work here to fill a lifetime. Have you really had no help at all?

COPERNICUS. Look at the size of the second epicyclet. The first one is on the deferent.

RHETICUS. You used two?!

COPERNICUS. I had to introduce the second one. Without it, the diameter of the deferent …

RHETICUS. Oh, now I see what you … Oh, yes.

COPERNICUS. The other way, with just a single … Here. I assembled all the correction factors in these tables. It’s fairly obvious how to use them … But in the case of Mercury …

RHETICUS. I want a copy of these tables. I must have them.

COPERNICUS. Even with the tables, you still need to add in the …

RHETICUS. No one has a resource like this. What you’ve done here is … It’s nothing short of extraordinary. It’s more than the intellect or the labors of a single individual could accomplish. And yet you have accomplished it.

RHETICUS keeps examining the manuscript, exclaiming.

COPERNICUS stands back, watching him.

RHETICUS. Why haven’t you published this?

COPERNICUS. You know why.

RHETICUS. Not the theory. But just these sections. Mathematicians would give anything for …

COPERNICUS. I don’t want to divide the work that way. And pretend I don’t know what I know.

RHETICUS. All right, then. The whole thing. Publish it all. Why not?

COPERNICUS. Now you sound like the crazy one.

RHETICUS. No, this is … This should be published. It will cause a sensation.

COPERNICUS. I will be laughed off the stage.

RHETICUS. It’s all in the way you present it. Certainly you could not start off by insisting that the Earth moves.

COPERNICUS. But I would. I would have to say that.

RHETICUS. No, that will just raise everyone’s hackles. You can say it later. First you show them all these other … Where is that … ? The first thing you showed me. Here! Here’s a perfect example. This part, where you explain how you approached the equant problem. My God! People have been trying to solve that for …

COPERNICUS. No, really. It’s not for publication.

RHETICUS. You must publish it.

COPERNICUS. I think Pythagoras had the right idea, when he kept his secret numbers a secret. He never divulged them to anyone, except his kinsmen and friends. And even then, only by word of mouth. Never in writing.

RHETICUS. He was afraid somebody would steal his idea.


RHETICUS. You will have your name on the title page of your book.

COPERNICUS. That’s not what he was afraid of. Believe me, I know how he felt. He wanted to protect his most beautiful ideas from ridicule.


RHETICUS. You know those books I brought you?

COPERNICUS. You want them back?

RHETICUS. I met that printer, in Nuremberg.

COPERNICUS. I said you could have them.

RHETICUS. No, listen, please. He’s a friend of Schöner’s. He’s very good. The best printer of scientific works anywhere in Germany. In all of Europe, probably. If I showed him this manuscript …

COPERNICUS. I told you, I’ve decided not to publish.

RHETICUS. You can’t keep this to yourself. It isn’t right. Secrecy has no place in science anymore.

COPERNICUS. Easy for you to say. You would not face the scorn that I have to fear.

RHETICUS. The mathematicians will …

COPERNICUS. Not just mathematicians but Church men will oppose me.

RHETICUS. After you publish it, if someone disagrees with you …

COPERNICUS. If someone disagrees? If?!

RHETICUS. If someone disagrees with you, let him publish a counterargument. Then you come back to refute his counterargument. And you go on like that. Back and forth. That’s how learned men make good use of the God-given printing press.

COPERNICUS. It … it isn’t even finished.

RHETICUS. There’s enough material here to …

COPERNICUS. No. Several sections still need work.

RHETICUS. Show me.

ANNA enters.

ANNA. His clothes are dry.

RHETICUS. (to COPERNICUS) Let me help you.

ANNA. Everything’s ready. It’s time now.

COPERNICUS. Thank you, Anna. You can just leave those here.

ANNA. He should be going soon.

COPERNICUS. Leave the things, Anna. I’ll be down shortly.

ANNA. You know he doesn’t belong here.


ANNA. He could ruin everything!

COPERNICUS. Anna, don’t …

ANNA. Why are you doing this?! What is the matter with you?!

ANNA, crying, runs out of the room.

COPERNICUS. (following her out) Anna, wait!

RHETICUS picks up his clothes, dresses, though still unable to tear himself away from the manuscript. He continues to devour it, turning toward the door a couple of times with an uneasy sense of being watched.

After another few moments, he sidles to the door, opens it.

FRANZ, who had been kneeling at the keyhole, falls into the room.


FRANZ. (getting up) The bishop was concerned …

RHETICUS. The bishop?

FRANZ. About … your health.

RHETICUS. Am I under arrest?

FRANZ. Oh, no. Not yet. I mean … I don’t think so, no. But I’m supposed to watch you.

RHETICUS. Were you watching me just now?


RHETICUS. You must have seen me …

FRANZ. No, I didn’t see anything …

RHETICUS. You must not have been looking very carefully.

FRANZ. Are you … feeling better?

RHETICUS. That depends. Who wants to know?

