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Topic: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Replies: 52   Last Post: Jan 21, 2002 11:28 PM

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J.G.Fauvel (John Fauvel)

Posts: 25
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Posted: May 4, 2000 7:32 AM
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Michele Emmer wrote (1 May 00):
<< I can suggest the play of Tom Stoppard "Arcadia" based on a girl, clever
mathematician, 18th century. Lord Byron is also in the play, more or less.
Of course there is a connection with the daughter of Byron Ada. >>

Is it worth distinguishing, for our present discussion, between
plays setting out to provide a conscious serious historical interpretation
(such as Whitemore's Breaking the Code and Brecht's Galileo) and those using
history in a more deliberately playful or plundering kind of way?
Stoppard's brilliant Arcadia, in which an early C19 English girl discovers
chaos theory, plucks mathematical ideas and conceits in a synchronic way in
order to create a stunningly imaginative piece of theatre, not to present or
reinterpret history of mathematics in any recognisable way.
Problems only arise if a text intended to be in the first category
strays into the second without knowing that that is what it is doing. I was
recently sent a draft film script "Evariste Galois a la Vie, a la Mort"
which contained a scene between Galois and Cauchy, in which Galois explained
to Cauchy that a group is a non-empty set with an operation which is closed,
associative, . . .
Speaking of Ada, a recent film which has attracted some attention is
Lynn Hershman Leeson's 'Conceiving Ada' (USA 1997), starring Tilda Swinton
as Ada Lovelace. This is also in the second category, a film with modern &
sci-fi resonances rather than a historical study.
'Breaking the Code' is no less brilliantly theatrical than
'Arcadia', but more consciously sets out to be true to the life and work of
a historical figure (based on Andrew Hodges' acclaimed biography of Turing).

Michael Lambrou wrote (2 May 00):
<< I have not seen a copy of this, but judging from a few lines mentioned in
a talk I recently attended, I would think that many eyebrows would be raised
if performed at school: The scene was on a Greek island were Niko (who did
not speak English) lying in bed with Alan, kissed him and then said in Greek
(which Alan could not understand) how clever Alan was...>>

It could be that that scene taken in isolation would not work in a school
classroom in some countries, but generally students would only be studying
it in the context of the play as a whole. The scene is dramatically crucial
in exploring how Turing was forbidden (by the authorities whose pressure
arguably contributed to his death) to tell anyone about his wartime work,
and fulfilled his need to communicate about it by telling someone who
couldn't understand what he was saying. (And is also, of course, a dramatic
device to enable Turing's ideas to be explained to the audience.) The
experience of myself and others is that the play works very well to read in
class (of an age able to be interested in Turing's work and ideas in the
first place), leading into good discussion and understanding of Turing's
work and life and the interaction between the two in a way which no other
teaching strategy has been able to elicit so efficiently.
(In any case it is not clear why a scene in which men kiss should
raise more eyebrows than the scenes of murder (Archimedes, Hypatia, Galois)
and suicide (Caccioppoli, Turing) which are thought suitable for students.)
Of course it is well recognised that historical plays say at least
as much about their context of composition as about their ostensible
subject: Brecht's Galileo is a comment on mid-C20 European politics as much
as on C17 Italy, and Breaking the Code speaks to a late C20 awareness of the
interaction of intellectual achievement and personal situation.

Ivo Schneider reported (2 May 00):
<<There is also a novel "Archimedes in Alexandrien (Alexandria)" by the
amateur mathematician Egmont Colerus which appeared in 1939. This is an
outrageously trivial love-story: Archimedes comes to Alexandria, falls in
love with the most beautiful woman of his time, . . . Archimedes is not
only spoilt by his beloved lady and a host of slaves but also creates all
his mathematical works mostly when dreaming in her arms.>>

Another work in the same vein is Pietro Francisi's 1960 film 'The
Siege of Syracuse', in which "Archimedes was engaged to the daughter of the
king of Syracuse but had a fling with Diana, the product of which was young
Marco. Years later, Archimedes comes to Rome, meets Diana and memories come
flooding back."
Another Archimedes novel is Andre Suares' 'Helene chez Archimede'
(Paris 1933), an account of which by Dennis Simms appeared in BSHM
Newsletter no 34 (Summer 1997), p.36. Maxwell's Demon is one of the
characters, and the second (1955) edition had illustrations by Picasso.
Perhaps what is of most interest to us is not any particular version
of Archimedes, but the fact that his life and work are such fertile ground
or springboard for so wide a range of interpretations.

From the educational point of view, it may be worth observing that
constructing a play or dramatic experience in class may be even more
valuable, for many purposes, than reading a play written by someone else. A
good book in this context is Eileen Pennington and Geoff Faux's ". . . No
royal road to geometry" (Dalston 1999), in which teachers of middle school
children are encouraged to create dramatic scenarios around Euclidean
geometry and ancient Alexandria.
An important report of experiences with a higher age range is that
of Maria Victoria Ponza on the way she helped her pupils in Cordoba
(Argentina) develop greater confidence and enthusiasm for mathematics
through working with them on devising and producing a play about the life
and death of Galois. This work, and the text of the play, appear in her
article 'A role for the history of mathematics in the teaching and learning
of mathematics: an Argentinian experience', Mathematics in School vol 27, no
4 (1998), pp. 10-13. Ponza further reports on her work, and there are other
things to the same end, on pp.335-342 of the forthcoming ICMI Study "History
in mathematics education" (edited by John Fauvel and Jan van Maanen), 436
pages, to be published by Kluwer this summer.

John Fauvel




Date Subject Author
4/28/00
Read [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
4/28/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Gordon Fisher
4/28/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Milan Bozic
4/29/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
4/29/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Alfred Ross
4/30/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
John Harper
4/29/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Antreas P. Hatzipolakis
4/30/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Martin Davis
5/2/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Prof. Dr. Ivo Schneider
4/30/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
4/30/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
D Tahta
4/30/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Antreas P. Hatzipolakis
5/1/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
MANN@vms.huji.ac.il
5/1/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Michele Emmer
5/1/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Michele Emmer
4/30/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
James A Landau
5/1/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Zbigniew Nitecki
5/2/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Lambrou Michael
5/3/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Ed Sandifer
5/3/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Julio Gonzalez Cabillon
5/4/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
John W. Dawson, jr.
5/4/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Julio Gonzalez Cabillon
5/4/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
J.G.Fauvel (John Fauvel)
5/4/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Antreas P. Hatzipolakis
5/5/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Michele Fanelli
5/6/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Valdusek@aol.com
5/22/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Julio Gonzalez Cabillon
5/22/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Antreas P. Hatzipolakis
5/23/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
5/23/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Antreas P. Hatzipolakis
5/30/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
6/3/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Michele Emmer
6/3/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Tony Mann
6/3/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
6/3/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Fernando Q. Gouvea
6/4/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
MANN@vms.huji.ac.il
6/4/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
6/4/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
6/26/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
James A Landau
6/27/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
MANN@vms.huji.ac.il
6/27/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Antreas P. Hatzipolakis
10/7/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Antreas P. Hatzipolakis
10/8/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Julio Gonzalez Cabillon
10/26/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
12/14/00
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
6/30/01
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
John W. Dawson, jr.
11/16/01
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
11/16/01
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Gerard Alberts
11/17/01
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com
11/24/01
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Cathy Kessel
11/24/01
Read [HM] Allocating credit, was: Mathematics as Theater
Mike Robison
11/25/01
Read Re: [HM] Allocating credit, was: Mathematics as Theater
Roger Cooke
1/21/02
Read Re: [HM] Mathematics as Theater
Everdell@aol.com

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