Commonly regarded by scholars as one of the consummate portrayers of the human psyche in all of literature, Shakespeare's finely-drawn characterizations are distinguished by an abiding interest in the themes of self-delusion, psychological imbalance, and insanity. The accuracy of Shakespeare's insights into these phenomena has been credited by many as an anticipation of numerous findings of twentieth-century psychiatry.
Shakespearean scholarship of recent decades has evidenced an increasing historical interest in the Elizabethan conception of mental illness as a means of shedding new light on such plays as Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. Several critics have focused in particular on correcting previous misreadings of key Shakespearean texts by articulating the distinctions between twentieth-century conceptions of the nature of insanity from those of the Elizabethan period. Carol Thomas Neely, for example, explores the ways in which madness during the early modern period "began to be secularized, medicalized, psychologized, and… gendered." Also concerned with a historical perspective are scholars including Winfred Overholser and Paolo Valesio, who elucidate the elements of Greco-Roman, medieval Christian, and folkloristic traditions contributing to Renaissance conception of insanity. Some commentators, including Jack D'Amico, have examined how Shakespeare illustrated connections between madness and politics through his characterization of the legendary Roman figure Junius Brutus. Similarly, Karin S. Coddon has read Hamlet in the light of the trial for treason of Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, arguing that the tragedy dramatizes the Elizabethan notion that political disobedience is a form of madness.
An interest in the relationship between gender and madness has also informed recent Shakespearean scholarship. Hamlet in particular has been the focus of gender analysis by modern feminist commentators such as Elaine Showalter, who articulates the historical importance of Ophelia's character to the "theoretical construction of female insanity." Also examining madness and gender in Shakespeare's plays are Maurice and Hanna Charney, who associate madness with a form of liberation for Shakespeare's female characters. Through their analysis of Elizabethan stage conventions, the critics conclude that the dramatic portrayal of feminine madness "allowed women an emotional intensity and scope not usually expected in conventional feminine roles."
Ruth Perry (essay date 1978)
SOURCE: "Madness in Euripides, Shakespeare, and Kafka: An Examination of The Bacchae, Hamlet, King Lear, and The Castle," in The Psychoanalytic Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer, 1978, pp. 253-79.
[In the following essay, Perry examines Shakespeare's association of madness with family relationships, alienation, and self-dramatization in King Lear and Hamlet.]
Shakespeare … locates madness in family relations. His characters are locked up with the other members of their families in gloomy castles, where together they play through the progressive circumstances which lead to madness. Thus Hamlet is betrayed by the enmities and alliances among his parental figures, which leave him nowhere to turn and paralyze him with ambivalence. He is left alone, contemplating himself in the mirror of his consciousness, trying abstractedly to see what he feels. Ophelia, too, is trapped between loyalties, warned by each side about the other, until her trust in herself and others is destroyed and she is unable to relate to anyone and even "incapable of her own distress" (IV, vii). In King Lear the central image of madness is that of a deserted child, left alone to howl his rage into the storm, for the old man's age and abdication of power reverses his relation to his daughters and makes him their dependent child.…
The imaginative conceptions of madness during the English Renaissance were very different from those of the ancient world. For one thing, madmen were no longer conceived of as effectively dangerous. Hamlet and King Lear do not rampage...
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and kill their children as Heracles and Agave do. In fact, it is theirineffectiveness that is striking in these plays. When Edgar wants to disguise himself as someone of no account, whom no one will bother, he chooses to be poor Tom O'Bedlam who roams the English countryside, harmlessly incoherent. By this time, madness had become more a matter of inappropriate social response than of inexplicable acts of violence. No longer was madness perceived as showing up in those explosive deeds that broke the taboos of human society. It was becoming a more finely-tuned matter of not sharing the perceptions and conclusions of the culture.
Michael Foucault claims that there was a growing conviction in the late Middle Ages that the line between folly and sanity was tenuous—that fools could be a great deal closer to the truth than so-called sane people, or that all people were fools.1 Certainly there was a real confusion of the title—and the role—of "fool" in the courts of Europe. They ranged from poor feeble-minded folk who provided slapstick entertainment for the nobility to especially licensed nimble-witted and sharp-tongued jesters like the "fool" in King Lear. Folly was a blanket term that designated all behavior which differed from the way daily life was generally conducted. This is the ironical sense of folly in Sebastian Brant's fifteenth-century poem Nas Darrenshiff. Everyone on his imaginary ship earns a place on this "ship of fools" for behaving contrary to common sense (as who does not, occasionally)—from those who stupidly miscalculate expenses or knowingly sin, thereby jeopardizing their chances of going to heaven, to those who hallucinate voices.
To this way of thinking, madness—or folly—was simply the minority opinion in any judgment on reality. And it was not until the end of the seventeenth century that there was concerted social effort to contain dissent about everyday realities. Perhaps it was the challenge posed by the new science to all the traditional sources of authority that made deviation a more serious matter. In any case, Foucault notices that during this period European society seemed increasingly threatened by the mad people within it—to the point of finally even seeking institutional demarcation between the sane and the insane in the form of the first asylums for the mad. That is, when received truth was no longer standard, there was an intensified need for generally agreed upon interpretations of reality and stiffer penalties for divergence from it. Thus the age of reason developed more inflexible definitions of unreason and weeded it out of everyday life in a rather punitive and impersonal way.
The mad had not been confined to madhouses in Renaissance England but were generally supported by the communities in which they roamed. Even as late as 1650 the town of Newcastle was reimbursing clothiers for supplying the needs of the "town foole"—undoubtedly a simple-minded fellow who dressed up like a clown on festival days.2 In Shakespeare's time the insane had mingled freely with the sane and social commentators were still playful about the continuities between folly and madness, imprudence or irresponsibility and lunacy. Certainly there is this sense of gradation of sanity in King Lear. The official "fool" hired as a member of the royal retinue is a distinctly different type from the indigent "fool" imitated by Edgar, who wanders about the countryside unable to care for himself and dependent on village charity for sustenance. And then there was also that other sort of lunacy, represented by Lear himself, where a man might seem normal one day and rave the next. When Shakespeare huddles these three together on a heath in the middle of a storm, in the middle of the play, it is at least a visual pun on madness. Then he further complicates the ironies of distinguishing the sane from the insane by making these outcasts the only really sane alternative in a world gone crazy over power.
Shakespeare puts Lear's relation to power at the heart of his madness. As he loses control of his world and himself—a fitting penance for unjust control—he displays a childlike helplessness behind his tyrannizing and a narcissistic disconnectedness from others. Shakespeare shows us a weary orphan within that fierce and majestic figure, who wants to "rest" on Cordelia's "kind nursery" and "unburden'd crawl toward death." Within that obdurate old man who always insists on having his own way, there is a spoiled child ("They flatter'd me like a dog"), ready to fly off the handle when crossed and run away from home. Indeed, the childishness in his blind egotism becomes more and more visible as he is overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his reach. The Fool's taunts about his abdication of authority echo from the beginning of the play: "All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou wast born with … thou mad'st thy daughters thy mothers … when thou gav'st them the rod, and put'st down thine own breeches" (I, iv). When he begins to crack and his feelings burst out, inarticulate as a child's, one feels the full reasonance of these words.
Erik Erikson claims that the impotent anger of childhood is one of life's most traumatic experiences, and that adult anxiety is a reliving of this infantile rage. Lear is reduced to just this kind of helpless rage in his extremity. His words of anger are not bitter or scheming but frightened, outraged, defenseless. He sounds like a child having a tantrum: "I will have such revenges on you both / That all the world shall—I will do such things—/ What they are, yet I know not, but they shall be / The terrors of the earth" (II, iv). It is very different from the way Kent blows up at Oswald (II, ii) with an anger which is sure of itself and not hysterical. Lear is reduced to howling and cannot retaliate. "I will punish home," he cries; "No, I will weep no more" (III, iv). The only punishment he can think of is to stop weeping. Truly "Old fools are babes again" (I, iii); this is not the frightening anger of a powerful man, but the pathetic, choking rage of a child.
Shakespeare sets up the play to bring out this diminished side to Lear's imperious authority. One feels his relish in reducing Lear to these proportions in the impossible odds he sets up against this stubborn old man. For the fundamental antagonism of the play is between Lear and that grim adversary, life, which cannot be scripted like the fairy tale he tries to force it into in the first scene of the play. His contest is dramatized in the night he spends on the heath "contending with the fretful elements" when he "strives in his little world of man to outscorn / The to-and-fro conflicting wind and rain" (III, i). Shakespeare concocts his madness as a punishment, as one more burden for the royal despot who insists on his own prerogative of power in spite of what is justly due him.
Everything is arranged to shove unwanted truths down Lear's throat—the evil intentions of Goneril and Regan, the pitiful privations of the poorest in his kingdom and his own deficiencies, for "He hath but slenderly known himself." The world of this play has its mixtures of the agreeable and disagreeable as unavoidably obvious as Cordelia's double duty to both a father and a husband, or the doubling of good sons and bad sons, good daughters and bad daughters. Everyone else in the drama understands the complexity of reality, knows how to speak one thing and intend another. No good comes of Cordelia's purist refusal to play the game. Edgar saves Gloucester's life with a shabby trick. Even Kent knows how to adapt to situations when necessary. He can palaver of "the wreath of radiant fire on flickering Phoebus' front" (II, ii) when he has to, or
other accents borrow That can my speech defuse, my good intent May carry though itself to that full issue For which I razed my likeness. (I, iv)
Lear alone willfully denies the harsher realities, and his madness seems to come out of this rigidity. He assumes that his inflexible will can order the world around him; he insists on the rules of a game he had decided on in advance, even as it turns out all wrong. Each time his authority is dealt another blow, his madness gains momentum. When Goneril first orders him to contain his complaints, it amazes and disorients him. "Does any here know me?" he asks, disconnected from his usual sense of self. "This is not Lear. / Does Lear walk thus? speak thus? Where are his eyes? / Either his notion weakens, his discernings / Are lethargied" (I, iv). When he sees his hardhearted daughters implacably allied against him, he flees into the storm crying, "O Fool! I shall go mad!"
Shakespeare was forty-three years old when he wrote this play, an age when one is impatient with authorities who have outlived their turn and jostled by one's own children growing into new adulthood. He creates a Lear who must learn, however reluctantly, to surrender his authority, for he is growing old. "I pray you, father," says Goneril, "being weak, seem so" (II, iv). The old must be educated. As the Fool says to Lear, age and wisdom do not always go together: "Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise" (I, v). Gloucester "stumbled" when he "saw"; only when he is physically blinded and reduced in circumstances, like Oedipus, does he come to have real wisdom.
Shakespeare's satisfaction in teaching these stubborn old men their lesson is visible in his sympathy for the second-generation characters—for the energetic malice of Goneril and Regan and the brashness of Edmund. These plucky villains are the only sexual children in the play, and they seem pitted as much against the self-righteous goodness of their contemporaries Cordelia and Edgar as against their fathers. The good children, the honest ones (poor suckers), hardly have a chance. The "evil" children are the ones with the power; they are much smarter than their elders and very good with language (something Shakespeare must have had some feeling for), which they manipulate cleverly for their own ends. Their triumphs—the success of Edmund's ploys with Edgar and with Gloucester, and the way Goneril and Regan get away with taking power in spite of custom and expectation—are prepared for by the unjust authority of the older generation. That is, Lear's egocentric rules are not fair and Gloucester was unkind in exhibiting his bastard son. So when the younger generation turns the tables and reduces its tyrannical elders to helplessness, there is some poetic justice in the reversal.
Furthermore, the punishment that the young administer to the older generation is very effective. Lear comes out of his madness changed by the experience. Not that madness taught him anything, or that there were any blinding insights on the heath. Rather, his seizure was like the thunderstorm; there was a great build-up and discharge of energy, a neutralizing of crackling electricity. When he comes out of it he is calmer, as a child is calmer after an outburst of temper. There is a revival of his greatness, his sweetness, his moral perception. He begins to notice those around him, as if in releasing his woes he finally lives through them and can look elsewhere. He begins to take care of the Fool, to worry about his homeless subjects. His language has a noble balance to it:
O I have ta'en Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp; Expose thyself to what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them, And show the heavens more just. (III, iv)
It is as if his demandingness, his imperiousness, are boiled off in the heat of his obsessions and leave him purer afterward. The explosions of his madness are dynamic, they use themselves up, and then he can move beyond his concern with himself and gratefully embrace life in all its difficult complexity. He ends up vacillating between hope and despair, thinking Cordelia alive, dead, and then alive again—just as Gloucester dies "Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief"—having broken through the rigidities of age, which mimic the extreme narcissism of youth.
Hamlet turns on very different dimensions. If the central image of Lear's madness is of a raging, helpless, orphaned child, Hamlet is much more about the sullen, withheld, depressed, conflicted relation of a child to both his parents. The anger is not clean and cathartic as it is in King Lear; it is dirty, sullied. Hamlet's "imaginations are as foul / As Vulcan's stithy" (III, ii). He is haunted rather than furious. He does not vituperate Gertrude and Claudius, he embarrasses them in public and makes snide remarks. He is the child of a broken home; his mother is already in a new relationship that has nothing to do with him. In four short months he has been shut out of his family and even regarded with suspicion because of his public position, for in royal families all these private matters have political implications.
Everywhere in the drama characters are tiptoeing, spying on one another in quiet desperation. Political paranoia merges with voyeurism as the characters watch each other. Polonius and Laertes question Ophelia suspiciously about her relations with Hamlet. Polonius hires a man to follow Laertes and report on his activities. Claudius and Polonius watch Hamlet and Ophelia together; and Hamlet, who is aware of it, suspects Ophelia of complicity in their surveillance. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern "sift" Hamlet, put up to it by Claudius; Hamlet, in turn, watches Claudius' reaction to the play that he set up as a trap. Hamlet is present at Claudius' killing of his father by extension of the Ghost's narrative, but he is suspicious of the veracity of his vision and checks it against what he can see at the occasion of the play within the play. Everyone ogles as Ophelia floats wispily across the stage. Polonius peeks from behind the curtain at Hamlet's interview with Gertrude and then when he is gone the Ghost appears as an onlooker. There are always at least three people present at private encounters. Even Hamlet's moments of solitude are set up so the audience can eavesdrop on them.
Throughout the play there are secrets to be found out, hovering presences to explain. Submerged truths press to the surface like the movement of the Ghost rising from underground, his bones bursting "their cerements," the sepulchre opening "his ponderous and marble jaws / To cast thee up again" (I, iv). Hamlet's feelings about his mother's marriage and the secret of Claudius' crime—these things push against the play to be let out. But the greatest pressure is for the release of Hamlet's agony into clear feeling or for the explosion of his haunted thoughts into deeds. He is appalled by his paralysis and keeps trying to work himself up out of his numbness. The audience keeps waiting for something to happen. This is why it is a great relief when Laertes leaps onto the stage, calling loudly for revenge. It is a refreshment to see someone who can feel directly and express his emotions boldly rather than worrying at them as Hamlet does.
Indeed, it is because of Hamlet's numbness that one resorts to noting these qualities of the play in discussing his madness—which is to be observed more in the absence of impulses than in the acting out of them. This madness is not conceived of as a punishment, as in King Lear, but as a symptom of such deep conflict that it leaves Hamlet empty and emotionally deadened. It is not his manic nonsense, the jumbled things he says to Polonius or Ophelia, or his contentious punning which are the signs of his madness. His word play is a smokescreen that he throws up deliberately, a form of passive resistance when he feels manipulated or when his real reaction is inaccessible or impolitic. It is the inaccessibility of his real responses that is peculiar. He is trapped in a pattern that he cannot understand or break out of—until the final sequence. That is why, even though he cannot articulate the reasons for his agony, the careful reader attends to the situational clues of the rest of the play, for it all resonates with his stifled, watchful secretiveness.
The commonly accepted Freudian interpretation of Hamlet's immobility, best expounded by Ernest Jones in Hamlet and Oedipus, assumes of Hamlet an earlier Oedipal wish for the death of his real father. When his secret fantasy is then fulfilled, he cannot but be guilty and conflicted about it. There is actually a very close parallel to this situation right in the center of the play itself, in Act III, scene iii. Claudius is trying to pray, trying to atone for his guilty crime, but finds himself unable to do so while "still possessed / Of those effects for which I did the murder, / My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen." Hamlet is similarly trapped and cannot act to expunge his guilt while he still enjoys the effects of his own secret desire (his father's death). One does not even have to assume a sexual motive for the wish; the fierce and vengeful ghost of this father suggests a frightening and unbending authority, whose removal must have occasioned mixed feelings. Hamlet is therefore unable to act to expunge his guilt, unable to avenge the murder and stand wholeheartedly behind his father, for he is still possessed of the effects of his guilty wish—that is, the absence of his father.
Jones, of course, assumes the sexual basis of the Oedipal conflict and uses it to explain Hamlet's concern with his mother's sexuality. Undeniably the play is filled with male relatives taking a suggestive and possessive interest in the special favors of their mothers/sisters/daughters. Laertes warns Ophelia not to open her "chaste treasure" to Hamlet's "unmastered importunity," and Polonius suspiciously asks her what is going on between them. The Ghost, who appears whenever Hamlet has been with his mother, and who must be taken at some level as Hamlet's own internalized version of his father, is almost exclusively concerned with the sexual motive for revenge. "Let not the royal bed of Denmark be / A couch for luxury and damned incest" (I, v), intones the spirit, rather than warning that the throne is being politically usurped by an illegitimate ruler. Similarly, in Hamlet's scene with Gertrude in her chamber, in which he urges her not to sleep with Claudius anymore, their cohabiting appears to be the offense for which he most hates the usurper.
Although Jones' Freudian reading explains many of the invisible forces of the play, there are also other ways of understanding them. It is true that his mother's remarriage seems to be a bitterer pill for Hamlet to swallow than his father's death, but it is the marriage which most displaces him from his family. Furthermore, there is very little human trust of any kind in the play, so it is hardly surprising that there is no sexual trust either. The sexual disgust in his tirades to his mother or to Ophelia reminds one of Pentheus' sneering assumptions about bacchante: one does not need to postulate sexual competition to understand this aversion to sexuality. When there is a tenuous sense of self, grounded mainly in the activities of the mind, it is probably more dangerous than gratifying to risk merging sexually with another. There is an inability to surrender the will and let through disruptive realities. It is threatening to relinquish consciousness for a bodily sense of self that no longer has a feeling of reality. The need for omnipotence makes it necessary to ignore the body, with its dangerous mortality—"the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to." It is too hard to give up the illusion of compulsive control that one gets from withdrawing into mental activity. A person so threatened might well turn in disgust from the functions of the body and redouble his efforts to enclose life safely with the conscious mind.