FRANZ. I do.

RHETICUS. Fine, thank you. Very much improved. You may call me Joachim.

FRANZ stares at him, too flustered to speak.

RHETICUS. And you are?

FRANZ. What are all these things? What does he do up here?

RHETICUS. He makes the Earth move.


RHETICUS. Come here. I’ll show you. Don’t be afraid.

RHETICUS takes FRANZ by the shoulders, repeating the earlier action of
COPERNICUS, but gently.

RHETICUS. He says the Earth turns, you see. It sounds silly, the first time you hear it, I know, but it gives you a way to explain why you see the Sun come up every day, then slowly move …

RHETICUS turns FRANZ, step by step.

RHETICUS. Across the sky, until it sets in the west.

RHETICUS stops Franz with his back to him, moves closer to him.

RHETICUS. Then it’s nighttime. But the Earth doesn’t stop there. It keeps on turning, through the night.

RHETICUS continues turning FRANZ slowly, to face him.

RHETICUS. Until dawn ends the darkness, and it’s day again.

RHETICUS leans closer, takes FRANZ’s face in his hands.

Lights fade to black.


COPERNICUS conducts a routine, hands-on medical exam of the BISHOP as they speak.

BISHOP. Has he come round, then?

COPERNICUS. He has, yes.

BISHOP. What have you learned about him?

COPERNICUS. It’s rather something he taught me, about myself, Your Reverence.

BISHOP. Oh, yes? But who is he?

COPERNICUS. He has awakened in me a wish to resume my own work in mathematics.

BISHOP. Is that so?

COPERNICUS. The explication of my theory.

BISHOP. I don’t know, Nicholas. Do you really have time for that? With all your other duties?

COPERNICUS. I feel I must make time for it, now.

BISHOP. But how? When? You’re not a young man, you know.

COPERNICUS. Precisely.


BISHOP. You still haven’t told me anything about him.

COPERNICUS. I’m thinking I should publish it.

BISHOP. Publish? Your theory?

COPERNICUS. He has convinced me that other mathematicians will welcome the idea.

BISHOP. Your idea, Nicholas … Well. I’m sure it’s very mathematical. Indeed. But, at the same time, it oversteps the bounds of mathematics. As I see it. I will go so far as to say it shakes the very foundation of Church doctrine.

COPERNICUS. Oh, no, Your Reverence.

BISHOP. What about Joshua?


BISHOP. Answer me.

COPERNICUS. Begging Your Reverence’s pardon. It’s just that I … I have had Joshua raised against me so many times that I begin to feel myself like one of his enemies among the Amorites.

BISHOP. Well, what about him?


BISHOP. How do you respond, Nicholas? How do you defend yourself against the charge that your ideas conflict with what the Bible says of Joshua?

COPERNICUS. I don’t answer. I think it’s better to say nothing.

BISHOP. You refuse to answer me?

COPERNICUS. Oh, not you, Your Reverence. I don’t want to answer the charge. I would rather avoid any mention of Joshua, and limit my comments to mathematics alone.

BISHOP. That’s no answer.

COPERNICUS. I’m afraid, Your Reverence. Afraid there may be … babblers, who claim to be judges of astronomy, although completely ignorant of the subject. And such men are not above twisting some passage of Scripture to their purpose, to censure me.

BISHOP. I am not trying to censure …

COPERNICUS. Oh, I know Your Reverence is not one of those.

BISHOP. I have overlooked all sorts of infractions lately, as I need not remind you!

COPERNICUS. Thank you, Your Reverence.

BISHOP. But you will most certainly have to deal with Joshua. And countless other passages of Holy Writ. The Psalms also teach us that the Earth does not move.

COPERNICUS. As I read those passages, I hear the godly Psalmist declare that he is made glad through the work of the Lord. That he rejoices in the works of His hands. Only that.

BISHOP. Are we reading the same Bible, Nicholas? Psalm 104 says the Lord God laid the foundation of the Earth, that it not be moved forever. Not be moved. Forever.

COPERNICUS. It’s a matter of interpretation.

BISHOP. What’s to interpret? It’s stated there in plain language. It couldn’t be more clear. Not to be moved forever. It doesn’t say it should spin like a top.

COPERNICUS. To me, it says that God, the source of all goodness, created an abiding home for mankind on this Earth. And that foundation will hold firm forever.

BISHOP. That still doesn’t answer Joshua.

COPERNICUS. As strange as it may sound, Your Reverence, to someone who is not a mathematician, my theory offers certain advantages for the improvement of the calendar.

BISHOP. The ecclesiastical calendar?

COPERNICUS. Easter, for example. To calculate the correct date of Easter each year.

BISHOP. You could make a contribution of that significance?

COPERNICUS. I don’t mean to boast.

BISHOP. Why didn’t you say so before? Why have you never even mentioned the calendar until now?

COPERNICUS. I lacked the confidence to expose my theory … to the scrutiny of others.

