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(London: Harvill Secker, 2006) Hardback ISBN 0-436-20521-1

This book was published with the same title by Stewart & McClelland (Toronto) in Canada and as The Magic Circle of Rudolf II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague by Walker & Co (New York) in the United States.

Pimlico published the UK paperback with the new title The Mercurial Emperor: The Magic Circle of Rudolf II in Renaissance Prague.

It has been translated into 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 world view to our modern scientific outlook… Marshall succeeds brilliantly in capturing 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, The 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, The 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, The 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 and this is, in many ways, 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

At the turn of the 17th century the greatest philosophers, alchemists, astronomers, mathematicians and painters of the day flocked to Prague to work under the patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Theatre of the World is the enchanting story of the doomed dreamer Rudolf II, an emperor more interested in the great minds of his age than in the exercise of his immense power. Rarely leaving Prague castle, he gathered around him a galaxy of famous figures: among them, the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, the German mathematician Johannes Kepler, the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno and the English magus 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. But he was also faced with the threats of religious discord and the Islamic 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.