Hamlet's self-dramatizing, his rhapsodies of words, his inability to experience his feelings deeply—these qualities suggest such a shape to his madness. When we first see him, he is standing apart from the others, dressed differently, misbehaving with bitter irony. Shakespeare makes sure we know that Hamlet understands theatrical effects in his scene with the traveling actors. Even before he learns of the treachery and the need for revenge, before he assumes the disguise of incoherence, he despairingly plays up a sullenness that simultaneously gives him a role to play and makes it impossible for anyone else to break into his solitude.
Hamlet's projection of a dramatic presence must be seen in the context of his self-doubt, for one often plays a role when one's sense of reality is thin. If he had a clear and vivid sense of who he was, what he felt, what he had to do, he would not need to dramatize a self but could feel one, understand it, and act from it. Nowhere is this more clear than in his soliloquy in Act II, scene ii, in which he speaks of all these things—acting, feeling, self-dramatizing. He is disgusted that a mere actor, with no motive for grief, can act the part while he,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, And can say nothing. No, not for a king, Upon whose property and most dear life A damned defeat was made. Am I a coward? Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across? Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face? … Ha, 'swounds, I should take it, for it cannot be But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall To make oppression bitter, or ere this I should ha' fatted all the region kites With this slave's offal. Bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain! O vengeance! Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave, That I, the son of a dear father murdered, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must like a whore unpack my heart with words And fall a-cursing like a very drab …
In his speech he moves from railing at his own incapacity for action, at his own dreamy distance from the pressing events of his life, into a stagy routine directed at imagined insults, acting out a mock fight with feints and theatrical valor. It is as if he is trying to force something to happen by imitating anger, as if acting the part will bring the feeling back with it. He curses with vehemence, trying to work himself out of his lethargy, trying to compensate for the emptiness inside. But it all collapses because he realizes that he is disconnected from his words, that verbal facility will never take the place of feelings or acts. As in his other soliloquies, when he contemplates the "flat, stale, and unprofitable" world, he is trying to secure intellectually what he is missing in his bones. The longer he tries to come at it this way, the more stale becomes his response to the upsetting events of his life; one does not stop to ask the reasons for living when one is fully engaged in it.
The central image of Hamlet is of the melancholy prince pacing restlessly and wondering out loud about the meaning of his life. This self-centeredness is the starting point for understanding the vision of madness that permeates the play. The action is set up to focus on the matter between Hamlet and his conscience, his changed relation to his parents and himself, and everything refers back to his self-examination. He calls attention to himself in every scene he is in; he is rude and unsympathetic to Gertrude and Ophelia because he is taken up with himself—that is as wide as he can set his lens.
Ophelia's madness plays with these same issues of alienation and self-dramatization. She, too, is expected to assimilate sudden changes in her relation to the world and is unable to adjust herself to them. Having innocently entered into a relationship with Hamlet, she is now told that it is improper and that she must not trust him. In a classic woman's bind, she is torn between her loyalties to her lover on one hand and her father and brother on the other. (Indeed, they kill each other off by the end of the play.) Each assures her that the world is full of traps for the unsuspecting innocent. She is at once viewed with suspicion and being told to view everyone else that way. Polonius and Laertes both tell her that Hamlet's motives are not what they seem, that she cannot trust her own sense of what is true; Hamlet, suspecting her of collusion with Polonius and Claudius, asks: "Are you honest?" (III, i). When Hamlet throws her over with a violence she does not understand, it further undermines her trust in her relations to other people. One watches the props pulled out from under her one by one, as first Laertes, then Polonius, and then Hamlet question her. And as her trust disappears, she seems to evaporate before our eyes, until she is like a caricature thin as gauze.
The less Ophelia is in touch with a core of perceptions she feels she can rely on (a self), the more she dramatizes a self. When we see her mad (IV, v), her presence is commanding although her words have lost their coherence. Everyone watches her and listens to her but no one wants to interact with her; Gertrude begins that scene by saying, "I will not speak with her." Another onlooker tells us that those who hear her unshaped speech "aim at it / And botch the words up to fit their own thoughts." Her madness is a kind of performance that each spectator objectifies and tries to interpret with his/her own meaning. No one speaks to her directly because her self-dramatization distances her from everyone and turns them all into an audience. She sings snatches of songs about true loves and false loves and her dead father. "Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself, / She turns to favor and to prettiness" (IV, v), says Laertes. She is able to deny her terrible reality by keeping it public and impersonal, as if acting it out in a stylized way protects her from owning it or feeling it. Just so, stutterers can act or sing fluently because as performers they need not be identified with their speech.
Thus the vision of madness of the characters in Hamlet is one of those with an embattled, tenuous sense of themselves and their reality. They live in a world in which people cannot trust each other, in which there are deceptions and plots and counterplots. Even between parents and children there is spying and suspicion. There are no possibilities for either Hamlet or Ophelia to define themselves in relation to other people, neither lovers nor parents, and so each remains isolated, distrustful, self-involved. Their words are disconnected from their feelings and thoughts because there is no core to their behavior. Each feels aimless, empty, adrift, unable to experience the reality of events in the world because there is no feeling of reality to the self, the starting point for perception of the world. Probably for each of them this can be explained as a way of escaping reality. When one cannot deal with difficult realities anymore, one transforms them mentally so that they become dead and meaningless.
1 Foucault, M. Madness and Civilization. Transl. R. Howard. New York: New American Library, 1967, Chapter 1.
2 Extracts from ancient municipal tracts of Newcastleon-Tyne.
Richard Corballis (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: "Love and Madness in the Works of Shakespeare and Others," in Cahiers Elisabethains, No. 27, April, 1985, pp. 85-7.
[In the essay below, Corballis discusses the thematic link between love and madness in the Elizabethan theater of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.]
That Love is, as Rosalind puts it in As You Like It (III.2), merely a madness and … deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do is something of a Renaissance commonplace, whose most memorable formulation is probably Theseus's homily about The lunatic, the lover, and the poet in A Midsummer-Night's Dream, V.1.
The O.E.D. caters for passages like these by defining the adjective 'mad' as "carried away by enthusiasm or desire; wildly excited; infatuated" (sense 4; my emphasis), and it cites Parolles' description of Bertram in All's Well V.3: He loued her, for indeede he was madde for her. But the O.E.D. seems to imply that 'mad' has this meaning only when it is qualified in some way (mad for, mad about etc.); it does not countenance the idea that 'mad' and 'infatuated', 'madness' and 'infatuation' may be directly equivalent in meaning, so that it would have been possible for Parolles to say simply (and without undue denigration): He loued her, for indeede he was madde.
Instances of the unqualified usage of 'mad' in this sense are quite common in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In The Duchess of Malfi IV.2 Ferdinand has his sister tormented by a chorus of madmen, and in the previous scene he gives this reason for his action:
And ('cause she'll needs be mad) I am resolv'dTo remove forth the common HospitallAll the mad-folke, and place them neere her lodging.
The madness of which he accuses her is, of course, a madness of the blood—infatuation. Earlier in the play Ferdinand explicitly spells out the connection between madness and love: Do you thinke, he says to Bosola,
that hearbes, or charmes Can force the will? Some trialls have bin made In this foolish practise; but the ingredients Were lenative poysons, such as are of force To make the patient mad; and straight the witch Sweares (by equivocation) they are in love. (III.1)
In other words, 'by equivocation' (that is, in the O.E.D.'s primary definition, "the using [a word] in more than one sense") madness can be construed as love.
Turning to Shakespeare, we find the love-sick Olivia, when she hears of Malvolio's strange behaviour in Twelfth Night III.4, observing, I am as mad as he, If sad and merry madness equal be, and this sad … madness can only be unrequited passion for Cesario. Malvolio's merry madness turns out to be an equally futile passion for Olivia, and in this case the love=madness equation is exploited for all it is worth, with Malvolio eventually being confined as a madman. In As You Like It I.3, the lovelorn Rosalind responds to Celia's request that Rosalind lame her with reasons for her silence with the observation:
Then there were two cousins laid up, when the one should be lamed with reasons, and the other mad without any.
The phrase laid up almost certainly contains a double entendre—after all Rosalind proceeds at once to talk about her child's father—and this should help us to see that the word mad (which has troubled some editors) is here used to mean 'madly (wantonly) in love'. In A Midsummer-Night's Dream Puck seems to have the same meaning in mind when he quips:
Cupid is a knavish lad, Thus to make poor females mad. (III.2)
And Adonis's trampling courser and the breeding jennet, lusty young and proud go to it As they were mad.1 Even Hamlet seems to play at times upon this sense of the word 'mad' once he has put on his antic disposition—at any rate Polonius assumes that his madness stems from love.
One dramatist who harped persistently on this theme of love's madness was William Rowley. The subplot which he provided for The Changeling demonstrates graphically the madness (and folly) of love, and the same idea explains the choice of the name Dionysia for the young woman with whom the infatuated Antonio contracts a bigamous marriage in All's Lost by Lust.
As late as 1706 George Farquhar provides another seeming instance of this usage: In I.2 of The Recruiting Officer Silvia expresses her love for Plume by observing: Ay, Melinda, he is come, and I'll take care he shan't go without a companion, and Melinda replies: You're certainly mad, cousin. The frank attitude to love and sex which Silvia displays throughout this scene (and which draws from Melinda the observation: hadst thou been a man, thou hadst been the greatest rake in Christendom) suggests that the madness in question is a passionate (and strongly physical) attraction to Plume.
In a sense the notion of love's madness is still with us, I suppose. "This is madness, darling!" has become a cliché on the twentieth-century stage. But the factor which distinguishes Renaissance treatments of this theme is that writers could simply substitute the word 'mad' for the word 'infatuated', and could even proceed to build upon this substitution (whether stated or implied) such imaginative devices as Malvolio's confinement and the grotesque anti-masque which precedes the death of the Duchess of Malfi.
All this evidence may help to solve a textual crux in Othello. Late in IV. 1, Othello exclaims to Desdemona, I am glad to see you mad. Various emendations have been suggested, but Othello may just be using a conventional 'short-hand' means of accusing his wife of adulterous infatuation. Of course his tone is harsher than Olivia's or Rosalind's or Puck's or Silvia's (though no harsher than Ferdinand's). And, whereas in these other plays the kinship of love and madness is bandied about a good deal so that there is a supporting context for the stark usage of the word 'mad' in the sense defined, in Othello there is a conspicuous lack of such a context and the accusation therefore creates considerable shock. But then perhaps Shakespeare is trying to provide a verbal equivalent to the shocking blow which Othello proceeds to inflict on Desdemona.
1Venus and Adonis, lines 260-1, 323.
Carol Thomas Neely (essay date 1991)
SOURCE: " 'Documents in Madness': Reading Madness and Gender in Shakespeare's Tragedies and Early Modern Culture," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 3, Fall, 1991, pp. 315-38.
[In this essay, Neely argues that modern analyses of the cultural construction of madness have been prone to "misreadings of the past" due to a failure to historicize their own position. She then examines how representations of madness in Shakespeare's tragedies function within wider cultural contexts.]
Olivia: How now? Art thou mad?Clown: No, madam, I do but read madness.(Twelfth Night, 5.1.293-94)1
If others had not been mad, then we should be.(Shoshana Felman quoting Georges Bataille quoting William Blake)2
This essay begins to investigate the continuities and discontinuities between the above epigrams. In the Twelfth Night exchange Olivia accuses Feste, her licensed fool, of madness; he defends himself against the charge by declaring that he is rather an interpreter of madness, referring literally to the letter he is reading from the supposedly mad Malvolio, figuratively to his fool's role as a satirist of human folly, and at a deeper level to his apt inscription of madness in Malvolio, the ambitious Puritan social climber and foolish would-be lover of Olivia. In the second quotation Shoshana Felman, in the epigram to her book Writing and Madness, identifies herself with the madness that is her subject in a quotation which enacts the intertextuality espoused by contemporary theorists. Feste inscribes madness to thwart Malvolio's desires and reads madness to dissociate himself from it; Felman reads madness to associate herself with it and to license desire.
As the epigrams imply, madness is a conundrum to those who would study it. It is a material condition that, to be understood, must be read, made sense of, inscribed into discourse.3 As Michael MacDonald has aptly noted, it is "the most solitary of afflictions to the people who experience it; but it is the most social of maladies to those who observe its effects." 4 Today, as in the early modern period, it is detected by laypersons before it is referred to doctors. Because it is "theoretically indeterminate,"5 it must be defined and read from within some framework; its definitions and therapies are always constructed from a particular historical moment and within a particular social order, influenced by and influencing that order. The final difficulty of reading madness—implicit in the two epigrammatic exchanges—is that in the act of doing so, one dissociates oneself from it or associates oneself with it, and in either case becomes disqualified as an interpreter. To read madness sanely is to miss the point; to read madness madly is to have one's point be missed. In this essay I want to begin to examine why, how, and with what consequences madness was read and represented in England in the early modern period by focusing on how representations of madness in Shakespeare's tragedies function within wider cultural contexts.
It has long been recognized that England in the period from 1580 to 1640 was fascinated with madness, although some aspects of this obsession have been over-estimated or misreported. The signs of its fascination are to be found in the treatises on the topic by Battie, Bright, Jorden, Wright, and Burton; in the theatrical representations of madness in the plays of Kyd, Shakespeare, Dekker, Middleton, Fletcher, and Webster; in the large numbers of patients who consulted such well-known doctors as Richard Napier and John Hall (Shakespeare's son-in-law) with symptoms of mental distress; and in the widespread references to and representations of Bethlem, or Bedlam, the popular name for Bethlehem Hospital, the main institution in England in this period which confined the insane. Bedlam, according to a 1598 visitation report made a couple of years before Hamlet and Twelfth Night were written, contained only twenty inmates: nine men and eleven women (or perhaps ten of each). The thirty-one inmates listed in a 1624 report caused overcrowding in the institution, which was tiny, "loathsomely and filthely kept," and badly mismanaged. The term "Bedlam" was in widespread use in early modern England not so much because of the impact of the institution itself (which had been in existence as a hospital since about 1330 and may have started accepting disturbed patients sometime before 1403, when a visitation record reports the presence of six men "mente capti") but because it had become a code word in Elizabethan and Jacobean culture for the confused, charged, and contested topic of madness.6
Madness, a concept in transition in the period, begins to be read/constructed/experienced differently in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than it had been in the Middle Ages (where it marked the intersection of human and transcendent) or than it will be in subsequent eras. In the eighteenth century, it will become, as Michel Foucault claims, the mark of unreason, the symbol of the animal side of human nature that needs confinement and restraint; in the nineteenth century, insanity (now the preferred term 7) becomes identified with hereditary degradation and immorality and is to be rectified by "moral treatment" or domestication. In the latter half of the twentieth century, philosophers, theorists, the anti-psychiatry movement, and investigations into the chemical basis for mental disorders have collapsed the boundaries between mad and sane, mental and physical, real and illusory, that were being constructed in the Renaissance.
This twentieth-century breakdown of partitions is apparent in both medical practice and philosophical theory. In the 1960s the clinical and theoretical work of Thomas Szasz, R. D. Laing, and the anti-psychiatry movement argued that mental illness was a myth used to bring disruptive behavior under control, a "sane" reaction to oppression in the family and in the culture.8 Current public policy mandating the deinstitutionalization and "mainstreaming" of the mentally distressed similarly (though with different motives) loosens boundaries between the sane and the insane. Current research and recent therapies stress the biochemical basis of and pharmacological treatments for mental distress, resplicing mind and body. Likewise, for literary theorists and philosophers, reading madness functions subversively to blur boundaries, to put the verb "to know" in quotation marks, as Shoshana Felman notes.9 Post-structuralist philosophers of radical skepticism like Derrida and Lacan, denying the possibility of a unified subject with continuous identity, of a coherent language that can ever say what it means, of "true" knowledge of the world, erase the boundaries between madness and sanity that were constructed in the Renaissance and strengthened and policed in the Enlightenment. Most influentially, Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization critiques the Age of Reason for exploiting the discourse of madness and the confinement of the mad to erase reason's antithesis, unreason.
Because current theories and therapies of madness work to deconstruct what the early modern period worked to construct, misreadings of the past are likely. Too often, analyses of the cultural construction of madness, like those of Foucault and Elaine Showalter, fail to historicize their own position and to distinguish it from that of earlier periods. Both these influential accounts are weakened by inadequate knowledge of periods before that on which they focus (Foucault focuses on the eighteenth century, Showalter on the nineteenth); by a conventional, hence inaccurate, view of historical periodization; by a refusal to make sufficient distinctions between aesthetic representation and other sorts of historical data; and by a failure to fully gender the subject of madness. For Foucault there are only madmen; for Showalter there are only madwomen.10
In the early modern period the discourse of madness gained prominence because it was implicated in the medical, legal, theological, political, and social aspects of the reconceptualization of the human. Gradually madness, and hence sanity, began to be secularized, medicalized, psychologized, and (at least in representation) gendered. In the Middle Ages, madness was seen as the point of intersection between the human, the divine, and the demonic. It was viewed alternatively or simultaneously as possession, sin, punishment, and disease, and it confirmed the inseparability of the human and transcendent.11 By theorizing and representing madness, the Renaissance gradually and with difficulty began to try to separate human madness from the supernatural (from demonic and divine possession, as does Edward Jorden's treatise on hysteria, The Suffocation of the Mother); from the spiritual (from doubt, sin, guilt, and rational suicide, as does Timothy Bright's Treatise of Melancholy); from witchcraft and bewitchment (as does Reginald Scot's Discouerie of Witchcraft); from frauds who imitated these conditions (as does Samuel Harsnett's Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures); and from the sheerly physical (as do Jorden and doctors like Richard Napier and John Hall in their diagnoses of epilepsy and menstrual disorders), and began to try to map the normal, "natural," and self-contained secular human subject. Splitting the supernatural from the natural, and attempting to define what remained, the period began to separate mind from body, man from woman, insanity from both sanity and from other types of aberrance such as poverty, heresy, and crime. We can watch the linked aspects of this multifaceted process unfold in treatises on melancholy, hysteria, and witchcraft, in medical and legal practice, and in the drama.