BISHOP. I had no idea there was so much to it.


BISHOP. All these years, I thought you were just …

COPERNICUS. Do I have Your Reverence’s blessing to continue the work?

BISHOP. I suppose so. If what you say is true, then I suppose you should take it up again.

COPERNICUS. Thank you, Your Reverence.

BISHOP. I had no idea. How does that work, then? How does what you do relate to the date of Easter?

COPERNICUS. It concerns correcting the exact duration of the tropical year, from equinoctial and solstitial observations of …

BISHOP. Never mind that now.

COPERNICUS. I’m sure I could explain …

BISHOP. Yes, yes. So now I suppose you’ll need to find a press. A printer.

COPERNICUS. I hear there is an excellent one in Germany.

BISHOP. Tosh! Have we no printers here in Poland?

COPERNICUS. Mmm. None, I think, that could take on a work of this nature.

BISHOP. Such a book could bring very positive attention to Varmia. Not just Varmia. To Poland. To … It should definitely be printed here.

COPERNICUS. It’s such a lengthy work …

BISHOP. Who do you know in Germany?

COPERNICUS. For this kind of text, with the large number of diagrams required …

BISHOP. Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself? Don’t you think you should write this book before you worry about where to have it printed?

COPERNICUS. Yes, Your Reverence. There is much to be done.

BISHOP. So it’s a big book, is it?

COPERNICUS. I’ve already written several hundred pages, over the years.

BISHOP. As much as that?! My, my. And still not come to the end?

COPERNICUS. It’s … complex.

BISHOP. You know what I’m thinking, Nicholas? I’m thinking you’ll want to leaven your mathematical jargon with a little poetry. What do you think?

COPERNICUS. I hadn’t given it any thought.

BISHOP. Your book will need that literary touch. When the time comes, I shall compose verses for you to include, as an introduction. An invocation.

COPERNICUS. Your Reverence is too kind.

BISHOP. A scholarly book like this will surely attract the duke’s attention. He’ll see what talents we have here in … Why, the king himself might recognize the diocese for such a … How long do you think it will take you?

COPERNICUS. That is difficult to say. I’ll need help to complete the project.

BISHOP. You may have my secretary. I’ll put him at your disposal.

COPERNICUS. That’s not the kind of help that I …

BISHOP. Ah! You mean the mathematics part.

COPERNICUS. Yes, Your Reverence.

BISHOP. There’s no one fit to assist you with that.

COPERNICUS. I suspect, Your Reverence, that the unfortunate invalid who recently fell ill at my door might be …

BISHOP. Aha! Back to him again.

COPERNICUS. If he were amenable. And if Your Reverence will allow, I might ask him to stay on a while, as a collaborator.

BISHOP. Since when have you sought my approval on your house guests, Nicholas?

COPERNICUS. This is a special case.

BISHOP. And the harlot? I suppose she, too, is crucial to your new endeavor?

COPERNICUS. He is Professor of Mathematics at Wittenberg.

The BISHOP gasps.

COPERNICUS. I did not invite him here. As God is my witness, I had no idea he was coming. He materialized on my doorstep like a … like …

BISHOP. How you insult me! Abuse me!

COPERNICUS. It was all such a coincidence that it seemed it could not be merely coincidence … As though there were something … providential in his arrival.

BISHOP. Silence! You think Heaven has sent you a Lutheran to help you tell the world your crazy idea?


BISHOP. Damn it all, Nicholas! Do you expect me to break my own law to accommodate you?

COPERNICUS. No one need know who he is. I promise to keep him out of sight. His presence will offend not a soul. I swear it.

BISHOP. You can’t have them both. Your choice, Nicholas. The harlot. Or the heretic. One or the other.



The stars of the planetarium effect appear, start to spin, speeding up quickly.

FRANZ. Wheeeeeeeee!

RHETICUS. Is that fun?

FRANZ. Spin faster! Ooooooooooooh!

The lights slow to a stop.

FRANZ. A wwww.

RHETICUS. All right. One more time. Here we go.

Lights speed up, slow down, stop.

Stage lights return as RHETICUS opens the hatch and FRANZ pokes his head out of the Machine.

FRANZ. I still don’t understand it. But I love it. I love how it looks when it …

RHETICUS. Come on out now.

FRANZ. Can’t I go again?

RHETICUS. No, no. I have to get back to work.

RHETICUS pulls him out, kisses him.

RHETICUS. (patting FRANZ’s bottom) Run along now. But come back later.

FRANZ. I don’t have to run along.

RHETICUS. I mean it. I promised him I’d get through the superior planets before he …

FRANZ. And I promised His Reverence the bishop to observe you closely. I’m to report everything you do. Every little thing. So you see, I am at my post, doing my duty. I don’t have to run along anywhere.

They kiss again, embrace, make their way to the cot.



Anna stands stunned, pained.

COPERNICUS. It’s only for a little while.

