Isaac Newton: A life scientific

A radio play in four parts written by Robert Jones and produced with support from The Duke’s Theatre, Lancaster.

It is intended to be a useful resource for teachers, but will also be of interest to those curious about Newton’s life.


Story one: Inertia

Download the audio (MP3, 21 MB)

Characters

  • Newton
    Isaac Newton, a schoolboy, 13, troubled, unhappy, wondering about his future, trying to make sense of his life and understand the natural world.
  • Mother
    Hannah Smith, 40ish, Newton's mother, torn between loyalty to her son and Smith, her husband.
  • Smith
    Barnabus Smith, Newton's stepfather, an elderly clergyman, set in his ways and beliefs.

Scene

1656, late September, late afternoon. The sun is getting low.

EXT: The Orchard, Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire.

Isaac Newton, 13, is living joylessly at Woolsthorpe in the care of his grandmother.  They have a rare visit from his estranged mother and stepfather, who live some way away. Newton's father, a farmer, had died before Isaac's birth and his mother had been forced by Smith to abandon Isaac, 3, on her remarriage. 

Newton hates his “Father Smith” and writes in his “Book of Sins” of his fear that he will do something really terrible. Now Smith and mother have unwelcome plans for Isaac's future...he will be removed from school to go into farming. Nothing ever seems to change...INERTIA. An almighty argument develops, leading to blows, and the boy is locked out in the garden. But thanks to mother,  there is hope of reconciliation and change at the end...and a falling apple and rising moon show Isaac what he really wants to do with his life.

The action all occurs in one place in the orchard over a two hour period as the sun sets, the mist thickens, it gets dark, an apple falls, and the harvest moon rises.


Story two: Force

Download the audio (MP3, 34 MB)

Characters

  • Newton
    Isaac Newton, 26, a member of Trinity College, Cambridge, scientist and mathematician, reclusive, serious, ambitious, busy, full of new ideas, impatient with everyone.
  • Caroline
    Newton's chambermaid, 20ish, hard working, attractive, intelligent, literate, interested in science, from Hanover in Saxony.
  • Nicolas
    A close friend of Isaac in College, of similar age, a mathematician from France, relaxed, sociable, easy going, devoted to Isaac.

Scene

1668,  July, warm, sunny weather.

INT: Newton's rooms in College, and EXT: A park in Cambridge.

Isaac Newton is busy, his head crammed with new ideas about FORCES, his rooms crammed with experiments in science, optics and alchemy. But he is impatient with college formal dinners, distracted by his maid, and envious of Robert Hooke at the Royal Society who has all the clout and is hostile to his ideas. His maid Caroline complains of the dust and his friend Nicolas has to bring food to his rooms. 

Isaac is amazed to discover that Caroline can read and is interested in science, and she helps him to evolve his ideas, drawing analogies about Isaac's force and Hooke's momentum. Between them they persuade Isaac he should relax, be less of a recluse, get out more, and suggest how he might impress Hooke...with his new reflecting telescope...and gain entry to the Royal Society.  And, as he records in his “Book of Sins”, Isaac is smitten by Caroline, but it seems destined to be a doomed relationship...  

The action occurs over a two day period when the sun never seems to stop shining, allowing plenty of time for Isaac to show Caroline some optical experiments.

Scene 1: Day 1, morning, Newton's rooms.
Scene 2: EXT: Day 1, afternoon, a park in Cambridge, a bench by a lake.
Scene 3: Day 2, morning, Newton's rooms.


Story three: Reaction

Download the audio (MP3, 31 MB)

Characters

  • Newton
    Isaac Newton, 39, Professor of Mathematics in Trinity College Cambridge, Fellow of the Royal Society, suffering a mid-life crisis, depressed, grieving the loss of his mother, unable to work.
  • Nicolas
    A close friend of Isaac in College, of similar age, a mathematician from France.
  • Hooke
    Robert Hooke, 50ish, Senior Fellow of the Royal Society, argumentative, resentful of Newton's arrogance and his threat to his status.
  • Wren
    Christopher Wren, 50ish, President of the Royal Society, chairing a meeting.

