Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title, “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” gives clues to the story’s meaning. A doctor is a man of science, and the story describes an experiment, from which some sort of lesson might be derived. In conjunction with the word “experiment,” the title suggests medicine, chemistry, physiology, or physics.

The name Heidegger is Swiss, meaning someone from the fortress Heidegg in the canton of Zurich. The doctor bears the same surname as that of a Swiss contemporary of the composer Handel, John James Heidegger (1659?-1749), manager of the opera house and master of the revels under England’s King George II. The other characters also have surnames of distinguished figures from roughly the same era of English history. Most famous is a playwright known for the immorality of his works, William Wycherley (1640?-1716), who left a widow, a woman much younger than he, named Elizabeth. Others include two dramatists, father and son, Thomas Killigrew (1612-1683) and Thomas Killigrew the younger (1657-1719) and another dramatist, Sir William Killigrew (1606-1695); a master of the revels named Charles Killigrew (1655-1725); a poet, George Gascoigne (c. 1539-1577); an alleged conspirator, Sir Thomas Gascoigne (1593?-1686); and an actor and dramatist, Matthew Medbourne (died 1679), translator of Molière. The name of the long-dead lover of the doctor, Sylvia Ward, may suggest that of the quack doctor Joshua Ward (1685-1761), famous for “Ward’s remedy,” a...

(The entire section is 489 words.)