ANNA. Only … ?

COPERNICUS. Just until he calms down. About the attempt on his life. You understand.

ANNA. But there was no attempt on his life. You said so yourself, he merely ate something rotten.

COPERNICUS. You know how irascible he is.

ANNA. How long will we be apart?

COPERNICUS. I don’t know. But, I think, the sooner we acquiesce, the faster the whole business will settle. And then we can be together.

ANNA. Promise?

COPERNICUS. You’ll see.

ANNA. But where am I supposed to go?

COPERNICUS. Bishop Giese has offered his …

ANNA. You have a place for me? Already?

COPERNICUS. It’s just that he offered. To help us.

ANNA. So. It’s all arranged. Everything settled.

COPERNICUS. I wouldn’t add that to your burden. Of course I looked into lodgings for you. Temporary lodgings.

ANNA. I don’t need new lodgings. This is where I live.


ANNA. I have a right to be here.

COPERNICUS. I know that.

ANNA. What about him? He’s the one who should be run out of town.

COPERNICUS. That’s different. He’s ill.

ANNA. Maybe I should get sick.


ANNA. Why shouldn’t I get sick? Then you’d have to take care of me, too.


ANNA. Why not? Why couldn’t he have infected me? I bathed him, touched his clothing. And now, you see, now I, too, am too weak to travel.


ANNA. Why not, Mikoj? You could have your own little hospital up there. With two patients instead of one. And that way, we could … That way, I wouldn’t have to be away from you a single night!

COPERNICUS. The bishop would see through that.

ANNA. That dog of a false priest. I see how he looks at me. That’s why he’s forcing you to send me away. That’s the real reason, the old lecher.

COPERNICUS. Has he touched you?

ANNA. I can read what’s on his mind, plain enough. But if I lie low, stay out of sight …

COPERNICUS. Let’s not make this any more difficult than it is.

ANNA. Soon you’ll have to send your professor away, you know. How long do you think you can pretend that he’s just lying up there, unconscious? The bishop will find out. He has his spies, you know. Someone’s bound to see that you’re not tending to his fever when you go up there. What is it, Mikoj? Why are you looking at me like that? Surely you don’t think I would give you away? Oh, Mikoj, I’ll never tell a soul. You know I would never say or do anything that could hurt you.

COPERNICUS. I know that. I just wish it didn’t have to be this way.

They embrace, cling to each other.

ANNA. Come with me.


ANNA. Come away with me. Let’s both go. Why should you grovel to him any longer?

COPERNICUS. You think I could simply walk away from here?

ANNA. Run away. Come and be with me where no one will care that we’re together. Leave all these nasty, nosy old men.

COPERNICUS. Leave the Church?

ANNA. We’ll make a new life. Our own life. Anywhere but here. Think of it, Mikoj. You could have a real hospital. I could be a midwife. We’ll get by. You’ll see.

COPERNICUS. I’m too old to change, Anna.

ANNA. Not so old.

COPERNICUS. We both knew, all along, that the two of us … that we could never have a life together.

ANNA. You won’t go with me?


ANNA. You can’t.

COPERNICUS. I’m sorry.

ANNA. You can’t. You! You turned the whole universe inside out and upside down. You told every planet which way to go. Are you still that man, Mikoj?



Several weeks later. The room looks more “lived in.” The manuscript has grown to several stacks of pages, more or less neatly arranged.

RHETICUS. I still say you make the case too quickly. You’ve got to work up to it. Broach the idea slowly.

COPERNICUS. I don’t want to pretend the book is something it’s not.

RHETICUS. You can’t just push the Sun to the center of the universe on page one.

COPERNICUS. That’s the whole point.

RHETICUS. Yes, but you’ve still got to build up to it, the way I tried to show you. You can’t just pluck the lantern of the universe, for God’s sake, from its place in the eternal, perfect heavens, and shove it into the Hell hole at the bottom of the world.

COPERNICUS. Later on, I explain why …

RHETICUS. Move the whole thing later. They’ll all turn against you if you don’t. They’ll be clinging for dear life to the old, immobile Earth. They’ll insist that the Earth belongs at the center because … because of its Earthiness. Because of all the change, and death, and decay. If you want to put the Sun there, in the midst of all that, you had better do it slowly.


COPERNICUS. You mean I haven’t proven it. Mathematically.

RHETICUS. I didn’t say that.

COPERNICUS. But that’s what you mean. If the proofs were stronger, you wouldn’t be trying so hard to make it sound palatable.

RHETICUS. I want them to hear you out, to see what you’ve done. I’m begging you: Invite them into this new world. Don’t foist it on them.

COPERNICUS. Maybe it isn’t ready after all. Maybe this was all a big mistake.

RHETICUS. No, no. Don’t say that.

