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The Mercurial Emperor: The Magic Circle of Rudolf II in Renaissance Prague

The Mercurial Emperor: The Magic Circle of Rudolf II in Renaissance Prague [Kindle Edition]

Peter Marshall
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product Description


"The story of Rudolf's life is a compelling one... Marshall, an accomplished elucidator of the occult, would appear to be the ideal guide to this golden age of intellectual admirable and fascinating book" (Alex Butterworth Observer)

"A sympathetic biography of this strange, intelligent aesthete-philosopher... a tragic as well as a fascinating figure" (Alan Massie Literary Review)

"In this sparkling history, Peter Marshall assembles a cast of characters from the medieval world, their wit and wisdom an arresting case for the significance of their time...[a] generous and attentive recollection of voices too often silenced" (Rowland Manthorpe Observer)

"Peter Marshall's excellent biography portrays the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II as a pivotal figure in the transition from the medieval worldview to our modern scientific outlook... Marshall succeeds brilliantly in capturing both the spirit of the age in which Rudolf lived and the complex character of the man he describes as "one of the last magi"" (P.D. Smith Guardian)

"You could do a lot worse than to pack this book in your suitcase when you're visiting the city. His lucid prose and clear exposition will help you to decipher a good bit of Prague's labyrinth, and to explain in part why the capital of one of the less important European countries is one of the great cities of the world" (Justin Quinn Irish Times)

Book Description

First published under the title The Theatre of the World, this is a captivating portrait of the crucible of magic, science and religion at the court of the doomed dreamer Rudolf II in Renaissance Prague.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1560 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital; New Ed edition (28 Nov 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #45,748 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Didier TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Whenever I'm visiting foreign cities browsing in the local bookstores is a habit I just cannot kick, and when I was last in Prague I picked up this book there and immediately started reading it (though I had other books with me). Indeed, the subject is a fascinating one: not only is Prague a unique city with an incomparable heritage and history, but Rudolf II is one of the most remarkable Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. His court in Hradcany Castle in Prague must have been a veritable melting pot of scientists, painters, alchemists, astrologers, poets, buffoons and charlatans, while all around in Europe things were changing fast: the Reformation was gaining momentum, as were the forces of the Counter-Reformation spearheaded by Rudolf's contemporary (and uncle) Philip II of Spain. On this score, the book does not fail to deliver: it describes very well the Prague court and the activities of such intriguing characters as John Dee, Tycho Brahe, Edward Kelley and Johannes Keppler, and how these men stood with one foot in the past but simultaneously at the beginning of modern science.

However, the fun is spoiled to a degree by the careless research and editing. To name just a few examples:
- On page 26, Anna of Austria (Rudolf's sister) is - correctly - named as the fourth wife of Philip II of Spain, but on page 40 she has suddenly become his third wife;
- On page 153 Tyche is the greek god of destiny, while on page 162 Tyche is now the greek goddess of fortune (the latter is correct: Tyche is a goddess, not a god);
- Philip II of Spain is not Maximilian II's brother (p. 34) but his brother-in-law (having married Philip's sister Maria);

Of course, all this makes one wonder how meticulously the rest of the book was researched and edited which is why, in spite of the fascinating subject-matter, I gave only 3 stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the ruler who couldn't be bothered 21 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Imagine the most powerful political leader in the world decides he's not interested in politics and wars and all that and prefers to dedicate most of his time to collecting art and dabbling in science. Amazingly, it really happened: the leader in question was the Habsburg emperor Rudolf II, who presided over the Holy Roman Empire in the twilight years before central Europe drowned in the Thirty Years War.

In his very readable biography of the ruler who couldn't be bothered to rule, Peter Marshall follows the interests of his subject by dedicating only a little bit of space to the politics, and focusing on the art and the science instead. To get the politics out of the way first, many have slated Rudolf as a hopeless leader, but Marshall tends to support the view that his inaction and openness for divergent opinions (especially on religion, where he refused to support hardline Catholicism) quite possibly delayed the inescapable disaster by several decades.

Rudolf's credentials are much clearer in art and in science. His support for the most exciting astronomers of the day brought together the last and greatest naked-eye observer of the heavens, Tycho Brahe, and the best theoretician of the time, Johannes Kepler. Without Rudolf's patronage, the movement of the planets (Kepler's laws) might have remained unsolved for much longer.

Astronomers of the day still very much believed in astrology, or at least used it as a welcome source of income, so we're looking at an important junction between the medieval world views we now call superstition and the emerging modern science. Thus there are also alchemists and magi like the Briton John Dee populating the pages of this book.
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Great book about a fascinating character as the reviews state. But I also agree that there's the occasional lapse in scholarship and facts, I spotted one about Arthur Dee and his supposed age when resident at Prague ; but nonetheless given this minor caveat an original look at an enigmatic figure of history who was highly influential in the late Renaissance as a patron of the arts and esoterica.
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