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June 12, 2006

The Theatre of the World


Alex Butterworth reviews Peter Marshall's biography of Rudolf II Habsburg and believes it could have been better structured. That said, the Hermetic history of Renaissance Prague represents an island of exploration beset by the various and competing religious bigotries of the day. This brief interregnum from the twin kings of war and superstition deserves wider contemporary recognition.

The story of Rudolf's life is a compelling one. Schooled at the convent-like Spanish court of his pious uncle, Phillip II, Rudolf rebelled at its stifling dogmatism. Whatever books the pope proscribed, he would read; while Phillip led his nephews to kiss the saints' bones in his vast and macabre reliquary, once crowned as emperor, Rudolf would assemble a cabinet of curiosities and invite savants to join him in Prague to search for the unifying truths that lay concealed behind the surface of reality.

The result was a scintillating concentration of talent: Queen Elizabeth's magus, John Dee, the brilliant and subversive philosopher Giordano Bruno and, latterly, the revolutionary astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, all plunged at one time or another into the ferment of activity.

It is a tragedy, of course, because we know from the start that the Inquisition is not yet finished its work (and heck, some of its latter-day sympathizers can still make common cause with a dictatorship against an heretical film). Flea-readers will be delighted by a report that today's Prague is becoming a Gothic wonderland.

Monadic Update: That is John Dee, the original 007, pictured above, btw.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at June 12, 2006 11:23 AM