COPERNICUS. I don’t know what made me think I could …

RHETICUS. (going to him, taking his shoulders to encourage him) You mustn’t lose heart. You’ve got to leave a few stones unturned. Something for others who come after you to do. You’ve given us so much to build on. Your work is … It’s like that cathedral out there. Do you think anyone who laid the stones for the foundation was still around when the cross went up on top? Trust me, Father. A hundred years from now, astronomers will still be reading your book.

COPERNICUS. And you, Joachim?

RHETICUS. I will have read it a hundred times.

COPERNICUS. What will you do after we finish here?

RHETICUS. After? I will take your book to Nuremberg. I’ll watch over the printer, to keep him on his toes. I’ll proofread every page, I’ll …

COPERNICUS. After that.

RHETICUS. I don’t have to worry about anything after that.

COPERNICUS. You’ll go back to Wittenberg? To your teaching?

RHETICUS. No, Father. By that time … By then I’ll be …


RHETICUS. There is no “after” for me, after that. Don’t you remember? By this time next year, when Jupiter and Saturn enter their Great Conjunction, my time will be …

COPERNICUS. You can’t still believe that.

RHETICUS. Nothing in your theory gives me a way out.

COPERNICUS. You can’t just resign from life. Acquiesce to some benighted …

RHETICUS. I have accomplished my mission. That’s something. Not many old men can say as much. I found you. I pulled your work out of the rubbish heap. And once I see it published, I’m done. It will no longer matter what happens to me.

COPERNICUS. You don’t know what will happen.


COPERNICUS. You could live a hundred years. You have no idea what the future holds for you.

RHETICUS. You’ve done everything you could do for me. The time with you has been …

COPERNICUS. Wait and see what happens to your career when Schöner and the rest of them read my acknowledgments to you.


COPERNICUS. Of course to you.

RHETICUS. Oh, no. You mustn’t disclose my role in this.

COPERNICUS. You think I wouldn’t thank you, publicly, for all you did to …

RHETICUS. My name must not appear in your book. It would taint the whole thing.

COPERNICUS. I don’t care. I owe you …

RHETICUS. No. You have others you can thank, without inflaming the leaders of your Church.

COPERNICUS. Even the bishop knows how much you have …

RHETICUS. It’s not the bishop I’m worried about.


RHETICUS. I have a new plan, for a dedication that you will write. To the real power.

COPERNICUS. You mean Duke Albert?



RHETICUS. No, no one from the government. The dedication must acknowledge higher powers. Someone in the Church.

COPERNICUS. Not the bishop?

RHETICUS. No! It’s bad enough we’re stuck with his doggerel verses.

COPERNICUS. Tiedemann?

RHETICUS. Not nearly powerful enough.

COPERNICUS. Who then, the pope?


COPERNICUS. I was joking, Joachim.

RHETICUS. I am perfectly serious.


RHETICUS. He’s really the only one.

COPERNICUS. His Holiness?

RHETICUS. Paul Pontifex Maximus himself. To protect you. From those backbiters who will bend chapter and verse to evil purposes, and try to condemn your theory. Even though, we both know, there is nothing irreverent in your book, nevertheless there is the danger that someone will …

COPERNICUS. But … His Holiness.

RHETICUS. The mere mention of his name will lend the book the air of papal authority. It might even give people the impression that he had commissioned you to write it.

COPERNICUS. He would never do that.

RHETICUS. Still, it might appear that he had.

COPERNICUS. What could he possibly have to say about astronomy?

RHETICUS. He doesn’t have to say anything. You simply dedicate the book to him.

COPERNICUS. I couldn’t even do that without his express permission.

RHETICUS. Then we must get his permission.

COPERNICUS. He has the troubles of the world on his shoulders. He’s gone and excommunicated the King of England.

RHETICUS. Your bishop must have representatives in Rome. Ambassadors to the Vatican? Someone who can get to him?

COPERNICUS. Even if we could get to him … He is consumed with a final solution to the Lutheran problem! I’m sorry, Joachim. Forgive me for …

RHETICUS. I have no love for him either. To me, he’s the Antichrist. But for your book … Trust me, Father. If you dedicate your studies to him, then you prove to everyone that you do not run away from judgment, even by the highest authority.

COPERNICUS considers this, smiles, then laughs. It’s the first good laugh he’s had in a long time, and he enjoys it.

RHETICUS, not sure of the joke, nevertheless joins in the laughter.

COPERNICUS hugs him, thumps his back, finally recovers enough breath to speak.

COPERNICUS. I’m just picturing the bishop’s face when I ask him to …

They both dissolve again. COPERNICUS gives RHETICUS a fatherly hug and goes to the door. They share one more laugh, nodding at each other, serious again.



BISHOP. That’s all he does?

FRANZ. Yes, Your Reverence.

BISHOP. Just … writes?

FRANZ. Sometimes he walks around, thinking. Often the doctor is there, too, and they talk. But most of the time he writes.

BISHOP. No one else comes to the room?

FRANZ. No, Your Reverence.

BISHOP. No messages from … anywhere?

