The Story of A History (2004): Excerpts

An Excerpt from Act Two


Robert Boyle’s Mansion, 1662. This meeting is a 17th Century social event with seating for a theatre performance. The crowd slowly and gradually fades into seats after an animation of the seats. A harpsichord plays Dziga Vertov’s musical composition for Man With A Movie Camera. The curtains open: the revealed scene begins with a magic lantern slide show with static or noise on the slides.

The famous Harlequin, Domenichino appears on stage and begins to act while the magic lantern is projecting visual noise. The projection will be a continuing theme throughout the film.


Articulate Letters though they May Be…
Conceits Against the King are What I see
For without the Leviathan that Gnarly Master
Who would protect us until our last year!

Truth is cold like Alabaster
Ideas, which to us should stick like plaster
Despite the sciences of Land and Sea
Can we conceive of but Analogy?

Still with Life we move with matter
A feathered cap, a mask, a tatter
Life is grand until we see
It is but for causes seen deductively

Why not claim to know whether
It is possible for it all to measure
For Corpuscles to constitute chymistry
For causes, natural philosophy

(We learn the origins of Harlequin from Ar! Le chin).


I ask you today
What thy name is, I say
Will you deduce in whole or in part
The origins of thy name and thy art?

I will give you a clue:
The birth of my costume down to my shoe
Verily coincides with Olympic pryde
Or rather, Greek theatre taken in stryde

There is also a particular local color
That necessitates this frock and collar
Let me communicate this to you
The origins down to my shoe…

If it were not for my father
When proceeding with bother
A man in pursuit behind him
Necessitated asinine vocals, “Ar! Ar!” a hymn

With I in the carriage, his heir
To be caught with an illegitimate he could not bear!
And as the follower crouched down, "Ar le chin"
The name stuck to me, now a clown, "Harlequin"

Then an actress engages in a dialogue that begins to remove the costume of the Harlequin.


Will you not take off that mask?
Are you not up to the task?
Of revealing to them (gestures to crowd) and to me
Your apparent and true identity?

For we know the origins of a name
But to whom do we equate with the same?
What can only be found out now
At the beginning of the show?

If our roles were reversed, we could not proceed
For what the audience is doomed to concede
For my layers are single and not to uncover,
Yours however do reveal yet another!

After several layers are removed, the Harlequin changes from acting comedy to a statement of position of Boyle’s Thoughts on Experimental Writing.


Francis Bacon had said it Best
Why tarry with the Rest
Aristotelians pure and sketchy
Who needs form and entelechy?

When I mentioned causes deductive
This was before my seductive
Revelation of just whom
Is underneath these plumes

For with Bacon, do we not see,
Effects determined inductively
For without the latter,
Greshamite experiments do not matter

For Bacon and the control of Nature
For Nature we control by nurture
Where causes are masked for the effect
And failures reported circumspect.

As you can see my epistemology now
Please stay late into the show,
For when we ask, “What do we know?”
We certainly may not get up and go!


The task is still present
Will you, audience, not assent?
For underneath this coil,
Our man is clean, without soil.

Let me reveal to you the matter at hand
Bacon’s induction can be in demand
Without a vast array of instances
What would there be to convince us?

Whom shall you through induction ascertain this man to be?
What man of natural philosophy?
Yet different than the one before,
An experimentalist and no bore.


Look at this light (from the lantern)
Do you see it in spite
Of interference from myself
And that of the slide beginning to melt?

Now with the next action I will not interfere
Watch me now as it comes from the rear (assistants move in air pump).
Here the unclothed of this coil
Is none other than Sir Robert Boyle!

Assistants (including Sylvia Hooke) bring in the air-pump built by Sylvia in order to demonstrate “proof” of natural phenomena”

Boyle gives an introduction to the experiment.


I duly thank Henry More, and even Franciscus Linus for their commentary on my experiments with the pumping engine. Hobbes will also note that cracks in the receiver are insubstantial: they do not penetrate completely through the glass and have been sealed with my special cheese and lime solution. He will see that a vacuum is still created thus. If it were the case that a substance of a more minute particulate constitution does indeed enter the glass, he will note that it is in no part true “air”

At least since von Guericke’s evacuated hemispheres, and Toricelli’s experiment with a mercury column, vacuists have accumulated the evidence for a space devoid of air. As my estate funds the current science of largesse, I will attempt to have you witness a demonstration of the air pump’s technology, so that we may all assent to a common understanding of the truth of Natural Philosophy.

Oh yes, do not mind the smell. The dampness of our mansion in the rainy season is distributing an airborne mixture of the cheese and lime residue from the recycled receiver.

We will begin with an eight-cycle exsuction. Domenique, bring my costume.

(Boyle takes the feather from his Harlequin hat).

Oxfordians watch as the feather is flattened in the receiver, thereby establishing the conditions of vacuity.

All of the “air” is extracted (to audience oohs and ahs), asserting not only that a vacuum may exist in nature, but that a new science of experiment has arrived.