In his A Treatise of Melancholy Timothy Bright (at the time a doctor and subsequently an Anglican priest) provides elaborate classifications of madness and recommendations for treatment that serve, by complex distinctions between the spiritual and the psycho-physiological, to subordinate the former. The treatise is written in the form of a letter to a male friend, addressed as "M", who is suffering from what we would call depression. Designed to cure M, the letter advises him on how to distinguish between spiritual doubt and the disease of natural melancholy. Spiritual doubt, caused by the sense of sin and the incomprehensible and inexpressible loss of God's favor, is to be cured by penitence, prayer, and faith. Spiritual consolation is the subject of the longest of the treatise's forty-one chapters.12 The rest of the treatise outlines an etiology of melancholy that explicates the elaborate interactions between the soul, mind, passions, and body, on the one hand, and, on the other, the animal spirits that unify them. Natural depression is caused by the unnatural excess or combustion of natural melancholy, the cold dry humor or black bile that, when burned, causes such symptoms as passivity, unsociability, fury, stupidity, paranoia, lust, anger, mania, but especially sorrow and fear. Bright's recommended treatment (remarkably familiar) is healthy diet, exercise, sleep, and good friends.
In Bright's treatise, however, the careful distinctions between spiritual and physiological melancholy repeatedly collapse. Both states are characterized by the same symptoms: hallucinatory terror and unreasonable sadness. Natural melancholy predisposes one to spiritual doubt while spiritual doubt exacerbates the pathology of the black bile. Both the medical therapy, based on diet and rest, and the spiritual cure, dependent on faith and grace, are designed to relieve the loss of self-worth that characterizes equally both forms of the disease. The effect is to merge the two kinds of melancholy and to subordinate the spiritual causes and cure to the psychological and physiological ones. The gender of M, the respectful scholarly tone of Bright's letter/treatise, and the identification of the disease with spiritual doubt all point to the associations of melancholy with the fashionable, the upper class, the literate, the masculine—associations that become yet more prominent in Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621).
While Bright's treatise strives unsuccessfully to distinguish spiritual guilt from natural melancholy, Edward Jorden's landmark treatise, A Briefe Discourse of a Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother, sets out to distinguish bewitchment from insanity (and, indirectly, to legitimize licensed physicians). It is directed at Jorden's fellow members of the College of Physicians, who, as trained and experienced doctors are, he claims "best able to discerne what is naturall, what not naturall, what preternaturall, and what supernaturall,"13 and who might therefore be called upon, as Jorden had been, to testify on the status of the victim's symptoms in witch trials. If these symptoms are diagnosed as natural in orgin, the result of hysteria, the accused witch is acquitted (as over half were14); if they are found supernatural, she (or, infrequently, he) is convicted. The diagnosis is a difficult one to make because the symptoms of bewitchment and hysteria are identical. Hysteria was caused, traditional medicine believed, by the pathology of the diseased and wandering womb, and hence it was primarily although not exclusively a disease of women: "The passiue condition of womankind is subiect vnto more diseases and of other sortes and natures then men are: and especially in regarde of that part from whence this disease which we speake of doth arise," Jorden declares.15 One internal cause of the disease, Jorden claims with some reticence, is retention of menstrual blood or sperma (which women were believed to have) due to sexual frustration or the suppression of the "flowers," the menstrual periods. The origin of the fantastic and disconnected symptoms of the disease—swooning, paralysis, choking, convulsions, numbness, delirium, epilepsy, headaches—is the wild peregrinations of the uncontrollable uterus and its capacity to corrupt all the parts of the body. One recommended cure is marriage, which institutes regular sexual relations and thus aids in evacuation of fluids and brings the wild uterus under a husband's control. In spite of the tendency of such an analysis to identify hysteria as a disease of women, Jorden does not explicitly draw this conclusion and refers without comment (as do other writers) to men who suffer from "the mother."16
This association of hysteria with women, especially women of the upper classes, incipient in the early modern period, is present as well in Robert Burton's compendious Anatomy of Melancholy. As the all-male frontispiece of the book suggests, Burton associates melancholy especially with male scholars, philosophers, and geniuses like Democritus and himself, although its causes and symptoms are multitudinous and its sufferers are everywhere. But when he defines the "Symptomes of Maides, Nunnes, and Widowes melancholy," he associates this type with "fits of the mother," which he represents as linked with marital, sexual, and class status, associated with sexual frustration, and cured by sexual satisfaction: "For seldome shall you see an hired seruant, a poore handmaid, though ancient that is kept hard to her worke, and bodily labour, a course country wench troubled in this kinde." Those who are "prone to the disease" are "noble virgins, nice gentlewomen, such as are solitary and idle, live at ease, lead a life out of action and imployment, that fare well in great houses and Ioviall companies, ill-disposed peraduenture of themselues, and not willing to make any resistance, discontented otherwise, of weake judgement, able bodies, and subject to passions." Like Jorden, Burton recommends marriage as a "remedy."17
Jorden's Discourse not only aims to forestall mistaken diagnoses of bewitchment but also to expose "impostures" who only pretend to have the symptoms. Reginald Scot's ironically titled and cogently argued The Discouerie of Witchcraft (1584) is written by this Justice of the Peace to deny the supernatural powers of witches themselves, attributing their behavior, including their voluntary confessions, to the effects of melancholy or hysteria. This diagnosis, of course, has the effect of continuing the secularization of witchcraft by medicalizing witches' behavior. (Witchcraft had begun to be secularized when its disposition was consigned to civil courts by a 1542 statute.) Samuel Harsnett (an ambitious chaplin to Bishop Bancroft) joined the established church's coordinated campaign against Catholic and Puritan exorcists in his A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603), which attacks illegal Catholic exorcism rituals, exposing both possession and exorcism as instigated insanity—fraud.18 These contexts may help to explain why the drama of the period often focuses on distinctions between feigned and actual madness and represents tests, like Claudius's test of Hamlet, to uncover fraud.19 While witchcraft prosecutions continue to take place in England until 1680, these treatises and others function to medicalize the behavior of witches and the bewitched and to call the trials into question. In these areas—bewitchment, possession, witchcraft—madness is becoming a psychological alternative to conditions formerly defined as supernatural in origin and treatment.
On the new stages of the public theaters, Shakespeare, following Kyd in revising classical and Senecan tragedy, in Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear shapes a new language for madness and provides one important site for its redefinition.20 The plays, by representing both madness and the process of reading madness, theatricalize and disseminate the complicated distinctions that the treatises theorize. In the drama, as in the culture outside it, madness is diagnosed by those who observe it—both specialists and laypersons. Their readings enable the drama's audience to participate with them in distinguishing madness from sanity and from madness's look-alikes—loss of grace, bewitchment, possession, or fraud. Since madness, like its imitations, is extreme, dislocated, irrational, alienated—separated both from the self who performs and the spectators who watch—the diagnosis is difficult. In Shakespeare's plays that make this diagnosis, the speech of the mad characters constructs madness as secular, socially enacted, gender- and class-marked, and medically treatable.
Although the importance of madness in the period's drama, especially in that of Shakespeare, has long been acknowledged, and although literary historians have outlined its anatomy and traced its occurrences,21 there have been few recent attempts to understand its rhetorical structure and dramatic function in Shakespeare's tragedies, or its wider cultural significance. Take, for example, responses to Ophelia and to Lear. A. C. Bradley sums up, at the beginning of the twentieth century, two centuries of views of and visual representations of Ophelia in madness as beautiful, sweet, lovable, pathetic, and dismissible.22 More recently, feminist critics, challenging this interpretation, have read Ophelia's madness as either her liberation from silence, obedience, and constraint or her absolute victimization by patriarchal oppression.23 In responses to King Lear, traditional critics often see Lear's madness as a means to illumination and self-knowledge.24 Significant contemporary analyses, in opposing the humanist optimism of these earlier interpretations, oddly pass over Lear's madness without notice. Stanley Cavell's influential monograph, "The Avoidance of Love: A Reading of King Lear," bypasses the long period when Lear is, as he puts it, "stranded in madness." Stephen Greenblatt's important new historicist essay, "King Lear and the Exorcists," reinterprets Edgar's feigned madness but ignores Lear's actual madness. Jonathan Dollimore, rather than seeing radical theatrical or social implications to Lear's madness, dismisses it as "demented mumbling."25 None of these critics, representing various current theoretical approaches, reads madness closely in the plays. None asks, as I do here, how its linguistic construction, its gender-coding, and its dramatic functions participate in cultural needs, practices, and attitudes.
Shakespeare, prefiguring Foucault's analysis, dramatizes madness primarily through a peculiar language more often than through physiological symptoms, stereotyped behaviors, or iconographic conventions.26 This characteristic speech is both something and nothing, both coherent and incoherent. Spectators, onstage and off, read this language, trying to make "sense" of it, translating it into the discourse of sanity. Shakespeare's language of madness is characterized by fragmentation, obsession, and repetition, and most importantly by what I will call "quotation," which might instead be called "bracketing" or "italicization."27 The mad are "beside themselves"; their discourse is not their own. But the voices that speak through them are not (even in the case of Edgar's parody of possession) supernatural voices but human ones—cultural ones perhaps. The prose that is used for this mad speech (although it includes embedded songs and rhymes) implies disorderly shape,28 associates madness with popular tradition, and contributes to its colloquial, "quoted" character. These quoted voices, however, have connections with (or can be interpreted to connect with) the mad characters' pre-mad gendered identity and history, their social context and psychological stresses—as well as with larger themes of the plays and of the culture. The alienated speech allows psychological plausibility, thematic resonance, cultural constructions, and social critique. Using it, Shakespeare represents distinctions between female hysteria and feigned male melancholy in Hamlet, between supernatural witchcraft and natural alienation in Macbeth, and between feigned possession and natural madness in King Lear.
Onstage characters mediate this pregnant, mad discourse, showing us how to translate it in ways made explicit by the anonymous Gentleman in Hamlet who introduces Ophelia, Shakespeare's first extended "document in madness":
She … speaks things in doubt That carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing, Yet the unshapèd use of it doth move The hearers to collection; they yawn at it, And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts, Which, as her winks and nods and gestures yield them, Indeed would make one think there might be thought, Though nothing sure, yet much unhappily. (4.5.6-13)29
The speech here described is painful, unshaped unsense that can be "botched" up into shape by an audience's perceptions. Ophelia's alienated discourse invites a psychological, thematic, and gendered interpretation. It resituates sacred material in a secular, psychological context, and she and Hamlet act out distinctions between feigned and actual madness and between rational and mad suicide, distinctions that the culture was gradually establishing.
Ophelia's madness is represented almost entirely through fragmentary, communal, and thematically coherent quoted discourse. Through it, rituals elsewhere involving the supernatural are appropriated and secularized. Ophelia recites formulas, tales, and songs that ritualize passages of transformation and loss—lost love, lost chastity, and death. These transitions are alluded to in social formulas of greeting and leave-taking: "Well, God dild you," "Good night, ladies, good night" (11. 42, 73); in religious formulas of grace and benediction: "God be at your table!" "God 'a' mercy on his soul! / And of all Christian souls, I pray you" (11. 44, 198-99); in allusions to folk legends or tales of daughters' metamorphic changes in status: tales of the "owl [who] was a baker's daughter" (11. 42-43) and of the master's daughter stolen by the steward.
Her songs likewise enact truncated rites of passage. Love and its loss are embodied in the song of the "truelove," imagined with a cockle hat, staff, and sandals, all icons of his pilgrimage. She sings of Valentine's Day loss of virginity when a maid crosses a threshold both literal and psychological: "Then up he rose and donned his clothes / And dupped the chamber door, / Let in the maid, that out a maid / Never departed more.… / Young men will do't if they come to't, / By Cock, they are to blame" (11. 52-55, 61-62). This imagined deflowering preempts and precludes a marriage ritual. The other songs mourn a death and represent the concrete markers of a spare funeral ritual—a flaxen poll, a bier, a stone, no flowers. They enable Ophelia to mourn her father's death, enact his funeral, encounter his dead body, and find consolation for her loss: "He is gone, he is gone, / And we cast away moan" (11. 196-97). Into this central loss and its rituals, Ophelia's other losses or imagined losses—of lover, of virginity, of "fair judgement"—are absorbed. Her distribution of flowers to the court is an extension of her quoted discourse, an enacted ritual of dispersal, symbolizing lost love, deflowering, and death. A secularized cultural ritual of maturation and mourning is enacted through Ophelia's alienated speech.30
Ophelia's madness, as the play presents it, begins to be gender-specific in ways that later stage representations of Ophelia and of female hysterics will exaggerate.31 Her restlessness, agitation, shifts of direction, her "winks and nods and gestures" (1. 11) suggest the spasms of "the mother" and show that madness is exhibited by the body as well as in speech; gesture and speech, equally convulsive, blend together: Ophelia "beats her heart, / Spurns enviously at straws" (11. 5-6). The context of her disease, like that of hysteria later, is sexual frustration, social helplessness, and enforced control over women's bodies. The content of her speech reflects this context. Laertes's anguished response to Ophelia as a "document in madness"—"Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself, / She turns to favor and to prettiness" (11. 187-88)—shows how the reading of madness's self-representation can aestheticize the condition, mitigating both its social critique and its alien aspects. In a similar fashion Gertrude narrates Ophelia's death as beautiful, natural, and eroticized, foreshadowing later representations of it and representations of female hysterics as sexually frustrated and theatrically alluring. The representation of Ophelia implicitly introduces conventions for reading madness as gender-inflected.
Gender distinctions likewise begin to take shape in the contrasts between Hamlet and Ophelia. Although Ophelia in her mad scenes can be seen to serve as a double for Hamlet during his absence from Denmark and from the play,32 Hamlet's madness is in every way contrasted with hers, in part, no doubt, to emphasize the difference between feigned and actual madness. His discourse, although witty, savage, and characterized by non sequiturs and bizarre references, almost never has the "quoted," fragmentary, ritualized quality of Ophelia's—as we are instructed: "Nor what he spake, though it lacked form a little, / Was not like madness" (3.1.164-65). Significantly, the one time it is "like madness"—that is, like Ophelia's speech—is after the encounter with his father's ghost, when Hamlet must abruptly reenter the human, secular world of his friends. The "wild and whirling words" (1.5.133) that he utters to effect this transition are quoted truisms and social formulas for parting which are incoherently deployed:
And so, without more circumstance at all, I hold it fit that we shake hands and part: You, as your business and desire shall point you, For every man hath business and desire Such as it is, and for my own poor part, Look you, I'll go pray. (11. 127-32)
After this moment of dislocation he announces a plan to feign madness, to "put an antic disposition on" (1. 172); and he is able to "go in together" (1. 186) with his friends, reuniting himself with the world of human fellowship and sanity, although he is himself marked by the remembrance of the Ghost's "commandment" (1. 102).
The stylistic distinction between Hamlet's feigned madness and Ophelia's actual madness is emphasized by other distinctions. Henceforth in the play, Hamlet is presented as fashionably introspective and melancholy while Ophelia becomes alienated, acting out the madness Hamlet only plays at. Whereas her madness is somatized and its content eroticized, Hamlet's melancholy is politicized in form and content. Caused purportedly by Claudius's usurpation of the throne and by his father's commandment, it manifests itself in social criticism, and it is viewed as politically dangerous. Ophelia must be watched, contained within the family, within the castle; Hamlet must be first contained and later expelled to England to be murdered. By acting out the madness Hamlet feigns and the suicide that he theorizes, the representation of Ophelia absorbs pathological excesses open to Hamlet and enables his reappearance as a sane, autonomous individual and a tragic hero in the last act. There he appears detached from family and from sexuality, seemingly freed from passivity and loss of control, capable of philosophical contemplation and revenge, worthy a spiritual epitaph and a soldier's funeral; his restored identity is validated—symbolically as well as literally—over Ophelia's grave: "This is I, / Hamlet the Dane" (5.1.257-58).
The contrast between Ophelia's mad suicide and Hamlet's contemplated one represents in drama the distinction the period was required to make between calculated suicide (felo-de-se), a religious sin and a civil crime, and insane self-destruction (non compos mentis). When the act was judged self-murder, the deceased's property was seized by the state and Christian burial was not encouraged.33 Madness, however, rendered suicide innocent and permitted conventional inheritance and burial. The secularization of suicide and that of madness reinforced each other. The play enacts these distinctions without choosing sides. Whereas Hamlet's calm contemplation of suicide would render the act on his part a sin (of despair) and a crime (as he recognizes with his reference to the "canon 'gainst self-slaughter" [1.2.132]), Ophelia's suicide is described by Gertrude as accidental ("an envious sliver broke" [4.7.173]), passive, involuntary, mad. In England in the period, drowning was the most common means of suicide for women and the cause of death that made distinctions between accident and volition most difficult.34 The play keeps various possibilities in suspension. Gertrude's representation of Ophelia's death neither condemns it on religious grounds nor explicitly condones it on medical/legal grounds. Instead she narrates it without interpretation as a beautiful, "natural," ritual of passage and purification, the mad body's inevitable return to nature:
Her clothes spread wide, And mermaidlike awhile they bore her up, Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds, As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a creature native and indued Unto that element. (11. 175-80)35
Later the issue of Ophelia's death is reopened when the lower-class gravedigger and the priest skeptically challenge the "crowner's" warrant and argue that it is aristocratic prerogative that permits Ophelia's Christian burial.
In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth's suicide has none of the purifying and involuntary aspects of Ophelia's, and its meaning is not interrogated. But it occurs following a state of gendered alienation represented through quoted discourse with similarities to Ophelia's. The alienation of Lady Macbeth in sleepwalking is, like Ophelia's, psychologized, represented by means of quoted speech, read by representatives of the community, associated with symbolic purification, and it culminates in suicide. Her breakdown embodied in sleepwalking is contrasted with Macbeth's enraged, bloody, "valiant fury" ("Some say he's mad" [5.2.13]). But the division between her powerful will in the early acts of the play and her alienated loss of it in the sleepwalking scenes, her connections with and dissociation from the witches, and their bifurcated representation all construct—and blur—other distinctions associated with madness: those between supernatural and natural agency, diabolic possession and human malevolence.
Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking, like Ophelia's madness, occurs after an absence from the stage, is presented as a sharp break with earlier appearances, and is introduced by an onstage spectator. When sleepwalking, Lady Macbeth quotes, in the form of proverbial commonplaces ("Hell is murky" [5.1.38]) and chilling pseudo-nursery rhymes ("The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?" [11. 44-45]), her own earlier words (or perhaps thoughts) and Macbeth's. She refers to Duncan's murder, Banquo's ghost, and the death of Lady Macduff all in the mode of advice and comfort to Macbeth ("No more o' that, my lord, no more o' that" [1. 46]). She narrates Macbeth's bloody acts, talks directly to him although he is not present, and acts out her own complicity by "washing" her hands to remove the smell and sight of the blood that taints them. This quotation has the effect of distancing the discourse from its speaker and inviting a reading. But it is less communal and thematic, more personal and psychologized than Ophelia's. The doctor explicitly reads Lady Macbeth's state as religious despair, not as demonic possession or physical breakdown—in Bright's terms, as spiritual rather than natural melancholy: "More needs she the divine than the physician" (1. 77).
The witches and Lady Macbeth, as Peter Stallybrass has argued,36 are indirectly identified with each other by their gender, by the structure and symbolism of the play, and by their parallel roles as catalysts to Macbeth's actions. They function as cultural scapegoats for the unnaturalness, disorder, and violence let loose. But the play also implies contrasts between Lady Macbeth and the witches, and these produce disjunctions between the natural and the supernatural. The witches' supernatural ambiguity is contrasted with the "natural" ambiguity of Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene. In their early appearances they are described as ambiguously male or female, as on the earth but not of it; they speak equivocally (but not madly). Lady Macbeth, when sleepwalking, is in a state that combines "the benefit of sleep" with "the effects of watching" (5.1.11-12); "Her eyes are open," "but their sense are shut" (11. 26-27). The witches are dramatized in connection with some of the conventional accoutrements of witchcraft belief: familiars, submission to Hecate, spells, potions, fortune-telling, and successful conjuring. In contrast Lady Macbeth's attempted (and unsuccessful) invocation is to spirits that seem more natural than supernatural: they "tend on mortal thoughts" and "wait on nature's mischief (1.5.41, 50). She does not ask directly for help to harm others as witches typically do, but only for a perversion of her own emotions and bodily functions: "fill me … top-full / Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood" (11. 42-43). In contrast the witches plot to cause the magical kinds of harm to others conventionally associated with witches' maleficium: interference with livestock, weather, and male sexuality.
The witches are, then, ambiguously associated with and dissociated from Lady Macbeth.37 Their own representation is likewise bifurcated. They are ambiguously "natural" and supernatural. They are represented partly as the disgruntled outcasts of Scot's Discouerie, partly as the agents of harmful activities like those charged in English witch trials, and partly as devil-possessed like the witches described by Continental witch-mongers in the Malleus Maleficarum (c. 1486). In the opening scenes they seem to invite Scot's psychological interpretation (statistically supported by Alan Macfarlane's social, structural analysis38); they appear to be frustrated, melancholic women who, on the margins of society, get back at those who have disregarded them by muttering curses and plotting revenges—"I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do" (1.3.10)—and hence attracting blame and punishment. However, they do have familiars and seem capable of preternatural travels, so are not represented merely as social misfits. In their later appearances (3.5 and 4.1), although their theatrical power is diminished, the witches are endowed with all the paraphernalia of demonic possession from Continental witchlore. They serve Hecate (in what may be a later, non-Shakespearean addition), use illusion to influence Macbeth, mix a "charm" made from the noxious parts of animals (and humans).39 Macbeth "conjures" them by their "profess[ed]" supernatural powers (4.1.50-61). The effect of these representations of an alienated Lady Macbeth and divided witches, ambiguously connected with each other, is to create a continuum of alienation and malevolence in the play, which blurs the boundaries between natural and supernatural agency, among witchcraft of English or Continental sorts, antisocial behavior, and madness. This continuum has made it tempting to ask of the play just as the period (through witchcraft prosecutions and through reading madness) was asking: who is to blame? Who or what is the source of harm and evil? The questions produce conflicting and incompatible answers, as they did in the period. The continuum of malevolence blurs the question of agency in the play as it blurs the question of the ontological status of "witches." It reproduces the period's "hovering" between contradictory belief systems and conflicting attributions of causality and agency: God and the devil, madwomen and witches, castrating wives and ambitious tyrants.
To understand the complicated responses and flexible practices that such uncertainty created, and to place Shakespeare's tragedies against contemporary attempts to categorize madness, it is helpful to look briefly at the medical practice of Richard Napier and at the 1598 and 1624 Bedlam censuses. Napier was a doctor, a minister, and an astrologer who from 1597 to 1634 treated about sixty thousand patients in Great Linford in northern Buckinghamshire, taking notes on each consultation. Two thousand and thirty-nine of these patients from all social classes consulted him for mental disorders, and these cases are analyzed in the epidemiology of mental disorder constructed by Michael MacDonald in Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety, and Healing in Seventeenth-Century England. Thanks to MacDonald's superb, detailed, and gendered analysis, Napier's practice becomes a site where definitions, distinctions, and gender-coding in mental ailments can be explored. Like theorists and playgoers, Napier strove to distinguish between the similar symptoms caused by possession, bewitchment, and mental or physical disorders; he worked hard to do so but was often at a loss.40 His cures, designed to fit the disorder, were eclectically magical, medical, astrological, and spiritual; to some patients he gave advice, to most purges, to a few amulets or prayers or exorcisms.
Women consulted Napier for all causes more often than did men (ratio: 78.8 men to 100 women); they consulted him more for mental disorders than did men (ratio: 58.2 men to 100 women, similar to that reported in England today) and reported suffering almost twice as much stress as men (ratio: 52.3 men to 100 women). Most of Napier's female and male patients suffered mental distress and depression from the same causes: courtships (23.6 percent), marital problems (17.6 percent), bereavements (17.5 percent), and debt (12.9 percent).41 The reasons why women are over-represented in Napier's practice, especially in consultations for mental distress, are as complex and difficult to analyze as why women visit doctors more than men do today and report more depression. Then as now it may be connected with their vulnerability to diseases of the reproductive system, their need therefore to see doctors more, and the stress that family life under patriarchy puts on them.42
However, although more women came to Napier with symptoms of mental distress, there is not much difference in the percentages or even the numbers of men and women identified as suffering extreme forms of mental disturbance—i.e., madness. (Similarly, recent findings by medical historians and sociologists show that while, today, women see doctors more for depression, insomnia, and other imprecisely identified types of mental distress, they do not suffer from extreme pathological states like schizophrenia more often than do men and, contrary to earlier claims, are not more likely than men to be institutionalized for mental disorders.43 MacDonald's raw statistics show a similar pattern. Patients who report extreme symptoms—symptoms associated with mania as opposed to melancholy and designated by terms like "mad," "lunatic," "mania," "frenzy," "raging," "furious," "frantic"—are rare. There are more cases for women in almost every category (because there are more women in the sample), but the percentages are virtually identical and the absolute numbers not that different. For example, of the 2,039 patients, 34 of the men (or 5 percent) and 54 of the women (or 4 percent) are designated "mad"; 25 of the men (or 3 percent) and 21 of the women (or 2 percent) as "lunatic." There is 1 man with mania and 7 men and 3 women with frenzy. Men are more likely to be designated melancholy or "mopish," a milder form of melancholy (in accord with the early modern period's male coding of this disease—which is regendered female in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), whereas women more often "take grief," "grieve," and are more often "troubled in mind"; both men and women are tempted to and attempt suicide in about equal rates, but women are more often tempted to kill their children or, uniquely, tempted to kill either their children or themselves.44 Napier never identifies the fits of the mother as mental disturbance but connects it with strictly physical symptoms like menstrual cramps. And "sexual urges" are a symptom of only one (male) patient.45
In Napier's report of his practice, while women suffer more mental disturbance than men, the gendering of types of madness is only hinted at, foretold, much less apparent than in such dramas as Hamlet. What stands out is Napier's attempts to categorize madness, to distinguish it from supernatural visitations and from physical maladies. Another set of documents of the period also shows tentative movement toward division by gender, but here, too, the reading must be cautious. These are the 1598 and 1624 censuses of Bedlam, included in visitation committee reports to Bridewell Hospital, which administered the facility.46 The reports give the names of the inhabitants and some of the following data: source of admission (from Bridewell, the lord mayor of London, or private parties); length of stay (from Neme Baker, twenty-five years in the 1598 census, to Thomas Denham, fourteen days in the 1624 census); source of maintenance (guilds, individuals, parishes, colleges, other hospitals); indications of social class and context (in the 1598 census, when such information was more frequently noted, inhabitants included "Welch Elizabeth", "Rosse an Almes-woman", "Edmond Browne one of the Queenes Chappell", and "Anthoney Greene fellow of Penbrooke Hall in Cambridge"). Both censuses usually list patients with the longest tenure first, but the 1598 census is divided between admissions from Bridewell and from elsewhere, and the 1624 census is divided up into men (18) and women (13), and comments are made on the seriousness of the condition (probably because even at these small numbers the place was overcrowded, and the committee wished to reduce the number of those confined). The designations for the men speak to their administrative status; they are termed "fitt to bee kepte," "not fitt to bee kept," or to be sent to "some other hospitall," "home to his wife," "to Hull from whence hee came." Only two of the men, who are "Idiots," have their illness specified, and none are called "mad." In contrast the women are explicitly characterized as "very ill," "madd," "very madd," "a mad woman," "something idle headed," "fell madd." (Eight of the 18 men are designated fit to be kept and 9 to be sent elsewhere; 7 of the 13 women are to be kept and 4 are to be removed to other care; the dispositions of 1 man and 1 woman are not specified.47) These no-doubt-unconsciously chosen designations suggest a tendency to identify the women with their illness and the men with their institutional disposition.
While the stage does not associate madness more with one class or gender than another, in King Lear, as in the records of Richard Napier and of Bethlehem Hospital, madness and distress are conceived of as treatable illnesses with mental and physical components. By underlining the distinction between Lear's natural madness and Edgar's feigned supernatural possession and by including two cures, one physical (administered by a doctor) and one mental (administered by Edgar, a layperson), the play contributes to the secularization, psychologizing, and medicalization of madness and extends conventions for representing it.
Edgar, victimized by his bastard brother, Edmund, assumes the speech of demonic possession as a role—as a disguise.48 Quotation in his speech is, in effect, quadrupled. Disinherited Edgar speaks in the voice of Poor Tom, the Bedlam beggar, who speaks in the voice of the devil, who quotes Samuel Harsnett's melodramatic exposure of the drama of bewitchment and exorcism.49 Tom's mad speech, like Ophelia's, is made up of quoted, that is culturally and psychologically resonant, fragments, but his discourse incorporates differently inflected cultural voices. His speech embeds song fragments—"Through the sharp hawthorn blows the cold wind"—bits of romance—"But mice and rats, and such small deer, / Have been Tom's food for seven long year"—formulaic commandments and proverbial sayings—"obey thy parents; keep thy word's justice," "Keep thy foot out of brothels, thy hand out of plackets" (3.4.45, 136-37, 79-80, 95-96). These quotations transmit a theological discourse of sin and punishment in which Poor Tom is an emblematic fallen Christian, a "servingman, proud in heart and mind," "hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness" (11. 84, 92-93). Embodying the seven deadly sins, especially those of pride and lust, he represents, like traditional madmen, guilt over and punishments for these sins; he is led by the "foul fiend" "through fire and through flame, through ford and whirlpool, o'er bog and quagmire," and "eats the swimming frog, the toad, the todpole, the wall-newt and the water" (11. 51-52, 127-28).
This mad discourse functions variously. It provides Edgar-as-Tom with a coherent characterization by permitting him to express and conceal his victimization and (it has been argued) his suppressed desire for self-punishment and revenge.50 It functions dramatically to trigger, mark, and counterpoint the specific moment of Lear's own break with sanity, which occurs decisively at his emotionally apt but logically groundless identification with Poor Tom at line 62: "What, has his daughters brought him to this pass?"51 The disguise allows the disinherited Edgar, by identifying with the middling or lower sorts and by adopting their speech and beliefs, to participate with the Fool and naked Lear in the reversals of class and status that pervade the play. But always Edgar's quoted religious discourse is rendered theatrical, both because the discourse is feigned and because it is constructed through quotation of Samuel Harsnett, who himself narrates possession as theatrical role-playing instigated by the suggestion and rehearsal of the exorcists. By appropriating for Poor Tom a "documented fraud," the spuriousness of Edgar's madness is emphasized, possession and divine retribution are mocked through mimicry, Lear's contrasting madness is marked as "natural," and the Church's attempt to outlaw exorcism is furthered. At the same time, the surviving belief in possession, perhaps especially prevalent among middle and lower ranks, is represented onstage. While Greenblatt sees these rituals as "emptied out,"52 I would say rather that in this mad discourse their sacred meaning is resituated: morality, guilt, suffering, and punishment are understood within human, psychological parameters.
In stark contrast to Edgar's feigned delirium of sin, guilt, and divine punishment, Lear's madness is staged as "natural," as psychologically engendered, and as obsessed with secular revenge and justice. It is rooted in obvious physical and psychological causes: his exposure to the cold and storm in old age, his mistaken banishment of Cordelia, his other daughters' betrayals, his encounter with Poor Tom. His alienation is rendered on a continuum with his sanity from which it gradually emerges. He is metaphorically described by Kent as "mad" in the first scene, notes the onset of delirium himself, specifies his malady with medical precision as "hysterica passio"—the fits of the mother, defined, ingeniously, as his rising heart rather than his wandering womb (2.4.55-56). As he loses control of his children and his kingdom, he feels weak, vulnerable, a victim of feminine and feminizing hysteria.53 But once he is beside himself, his madness grows more aggressively satiric. He is restored to sanity by conventional remedies, conventionally applied by a doctor—herbal medicine, sleep, clean garments, music, and the presence of Cordelia.
The construction of Lear's mad discourse, like that of Ophelia's, involves fragmentation, formula, depersonalization, the intersection of communal voices, and secularized ritual. Like Ophelia, he uses tags of social formulas incongruously: "We'll go to supper i' th' morning," "Give the word," "Pull off my boots: harder, harder: so" (3.6.83; 4.6.92, 173). But more often, rather than being transected by quoted voices, Lear envisages hallucinatory cultural dramas in which he is both narrator and participant. Whereas Poor Tom acts out guilt by presenting himself as poor and persecuted, Lear defends himself against guilt by acting as prosecutor: "cry / These dreadful summoners grace" (3.2.58-59). His hallucinations of the rituals of secular trial and judgment expose their fraudulence. His scenarios expose civil punishment as fraudulent just as Edgar's Poor Tom role implicitly exposes demonic punishment as fraud. In the enacted mock trial (found only in Quarto Lear), Lear plays the judge who will "arraign" (3.6.20) his absent daughters, Goneril and Regan, for their crimes against him while Edgar, Kent, and the Fool serve as jury. But the ritual, like those in Ophelia's songs, is aborted, and the judge humiliated, barked at by dogs (11. 61-62).
During Lear's encounter with Gloucester in 4.6, his identification with the prosecutor can no longer protect him; he is given fantasy scenarios of justice undone by the corruption of female sexuality and the complicity of the judge. In his first fantasy Lear as judge will "pardon that man's life" because all are guilty of copulation centered in the "sulphurous pit" of female sexuality, the domain to which the fiend is metaphorically confined in Lear's discourse (4.6.126-29). Whereas Edgar's feigned supernatural madness locates lust in himself—"[I] served the lust of my mistress' heart, and did the act of darkness with her" (3.4.85-87)—Lear's natural madness displaces it onto women and their judges. In Lear's second fantasy, following a series of reversals, the punisher and the punished become indistinguishable: the constable who whips the whore "hotly lusts to use her in that kind" for which he whips her (4.6.162). These fantasies simultaneously expose Lear's own habit of persecuting others to conceal his own guilt and provide a critique of the operations of a class-determined system of justice. Social status and the costumes that the period prescribed to mark it control guilt, judgment, and punishment: "Through tattered clothes small vices do appear; / Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold, / And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks; / Arm it in rags, a pygmy's straw does pierce it" (11. 164-67). With justice presented, like the theater, as a matter of costumes, its fraudulent nature is revealed.
The impertinent madness of Lear, like that of Edgar and the Fool, serves, as Robert Weimann suggests, to provide satiric "disenchantment" of conservative values and hierarchies supported by those in power: "The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman" (3.4.141). Ophelia's madness, although Weimann does not discuss it, functions similarly to disenchant domestic values: she "marks" the falsehood of love, the emptiness of religious formulas, the betrayal of men. She narrates the arbitrariness, instability, and corruption of love and the family as Lear narrates those of justice and the state.54 But the theatrical, fragmented, and psychologized discourse of madness, while it allows these critiques, also italicizes and distances them.
Edgar in disguise not only provides critique and counterpoint but is the vehicle of another inversion as he becomes a "philosopher" to King Lear and caretaker for his father, Gloucester. With each, Edgar employs a traditionally recommended remedy for delusion and despair, a strategy that Burton and others record and which Foucault calls "continu[ing] the delirious discourse."55 In this strategy the delusions of the mad are complied with and extended through theatrical representation in order to undo them. This strategy further naturalizes madness and brings it under human control while testifying to the real power of theatrical illusion and the longstanding awareness of the theatricality of madness. Friends fraudulently extend the delusions of the mad to manipulate them toward a cure. The most frequently cited example of this is a story of a melancholic man who, believing himself dead, refused to eat. Friends costumed themselves as dead men and consumed a banquet in front of him to demonstrate that the dead eat; he then ate too and recovered. A more bizarre example is that of a man who refused to urinate, believing that if he did, he would drown the world; friends set fire to the house next door and prevailed on him to put it out lest the town burn. "So he pissed and was by that means preserved."56 Less ingenious strategies involve physicians or friends curing patients who complain of toads or snakes in their bellies by administering emetics and slipping the animals into the vomit basin. Similarly, when Lear imagines himself barked at by dogs, Edgar exorcises them for him through a song in which he impersonates a dog (3.6.64-72). Later he more elaborately "trifle[s]" with his father's "despair" to "cure" it, engineering Gloucester's mock suicide and the mock exorcism of his (and Edgar's own) demons to save his father from actual suicide. In this performance of possession and exorcism, the rituals of the supernatural are appropriated and secularized, and used by humans to reverse human self-alienation just as they are in Renaissance treatises on melancholy, medicine, exorcism, and witchcraft.