FRANZ. Not that I have observed, Your Reverence.

BISHOP. And no sign of the … the, uh, the house keeper.

FRANZ looks down, shakes his head no.

BISHOP. Very well. You needn’t watch him quite so closely any longer.


BISHOP. It’s time you got back to some of the tasks you’ve neglected. All right, then. You may tell the doctor I will see him now.

FRANZ exits.


BISHOP. Come in, Nicholas. How are you getting along, you and Professor … Professor Hereticus?

COPERNICUS. Rheticus, Your Reverence. His name is Rheticus. And he is most grateful to Your Reverence for tolerating his presence all this time.

BISHOP. Don’t tell me you need another extension on the time?

COPERNICUS. No. I’m here to report that our work is very nearly finished. Just a few more sections, and then …

BISHOP. Excellent!

COPERNICUS. Yes. Well. There is one more thing that we think might require Your Reverence’s assistance to …

BISHOP. You see? It’s what I told you all along. Now you have proved it to yourself. How getting rid of that hussy has freed your mind for the serious work God intended you to do.



FRANZ and RHETICUS lie together on the cot in an embrace.

FRANZ. (getting up, starting to dress) I have to get back.

RHETICUS. What about your duty here? To me?

FRANZ. He’s finding a million other things for me to do now. Every day it’s something new.

RHETICUS. (getting up, going to him) What about the nights?

They kiss.

RHETICUS. Come back later. Promise?

They kiss again.

COPERNICUS enters, sees them, and reels.

They see him as well. FRANZ jumps, starts to bolt, but RHETICUS holds him.

FRANZ breaks free, runs out.

RHETICUS. You’ve known all along. Haven’t you?

COPERNICUS. I wasn’t sure.

RHETICUS. But you suspected?

COPERNICUS. I prayed that my suspicions were unfounded.

RHETICUS. Now you know the truth.


RHETICUS. And you despise me.

COPERNICUS. No, Joachim. Neither do I judge you.

RHETICUS. You needn’t pretend to understand.

COPERNICUS. But I can no longer protect you.

RHETICUS. From myself?

COPERNICUS. Do you know what will happen to you, if you are discovered?


COPERNICUS. You couldn’t know, or you wouldn’t …


COPERNICUS. The law condemns anyone who commits …

RHETICUS. Don’t quote me the law.

COPERNICUS. It says you forfeit your life.

RHETICUS. It doesn’t matter.

COPERNICUS. You will be burned alive!

RHETICUS. Burn alive and die! Die and burn in Hell forever! I am doomed either way.

COPERNICUS. If you’re discovered … If word of this should reach the boy’s father …

RHETICUS. He won’t dare tell his father. He won’t tell anyone.

COPERNICUS. The risk is too great, Joachim.

RHETICUS. He won’t tell.

COPERNICUS. You’ve got to get out of here. Go now, before anything else happens.


COPERNICUS. Go! Yes! Now. I insist that you go.

RHETICUS. I can’t abandon you now.

COPERNICUS. I won’t have you risk your life for the sake of …

RHETICUS. I don’t care what happens to me.

COPERNICUS. Then think of the boy. Don’t ruin his chances …

RHETICUS. We’re so close to the end. Another few days is all we …



COPERNICUS. It’s impossible. Not another word now. Off with you, or I’ll die of fright.

RHETICUS. Let me finish what we …

COPERNICUS. I’m afraid for you, Joachim.

RHETICUS. All right, I’ll go.

COPERNICUS puts his hand to his heart, sits down.

RHETICUS begins gathering the piles of manuscript pages.

COPERNICUS. What are you doing?

RHETICUS. I’ll take it to Nuremberg. Do what I promised.

COPERNICUS. No. You can’t …

RHETICUS. To the printer.


RHETICUS. I will keep that promise, no matter what.

RHETICUS continues packing the manuscript.

COPERNICUS tries to stop him, grabs the pages from him.


RHETICUS. (refusing to let them go) What’s the matter with you?

COPERNICUS. It’s not ready.




COPERNICUS. I’m not ready.

RHETICUS. I’ll take this much with me now, and later you can send …

COPERNICUS. You cannot take my manuscript!

RHETICUS. Have you completely lost faith in me?


RHETICUS. I will guard it with my life.


RHETICUS. You know I will.


RHETICUS. I swear it.

COPERNICUS. I never meant for you to take it away.

RHETICUS. We’ve been working toward this moment ever since we …

COPERNICUS. I need to keep it here. With me.

RHETICUS. I promised you a published book.

COPERNICUS. Keep it by me.

RHETICUS. I’ve got to take it with me to …

COPERNICUS. Not this. No.

RHETICUS. But how can I … ?

COPERNICUS. A copy. I meant for you to take a copy with you. Not my manuscript.

RHETICUS. I’ve copied only the first few chapters. Not enough to …

COPERNICUS. I can’t let it go.

