The Starry Messenger: A Tale of the Father of Modern Science tells Galileo’s story in the form of a play for two actors. They portray Galileo and his daughter (who became a nun and took the name Sister Maria Celeste) as well as many other colorful figures of the day.
Galileo Galilei was a father of modern science. His many inventions and discoveries insured his lasting fame. He was able to make many contributions because he believed that the truths of the physical world are to be discovered through observation and mathematical reasoning and not in ancient books of philosophy and religion. This may seem obvious today, but in the 1600s it got him into trouble.
Galileo fought for the right to publish his work. He was not opposed to religion and remained a devout Catholic. But he struggled with religious leaders who stood in the way of the advance of science. These men ultimately suppressed his work and threatened him with prosecution that could have resulted in his torture and death.
They forced him to publicly repudiate his “theory” that the earth revolves around the sun.
After his death, the Church would change its position and recognize the sun-centered solar system. Over the centuries it has continued to adapt itself to science. Today it is possible for a Catholic to believe that the earth is billions of years old and that our human bodies resulted from the process of biological evolution.
The Starry Messenger uses humor and drama to present equal measures of Galileo’s scientific discoveries, the conflicts between science and religion, an example of the scientific approach to the truth, and a touching relationship between a difficult but loving father and his devoted but strong daughter.
The play takes place today at a school assembly. As the students gather they see a crate and a few interesting props on the “stage.”
A young nun enters, pushing a wheelchair. Someone sits in the chair but is covered by a large cloth. The nun introduces herself as Sister Maria Celeste, the daughter of Galileo Galilei. She explains that since her father died, 364 years ago, he has refused to wake up. He is depressed because, when he died, he thought all his work would be destroyed by the Inquisition and the world would remain in scientific darkness. She wants to show him that he did not live in vain and that is why she has brought him back to earth in the wheelchair.
Sister Maria Celeste enlists the students to convince Galileo that now everyone believes that the earth moves round the sun. She gets them to chant with her: “The earth moves ’round the sun” over and over. They do, and it works. He leaps to his feet convinced he has heard a chorus of angels.
Thus begins a fast-paced, funny romp through the Scientific Revolution. The play presents many of Galileo’s discoveries in simple language and with memorable kinetic visual aids. Some fundamental astronomical concepts are dramatized. Equally the play presents the historical situation of the 1600s and the conflicts between religion, philosophy, and the new-born scientific method.
Even Galileo’s mistakes are presented. His pet theory of the tides is shown to have been totally wrong. The audience gets to enjoy watching a great scientist swallow the pill of confronting his own errors.
Galileo’s Story As a Teaching Tool
Duende will supply a package to go with the play and help teachers integrate the performance into the curriculum.
- Teachers’ Guide (PDF format)
The story of Galileo offers the opportunity to present many important facts and lessons to students including:
- Galileo’s dramatic central role in the Scientific Revolution, the study of which is mandated by the Seventh Grade History-Social Science Framework. Students will see the human side of this Revolution, its excitement, its risk, and the price of its victories.
- Galileo’s many astronomical discoveries (including the mountains on our moon, the moons of Jupiter, and sun spots) and his theories which were crucial stations on the way to the modern view of of the heavens – the teaching of which is mandated by the Science Framework.
- The conflict between the authoritarian view of truth and the empirical view. Students will understand that this is a conflict on which everyone takes a side, and everyone must determine which areas of truth (the physical world, the social world, the spiritual world) are to be governed by which modes of investigation.
Suitable for grades 5 and up as well as adults.
The play will be about forty minutes long with a setup time of half an hour. The performers will bring their own set, and sound equipment (if necessary) that can either stand alone or connect to the school’s system.
- Notes by author Rick Foster (PDF document)
Availability and Pricing
Please contact Duende regarding production or performance rights for this play.