Edgar's uses of the illogic of madness in the service of logic and sanity, like Feste's claims that he but reads madness to exonerate himself from the charge of being mad, demonstrate how the purpose of reading madness, propounding definitions, and prescribing cures is usually to dissociate oneself from the condition and to regulate its disruptiveness. In these Shakespeare tragedies, as in the treatises and the medical practices, the representation of madness permits a restoration of normality, a restoration in which madmen and mad-women participate differently. The disguise of Poor Tom is abandoned, Gloucester eschews suicide, and Lear is returned to sanity. The mad women characters in tragedy, however, are not cured but eliminated. Ophelia is reabsorbed into cultural norms by her narrated drowning and her Christian burial. The report of Lady Macbeth's suicide, abruptly announced in the play's final lines, reduces the supernatural to a simile to vilify and dismiss her as a "fiendlike queen, / Who, as 'tis thought, by self and violent hands / Took off her life" (5.8.69-71).
Likewise, in the culture, constructions of madness tended to support established institutions in preserving the status quo. Preferred treatments were those undertaken by Anglican ministers, not Catholic exorcists or Puritan enthusiasts, by licensed practitioners, not quacks. These practitioners tended to favor outcomes that sustained conventional social hierarchies, and these too had different impacts on men and women; Napier, for example, viewed wives who wanted to leave brutal husbands, children who resisted their parents, servants who did not obey their masters, as mentally unstable and was severe with them. But the mad could be recuperated because they were not seen as inhuman; hence they were not usually isolated, confined, or ostracized. They might be subjected to purges and bleeding (like all ill people), drugged sleep or music therapy, or might be coaxed back, through their own delusions, into the rituals of everyday life. Such treatments, however, did not yet segregate them from human community as did the eighteenth century's institutionalization, the nineteenth century's "moral treatment," or the twentieth century's romanticization or pharmacological normalization.
If the discourse of madness, in the short run, promoted normalization and supported the status quo, in the long run it had the capacity to contribute to changing constructions of the human and hence to cultural change. The distinctions established in this discourse helped redefine the human as a secular subject, cut off from the supernatural and incomprehensibly unstable and permeable, containing in itself a volatile mix of mind and body, of warring and turbulent elements: "For seeing we are not maisters of our owne affections, wee are like battered Citties without walles, or shippes tossed in the Sea, exposed to all maner of assaults and daungers, even to the overthrow of our owne bodies."57 Such images opened up a new range of questions about and possibilities for human beings.
The theater, by representing and disseminating madness, contributed to its changing constructions and its destabilizing potential. Shakespearean tragedy, drawn to madness perhaps because of its inherent theatricality, represented madness by a conventionalized speech that was successful (and imitated) by virtue of its excessiveness, its rich imagery and associations, its verbal inventiveness, its multiple functions: psychological, thematic, satiric, theatrical. By providing a language for madness, the theater contributed to the process whereby it was becoming a secular, medical, and gendered condition. The Elizabethan theater is, at its origin, as C. L. Barber has suggested, a place apart, a space where the sacred is reconstituted in the human,58 and madness is, as we have seen, one place where this reconstitution is especially apparent. The secular human characters this stage represents are inevitably gender- and class-specific in ways that the hierarchical "dramatis personae" or "names of the actors," introduced in seventeenth-century editions, inscribe. Gender distinctions may be especially rigid because of the absolute division between adult actors who play men and boy actors who must self-consciously perform femininity, drawing on gender stereotypes to do so—as the instructions to the Page in the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew suggest. This may be one reason why madness shows signs of gender-markings in the theater earlier than in medical treatises or in the visual arts. Even while representing stereotyped or conservative formations, the theater may participate in change. As Steven Mullaney has shown, it is a place apart from the established state as well as from the established church, situated in the Liberties alongside unruly neighbors: taverns, bearbaitings, brothels, and the empty leper houses that Foucault (wrongly) imagines will soon fill up again with madmen.59 By constructing a language through which madness can be represented, the popular theater facilitated the circulation of the discourse; by italicizing the language of madness, it encouraged its interrogation and transformation.
Although these Shakespeare plays represent madness as a condition to treat, italicize, or eliminate, and although the gender distinctions they initiate can still prove oppressive to women, their representations of madness can be vehicles for social critique achieved through unsettling productions or indecorous interventions by performers. Hamlet's feigned madness and Lear's natural madness can be performed and read as social critique (as in Grigori Kozintsev's 1970 film of King Lear or in the Studio Theater of Moscow's 1989 production of Hamlet). Ophelia's madness can be politicized by an actress who might represent the hysterical female body now as an eroticized and aestheticized object of desire and repulsion and now as an agent of uncontrollable voice, desire, pain, and rage (as in Ange Magnetic's "Ophelie Song" , an "opera minimal" derived from Ophelia's songs).60
The complexities of reading the discourse of madness in Shakespeare and his culture reveal the difficulty and necessity of historicizing: that is, of trying to understand one's own position and that of one's subject(s) in today's culture in relation to the construction of the subject(s) that emerged in early modern culture, of trying to tease out disjunctions and connections. In particular this project reveals that the shape of gender difference cannot be assumed but must always be reformulated in specific cultural and historical contexts. Reading the discourse of madness provides powerful lessons in the gradual and erratic progress of cultural change and in the complex and not fully retrievable interactions between dramatic texts and other cultural documents. The theater does not just reflect, contain, or subvert the cultural realities in which it is embedded. But finding the right metaphor for the relationship is hard. Perhaps, in the context of this essay, it is appropriate to note that the playwright, like the mad, expresses inner conflicts, quotes cultural voices, speaks through disguises, enacts emotions visually and verbally, performs for diverse audiences, and is protected from harm because playtexts are illusions. These playtexts, moreover, like other "documents in madness," both do and do not belong to the authors who generate them, and they are read, performed, and used by others in the service of their own sanity.
1 All citations of Shakespeare plays will appear in text and refer to The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare, Sylvan Barnet, gen. ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1972).
2Writing and Madness (Literature/Philosophy/Psychoanalysis), trans. Martha Noel Evans and Shoshana Felman (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), p. 11.
3 W. F. Bynum, Roy Porter, and Michael Shepherd, eds., The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry, 3 vols. (London: Tavistock, 1985), Vol. 1, p. 7.
4 Michael MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety, and Healing in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981), p. 1.
5 Andrew Scull, Social Order/Mental Disorder: Anglo-American Psychiatry in Historical Perspective (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1989), p. 8.
6 See Patricia Allderidge, "Management and mismanagement at Bedlam, 1547-1633" in Health, medicine, and mortality in the sixteenth century, ed. Charles Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979), pp. 141-64, esp. pp. 153, 143. This essay and a subsequent one by Allderidge, "Bedlam: fact or fantasy?" in Anatomy of Madness, Vol. 2, pp. 17-33, correct the inaccuracies and fantasies of Bedlam scholarship, especially those of the standard history, E. G. O'Donoghue, The Story of Bethlehem Hospital: From its Foundation in 1247 (New York: Dutton, 1914). Although many Bedlam inmates were released, some were incarcerated for periods of twenty years or more, and numbers and turnover were small; there could have been few actual Tom o' Bedlams wandering the countryside.
7 The OED records this shift in a cautionary paragraph following the first definition of mad ("Suffering from mental disease; beside oneself; out of one's mind; insane, lunatic"), which prescribes: "The word has always had some tinge of contempt or disgust and would now be quite inappropriate in medical use or in referring sympathetically to an insane person as the subject of an affliction." Insane, from the Latin root insanus, means not sound, not healthy, not curable, and does not come into widespread use until the eighteenth century, when it appears first in medical and legal contexts. Madness, the earlier term, is not the opposite of not-mad but on a continuum with it.
8 Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct (New York: Harper and Row, 1974); Laing, The Divided Self: A study of sanity and madness (London: Tavistock, 1960).
9 p. 12.
10 Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Tavistock, 1967), and Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980 (New York: Pantheon, 1985). Showalter looks only at women's experience of madness and only after 1830, and the category of gender is missing from Foucault's large intuitive canvas. The discussion of the period from the Middle Ages to the end of the seventeenth century is the most sketchy and least supported part of his book (at least in the English translation), for his concept of the modern centralized state does not make sense of early modern institutions. Mental institutions like Bedlam often developed early out of medieval hospitals; unlike leper houses, they attempted cures and declared patients recovered. Confinement of the mad is also more varied, more historically continuous, and more complicated in its representations, aims, and consequences than Foucault or Showalter allows. But Foucault's intuitions about the transformation of the madman from supernatural voyager to secular case study are useful, as are Showalter's analyses of the associations among women, madness, and sexuality which developed in representations of madwomen. For criticism of Foucault by an historian, see H. C. Erik Midelfort, "Madness and Civilization in Early Modern Europe: A Reappraisal of Michel Foucault" in After the Reformation: essays in honor of J. H. Hexter, Barbara C. Malament, ed. (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1980), pp. 247-66. For criticism of Showalter by an historian of medicine, see Nancy Tomes, "Historical Perspectives on Women and Mental Illness" in Women, Health, and Medicine in America: A Historical Handbook, Rima D. Apple, ed. (New York: Garland, 1990), pp. 143-71. I am grateful to Nancy Tomes for allowing me to read her review essay in manuscript form before its publication.
11 See especially pages 45-55 in Judith S. Neaman, Suggestion of the Devil: The Origins of Madness (New York: Anchor Books, 1975), a study of the medical, theological, legal, and social contexts of madness in the Middle Ages. See also and
12 In the original edition of Bright (London: Thomas Vautrollier, 1586), as in the 1969 Theatrum Orbis Terrarum facsimile, this chapter, number 36, pages 207-42, is misnumbered chapter 30.
13 Jorden's treatise (London: Iohn Windet, 1603) is available in a 1971 facsimile reprint from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum; quotation at fol. C1r. See Michael MacDonald's reprint of Jorden's pamphlet in Witchcraft and Hysteria in Elizabethan London: Edward Jorden and the Mary Glover Case (London: Routledge, 1991).
14 Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Scribners, 1971), pp. 451-52.
15 fol. B1r.
16 fols. F4r, G3r, F4v-Glr, H1r. Jorden is the first to find the source of hysterical symptoms in the brain as well as in the uterus. See Ilza Veith, Hysteria: The History of a Disease (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1965), pp. 122-23.
17The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is. With all the Kindes, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Severall Cures of it, 4th ed. (Oxford: J. Lichfield, 1632), pp. 202, 204. In fact, according to MacDonald's statistics, although far larger numbers and percentages of women came to Napier to report distress in connection with courtship, love, sex, and marriage negotiations, most of these sufferers were untitled (Mystical Bedlam, Table 3.6, p. 95; see also ). Perhaps aristocratic women suffered less stress in matters of courtship and marriage because they had little or no choice in the matter.
18 For discussion of the political climate that produced Jorden's and Harsnett's pamphlets in 1603, see Thomas, pp. 482-86; Stephen Greenblatt, "Shakespeare and the Exorcists" in Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1988), pp. 94-128; MacDonald, Witchcraft, pp. vii-lxiv.
19 Two other plays of the period that contain scenes in which characters undergo a test for madness are Dekker's The Honest Whore, Part I (1604) and Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling (c. 1623).
20 Ascriptions of madness occur elsewhere in Shakespeare, beginning with Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, and Twelfth Night and concluding with the extended portrait of the Jailer's Daughter in The Two Noble Kinsmen. Her characterization has connections with Ophelia's and with that of the madwomen and groups of madpersons in other Jacobean plays, for example, Dekker's Honest Whore, Part I, Webster's Duchess of Malfi, Fletcher's The Pilgrim, Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling. Such representations will be the subject of another essay.
21 Robert Rentoul Reed, Jr., Bedlam on the Jacobean Stage (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1952); Lawrence Babb, The Elizabethan Malady: A Study of Melancholia in English Literature from 1580-1642 (East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1951); and Bridget Gellert Lyons, Voices of Melancholy: Studies in literary treatments of melancholy in Renaissance England (London: Routledge, 1971). The discussion closest to mine is Lillian Feder's analysis of Lear's madness in Madness in Literature (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1980), p. 6 and pp. 119-46.
22Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), pp. 132-33. As a result of this attitude, Bradley did not give Ophelia's mad scenes the detailed analysis that he is elsewhere known for.
23 These interpretations of Ophelia replicate feminist theorists' polarized interpretations of the association between women and madness. For positive readings of the textual representations of the connection, see Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1979); of Ophelia, see Carol Thomas Neely, Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare's Plays (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 103-4. For the negative aspects of the connection, see Showalter, The Female Malady, and for an extended discussion of representations of Ophelia, see Showalter, "Representing Ophelia: women, madness, and the responsibilities of feminist criticism" in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, eds. (London: Methuen, 1985), pp. 77-94. Showalter discusses how different periods represent Ophelia according to their stereotypes of female insanity.
24 See, among many examples, Robert Bechtold Heilman, This Great Stage: Image and Structure in King Lear (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1948), pp. 173-223; Paul A. Jorgensen, Lear's Self Discovery (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1967), pp. 78-82.
25 Cavell, Disowning Knowledge In Six Plays of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), pp. 39-124, esp. pp. 50, 74, and 77); Greenblatt (cited in n. 18, above), pp. 94-128; Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 193.
26 For Foucault, language constitutes madness; "Language is the first and last structure of madness" (p. 100 [cited in n. 10, above]). Since madness is unreason, the "delirious discourse" (p. 99) that constitutes it is the inverse of reason but, in effect, identical with it. It involves "sedimentation in the body of an infinitely repeated discourse" (p. 97), "the language of reason enveloped in the prestige of the image" (p. 95). "It is in this delirium, which is of both body and soul, of both language and image, of both grammar and physiology, that all the cycles of madness conclude and begin" (pp. 100-101).
27 I take the notion of italicized writing from Nancy K. Miller, "Emphasis Added: Plots and Plausibilities in Women's Fiction" in The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory. Elaine Showalter, ed. (New York: Pantheon, 1985), pp. 339-60. She extends Luce Irigaray's analysis of women's special relation to the mimetic (in This Sex Which Is Not One) and defines italics as a modality of intensity, intonation, and emphasis that characterizes women's writing (p. 343).
28 A. C. Bradley notes, in Shakespearean Tragedy, that Shakespeare invariably uses prose to represent abnormal states of mind like madness or Lady Macbeth's somnambulism (pp. 335-37). I am indebted to Lars Engle for bringing this discussion to my attention.
29 The phrase "document in madness" occurs at 4.5.178. Other mad characters are given equally precise and explicit introductions: see the conversation between Lady Macbeth's waiting woman and the doctor (5.1.1-20) and Edgar's commentary as he disguises himself as Poor Tom in Lear (2.3.1-21).
30 Joan Klein, "'Angels and Ministers of Grace': Hamlet, TV, v-vii," Allegorica, 1, 2 (1976), 156-76, reads Ophelia's madness closely and attends to the cultural lore that she draws on. But whereas she sees Ophelia's role as providential, as a minister to Hamlet, I see religious references as split off from their theological context in her mad speech. Much of the attention devoted to Ophelia's speeches has been directed toward identifying the referents of her songs, especially the "truelove," and determining to which characters the songs are addressed. My analysis suggests that it is not possible to pinpoint a single referent or audience since the discourse's referents are multiple and are both personal and cultural. See Peter J. Seng, The Vocal Songs in the Plays of Shakespeare: A Critical History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1967), pp. 131-56, for a summary of commentary.
31 Cf. Showalter, Female Malady (cited in n. 10, above).
32 Joan Klein sees Ophelia as Hamlet's surrogate and minister, and Lyons sees her as mirroring aspects of Hamlet's melancholy (pp. 11-12), but I see her as a "dark double" who, in Gilbert and Gubar's sense, acts out what is repressed in Hamlet.
33 Some form of Christian burial might be possible, even in cases of suicide; cf. Michael MacDonald, "Ophelia's Maimèd Rites," SQ, 37 (1986), 309-17, esp. pp. 314-15. For other discussions of suicide, see Michael MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam (cited in n. 4, above), pp. 132-38; "The Inner Side of Wisdom: Suicide in Early Modern England," Psychological Medicine, 7 (1977), 565-82, esp. pp. 566-67; "The Secularization of Suicide in England 1660-1800," Past and Present, 111 (May 1986), 52-70; see also
34 MacDonald, "Ophelia's Maimèd Rites," p. 311, and "Inner Side of Wisdom," p. 567.
35 Immersion is both conventional to the iconography of madness and a traditional cure for it. Cf. Foucault (cited in n. 10, above), pp. 162, 166; Basil Clarke, Mental Disorder in Earlier Britain: Exploratory Studies (Cardiff: Univ. of Wales Press, 1975), pp. 229-30.
36"Macbeth and witchcraft" in Focus on Macbeth, John Russell Brown, ed. (London: Routledge, 1982), pp. 189-209.
37 I see the relationship between the witches and Lady Macbeth as more ambiguous and unstable than does Janet Adelman ("'Born of Woman': Fantasies of Maternal Power in Macbeth" in Cannibals, Witches, and Divorce: Estranging the Renaissance, Marjorie Garber, ed. [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1987], pp. 90-121). I do not see their relationship as an "alliance" (pp. 97, 98) either literal or symbolic, nor do I find the witches or Lady Macbeth as unstintingly malevolent or powerful as Adelman does. In fact the witches wish Macbeth to fail while Lady Macbeth wishes him to succeed, and their relation to the supernatural is quite different from hers. Both the witches and Lady Macbeth lose what power they have by the end of the play, though Adelman never discusses the implications of Lady Macbeth's somnambulism and suicide. Whatever power each has exists only contingently; neither the witches nor Lady Macbeth have agency or control except through Macbeth.
38Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and comparative study (London: Routledge, 1970).
39 Thomas, in chapter 14 of his book (cited in n. 14, above), discusses how Continental views of witchcraft, conceived as a heresy marked especially by a pact with the devil, were only gradually and incompletely filtered into England, where witchcraft was defined more usually as harmful activities. The fact that the witches in Macbeth are also called "weird women" (3.1.2) and compared with "elves and fairies" (4.1.42) emphasizes their shifting representations. If Hecate and the songs from Middleton's The Witch were later interpolations, somewhat at odds with the earlier portrayal of the witches, this strengthens my claim that the witches are ambiguously portrayed, reflecting the conflicting ideas about witches in the period. For arguments that 3.5.39-43 and 4.1.125-32 are interpolations, see Macbeth, The Arden Shakespeare, ed. Kenneth Muir (London: Methuen, 1951), pp. xxxv-xxxviii. That the witches are dramatically more powerful early in the play when presented more naturalistically may also be connected to the weakening of beliefs in possession and witchcraft in England.
