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London: Pimlico, 2007
Paperback ISBN 978-1-8441-3537-0

This book was first published in hardback under the title The Theatre of the World by Harvill & Secker in the UK and by McClelland & Stewart in Canada. In the US Walker published it with the title The Magic Circle of Rudolf II. Emblem have now published it in paperback in Canada.

It is now available as an ebook in the U.K., with corrections, and in the U.S.

Rights sold: Czech, Dutch and Italian.

‘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

‘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 Mawthorpe, Observer

‘Marshall’s account of this weird but free-thinking court, where modern science melded with the occult, glitters with interest on every page.’
Christopher Hirst, Independent

‘Clearly, it was a magical moment in the history of Western civilization, when anything seemed possible. Mr Marshall brings it all wonderfully to life.’
Stuart Ferguson, Wall Street Journal

‘Continuously interesting … a sympathetic biography of this strange, intelligent,aesthete-philosopher… a tragic as well as a fascinating figure’
Allan Massie, Literary Review

‘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

‘fascinating biography’
David V. Barrett,Independent

‘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 exchange…an admirable and fascinating book.’
Alex Butterworth, Observer

‘When Prague was truly magical…a very readable history…Marshall rightly argues, as an enabler of scientific, artistic and mystical insight, [Rudolf] has no peer.’
Gary Lachman, Independent on Sunday

‘An entertaining description of life at the heart of a Europe stained by the clash of new and old ideas… an enjoyable description of what was an extraordinary epoch.’
Greg Neale, BBC History Magazine

‘The pleasure of this book for me, in addition to such stimulating detail, is that the Holy Roman Empire on the cusp of the 17th century is terra incognita, to be approached with a fresh eye…Rudolf’s tolerance deserves a wider audience in our fractious age.’
Chris Frew, Scotland on Sunday

‘A read as enthralling as any thriller…His enthusiasm is the key – unlocking the past and bringing it to life in a riveting and accessible way’
Roger Malone Tavistock Times

‘Peter Marshall takes us on a fascinating journey into the hidden corners of Renaissance Prague and uncovers many secrets, from alchemy to Rosicrucianism… It will be a pure delight for history lovers and mystery seekers alike.’
Robert Bohumil Vurm, author of Rudolf II and his Prague

‘Marshall sounds entirely convincing to me with this beautifully researched life of a Renaissance magus and the cabal that encircled him.’
Tom Widger, Sunday Tribune

This compelling book is the portrait of the crucible of magic, science and religion at the court of the doomed dreamer Rudolf II in Renaissance Prague. In the late 16th century some of the greatest philosophers, alchemists, astronomers, painters, and mathematicians of the day flocked to the city to work under the patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor, including Arcimboldo, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Giordano Bruno and John Dee.

Entranced, like Hamlet, with the new Renaissance learning, Rudolf found it nearly impossible to make decisions. Like Faust, he was prepared to risk all in the pursuit of magical knowledge and the Philosopher’s Stone which would turn base metals into gold and prolong life indefinitely. But he also faced the threats of religious discord and the Ottoman Empire, along with a deepening melancholy and an ambitious younger brother. As a result he lost his empire and nearly his sanity but enabled Prague to enjoy a golden age of peace and creativity before Europe was engulfed in the Thirty Years’ War.

The Mercurial Emperor, is an intriguing and dramatic human story. It is filled with angels and devils, high art and low cunning, talismans and stars, and offers a captivating perspective on a pivotal moment in the history of Western civilization.

An interview with Peter Marshall about this book can heard on