RHETICUS. There isn’t time now to copy …

COPERNICUS. (breaking down) I can’t.

RHETICUS. You’ve got to let me …

COPERNICUS. I can’t. It’s been with me my whole life. It is my life. I cannot part with it.

COPERNICUS clutches the manuscript to his chest.

RHETICUS. All right. I’ll just take the parts I copied.


RHETICUS. It’s all right. But what about the rest? How will you … ?

COPERNICUS. I’ll copy it for you. I’ll …

RHETICUS. You can’t do that by yourself.

COPERNICUS. I’ll get someone to help me. You’ll see.

RHETICUS. I’ll be waiting for it. In Nuremberg.

COPERNICUS. I know you will.

RHETICUS. I won’t fail you.


RHETICUS. Everyone will be waiting for it.

COPERNICUS. Yes. Now go.

RHETICUS closes the satchel, looks around the room.


COPERNICUS embraces RHETICUS in a long good-bye hold.

COPERNICUS. Good-bye, Joachim.

RHETICUS. Good-bye, my teacher.

RHETICUS goes to the door, turns for a last look.

COPERNICUS. May God forgive you, and bless you.

RHETICUS. God be with you, my teacher. My father.


COPERNICUS. And with you. May God be w-w-w-

COPERNICUS shakes his head to clear it, tries to speak. His right arm falls to his side, but he still clutches the manuscript to his chest with the left as he sinks into a chair.



COPERNICUS lies in bed, comatose. Giese kneels beside him, praying. A loud knocking comes from the front door, but Giese tries to ignore it.

ANNA. (offstage) For pity’s sake! Let me in. Oh, why won’t you open the door? Let me in, I say. Have you no heart?

GIESE relents, goes to the door.

ANNA. (offstage) Let me in. Let me in!

GIESE opens the door.

ANNA. (entering) Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t anyone say anything? Oh, where is he?

ANNA rushes past GIESE to the bedside.

GIESE stays close behind her.

ANNA. Oh, Mikoj! It’s me, my dearest. I’m here with you now. It’s all right. They didn’t want me to know, but I found out. And now I’ll stay with you. I’ll be here every minute. Don’t worry. I’m here.

GIESE. He doesn’t hear you.

ANNA. Shh. Look! He’s trying to speak.

GIESE. He hasn’t said a word in weeks now. Nothing.

ANNA. But his eyes are open. His lips are moving. Look.

GIESE. The duke sent his personal physician. He said that’s just a … a reflex.

ANNA. You don’t know that. He may hear everything we’re saying. (to COPERNICUS) Can you hear me, Mikoj? You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. If it’s too hard for you, you just rest. I know. It’s all right. I’m not leaving you now.

GIESE. There’s nothing to be done.

ANNA. You should have told me.

GIESE puts a hand on her head, as though to bless her, but she stands up to face him.

ANNA. (whispering) He wouldn’t want this.

GIESE. He is not afraid to die.

ANNA. There are certain powders I know about. They could … end his suffering.

GIESE. God will take him when it’s time.

ANNA. I’m just saying, it would be possible to ease his … Even to hasten his entry into the next life.

GIESE. You mustn’t say such things, my child. You must not even think them.

ANNA kneels by the bed again, takes COPERNICUS’s hand.

GIESE prays.

FRANZ. (running in) Bishop Giese! It’s here, Bishop Giese! It’s here! Look!

GIESE. Hush. What’s … ?

FRANZ. Miss Anna!

GIESE. What have you got there?

FRANZ. It’s from Nuremberg. See? This must be it.

GIESE. Let me look.

ANNA. Something for him?

GIESE. Let’s just see what we have here.

FRANZ. Is it … ?

GIESE. Look at that!

ANNA. What is it?

FRANZ. I knew it!

ANNA. Is that his book?

FRANZ. All those hundreds of pages I copied for him. For both of them.

GIESE. I never thought I’d see the day.

FRANZ. Is there a note? Any word from … ?

ANNA. That can’t be it. Just a pile of paper?

GIESE. “On the Revolutions of the …”

ANNA. That’s really it?

GIESE. “Heavenly Spheres.“ By …

FRANZ. There’s nothing else in the package?

GIESE. Nicolaus Copernicus.

ANNA. It’s not at all what I imagined. That professor played a mean trick on him.


ANNA. How shabby it looks. That will never impress anyone.

GIESE. Oh, but it will. It will. This is just the way books come from the printer. Just the pages, like this. But I shall have it bound for him. Something very grand, in red leather, with his name stamped in gold letters. Wait till you see it then.

ANNA. Let’s show it to him.

GIESE. All the times I urged him to do this … And how he fought against me. (with a fond look at COPERNICUS) The stubborn old mule.

ANNA. We should let him see his book.

FRANZ takes a few sections and gives them to ANNA .

ANNA turns her full attention to COPERNICUS , showing him the book, ignoring the other two.

