By Joy Fisher
CHARACTER LIST AND DESCRIPTION
JOHANNES KEPLER—22, slightly built and swarthy
CHRISTOPH BESOLD—17, Kepler’s friend, a law student
REBSTOCK—20, a student
MICHAEL MAESTLIN—44, Kepler’s mentor for mathematics and astronomy
JAKOB HEERBRAND—73, Chancellor of the University of Tubingen
MATTHIAS HAFENREFFER—33, Kepler’s scripture professor
NARRATOR: The play takes place at the University of Tubingen near Stuttgart. At the beginning of the play, the year is 1593; at the end, 1594. Kepler and his friend Besold enter.
KEPLER: Why must he be so vicious? One of our own Lutheran ministers attacking the Calvinists like that—
BESOLD: Calm down, Johannes.
KEPLER: I swear to you, Besold, when I’m ordained, I’m going to teach tolerance of religious differences.
BESOLD: In the meantime, put away discord; tell me something about the harmony of the world.
NARRATOR: Kepler pulls a book from the pocket of his robe.
KEPLER: Look at this!
BESOLD: Copernicus! Where did you get this?
KEPLER: Maestlin—his private copy. I tell you, Cristoph, this—this explains God’s creation. The sun at the center with the Earth and the other planets revolving around it.
BESOLD: If Martin Luther is looking down from heaven, my friend, he is surely scowling!
KEPLER: His friend Melanchthon said if we understood the order of the world we would understand the mind of God.
BESOLD: Be careful Johannes, lest you be accused of heresy before you’re even ordained.
KEPLER: If believing the truth is heresy, then let me be a heretic.
BESOLD: Thank your lucky stars your best friend is studying jurisprudence. You may need a good lawyer one day.
NARRATOR: Besold exits. Enter Rebstock, inebriated.
REBSTOCK: There you are, Kepler! I’ve been looking for you.
KEPLER: I was at the evening sermon. If you’d been there, you would have found me.
REBSTOCK: Better to pass the evening at the Boar and Bristle where real life happens, I say. Hello, what’s this? Copernicus? What nun—nonsense Copernicus wrote! If the Earth moved, we’d feel the wind always from the same direction. Any fool can tell you the Earth stands perfectly still.
KEPLER: [Ironically] I can’t disagree with you about that—
REBSTOCK: My horoscope Kepler! Is it ready?
REBSTOCK: Come on, Kepler! They say you’re the best.
KEPLER: I don’t have your chart with me.
REBSTOCK: Chart, fart! Just tell me my fate.
KEPLER: [Pause.] If you insist. [Beat.] Your father is very rich, but you are not the eldest son. So the question is: what will become of you?
REBSTOCK: Yes, yes! That’s the question! What’s the answer?
KEPLER: The signs seem to point to a certain—ah—misfortune—in your future.
REBSTOCK: What misfortune?
KEPLER: I’m afraid, my dear Rebstock, that you’re destined to become a drunkard.
KEPLER: (Laughs.) Don’t despair, Rebstock! Perhaps you’ll be a tavern keeper and spend all of your time where “real life happens.”
REBSTOCK: You mock me!
NARRATOR: Rebstock socks Kepler and he falls to the ground.
REBSTOCK: Worm! Dung beetle! Stay on the ground where you belong.
NARRATOR: Rebstock turns to exit, but Kepler trips him. Rebstock falls and Kepler springs to his feet.
KEPLER: Who is the dung beetle now, Rebstock?
NARRATOR: Kepler exits. The next afternoon, Kepler is conferring with his mathematics professor.
KEPLER: The stars alone are so hard to read. I’ve learned I must consider all available signs even a beery breath. Please give me your advice, Magister Maestlin.
MAESTLIN: Keep what you say general, Kepler. [Beat.] Just predict disaster. That’s bound to come true sooner or later.
KEPLER: That’s how I began, but--
MAESTLIN: But what?
KEPLER: Rebstock mocked Copernicus. It infuriated me, so I—I told him his destiny was to become a drunkard.
MAESTLIN: Kepler, your temper--
KEPLER: I know, but— [Proudly.] I’ve written a dissertation defending the truth of Copernican theory--
MAESTLIN: Kepler, even Copernicus didn’t claim his hypotheses were true. He says right in the introduction they‘re merely offered to provide a reliable basis for computation—
KEPLER: But they are true!
