Monday 12th June. 3.30 PM – ‘B’ Stage, Shepperton Studios. For this scene B Stage has become the study in Mortlake of one of the most fascinating and tragic characters of the Elizabethan era – Dr. John Dee.
Dee stood on the tipping point between the mediaeval and modern worlds. Part alchemist and astrologer, part mathematician and geographer, he was one of the brightest intellectual lights of his time. He first met Elizabeth when she was still under house arrest during the reign of her sister Mary and there a friendship began that would last a lifetime. It was Dee who translated the recently rediscovered works of Euclid into English, Dee who produced the navigational text ‘The Perfect Arte of Navigation’ which helped carry England’s nascent navy around the world and Dee who first proposed the calendar reforms that the country desperately needed.
But it was his interest in what many saw as the ‘darker’ arts that interested Elizabeth personally. His fascination with spirits began in 1581. He later wrote of how, as he knelt in prayer late in the autumn of that year, ‘there suddenly glowed a dazzling light, in the midst of which, in all his glory, stood the great angel, Uriel’. The spirit reported handed Dee a crystal ‘most bright, most clear and glorious, of the bigness of an egg’ and informed him that by gazing at it he could communicate with the world of the spirits. Dee’s apparent ability to speak with angels intrigued the Queen, indeed she consulted him over a propitious date for her coronation among other things, and granted him a license to keep banned books.
But this was also the side of Dee that would lead to his downfall. Amongst many he was considered a magician and when the church began preaching against black magic he was forced out of the country. Back in Mortlake a mob attacked his house burning much of his famous library and stealing his scientific instruments. Elizabeth was forced to distance herself from this suspected necromancer and Dee’s days of greatness were over.