40 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, pp. 189-217. John Hall, a successful doctor who practiced at the same time as Napier (1600-1635) in nearby Warwickshire and who appears to have been more Puritan in his religious beliefs, and more of an apothecary and less of an astrologer than Napier, treated a similar range of disorders. Analysis of his casebooks shows that his patients presented similar symptoms of mental disorder in similar ratios. In his published cases (included in Harriet Joseph, Shakespeare's Son-in-law: John Hall, Man and Physician [Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1964]), Hall treated 70 men and 109 women; 13 of the men (or 7 percent) and 39 of the women (or 22 percent) showed signs of emotional disorder as analyzed in John G. Howells and N. Livia Osborn, "The Incidence of Emotional Disorder in a Seventeenth-Century Medical Practice," Medical History, 14 (1970), 192-98. These figures are based on only a small sample of Hall's cases, which were published to disseminate his recipes for purges, not to explicate his patients' symptoms. "Emotional disorder" is somewhat more broadly defined by Howells and Osborn than by MacDonald.
41 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, pp. 35-40, 72-75.
42 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, pp. 35-40; Tomes (cited in n. 10, above), pp. 145-46. For a discussion of the gender distribution of psychiatric illnesses in twentieth-century London, see Michael Shepherd, Brian Cooper, Alexander Brown, and Graham Kalton, Psychiatric Illnesses in General Practice (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966), pp. 164-66; for American statistics, see essays cited in note 44, below. The self-reporting and diagnosis of women's mental distress depend on a difficult-to-unravel conjunction of factors including vulnerability to gynecological ailments, women's self-images, gender-role socialization, medicine's construction of diseases, the nature of diagnoses, and wider cultural trends.
43 Tomes, pp. 146-47, and her numerous sources, especially Noreen Goldman and Renee Ravid, "Community Surveys: Sex Differences in Mental Illness," and Deborah Belle and Noreen Goldman, "Patterns of Diagnoses Received by Men and Women," both in The Mental Health of Women, Marcia Guttentag, Susan Salasin, and Deborah Belle, eds. (New York: Academic Press, 1980), pp. 31-55, 21-30.
44 Cf. MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, pp. 243-45.…
45 p. 244.
46 The two Bedlam censuses I cite are reproduced in Allderidge, "Management" (cited in n. 6, above), pp. 152-53, 158-60.
47 The removal of more men may merely indicate that the distribution of space in the facility makes the confinement of similar numbers of men and women patients a convenience; hence more men are designated removable. I cannot tell whether Bedlam was sex-segregated as some later asylums were.
48 This use of madness as disguise derives perhaps from Kyd's Spanish Tragedy and is common in other Jacobean plays, for example The Changeling and The Pilgrim. William C. Carroll, "'The Base Shall Top Th'Legitimate': The Bedlam Beggar and the Role of Edgar in King Lear" SQ, 38 (1987), 426-41, analyzes the period's identifications of Tom o'Bedlams as feigning, lower-class con men. While this may not be the only Poor Tom stereotype, it does add associations with feigning at another level to Edgar's role-playing.
49 This is the point developed by Greenblatt in "Shakespeare and the Exorcists" (cited in n. 18, above). Kenneth Muir, "Samuel Harsnett and King Lear," Review of English Studies, 2 (1951), 11-21, finds over fifty separate fragments from Harsnett embedded in the play, many of them connected with the role of Poor Tom.
50 Janet Adelman, in her introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of King Lear (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1978), pp. 1-21, has a fine discussion of the role and language of Poor Tom and the ways in which this disguise allows Edgar to protect and preserve himself. In contrast, William Carroll sees the Poor Tom disguise as a source of pain and suffering for Edgar as well as a release from them (p. 436).
51 Although my students have long been unable to identify this moment and have refused to accept it as marking a decisive break with sanity, Lillian Feder (p. 132 [cited in n. 21, above]) and Paul Jorgensen (p. 80 [cited in n. 24, above]) concur. The definitiveness of Lear's delusion is emphasized by his four-times-repeated claim that Tom's daughters are to blame for his state: "Didst thou give all to thy daughters?" "What, has his daughters brought him to this pass?" "Now … plagues … light on thy daughters!" "Nothing could have subdued nature / To such a lowness but his unkind daughters" (3.4.48, 62, 66-67, 69-70). This theatrical moment manifests one of the places where the boundary between sanity and madness was defined and crossed.
52 Greenblatt, pp. 117, 119.
53 Coppélia Kahn, "The Absent Mother in King Lear" in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers, eds. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 33-49, argues that Lear's madness results from his rage at maternal deprivation and that it enables him eventually to accept his own vulnerability. While this argument seems partly valid, I see both the causes and uses of Lear's madness as more complicated.
54 Weimann uses the range and scope of Hamlet's and Lear's mad speech to exemplify the flexible alternation possible in Renaissance popular theater between the illusionistic locus position, staging dialogue of the psychologically naturalistic character, and the nonillusionistic platea position, staging monologue which draws on popular tradition, induces audience identification, and permits social critique (Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function, ed. Robert Schwartz [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1978], pp. 120-35 and 215-20). This flexibility also reveals "the twofold function of mimesis ('enchantment' and 'disenchantment'), which we have seen to be so fundamental a part of traditional popular drama" (p. 132). More recently, in "Bifold Authority in Shakespeare's Theatre," SQ, 39 (1988), 401-17, Weimann again uses the "impertinent" language of Hamlet and Lear to define the bifold authority generated by the language and play space of the Elizabethan theater (pp. 410, 416). This highly particularized form of discourse perhaps cannot stand as the theatrical norm, but Weimann's analysis does get at the combination of individual psychology and cultural discourse that I argue characterizes this speech. Although Weimann (curiously) does not discuss Ophelia's madness, it functions in many of the same ways. She too speaks impertinently, proverbially, bawdily, disturbingly; she too is both actress and character, partly an object of the audience's gaze, partly a spokesperson for their contempt for Claudius and his court. Ophelia, as much as (or perhaps even more than) Lear, "disrupts the authority of order, degree, and decorum" ("Bifold Authority," p. 417).
55 p. 188 (cited in n. 10, above).
56 Clarke (cited in n. 35, above), p. 226, quoting Du Laurens. He describes such ingenious cures as part of "the folk-lore tradition of the profession" (p. 222). He discusses (pp. 222-23, 226) cases cited by Levinus Lemnius in The Touchstone of Complexions (trans. Thomas Newton [London: Thomas Marsh, 1576], pp. 150v-52r) and by M. Andreas Du Laurens in A Discourse of the Preservation of the Sight: of Melancholike Diseases … (trans. Richard Surphlet [London: Felix Kyngston, 1599], pp. 100-40). See also and
57 Jorden, fol. G2V.
58 With Richard P. Wheeler, The Whole Journey: Shakespeare's Power of Development (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1986), pp. 20 ff.
59The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988), chap. 2; Foucault, pp. 3-7.
60 The Studio Theater performed this Hamlet at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 12 February 1989. "Ophelie Song" was a co-production by Ange Magnetic and Mon Oncle d'Amerique, collaborated on by French director Antoine Campo and American choreographer Clara Gibson Maxwell and produced in 1989 in Paris, in New York, and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Winfred Overholser (essay date 1958)
SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Psychiatry—And After," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 3, Summer, 1959, pp. 335-52.
[In the following essay originally presented at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1958, Overholser discusses how Shakespeare's characterizations of mental illness were informed by such aspects of the Renaissance worldview as astrology, witchcraft, and the bodily humors.]
We live in an age of psychology. Daily we read of mental mechanisms, of complexes, of the unconscious, of feelings of inferiority, of Freud and Jung, of psychosomatic medicine and of "tranquilizers". There is a growing public appreciation of the facts relating to mental disorder and to normal mental functioning, while the care of the mentally ill in hospitals and clinics receives much attention from legislative bodies and the general public. Today the mentally ill are looked upon as treatable, as sick, not of their own fault, and they are viewed with vastly greater compassion than was the case even seventy-five years ago.
In all ages men have been interested in human behavior and motivations, and have attempted in one way or another to explain mental peculiarities. We flatter our-selves that we understand much more about the vagaries of human behavior than we did even a quarter of a century ago, but there certainly are still many gaps in our knowledge. If with all our present understanding of psychology, of physiology and anatomy, of the effects of environment, early nurture and heredity, we still have much to learn, what should we expect of the attitudes and knowledge in the time of Shakespeare, now nearly 400 years ago? Just as today, there were then generally held beliefs on the nature, the causation and the treatment of mental disorder. It seems appropriate on the occasion of this, the anniversary of the birth of the great dramatist, to review some of the notions that were prevalent in his day and that, like everything else which was of common knowledge then, were familiar to him. In Elizabethan times there was, of course, no such word as "psychiatry", and the related word "psychology" was invented by a German only in the latter part of Shakespeare's life (1590). The word "psychiatry" so far has been traced back to 1817, but it did not gain common currency until the close of World War I.
There is no question that in Shakespeare's time, as in all periods of human history, there were persons who behaved in such a peculiar manner that they were considered to be abnormal. Some of the conditions were looked upon as proper subjects for treatment by the physician; whereas others, particularly those thought to be due to demoniacal possession, were held to fall within the domain of the clergy. Various terms were applied to the victims of mental illness. They were referred to as maniacs, as melancholics, as suffering from phrenitis, frenzy, lunacy or demoniacal possession. In viewing Shakespeare's delineations of madness and folly we must try to view them through the eyes of the medicine of that period. It is some of the medical ideas prevalent in his day that I [will present in this essay]. As a preliminary warning against the "contemporization" of history we may quote from Dr. Robert Willis, the translator of the works of Harvey:1 "The interpretation which successive generations of men give to a passage in a writer some century or two old is very apt to be in consonance with the state of knowledge at the time, in harmony with the prevailing ideas of the day; and doubtless, often differs signally from the meaning that was in the mind of the man who composed it. The world saw nothing of the circulation of the blood in Servetus, Columbus, Caesalpinus or Shakespeare until after William Harvey had taught and written." Let us, then, try to assume for the nonce an Elizabethan state of mind and knowledge.
One branch of knowledge in Shakespeare's time had to do with astrology, that is, the influence of the planets upon human affairs.2 The belief that the heavenly bodies influenced the lives of men and women is nothing new. It has a history—one to which there is no parallel—of 6000 years, and was held in Mesopotamia, India, China, ancient Greece, and in all of Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Indeed, to the Elizabethan such a belief was entirely logical. The effects of the sun in furnishing light and warmth to the earth were manifest to all, and the waxing and waning of the moon, and the influence of that satellite upon the tides were familiar. Why, then, should not the other planets have an effect upon the earth and its inhabitants? In the philosophy of the time, the macrocosm, or universe, was inextricably linked with the microcosm, man. Even today, booklets purporting to give the horoscope of the curious purchaser based upon the sign of the zodiac under which he was born, are readily obtained, and in every large city one or more astrologers are listed in the telephone directory. In Shakespeare's day belief in astrology was widespread, and although a few writers such as Bacon had attacked astrologers they had done it on the basis of the trickery of the practitioners rather than upon the basic truth or falsity of the alleged science. The conjunction and the opposition of the planets at the time of a man's birth influenced the proportions of the humors which were found in his body, and therefore had to do with his temperament or "complexion"—choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic or melancholic. Indeed, the course of a man's life and his death were influenced by the stars, and could be predicted. Chaucer, for example, says:
For in the sterres, clerer than is glas, Is writen, god wot, who-so coude it rede, The deeth of every man, withouten drede … but mennes wittes been so dulle, That no wight can wel rede it atte fulle.3
Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, was said to be "an exact calculator of nativities", and reputedly predicted the date of his death by his horoscope. The planet Saturn, for instance, was looked upon as malign and as tending to cause an excess of black bile, thus producing melancholy. Most of the arguments that were alleged against astrology were theological in nature, but obviously the whole doctrine could hardly be refuted as long as the geocentric astronomy of Ptolemy held sway. It is interesting to note that the sun and the moon were numbered with the other five planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury).
The personal physician to Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, Thomas Vicary,4 believed in the influence of the moon and stars on the organs, and Dariot,5 another physician, wrote a volume on astrology. Elizabeth I, likewise, retained as one of her advisers John Dee, a notorious astrologer, and apparently was much guided by his advice. Astrology purported to teach the Elizabethan to know his friends and enemies, to prepare him for the future, and indeed to answer every question. Not only could astrology predict the success in life of individuals, but the planets were thought to have much to do with the proper times for bleeding, for gathering medicinal herbs, or for preparing the soil for planting. Chaucer speaks of the Doctor of Physic among his Canterbury pilgrims who was "grounded in astronomye" and "wel coude …fortunen the ascendent of his images for his pacient." It was true in the time of Shakespeare as well that astrology played an important part in the training of the physician; the balance of the humors, the outcome of the disease, and the nature of the herbs to be used in treatment were influenced by the planet under which the patient was born. Burton6 quotes Paracelsus as opining that a physician without the knowledge of stars cannot "either understand the cause or cure of any disease, either of this, or gout, nor so much as toothache; except he see the peculiar geniture and scheme of the party affected." He adds that "the constellation alone many times produceth melancholy, all other causes set apart." He gives instance "in lunatic persons that are deprived of their wits by the moon's motion", but adds, however, that the stars "do but include and that so gently, that if we will be ruled by reason they have no power over us; but if we follow our own nature and be led by sense they do as much in us as in brute beasts and we are no better." Sir Thomas Browne, the eminent physician, warned, "Do not reject or condemn a sober and regulated Astrology; there is more truth therein than in astrologers—; we deny not the influence of the Stars."7
Burton and Browne wrote soon after Shakespeare's death, although their views were those in vogue earlier; for example, Boorde8 speaks of "a lunatic which will be ravished of his wits once a moon, for as the moon doth change and is variable so be those persons mutable and not constant witted." Again, Vicary says, "Also the brain hath this property that it moveth and followeth the moving of the moon; for in the waxing of the moon the brain followeth upwards; and in the wane of the moon the brain descendeth downwards and vanisheth in substance of virtue, …and this is proved in men that be lunatic or mad …and also in men that be epulentic or having the falling sickness, that be most grieved in the beginning of the new moon and the latter quarter of the moon" (p. 17). It was generally believed, then, that the phases of the moon had much to do with mental illness, perhaps in causation but certainly in aggravation and amelioration. Webster, in his Duchess of Malfi, for instance, says, "Madmen act their gambols to the full of the moon."
Shakespeare was familiar with the terms "lunacy" and "lunatic" and with these other notions concerning the astrological influence upon behavior. Indeed, he makes over one hundred astrological allusions in his plays and sonnets, although he does not once use the word "astrology"; he uses instead "astronomy" consistently. Whether or not he believed in astrology is, however, an academic question. At any rate, we may be sure that Shakespeare's listeners were familiar with astrological beliefs, and that mention of such beliefs struck a responsive chord. For Shakespeare, says Wedel, "astrology was principally a convenient source for figures of speech".9
The influence of the planets, then, was considered to be one of the factors in what passed for psychiatric etiology in the Elizabethan period. Another factor was the supernatural one exemplified in witchcraft.
In Shakespeare's day the belief in witchcraft was universal, not only in England and Scotland, but on the Continent.10 Indeed, the excesses of the witch hunters in England and Scotland were relatively mild compared with the savagery exhibited in France and Germany. The belief in the power of the supernatural and its mediation by human beings stems from Scriptural days; it was thought that to deny witchcraft was practically to be an atheist. By the time of Henry VIII witchcraft, formerly punished, usually with penance, by the ecclesiastical courts, had been taken under the jurisdiction of the civil courts, and those convicted of witchcraft were treated often by execution as criminals. In 1563 under Elizabeth I a statute was enacted decreeing imprisonment for the first and death for the second offense of sorcery or any damage to property or persons by means of witchcraft; by the time of James I, in 1604, a still more rigorous law was passed. Estimates vary as to the number of persons executed on charges of practicing witchcraft; in the time of James I nearly half of all persons accused of witchcraft were hanged, and the numbers were in the thousands. Indeed, Matthew Hopkins, the "witch-finder", who poetically was himself hanged in 1647, alone caused the death of over 4000 witches! Such trials and executions were far from uncommon during Shakespeare's lifetime and for a long period following. This belief in the power of witches to do evil had a bearing, inter alia, on the interpretation of mental symptoms.
The witch, or less often the wizard, was in a compact with the devil, had power to evoke the devil and various spirits and through their power to cause damage, illness, and death. Glanvil says, "A witch is one who can do or seems to do strange things beyond the known power of art and ordinary nature, by virtue of a confederation with evil spirits. The strange things are really performed and are not all impostures and delusions."11 Whatever baffled the physician in the line of illness was conveniently ascribed to witchcraft, just as today we hear of bacteria, viruses, allergies and "psychosomatic" illness. Many physical complaints such as sudden illnesses were laid to this cause, and fits, with or without loss of consciousness, were thought to be almost characteristic of bewitchment.12 Some of the alleged victims vomited pins and nails, and there was much speculation as to how these foreign bodies could be introduced into the body of the subject. Actually, the fits, the vomiting of the pins, and the rest were largely due to an hysterical desire for attention by the highly suggestible, or the result of direct imposture. Not only were human beings the object of the witches' machinations; animals sickened and died, storms were brewed, fires were caused. The witches could summon spirits who in the form of succubi and incubi had carnal relations with humans, or could cause impotence, sterility or abortion. Witches, too, could bring about apparitions, could leave the room through a keyhole and go to distant places, or by the use of ointments make themselves invisible. The idea of the Witches' Sabbath was much more common on the Continent than in England, but many strange tales were told by witches in their alleged "confessions"; that they had attended revelries at which they had sexual relations with devils and perhaps even engaged in cannibalistic activities. These "confessions", as we read them today, are obviously the expression of delusions entertained by psychotic persons or statements extorted by severe torture. In short, almost any evil was attributed to the activities of these witches through their confederacy with the devil.
