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From 'Silence' To Science

MIT-Rooted Play to Premiere Next Month in London

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MIT-Rooted Play to Premiere Next Month in London
Was it coincidence? An era dubbed "the time of silence" -- the years between 1642 and 1660 in England when Puritan rulers shuttered theaters -- was also a period of intense interest in experimental science.
Three years ago, MIT students began to take an in-depth look at this period during a drama, science and performance seminar taught by professors Janet Sonenberg and Diana Henderson. Research and other material developed by students have served as the basis for an unusual play, premiering Nov. 12 in London that examines themes of science, philosophy, creativity and family relations.
The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes," written by Adriano Shaplin and directed by Elizabeth Freestone, will run through Dec. 6 at Wilton's Music Hall in what Sonenberg characterizes as a "wild and daring enterprise" that overturns preconceived notion of what a "science play" is all about.
"We're trying to give the audience a layered story that moves them on many different levels, some of which includes a bold ride through history and through science, but more importantly, through this deep human reality that scientists are not exempt from," said Sonenberg, the play's dramaturg.
The play has characters representing Hobbes (1588-1679), a philosopher and scientist; Robert Hooke (1635-1703), a scientist who coined the term "cell"; Robert Boyle (1627-1691), a philosopher, chemist, physicist and inventor; political leader Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658); and King Charles II, and as well other historical and fictitious figures. The plot gives a sense of the era's political unrest and scientific excitement.
"This is a moment when the world is turned completely upside down," said Sonenberg, professor of theater arts and section head of music and theater arts.
"Whose version of the truth is right? Whose version of science is right? And who gets to author it?" These, Sonenberg said, are some of the questions raised by Shaplin's drama. The work draws a "connection between the closing of the theater and the rise of experimental science, which is where science was being performed for a group of likeminded gentlemen," Sonenberg said.
Sonenberg and Henderson, who continue to teach "Learning from the Past: Drama, Science, Performance," hope to see a version of "The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes" brought to MIT after its London run.
Source: MIT