MAESTLIN: Do you think I could teach Copernican theory even now if I taught it as literal truth?
KEPLER: The Earth does revolve around the sun--I want to defend Copernicus in a disputation--
MAESTLIN: Let it be, Kepler. Learn from Copernicus, use him—but don’t defend him.
KEPLER: I can’t believe you of all people—You’re the one who taught me that the honorable mind loves nothing more ardently than the truth--
MAESTLIN: (Sighs.) My dearest boy! You must learn to look only to the heavens for harmony. Here on Earth things are far more complicated.
NARRATOR: Kepler leaves his teacher’s office and goes to the library where he finds his friend, Besold.
KEPLER: Besold! An angel appears before me!
BESOLD: I know that tone. You want a favor.
KEPLER: You know me too well. Listen, Maestlin told me not to present a disputation on Copernican theory. He’s my mentor; I can’t cross him.
BESOLD: But I can?
KEPLER: Mathias Hafenreffer approves disputations.
BESOLD: So—you want me to approach him.
KEPLER: Yes. But, I warn you, he’s no follower of Copernicus.
BESOLD: What do you want me to argue?
KEPLER: Here’s a copy of my dissertation. It’s all in here, how an observer on the moon would see the Earth’s movements as clearly as we see the moon’s--
BESOLD: An observer on the moon? How does he get there?
KEPLER: I haven’t figured that out yet.
BESOLD: So, if Hafenreffer opposes Copernicus, I’ll have to argue on larger grounds.
KEPLER: What do you mean?
BESOLD: Let’s see… First, we must preserve civilization. Second, civilization flourishes when we seek the truth. Third, what better way to seek truth than through well-reasoned academic disputations? Fourth, we must be free to challenge each other’s thinking on every subject in pursuit of the truth.
KEPLER: Ergo: If Hafenreffer turns down this disputation, he acts against civilization itself!
BESOLD: Now to cloak this argument in princely robes it needs a name. Hmm… Academic disputations...free to challenge... I know! I’ll call it “academic freedom.”
KEPLER: “Academic freedom!” I like the sound of that…
NARRATOR: The next day, Hafenreffer and Besold are concluding a heated exchange.
HAFENREFFER: Academic freedom indeed! Out! Get out of my office!
NARRATOR: Besold backs out of the office right into Rebstock, who is passing by. Besold is
knocked to the ground. Kepler’s dissertation falls on the floor.
REBSTOCK: Watch where you’re going!
BESOLD: Sorry, Rebstock, I—I didn’t see--
NARRATOR: Besold struggles to his feet and, still dazed, exits, leaving Kepler’s dissertation on the floor. Rebstock picks it up, looks through it.
REBSTOCK: Now I’ve got you, beetle! Now we shall see how the worm turns!
NARRATOR: The next day, Kepler is searching for his lost dissertation when Hafenreffer enters.
HAFENREFFER: Lose something, Kepler?
KEPLER: I’ve lost a paper I wrote.
HAFENREFFER: Is this what you’re looking for?
KEPLER: Where on earth did you find it?
HAFENREFFER: Let’s just say it found me. Tell me about this paper, Kepler.
KEPLER: It’s about the movement of the heavens. It’s nothing to do with scripture.
HAFENREFFER: No? Do you question Holy Scripture, Kepler?
KEPLER: Certainly not!
HAFENREFFER: Do the scriptures not say that when Joshua fought the battle for Gibeon he commanded the sun to stand still?
KEPLER: They do.
HAFENREFFER: He did not command the Earth to stand still?
HAFENREFFER: Does not our Book of Concord say: “We believe, teach and confess that the sole standard according to which all dogmas should be judged are the scriptures?”
KEPLER: Yes, but the movement of the heavens are not dogmas. They’re physical facts. God has given us two books of knowledge, the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. I believe our Book of Concord is telling us that, to learn how to get to Heaven, we must turn to Holy Scripture. The Book of Nature, on the other hand, has been given to us so that we may understand God’s great works.
HAFFENREFFER: May I keep your dissertation during our Christmas holiday?
