Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Darwin on stage - "Trumpery"

A play about Darwin has recently premiered in New York and its getting good reviews (time for a Darwin biopic??). The play, Trumpery, starts with Darwin being pushed into publishing his Origin of Species for the fear of being scooped by Alfred Russell Wallace:

Given the furor he feared it would unleash, it is not surprising that Charles Darwin sat on his “great idea,” refusing to publish “The Origin of Species” until 1859, more than 20 years after he first devised the theory of evolution.

“If I finish the book, I’m a killer,” he said. “I murder God.”

At least that’s what Peter Parnell has Darwin say in his new play, “Trumpery,” which opened this month at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York.

In the play, as in real life, Darwin is moved to publish by Alfred Russel Wallace, a young man whom Parnell’s Darwin dismisses as “a nobody, a collector, a poor specimen hunter,” but who has independently come up with a theory just like the one Darwin has been chewing on for decades.

So in part the play hangs on scientific “priority:” who will publish first? As the action begins, Wallace, as in real life, has sent Darwin a paper describing his ideas, in hopes that Darwin will help make them known. (If, like many people, you know who Darwin is but not Wallace, you probably think you know how that comes out. Think again.)

But of course, the play is centered on the larger issue of science and faith:

Darwin’s Britain teemed with religiosity as diverse as evangelical Christian fervor and spiritualism, an idea whose adherents included Wallace and Darwin’s wife, Emma Wedgwood. Darwin knew he would be called heretical for challenging the Biblical idea of God as a one-time-only creator of an immutable natural order.

At first, he finds the idea literally sickening. But, as Mr. Parnell put it, Darwin is “both great enough and grandiose enough” to eventually conclude not just that he could do it, but that he ought to. And we all know how that came out.

I really like the way Darwin's actions are depicted in the play - "...that he ought to". Great!

So if you live near New York city, go and check out Trumpery. Read the full article here, and here is a review of the play. If you are interested in this phase of Darwin's life, check out Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, the second part of an excellent biography by Janet Browne.


Michael D. Barton, FCD said...

There are two movies in the works about Charles Darwin, one based on the book Evolution's Captain, the other on the book Annie's Box. See: http://thedispersalofdarwin.blogspot.com/2007/10/darwin-at-movies-in-2009.html

Salman Hameed said...

Very cool! Thanks for letting me know.

And a nice blog on Darwin!

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