The romantic author François Ponsard wrote a three-act play in Alexandrine verse entitled Galilée. After being censored for some time before entering the repertory of the Comédie Française, the play was performed on March 3, 1867.
The text, in keeping with the theatrical taste of the time, was based on the love of Antonia, Galileo’s daughter, for the young man Taddeo. It is feared that the marriage of the young couple will be impeded in some way by Galileo’s subversive ideas. During the trial, Galileo refuses at first to abjure. For this Taddeo accuses him of being so cold and unfeeling that he is even ready to sacrifice his daughter. The scientist’s dramatic situation is explained by his words, "My daughter on the one hand, the truth on the other, make me either a bad father or a betraying apostle."
Galileo is represented as an ingenuous hero, devoted to science, who proclaims, with supreme conviction, the superiority of reason. According to Ponsard, Galileo’s abjuration is motivated exclusively by love for his daughter, to avoid hindering her marriage to Taddeo. Hence the author believes, as emerges from the action, that science cannot place itself above love, cannot claim to be above mankind.
Ponsard’s Galileo was a hit with the public, enthralled by the romantic theme. Moreover Ponsard, by presenting science and the scientist in relation to human passions, to love, brings them back to an "earthly" dimension. Unlike the public however, the critics unanimously panned the play, calling it a trite drama of human passions. As represented by Ponsard, Galileo plays only a secondary role, and the love-story between his daughter Antonia and Taddeo is a hackneyed stratagem to enliven the action. A contemporary critic wrote, "A scientific discovery becomes less important than the trials and tribulations of a love story."
As for the figure of Galileo, an article in La Revue des Deux Mondes of March 15, 1867, declared: "Instead of being a hero of thought, Galileo is only the first of those too many scientists whose vast knowledge and innovative discoveries are accompanied by a distressing moral scepticism; who arouse our admiration for their genius but who, for the meanness of their behaviour and the inconsistency of their characters, command no respect. The power of his genius and the solemnity of the trials imposed on him place Galileo on the level of the greatest men of all times. The way he bore these trials lowers him to the ranks of the most common. This is the brutal, irremediable contradiction."