HAFENREFFER: Thank you, Kepler.
NARRATOR: It is 1594 and the students have just returned from their winter holiday.
Heerbrand, Maestlin, and Hafenreffer are seated around a table.
HAFENREFFER: By now I assume you’ve both had a chance to read Kepler’s dissertation--
MAESTLIN: It’s a brilliant argument.
HAFENREFFER: A brilliant argument in support of heresy—and Kepler stands by it, even in the face of scripture to the contrary. If we ordain him, he’ll bring disaster on this university--
MAESTLIN: On the contrary—
HAFENREFFER: Hear me out. Just before the holidays, young Besold brought me a proposal for a disputation making the same argument as Kepler’s dissertation. When I denied his proposal, the impudent young pup accused me of thwarting “academic freedom.”
HEERBRAND: Academic freedom—what’s that?
HAFENREFFER: Something Besold made up to justify his outrageous demand. Academic freedom! What a foolish notion!
MAESTLIN: Perhaps for students. But don’t we deserve the freedom to philosophize? Is there anyone here who really doesn’t accept that Copernicus was describing the world as it actually exists?
HAFENREFFER: I certainly don’t! Michael, your own astronomy text is based on classical Ptolemaic theory--
MAESTLIN: The more shame on me!
HEERBRAND: I hear your pain, Michael. If it makes you feel any better, I share your belief in Copernican theory--
HEERBRAND: Yes, gentlemen, your Chancellor is a crypto-Copernican. Osiander was my friend. He inserted the words calling Copernican theory a “mere mathematical convenience” into the introduction so the book could receive papal approval. Copernicus was on his deathbed; Osiander wanted to see it published before Copernicus died.
HEERBRAND: Those were such exciting times. Luther and Melanchthon demanding reform from the Church; Copernicus giving us a new vision of the heavens. Change was in the very air we breathed. And yet, 50 years later—nothing has changed.
HAFENREFFER: You think nothing has changed? Every week there is a new sect. If we don’t stop it, there will be chaos—Do you know Kepler said he would preach tolerance of religious differences? We can’t--
HEERBRAND: I know. [With irony] We can’t ordain someone with dangerous views like religious tolerance.
MAESTLIN: Kepler’s dissertation is unassailable. We can’t--
HEERBRAND: I know. We can’t condemn someone for arguing what we know to be true.
HAFENREFFER: Not everyone thinks--
HEERBRAND: Matthias, please. At this very moment, Bruno Giordano sits rotting in a Papist dungeon in Rome for advocating Copernican theory. Is that how you propose we handle young Kepler?
HAFENREFFER: Of course not, but--
HEERBRAND: I think I have a gentler solution. Hear me out…
NARRATOR: One week later, Heerbrand sits behind his desk, flanked by Hafenreffer and Maestlin. Kepler stands before them.
HEERBRAND: My boy, the Lutheran authorities in Graz have sent a request for a new mathematics teacher for their high school. We believe you are perfect to fill this position. But you are needed immediately.
KEPLER: But I will be ordained in another few months—
HAFENREFFER: Perhaps you can come back to finish your religious studies—later.
HEERBRAND: A few years in the world may be just the seasoning you need to fit you for the pulpit.
MAESTLIN: You would also be district mathematician, with responsibility for casting horoscopes on questions of great importance. The people will depend on you.
KEPLER: I’m a scholarship student. I can’t accept any job without permission from Duke Friedrich.
HEERBRAND: Of course, my boy, talk to the Duke, then bring us your answer. We are depending on you.
NARRATOR: Kepler exits.
HEERBRAND: When he reaches the Duke, he will find him quite receptive to the job in Graz. I’ve seen to that.
MAESTLIN: I’m only going along with this because Kepler’s genius would be wasted in the clergy.
HAFENREFFER: He’d be a disaster in the clergy! But what if he teaches Copernican theory to his students as fact? Our reputation might still be ruined.
HEERBRAND: There is a saying: If you can’t silence a person, let him speak to those who cannot hear. Kepler will be teaching at a country high school; his revelations will fall on deaf ears. Our reputation will be quite safe… [Sighs] It’s a shame, really, what we must sometimes do in order to preserve the harmony of the world.