The modus operandi of bewitching was explained by Sir (Dr.) Thomas Browne, one of the best known physicians in the Stuart period, during a trial of witches in 1665:
… That the devil …did work upon the bodies of men and women upon a natural foundation, (that is) to stir up and excite such humors superabounding in their bodies to a great excess, whereby he did in an extraordinary manner afflict them with such distempers as their bodies were most subject to …these swooning fits were natural, and nothing else but that they call the mother [hysteria], but only heightened to a great excess by the subtility of the devil, cooperating with the malice of those which we term witches, at whose instance he doth these villainies.13
Another type of difficulty was supposedly caused by the witches, namely, the form of mental illness or madness known as demoniacal possession. King James I, in his Demonology, said,
They [the witches], can make folks to become phrenetic or maniac, which likewise is very possible to their master to do, since they are but natural sicknesses. And likewise they can make some to be possessed with spirits and so to become very demoniacs; and this last sort is very possible likewise to the devil their master to do, since he may easily send his own angels to trouble in what form he pleases any whom God will permit him so to use.14
One of the four general types of madness was called demoniacus, which Boorde says, in his Breviary of Health, is caused by the possession of the devil and is "worse than the maniac". He tells of a German woman who was brought to Rome while he was there and who was exorcised at St. Peter's. He commented that she must do penance or she will have eternal punishment and adds, as to the demoniacs, that "No man can help them but God and the King."15 If they did not respond to exorcism and prayer they were likely to be subjected to torture and imprisonment. It seems likely that when Shakespeare used such expressions as "He is sure possessed, Madam" (Twelfth Night) or "How long hath this possession held the man?" (Comedy of Errors), or "For nature so preposterously to err sans witchcraft could not be" (Othello), he was using something more than a mere figure of speech. We may note, too, that the witches in Macbeth have beards and disappear suddenly—two marks of the true witch.
Many volumes have been written on witchcraft in old England and new, as well as on the Continent, but time does not permit a full discussion of this interesting and tragic popular delusion. We should add, however, that there were those who spoke out against this belief. One of the most powerful of these was Johannes Weyer of Germany, a student of Henry Cornelius Agrippa.16 Reginald Scot,17 in England, based his attack on witchcraft largely upon Weyer's writings. Neither Weyer nor Scot, nor the few others who dared to speak out against witchcraft, however, denied the existence of spirits or the possibility that human being could make compacts with spirits. Sir Thomas Browne said in his Religio Medici.
For my part I have ever believed and do now know that there are witches. They that doubt of these do not only deny them but spirits and are obliquely and upon consequence a sort not of infidels but atheists.… I could believe that spirits use with men the act of carnality and that in both sexes.… I hold that the devil doth really possess some men, the spirit of melancholy others, the spirit of delusion others.18
The Malleus Maleficarum19 (1490), which may be referred to as the Bible of the witch-hunters, devoted a whole chapter to the method by which devils through the operations of witches sometimes actually possess men. Zilboorg has well said that if in reading this volume we substituted the word "patient" for "witch" we should have a veritable textbook of psychopathology.
The witch mania, partly under the influence of physicians like Cotta20 and clergymen like Bekker21 and Hutchinson,22 gradually subsided about a century after Shakespeare, the last execution, indeed, occurring in 1684 in England. There was an execution in Scotland in 1711 and in 1712 a conviction in England which, however, resulted in a pardon. Finally in 1736 prosecutions for witchcraft were forbidden by an act of Parliament. This act, interestingly enough, is still in force, and as recently as 1944 [R. v. Duncan, 2 (1944) All E. R. 220] a conviction was had under it on the charge of "pretence to conjuration contrary to the Witchcraft Act". The court pointed out that the law does not refer to conjuration of evil spirits only but that it is the pretence which is the gist of the crime. At the time this Witchcraft Act was passed it may be noted that John Wesley, among others, lamented the decadence of a belief in witches. Indeed, he thought that giving up this belief was almost equivalent to giving up the Bible itself!
Passing from this topic we may say in summary that belief in witchcraft, like a belief in astrology, was prevalent in the time of Shakespeare; it certainly affected the interpretation of mental phenomena by the public, and very likely as well by Shakespeare himself.
So far we have considered what may be termed the extraneous influences which played upon man and influenced or governed his behavior and, indeed, his destiny. What of the anatomical and physiological beliefs of the time? How did the human organism function? Essentially, the beliefs were those which had been handed down from Galen, about 200 A.D. During the whole of the Dark Ages and of the Middle Ages his teachings had acquired almost the standing of a religious dogma, and to doubt what Galen had said about the structure or the function of the body or the treatment of its diseases was almost tantamount to heresy. Some brave souls, however, had dared to investigate and to doubt. Vesalius, by his careful dissections, had disproved many of the anatomical errors of Galen in the same year (1543), indeed, as Copernicus had begun the demolition of the geocentric basis of the existing astronomy. Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, thought it wise to have the first edition of his work (1628) published in Germany rather than in England. He may have remembered what happened to Galileo and been mindful of the fact that Servetus, the discoverer of the pulmonic circulation, had been burned at the stake by Calvin's orders, even though it was actually for his theological views rather than on those on physiology!
The fundamentals of physiology, as they were still known in the time of Shakespeare, were briefly as follows.23 The basic principle of life was known as the spirit or pneuma, and was drawn from the world spirit in the act of breathing, entering through the trachea into the lungs and then by way of what we now call the pulmonic vein to the left ventricle. Food was carried as chyle to the liver (the "shop of blood", as Lemnius24 calls it) by the portal vein. It was there converted to blood and endowed in some unexplained way with natural spirit; this bestowed the power of growth and nutrition. Part of the bstrlood was supposed to go to the right side of the heart, where it gave off its impurities by way of what we now call the pulmonic artery, these being exhaled through the lungs. The venous blood, thus continually purified, ebbed to and fro in the veins for nutrition. A small part of this blood passed through invisible pores into the left ventricle, where it was mixed with air, thus becoming arterial blood and charged with vital spirit. This moved to and fro in the arteries, giving the function to the organs. If it reached the brain it became charged with the third kind of spirit, the animal spirit. This was carried from the brain through the nerves (which were thought to be hollow), and initiated the higher functions such as motion and sensation. According to the generally accepted scheme of things, there were four elements, namely, earth, cold and dry, water, cold and moist, air, hot and moist, and fire, hot and dry. These in turn were influenced by the humors, also four in number, these being blood, choler or yellow bile, phlegm, and black bile. Depending upon the mixtures of the elements and the proportion of the humors in the body there were various complexions or temperaments named after the humors, the sanguine, the phlegmatic, the choleric and the melancholic—words which are in common speech today as indicating the general temperament of individuals. If there was an equal counterpoise and balance of the elements and the humors the person was said to be "well-tempered", but if one predominated then he was "ill-tempered". Again, if the humors were in good balance the individual was "in good humor". It was this balance of the elements that Shakespeare had in mind when he made Antony say of Brutus:
His life was gentle; and the elements So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up, And say to all the world, 'This was a man!'
Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy, defines a humor as "a liquid or fluent part of the body comprehended in it for the preservation of it; and is either innate or born with us, or adventitious and acquisite" (p. 128). It is of some interest that within the last few years or so there has been a recurrence of the use of this term by the neurophysiologists, who now speak of neuro-humors.
Depending upon the predominance of one humor or another there were characteristic physical and psychological types. The sanguine man, for example, was handsome physically, had a happy outlook on life and considerable charm of personality. He was also, however, subject to violent lusts and passions and ran the risk of unrequited love, which might then give him melancholy. The choleric man, particularly the one born under Mars, was violent and shameless or else deceitful and conspiring; like Cassius in Julius Caesar, he might have a "lean and hungry look". The phlegmatic type was fond of luxury, and if he had been born under the moon might be a fool and a coward. The melancholy type was the one of which we read the most in Elizabethan literature. The first book by an English physician on mental diseases, Timothy Bright's Treatise on Melancholy, first published in 1586, which was probably well known to Shakespeare, was devoted entirely to the subject. Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), one of the famous books of the English language, dealt exhaustively with the topic. Of Burton's work Sir William Osler said, "[It] is a great medical treatise, orderly in arrangement, serious in purpose, and weighty beyond belief with authorities."25 Although it did not appear until five years after shakespeare's death, it is an omnium gatherum of the literature on the topic back to classical times; it certainly represents most of the views on mental disorder which prevailed in the Elizabethan period.
The melancholic man was supposed to be lean, with hard skin and dusky color, subject to various physical diseases and numerous psychological hazards. In general he slept badly, had fearful dreams, was timorous, full of fear, doubt, and distrust and one whom "nothing can please but only discontentment". Walkington speaks of the man of melancholic complexion as either God or demon and adds, "He is like a huge vessel on the rolling sea. It is either hoist up to the ridge of a main billow or else hurried down to the bottom of the sea valley"26—a very suggestive passage, indicating that even in Shakespeare's day it was recognized that the alternating elation and depression of what today we call the manic-depressive temperament were common. Du Laurens said that melancholy men are witty, since "the humor causeth the divine ravishment or enthusiasm which stirreth men up to play the philosopher, poet, and also to prophesy".27 It was generally believed also that the melancholy individual was particularly subject to demonic influence. Juan Huarte tells us that Aristotle says that all men who signalize themselves in science were melancholic; in his opinion the melancholic humor is the cause of integrity and constancy. This humor, which is hot and dry, he says, "gives us courage, pride, liberality, audacity, cheerfulness, and pleasantness".28 Thus, it seems that the person possessed of what was termed "natural melancholy" had some very useful traits. Perhaps it was for this reason that we read in Elizabethan literature much more about this type of person than any other. Indeed Professor Lawrence Babb has written a comprehensive study entitled, The Elizabethan Malady29 concerning the way natural melancholy was treated in the literature of the time.
There were cases, however, according to the writers, in which melancholy became "unnatural", that is, a form of mental illness, along with mania, phrenitis (the type of mental illness with fever, or as we should say today, delirium), demoniacal possession, and lunacy (the type occurring once in a moon). Du Laurens speaks of dotage, which was the general term for mental illness. "This", he says, "occurs when some of the principal faculties of the mind, as imagination or reason, is corrupted.… All melancholy persons have their imagination troubled." This condition is usually without fever because the humor is dry. If the humor becomes shut up in the ventricles of the brain, however, it causes falling sickness (epilepsy). In the melancholy dotage without fever the patient has for his ordinary companions "fear and sadness without any apparent occasion.… Dotage with fever if continued is called frenzy through inflammation of the brain and its membranes or of the muscles called diaphragma or phrenos" (p. 87). Under certain circumstances this or any of the other humors might become overheated, burned, or in the Elizabethan term, "adust".
Of the types of mental disorder not clearly due to extraneous influences, particularly of a supernatural nature, it was generally agreed by the writers of Shakespeare's time that the brain was at fault in cases of madness. Shakespeare, indeed, uses the phrase "brain-sick" several times, as in referring to "the bedlam brain-sick duchess" (2 Henry VI).
Another physical symptom of madness was thought to be the pulse, which was irregular or rapid (as it might well be at least in an excited patient). It is to this that Hamlet refers, for instance, when he says, "my pulse, as yours, doth temperately keep time", in attempting to prove that he is not truly mad. In other words, the Elizabethans interpreted mental illness largely on an organic basis. They described three cells of the brain, or ventricles, the anterior one being the seat of imagination, the middle one of reason, and the posterior one of memory. Although there a certain amount of compartmentalization was supposed, it is interesting that Huarte at least stated that all three faculties are united in each ventricle, thus anticipating the doctrine of the unity of the organism. The fourth ventricle was said to digest and refine the vital spirits and turn them into animal spirits, thus enabling them to give sense and motion to all parts of the body. Huarte makes the comment that it is fortunate that the liver is so far from the brain, "lest by the noise of the boiling and concoction of the food and obscurity and clouds cast on the animal spirits by the vapors, the rational soul should be discomposed in reasoning" (p. 130).
The causes of unnatural melancholy were numerous and various. Batman upon Bartholome, for example, lists "melancholy meats, strong wine that burneth the humors, passions of the soul, great study, the biting of a woode hounde [mad dog] or some other venomous beast, corrupt and pestilent air and corrupt humor."30. Variuos types were described too, such as head melancholy, love melancholy, religious melancholy, widows' and nuns' melancholy, and the windy (flatulent) melancholy or hypochondriasis. As for the symptoms, Boorde tells us that the sickness is full of fantasies, "Thinking to hear or see. The patient may think himself God or that he is about to be damned" (fo. 78). Other symptoms described are suspicion, watchfulness, sighing, restlessness, and fearful dreams. The patient shuns the light, "for humors are contrary to light". The picture of the unnatural melancholy is, indeed, not unlike the clinical picture seen in depressions with a certain amount of agitation; then, as now, the danger of suicide was recognized. We hear more of melancholy than of the other types of mental illness in the Elizabethan literature, and relatively few descriptions of the actions of the maniac, of the phrenetic and of the demoniac are found. References to lunatics are found, particularly in connection with Bedlam, of which we shall speak later. The outlook for these mental conditions was rather guarded. Boorde, for instance, says that "madness may come by nature and kind and then is incurable, or else it may come by great fear or great study". Presumably, in the latter type the outlook is better. He continues: "Frenzy is with fever, so is not mania or madness. [Madness] comes of a corrupt blood in the head or of a bilious blood intrused in the head, or weakness of the brain which letteth [prevents] a man to sleep or turning upso down of the head which doth make the madness" (fo. 65).
Many of the milder cases were cared for outside of Bedlam, usually in the home, and the books are full of descriptions of the various sorts of treatment which should be given. First of all, since the condition was due to a perturbation of the humors, it was important that the patient should be relieved of them as much as possible. Consequently, we find bloodletting frequently prescribed, as well as various purges upward (that is, emetics) and downward. Burton says that it is the common practice of some men to go first to a witch and then to a physician. "Thus", he says, "if they cannot bend Heaven they will try hell." "If a disease is caused by incantation", he says, "it must be cured by it" (p. 383), although, he adds that others object to this statement. He speaks likewise of exorcisms, fire, suffum-igation, lights, cutting the air with swords, and of herbs and odors. Since the external senses are doors for impressions from the outer world, a pleasant house and apparel, music and pleasant sights, good studies and exercises, were recommended.
Bright31 speaks of ornamentation, of precious stones "which have a virtue against vain fears and baseness of courage", such as the carbuncle, chalcedony, ruby, and turquoise. He adds, "As for furious melancholy, I leave it to be cured as disease and sickness." Diet was considered to be important, since what was taken into the stomach affected the "decoction of the humors in the liver". Broths and syrups, for example, would moisten the humors. Various kinds of exercise were also prescribed.
As for the various remedies which were used, they were almost literally legion. Indeed, Burton devotes over forty pages to the topic of medicines. He evidently had some doubt in spite of all of this consideration, for he remarks that "Many an old wife doth more good than our bombast physicians", and again, speaking of the different prescriptions of various authorities he says, "But each man must correct and alter, to show his skill, every opinionative fellow must maintain his own paradox, be it what it will; the Kings rage, the Greeks suffer; they dote, and in the meantime the poor patients pay for their new experiments, the commonalty rue it." Although various precious stones and gold were sometimes used, the greatest emphasis was laid on herbs and simples. Polypharmacy was certainly the rage. Mithridates, electuaries, apozemes, and other compounds contained a huge number of constituents, so many, indeed, that Burton well remarks, "Three hundred simples in a julip, potion, or a little pill, to what end or purpose?" (pp. 563-606, esp. 563 and 571). As an example, consider the recipe for an apozema (decoction) given by Du Laurens:
Take of the roots of bugloss and elecampane, of the rinds of the roots of capers and tamarisk, of everyone an ounce, of the leaves of borage, hops, succory, fumitory, capillus Veneris, crops of thyme and balm, of each a handful, of anise, fennel, and citron seed, of each two drams, of the three cordial flowers, of the flowers, of oranges and epithymum, of each a pugill; boil them all in fountain water, and after you have strained out a pound and a half, put thereto of the syrup of hops two ounces, and as much of the syrup of fumitory, and make thereof an apozeme, clarify it and aromatize it with a dram of the powder of cinnamon or of electuarium de gemmis; it must be taken four mornings together. (P. 159.)
Many of the herbs used have little or no medicinal value, and the names of most of them are strange to us today, such as betony, borage, bugloss, and carduus benedictus. Others, like hops and marigold, are familiar to us in other connections. Black hellebore, recommended by the Greeks, was still in use. Burton remarks, "It was generally so much esteemed of the ancients for this disease among the rest that they sent all such as were crazed, or that doted, to the Anticyrians, …to be purged, where this plant was in abundance to be had. In Strabo's time it was an ordinary voyage; sail to Anticyra, a common proverb, to bid a dizzard or a madman to take hellebore." Another drug mentioned by Burton, although it is not found anywhere in Shakespeare's works, is tobacco, which had been introduced by Sir Walter Raleigh. Says Burton,
Tobacco, divine, rare, superexcellent tobacco, which goes far beyond all their panaceas, potable gold, and philosopher's stones, a sovereign remedy to all diseases. A good vomit, I confess, a virtuous herb if it be well qualified, opportunely taken, and medicinally used, but as it is commonly abused by most men …'tis a plague, a mischief, a violent purger of goods, land, health, hellish, devilish and damned tobacco, the ruin and overthrow of body and soul. (Pp. 577, 579)
Tobacco, or henbane of Peru, is described in Gerard's Herbal and is said to ease migraine and fits of the "mother". Gerard adds, "It purges up and down." One author, de Lancre (1612), accused witches of using tobacco, presumably to facilitate their trances, adding, "it makes their breath and bodies stink".32 With regard to the question of the fits it should be mentioned that the "mother", the matrix or the uterus was thought to move up and down, thus becoming suffocated and causing various symptoms which today we know under the name of hysteria. Shakespeare refers to this condition in King Lear, "Oh, how this mother swells up toward my heart. Hysterica passio! Down, thou climbing sorrow, thy element's below." One other drug is worthy of mention, namely, the mandrake or mandragora. Gerard says that there are many ridiculous tales about this herb, that it is said that when it is pulled from the earth it shrieks and that the roots have the shape of a man or a woman. "It hath drowsy and sleeping powers",33 he says. Shakespeare has Iago say, for example:
Not poppy nor mandragora Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep Which thou ow'dst yesterday.
As for the results of these drastic medications, statistics are not available. Evidently some patients at least survived!
