This play is intended as an evocation of the actual historical story - a dramatic reconstruction of both the human controversy and the dialectic of ideas, and therefore draws upon primary sources for much of the dialogue. Since the evolution of ideas is inextricably bound up with the evolution of language, I have resisted the temptation to transcribe the dialogue into more contemporary forms. This means that the language, while full of charm and humour for some, may be quite challenging for others. As with science fiction, and the period costumes and sets of a Shakespeare play, this has the positive effect of encouraging temporary suspension of current modes of perception, thought and expression, and drawing the reader/listener into a world remote from our own. Some such transportation seems essential for appreciating the development of the ideas, but the language may prove too great a barrier for some people. The dilemma here is similar to that of updating Shakespeare. How much to abridge, change, or explain, must be left to individual choice, taking account of particular class situation and level. I would only counsel that care be taken not to do violence to the evolution of the ideas.
The two acts can stand independently, and the first scene of the second act is probably best abridged or omitted for classroom purposes. (It is given for completeness, and has intrinsic interest in demonstrating what students of the renowned lecturer Saunderson presumably had to sit through!) The somewhat lengthy prologues and epilogue may be omitted, used in part, or treated as background reading. Their function, vital for full appreciation of the significance of the drama, is to sketch the intellectual background against which the achievement of the mathematical pioneers is to be estimated. In any classroom presentation of the play, a `narrator' may be used to give a brief introduction to each part, based upon the following items.
At the end, in addition to notes and references for the play, there is a set of questions and exercises intended to encourage reflection on the play, which are mainly at a level suited to pre-service or in-service teacher training workshops. Some of the issues arising have relevance for teachers far beyond the topic of negative numbers; among such I should mention the topic of convergence of sequences and infinite series.
Where sentences, paragraphs or whole speeches are based closely on primary source material, these are appropriately referenced. In general, the words spoken by the characters must not be ascribed to the historical persons, who may not have conversed in the flesh (or even in writing) at all. The dialogue is the playwright's attempt to reconstruct the historical interaction of their ideas.
As in a previous article, "Teaching the Negatives, 1870-1970: a Medley of Models" (For the Learning of Mathematics: FLM Vol. 17, no. 1), I would like to acknowledge the inspiration of Abraham Arcavi and Maxim Bruckheimer, whose work in developing historical source-work collections for use in teacher training in Israel was described in FLM Vol. 3, no. 1. For more of the philosophy and motivation behind my own work in dramatizing the history of mathematics, see my article, "The Grand Entertainment", in FLM Vol. 12, no. 1. Dr A Gavin Hitchcock