A new play celebrating the astronomical comedy, tragedy and genius of the forgotten Cambridge alumni Jeremiah Horrocks comes to the ADC next week – playwright and director David Sear explains why he wrote (during lockdown) a play celebrating this brilliant astronomer.

Why did you write the play?

Jeremiah Horrocks should be as famous as Galileo, Kepler, or Copernicus. He took their theories and searched for, and found, the proof. His work should be celebrated, and his life mourned as a young genius who measured our place in the Universe. Up until now he has been a footnote in obscure books on the history of astronomy - books that give us little idea why, at the age of 15, in the spring of 1632 he walked from Toxteth to Emmanuel College in Cambridge to study the stars – and even less so why he was dead seven years later when he was just 22… The play brings to life on stage this eccentric and brilliant genius.

Jeremiah also fought against an establishment who sought to repress truth and knowledge and did so almost alone. His story should be an inspiration to every one of us.

Photo by Paul Ashley

What did he do?

Jeremiah Horrocks was the first human being to measure the distance from the Earth to the Sun with any degree of accuracy, and in the process proved that Earth revolved around the Sun (again for the very first time). In doing so he gave us our first understanding of the true scale of the Universe.  His discoveries also proved that the Earth was not the centre of creation, destroying key precepts of Christian teachings and the primacy of a literal interpretation of the Bible in the process.

He additionally proved that the orbit of the Moon was elliptical and earned the praise of Sir Issac Newton in his work on gravity.

Photo by Paul Ashley

Why was he forgotten?

Instead, his death, at just 22, and his lost manuscripts meant his work was unrecognised – and its significance is still underestimated. Some of his papers were destroyed by Royalists, and others burnt in the Great Fire of London. Only a Latin version of his unique work on the transit of Venus, Venus in sole visa, survived and was finally published twenty-three years after it was written (by a Polish astronomer, via a Dutch colleague).

The play brings together for the very first time the fragments of history, astronomy, and theology (and even his poetry!) to bring to life his unique significance to the history of science, religion, and astronomy.

HORROX opens at the ADC Theatre on Tuesday 28 March. Get your tickets now here.