I’ve been showing off again in front of a paying audience. This time it was a serious play (a world premiere, no less) of an account of Sir Isaac Newton‘s time at the Royal Mint and his less than scrupulous methods of prosecuting an elusive master counterfeiter. This was a chap called William Chaloner, a Warwickshire lad like myself, who was a charmer, a craftsman, a bounder, con artist and rogue. Naturally, I got the part.
We (a small off-shoot of the Grantham Dramatic Society) put on two performances of ‘The Old Dogg At The Mint‘ as part of the Gravity Fields festival which celebrates science through art in the town every two years. There were some great speakers and shows which I had been hoping to catch (Dallas Campbell, Marcus du Sautoy, The Science of Doctor Who, The Ministry of Science) but I was otherwise engaged, performing in the actual school hall that Newton attended as a child between 1655 and 1660.
I was also press-ganged into putting the programme together so wrote a short blurb to give the audience some background to what they were about to see. And that makes this another of those “here’s one I made earlier” posts.
“Welcome, dear colleagues of The Mint, to this dramatisation by Madam Hurt’s Players of an episode, recently unearthed, concerning the dogged detection and conviction of counterfeiters by our own Sir Isaac Newton.
But perhaps our former Master was not as exact in his judicial prosecutions as he was in his experiments in science. He was always a man driven to discover the truth; but what would a man of such nature do if the truth refused to be found? And in the case of the greatest counterfeiter of them all, refused to be found… guilty?
How far would an honourable man go to uphold the law of the land and the virtue of its currency? Let us take you on a journey, through the memories of the great man himself. We will spin you a tale covering many years showing his life-long obsession with exactitude; for everything to be right and true.
And yet, in the midst of all this, there was a moment, a year, when Newton may have taken heed of the writings of Machiavelli and cast truth aside in order to prevail against his nemesis. Did the ends truly justify the means?”
To cut a long story (about 90 minutes) short, Newton failed in his first attempt to prosecute Chaloner so, when the counterfeiter was arrested in relation to forging some lottery tickets, he took over the case and basically ‘stitched him up’. Yes, Chaloner was a dodgy geezer who had been up to no good. But the various charges laid against him, in a court weighted in Newton’s favour, were spurious and/or without hard evidence. He was found guilty and executed. The play unveils the action through flashbacks of Newton’s memory, goaded by a character who may be either Chaloner’s daughter or his own conscience.
It was all thoroughly enjoyable and the audience seemed to like it, as well as giving an insight into a part of Newton’s life that few are aware of.