Voices (reading letters to Newton)

  • Hooke, Leibniz, Flamsteed (Scientists)

Voices (in Newton's head)

  • Mother, Caroline (from previous stories)

Scene

1681-82, EXT: Woolsthorpe churchyard, INT: Newton's rooms in Cambridge, Hooke's London residence, The Royal Society in London.

Newton is inconsolable at his mother's graveside in Woolsthorpe and, with continued hostility from Hooke, has lost the will to work or do anything. Helped by fond memories of his mother and Caroline from happier times, and encouraged by Nicolas...three benevolent forces pushing him in the same direction... Isaac returns to Cambridge and resolves to resume work on his new ideas about ACTION and REACTION and make contact with fellow scientists again. 

Despite the excellence of his work, he still manages to antagonise Hooke, the mathematician Leibniz, and Astronomer Royal Flamsteed, and suffers rebuffs from all three... hostile forces impeding his progress. He eventually returns to the Royal Society and triumphantly presents his results on the great comet of 1681, but only after some horrific nightmares, some harsh lessons about himself and his dealings with other people, and some apologies...

The action occurs at intervals between April 1681 and January 1682, during which a comet appears in the skies, brightens, and becomes a central feature of the story.

Scene 1: EXT: April 1681, Woolsthorpe churchyard.
Scene 2: A few days later, Newton's rooms in Cambridge.
Scene 3: September 1681, Hooke's London residence.
Scene 4: A week later, Newton's rooms in Cambridge. He reads three letters of rejection.
Scene 5: October 1681, Newton's rooms. He reflects on the meaning of his bad dreams.
Scene 6: November 1681, Hooke's London residence.
Scene 7: January 1682, A Royal Society Meeting, London.
Scene 8: A few days later, Newton's rooms in Cambridge.


Story four: Gravity

Download the audio (MP3, 24 MB)

Characters

  • Newton
    Isaac Newton, 42, Professor of Mathematics in Trinity College Cambridge and Senior Fellow of the Royal Society, now almost a normal human being, a little eccentric, much loved and respected.
  • Halley
    Edmund Halley, 30ish, a new, devoted friend of Newton, a Fellow of the Royal Society and promising astronomer, recovering from personal tragedies and setbacks.
  • Nicolas
    A close friend of Isaac in College, of similar age, a mathematician from France.
  • Hooke
    Robert Hooke, 55ish, a senior Fellow of the Royal Society, a friend of Newton and staunch supporter of his work.
  • Mary
    Edmund Halley's wife.
  • Caroline
    Newton's former chambermaid, 36.

Scene

1684. EXT: A park in Cambridge.  Newton's rooms in Cambridge. 1685. Halley's London residence.

Musing in the park on the power of GRAVITY to pull everything together, Newton reads a shocking letter from his friend Edmund Halley, telling of personal tragedy and opposition from Flamsteed. He resolves to do all he can to help. Halley visits Newton in Cambridge to discuss the orbits of comets, and encounters Isaac's cats and domestic chaos. Nicolas arrives to give Isaac a paper by Leibniz and, while Isaac is searching for lost papers of his own, his two friends conspire to find a solution to the disorder. 

The Leibniz paper is bad news for Isaac, but despite this setback, he writes Halley a glowing job reference and decides to give him money. A year later, at Halley's London home, Newton is rewarded and surprised. Halley will pay for the publication of all his work, and Isaac is reunited with Caroline, who will be his housekeeper and proof-read all his work.  And the great comet of 1682 will return...when they are all long gone .

Scene 1: EXT: August 1684. A park in Cambridge, a bench by a lake.
Scene 2: Two weeks later, Newton's rooms in Cambridge.
Scene 3: A year later. In Halley's London home.


Epilogue: The Comet

To follow story four after a short pause

Characters

  • Caroline
    A little girl, 8, intelligent, interested in science, watching a comet with her father.
  • Father
    Caroline's father,  explaining the comet.

Scene

1758. EXT: A dark starry night in Hanover, Saxony.

Caroline, 8, in awe, is watching a bright comet. Her father answers her questions and she is amazed by the scale of the Universe. Father explains that the comet has returned after 76 years, its return predicted by Newton and Halley. Caroline declares that she wants to be an astronomer, will see the comet come back again, and will find out what the comet's tail is made of.