GIESE keeps looking at the rest. FRANZ peers over his shoulder.

GIESE. I remember when he watched this eclipse. I went along with him to see it.

ANNA. It’s here, Mikoj.

FRANZ. Where was that, Your Reverence?

ANNA. It’s finally here.

GIESE. Right out there, in the meadow. The Moon was full. So bright. You could have read this book out there in the moonlight. It was that bright.

ANNA. (propping him up) I want you to have a good long look at this.

GIESE. I must have fallen asleep while waiting for it to start, because I remember how he woke me when it was time. He wouldn’t leave the instruments, even for a moment, so he made a … a howling sound. Like a wolf! Awoooooow!

ANNA. It’s your book, Mikoj. Your very own book, that you wrote.

GIESE. I jumped up. But then everything happened so slowly, very gradual. It took an hour, I think, or maybe more, for the shadow to completely cover the Moon.

ANNA. All your work, all those years, and here it is, at last.

GIESE. And you know what happened then? The Moon turned red.

FRANZ. Really?

ANNA. (putting pages in his hands) Hold it. Feel it. Isn’t it wonderful?

GIESE. One of the most beautiful sights I ever saw.

ANNA. Mikoj?

COPERNICUS slumps over, letting the pages fall to the floor.

Blackout. Choir sings “Salve Mater Misericordiae.”


The bowed heads of mourners, with the BISHOP presiding, suggest a graveside.

BISHOP. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

ALL. Amen.

BISHOP. Blessed are you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, for revealing the mysteries of Thy Kingdom.

ALL. Amen.

BISHOP. I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

ALL. Amen.

ANNA. (pushing her way toward the BISHOP) This, too!

BISHOP. Who is this woman?

ANNA. It’s only right.

FRANZ. (coming to her aid) What are you doing, Miss Anna?

ANNA. He would want this. I know he would.

ANNA starts to throw her package into the grave.

BISHOP. Stop her.

FRANZ. (taking the package) Let me help you, Miss Anna.

ANNA lets herself cry in FRANZ’s arms.

GIESE. (receiving the package from FRANZ) It’s his manuscript.

BISHOP. Get her out of here.

FRANZ. Come with me, Miss Anna.

FRANZ walks ANNA downstage.

The BISHOP and GIESE remain behind, in darkness.

RHETICUS steps in front of ANNA and FRANZ.

FRANZ. I knew you’d come back.

ANNA. You!

RHETICUS (to FRANZ) Were you with him at the end?

ANNA. He doesn’t need you anymore.

GIESE. (joining them) What seems to be the trouble here?

FRANZ. I said he’d come, didn’t I? I knew he would.

ANNA. (to GIESE) Don’t let him have that. He doesn’t deserve it.

GIESE. (to FRANZ) Take her someplace where she can sit and rest.

FRANZ obeys.

ANNA. (exiting, crying) Let that go to the grave with him. He would want to have it with him.

GIESE. You recognize this, of course.

RHETICUS. Did he see it? The finished book?

GIESE. Oh, yes. It arrived just in time.

RHETICUS. The moment I left it with the courier, I thought, “Why did I do that? Why don’t I go and give it to him myself?” But it had already gone. I started out the next morning, hoping to … And now …

GIESE. He was so pleased to see it. To hold it in his hands. Yes. And then he …

RHETICUS. But he did see it? He knew that I …

GIESE. He knew. Yes, my son. We are all so grateful to you, for what you’ve done. When I will read his book, it will bring him back to life for me.

GIESE bows his head, grieving. RHETICUS also bows, puts a hand on GIESE’s shoulder.

GIESE. (handing him the manuscript) Here. You should have this. As much as I would like to keep it for my own … for my comfort …

RHETICUS. He wouldn’t let me take it.

GIESE. Now it belongs to you.

RHETICUS. You keep it. You’re his …

GIESE. No. You have been the chief instigator in this affair. It’s yours.

RHETICUS takes the manuscript.

GIESE. He’ll never know what anyone thought about it … What people will say when they …

RHETICUS. No. They can say what they will, and he’ll never know.

GIESE. What are they saying?

RHETICUS. I’m almost glad that he can’t …

GIESE. What’s the reaction? Do you know?

RHETICUS. It’s … not as bad as he thought. Not what he feared.

GIESE. But not … good?

RHETICUS. No one is ready for what he had to say. The mathematicians I know, they’re happy. They just take what they need from the book, and ignore the rest.

GIESE. Ignore it?

RHETICUS. They skip over that part.

GIESE. I didn’t think anyone could ignore an idea like that.


GIESE. But you believed him?

RHETICUS. He had no real proof.

GIESE. God rest his soul.


GIESE. Everything is so still.




RHETICUS. You know. Is it still? Or is it … ?

GIESE. What do you think?

RHETICUS. Sometimes, when I remember how he … When I hear his voice inside my head, I swear, I can almost feel it turning.

Blackout. The end.