What of the mentally ill who were so disturbed that they appeared to need institutionalization?34 In Shakespeare's time there stood near the Bishop's Gate without the city wall of London a hospital, or asylum, for the mentally ill. Founded in 1247 as the Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem, the house had from 1377 on been used for the care, or at least the confinement of mad, lunatic and distracted persons. The name had soon become corrupted from Bethlehem to Bethlem and thence to Bedlam, thus adding a picturesque and vivid word to the language. From the early days the institution was referred to as a hospital, but that fact should not mislead us into picturing it as having any resemblance to one of our modern establishments. The unfortunate people who were sent there were the more obviously deranged, but once they had entered within those walls they were looked upon as objects of scorn and derision. It is of interest as reflecting Shakespeare's humane attitude toward the mentally ill that in contrast with his contemporaries such as Peele and Middleton he rarely used the mentally deranged for comic relief. In employing the fool for comic purposes as he did, he was, of course, following the stage tradition of his times. Furthermore, the fool was a professional, and was often far from being mentally retarded.
In Bedlam the sexes were mingled; no attempts were made at any sort of sanitation, heating, or proper feeding. It was reported in 1631, for example, that the patients had had nothing for days but scraps, and "were like to starve". The inmates were chained and often whipped, kept in dark cells, and used as objects of entertainment for the public, who were allowed to visit for a fee.
Sir Thomas More tells of a man who had been put into Bedlam and afterwards "by beating and correction had gathered his remembrances to come again to himself". When the patient relapsed and made something of a nuisance of himself the Chancellor caused him to be bound to a tree in the street before the whole town, while constables "striked him with rods 'til they waxed weary." More then remarks, "Verily, God be thanked, I hear no harm of him now." Again, in Dekker's play The Honest Whore, one of the characters says, "Yes, forsooth I am one of the implements. I sweep the madmen's rooms and fetch straw for 'em and buy chains to tie 'em and rods to whip 'em. I was a mad wag myself here once but I thank Father Anselmo. He lashed me into my right mind again." This scene is laid in the "Bethlehem Monastery near Milan" but obviously refers to the Bethlehem Hospital. Such treatment as the patients received, then, was a combination of cruelty and systematic neglect. Fortunate, indeed, was the victim who survived. Darkness, it may be added, was considered a cure for frenzy, since as Batman says, "It takes away the imagination that cometh by the sight" (p. 88b).
A reference to the behavior and symptoms of the inmates is found in which Lavater says, "madmen which have utterly lost the use of reason, or are vexed by God's permission with a devil…do marvelous things, talk of many visions and divers other matters. Their sight deceiveth them, insomuch as they mistake one man for another: which thing we see by experience, in Bedlam houses where mad and frantic men are kept."35
Presumably the prevailing treatment of the institutionalized mentally ill was a matter of common knowledge; accordingly we find a number of references in Shakespeare's plays: Rosalind's remark that "Love is merely a madness and deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen", Romeo's comment that "He is bound more than a madman", and Pinch's advice that "They must be bound and laid in some dark room".
One of the stock characters in Shakespeare's time was "Tom o' Bedlam". From time to time the governors had to relieve the crowding at Bedlam by discharging patients whose cure was, to say the least, doubtful. Thrown upon the world, homeless and without friends, these patients wandered about the countryside chanting wild ditties and wearing a fantastical dress to attract the notice and the alms of the charitable. Some of their actions are described in Edgar's soliloquy in King Lear thus:
… Bedlam beggars, who with roaring voices, Strike in their numbed and mortified bare arms Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary; And with this horrible object, from low farms … Sometimes with lunatic bans, sometimes with prayers, Enforce their charity.
Among the half dozen "mad songs" in Percy's Reliques is one entitled, "Old Tom of Bedlam", which starts as follows:
Forth from my sad and darksome cell Or from the deep abyss of hell Mad Tom is come into the world again To see if he can cure his distempered brain.36
That songs of this sort were well known is indicated in a line from Ben Jonson's The Devil is an Ass: "Your best song's Thom o' Bet'lem." In another song with the same title, the subject sings that he has been
In durance soundly caged In the lordly lofts of Bedlam, On stubble soft and dainty, Brave bracelets strong, sweet whips ding dong, With wholesome hunger plenty.37
These patients apparently had some sort of license, or at least were permitted by custom, to go begging, and wore about their necks a great horn. When they came to a house they would blow the horn and then put a stopple in it to contain the drink which might be given to them. This is apparently the reference in King Lear, "Poor Tom, thy horn is dry." So much was the "Bedlam begging" abused that in 1675 the Governors of Bedlam found it necessary to announce that no patients were discharged with a license to beg!38
Bedlam was moved to a new building in 1674, and apparently steps were taken after that time to segregate the sexes. It is doubtful whether very much improvement had come about, however, by the time Hogarth, in the 1730's, was making his etchings of The Rake's Progress. His "Scene in Bedlam" is, of course, familiar to all. The beginning of humane care of the mentally ill in English hospitals dates from the founding of the York Retreat by the Quakers in 1792.
The question naturally arises, how much of astrology, of witchcraft, and of the humoral pathology did Shakespeare himself believe? It is difficult, if not impossible, to speak with finality on this question. He was perhaps the most accurate mirror ever held up to mankind, a keen observer, one who knew human nature, and who depicted it with truth. He was a dramatist, well attuned to the tastes and the knowledge of those who saw and would read his plays. He was, in every way, a man of his time. The general belief in the influence of the planets cannot have left him untouched, and yet it is significant that never once did he use the word "astrology". He introduced witchcraft, witches, and ghosts only on rare occasions. From anything in his writings we cannot estimate the extent to which he believed in the legends of his time.
As for a belief in the humoral pathology, there was no other pathology in his day. Galen's influence was still strong, even though Leonardo had ventured to doubt, and even though Vesalius had published his epoch-making studies of anatomy before Shakespeare's birth. The interesting speculation has been offered that Shakespeare knew something of the rumors of Harvey's work, even though the latter's studies of the circulation of the blood were not published until twelve years after Shakespeare's death. There are one or two references which may be used to bolster this speculation, but it is only speculation nevertheless.
As for mental illness, it seems reasonably clear that he viewed insanity, or madness, as a disease of the brain, due to various causes and possible of cure by medical means. Although he makes reference to the dark room and the chains and the beatings, he nevertheless has the physician in King Lear resort to what today we would call the prolonged sleep treatment for the successful cure of the ailing king. Shakespeare was a humane person, and he treats his mentally deranged characters with sympathy. His depictions of human nature and the struggles of human beings in the face of conflict and stress are vivid, and show a rare understanding of mental mechanisms.
It is interesting too to note that some of the beliefs which prevailed in Shakespeare's time are not entirely dead even today. There are those who still believe in the power of the planets to influence human affairs, and who consult astrologers for advice. As for witch-craft, there are areas of the United States, some of them not far from Washington, where a belief in the power of "hexing" to bring about evil or curative effects on human beings and on animals still flourishes. As for the humors, the word is being used again in neuro-physiology, although, of course, in a somewhat different sense from that which prevailed in the time of Shakespeare. Our everyday speech has been enriched by numerous words and phrases which originally referred to astrology, witchcraft, or the humoral pathology—consider disaster, lucky stars, jovial, mercurial, Saturnine, prestige, glamor, bewitch, choleric, splenetic, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholic, to mention only a few.
We have reviewed all too briefly some of the ideas prevalent in Elizabethan and Stuart times relative to the mental functioning, particularly the abnormal, of human beings. In the space of 350 years it might be expected that much has happened in the field of psychiatry, and, indeed, such is the case. Not only that; the progress in very recent years seems to be gaining speed, and to predict what may come about in the next 50 years would need a wise and rash man indeed. As knowledge has increased as to physiology and pathology, the need for reference to supernatural influences has waned. Diseases which were formerly ascribed to witchcraft we now know to be due to infections, new growths, or nutritional disorders. Although Michael Servetus (1553) had described the pulmonic circulation even before Shakespeare's birth and had been burned by order of Calvin for writing the book in which this discovery was announced, it was the revolutionary book of Harvey (1628) on the circulation of the blood that caused the first serious doubts concerning the humoral pathology. A few years later the theories of Harvey were completed by Malpighi's (1661) demonstration of the capillary circulation. The work of Boyle (1660), who demonstrated the weight of air and studied respiration and combustion, gave the coup de grace to the humoral theories, although formal physiology was not developed until the time of Claude Bernard in the middle of the nineteenth century. Later developments in the field of physiology and pathology came with the demonstration of the function of the so-called ductless glands, the study of the effects of the emotions by Cannon of Harvard (1915), and more recently still the studies of the chemistry of the nervous system, which promise to cast much further light on the subjects of neurology and human behavior. In the field of anatomy the phrenological theories of Gall and Spurzheim (1830) gave impetus to modern neurology, with the epoch-making work of Cajal (1900) and his successors on the structure of the nervous system, while the genetic formulations of Mendel (1860) have been applied to some degree to psychiatric problems in recent years. More recently, too, extensive studies have been made on the sociological and anthropological factors in the development of mental disorders.
Regarding the mentally ill, the sort of abuse that was meted out to the poor victims in Bedlam continued until the time of the French Revolution, when the increasing interest in human dignity and the rights of the individual stimulated the work of Chiarugi (1793) in Florence and Pinel (1801) in Paris. In addition to setting up principles of humane care, as did also Tuke at the York Retreat in England, Chiarugi and Pinel established the fact that mental illness is a medical problem rather than a theological or philosophical one. It was Pinel who urged what is known as moral treatment, that is, the application of pleasant surroundings and of kindly humane care, and the use of baths for sedation rather than extensive drugging.
Psychiatry, however, as we know it today, is much more recent than that. It started with Kraepelin (1883), the great German classifier, whose work was amplified by Bleuler and Jung, these latter developing their work on the findings of Sigmund Freud (1895), who in turn had been influenced by Charcot. It was Freud who gave us for the first time a true understanding of the dynamic power of the unconscious, and thus shed much light on the understanding of what the mental patient is attempting to express. It was he too who developed what is now known as psychoanalysis, an important method of psychotherapy, the basic principles of which have permeated in large measure the whole of psychiatry. Freud's work has been even more productive in the treatment of the neuroses, which formerly were as much a terra incognita as the psychoses, but recognized as treatable much later than were the more obvious mental disorders. What today is known as hysteria (in Shakespeare's time as the "mother") and the other neuroses, earlier referred to as the "vapors", for example, are, thanks to Freud, understood and treatable.
In this country psychiatry owes much to the work of Adolf Meyer of Baltimore and to William A. White of Washington, who emphasized the unity of the organism and the close interrelatedness of what we choose to differentiate as mental and somatic. Parallel with the development of psychiatry we have had that of psychology, starting with the experimental psychology of Wundt one hundred years ago and developing into the many-faceted specialty of today. Of particular interest in that field is the displacement of the earlier faculty psychology by the recognition today that mental processes are integrated and that the reason is not independent of the emotions—in deed, that much that passes for reasoning is emotionally motivated.
In the development of psychiatry the pendulum has swung to and fro, from the physical to the psychological and back, both in terms of explanation and of treatment. For many years following Shakespeare, mental peculiarities were looked upon as basically physical; then with the later rise of psychology emphasis was laid upon the psychological aspects. That there are many types with an organic basis is being called to our attention lately with the growing proportion of the elderly in our population. More recently there has been a growing interest in the chemical aspects, and much is being learned from the study of the so-called "tranquilizing" drugs and of the hallucinogenic substances which produce mental symptoms closely mimicking the classical types of certain psychoses. As psychology and psychiatry have developed, they have extended beyond the private practice of clinical psychiatry into other field such as industry, education and the law.
In treatment, substantial progress has been made; one of the most startling triumphs has been the cure of general paresis with malaria and later with penicillin. The newer drugs, too, have been valuable aids to other forms of treatment of the psychoses, such as individual and group psychotherapy; the value of psychotherapy in the neuroses has already been mentioned. With earlier recognition and treatment, and with the growing public understanding and sympathy, the outlook for improvement and cure of mental disorders has been substantially brightened.
There are still, however, many gaps in our knowledge. The relatively recent recognition of this fact by legislative bodies and private foundations has led to the allocation of large sums of money for the support of research into the various aspects—pathological, psychological, social, genetic, and economic—of causation, prevention and treatment. We may safely expect in the near future great advances along these lines. Psychiatry has come far since Shakespeare's day, but the road ahead is still long.
1Works of William Harvey, M.D., tr. by Robert Willis (London 1847), p. lxiii.
2 See C. A. Mercier, Astrology in Medicine (London 1914); C. Camden, Jr., "Elizabethan Astrological Medicine", Annals of Med. Hist, N. S., II (1930), 217.
3Student's Chaucer, ed. W. W. Skeat, "Tale of the Man of Lawe", 11. 194-203.
4 T. Vicary, True Anatomie of the Man's Bodie (London, 1587).
5 C. Dariot, Astrologicall Judgement of the Starres (London, 1598).
6Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. F. Dell and P. Jordan-Smith (New York, 1927), p. 180. For convenience, this and subsequent quotations are given by pages rather than by part, section, member, etc.
7 T. Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica (London, 1646), p. 231 (Book IV, ch. 13).
8 A. Boorde, Breviary of Healthe (London, 1552), folio 73.
9 T. O. Wedel, The Medieval Attitude toward Astrology (New Haven, 1920), p. 156.
10 A valuable compendium of the vast literature on this subject is by George Lyman Kittredge, Witchcraft in Old and New England (Harvard Univ. Press, 1929). See also
11 J. Glanvil, Sadducismus Triumphatus, or Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions (London, 1681), Part II, p. 4.
12 The following quotation from Dr. Louis B. Wright's volume, Middle Class Culture in Elizabethan England (Chapel Hill, N. C, 1935), p. 582, is à propos:
As the modern reader glibly interprets human conduct in terms of Freud, Jung, or whosoever may be his pet theorist, so the Tudor and Stuart citizen found satisfactory explanations in Bright, Wal kington, Huarte, Charron and other writers who elucidated the always interesting question of the reasons for man's behavior.
13 Cobbett's State Trials, VI (London, 1810), 647.
14Demonology (London, 1597), p. 47.
15 Boorde, Book 2 (Extravagantes), folios 5 and 7.
16 J. Weyer, De Praestigiis Daemonum (Basel, 1563).
17 R. Scot, Discovery of Witchcraft (London, 1584).
18 T. Browne, Religio Medici, 4th ed. (London, 1656), Sec. 30, p. 64. (1st ed., 1642.)
19 Transl, by Rev. Montague Summers (London, 1928).
20 J. Cotta, The Triall of Witchcraft (London, 1616).
21 B. Bekker, The World Bewitched (tr. from Dutch) (London, 1695); also J. Webster (M.D.), The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (London, 1677).
22 F. Hutchinson, Historical Essay on Witchcraft (London, 1720).
23 Cf. C. Singer, Short History of Medicine (Oxford, 1928).
24 L. Lemnius, Preservation of Health (London, 1576), p. 89.
25Yale Review, N. S., III (1914), 251.
26 T. Walkington, The Optick Glasse of Humours (London, 1607), ch. 12.
27 A. Du Laurens, A discourse of the Preservation of the Sight: of Diseases of Melancholy: of Rheumes and of Old Age, tr. R. Surphlet (London, 1599), p. 85.
28 J. Huarte, Examen de Ingenios, or The Tryall of Wits, tr. Bellamy (London, 1698), pp. 139-140. (Earlier translation by Carew, 1594.)
29 Michigan State College Press, 1951.
30Batman upon Bartholome…De Proprietatibus Rerum (London, 1582), p. 89.
31 T. Bright, Treatise of Melancholy, 2nd ed. (London, 1613), p. 319. (1st ed., 1586.)
32 Quoted in S. A. Dickson, Tobacco—Panacea or Precious Bane (New York, 1954), p. 162. The author refers to de Lancre as a "demonographer extraordinary" and persecutor of witches (1612).
33 J. Gerard, The Herball (London, 1597).
34 See E. G. O'Donoghue, The Story of Bethlehem Hospital from its Foundation in 1247 (New York, 1915), esp. pp. 168 and 107.
35 L. Lavater, Of Ghostes and Spirites Walking by Nyght (London, 1572), p. 13.
36 T. Percy, ed., Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 3rd ed. (London, 1775), II, 351. The editor comments (p. 350): "It is worth attention, that the English have more songs and ballads on the subject of madness, than any of their neighbours. Whether it is that we are more liable to this calamity than other nations, or whether our native gloominess hath peculiarly recommended subjects of this cast to our writers, the fact is incontestable."
37Oxford Book of Light Verse (1938), p. 112 (said to date from 1615 in its original form).
38 O'Donoghue, p. 138.
Nancy J. C. Andreasen (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: "The Artist as Scientist," in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 235, No. 17, April 26, 1976, pp. 1868-72.
[Here, Andreasen considers Shakespeare's astute clinical observation of mental illness in Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear in light of the Renaissance classification and treatment of mental disorders, and concludes that "Shakespeare the artist was a better observer by far than the physicians of his own time. "]
Shakespeare was fascinated with the idea of madness. In fact, most Elizabethans were. Elizabethan drama began with a play about insanity—The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo Is Mad Again. For the Elizabethan, a trip to the theatre was a movie, a television documentary, a Broadway musical, and a visit to a zoo or amusement park, all in one. Shakespeare was show-man enough to capitalize on his audience's taste for the varied and bizarre. Each of his four major tragedies is a sensitive exploration of psychopathology. Hamlet portrays manic-depressive illness in Hamlet and schizoaffective disorder in Ophelia. Macbeth shows both major characters suffering from ambition that leads to crime and the punishment of depression. Lear has a mild organic brain syndrome that develops under stress into a reactive psychosis, while Gloucester becomes depressed and Edgar feigns classic schizophrenia as Poor Tom. Othello develops a suspiciousness bordering on paranoia, while Iago's delight in malice for its own sake borders on sociopathy. Shakespeare's portrayals in these plays suggest that he was an astute clinical observer of mental illness. One wishes Renaissance physicians—or any physicians describing psychiatric syndromes before the 19th century—had done as well.
Renaissance Psychiatric Nosology
Few primary sources describing psychiatric nosology during the Renaissance are available. Relevant sources are of two types. First, there are a series of tracts on demonology and witchcraft that often describe psychiatric symptomatology. These are primarily polemic tracts rather than scientific descriptions, but since John Weyer and Reginald Scot attempted to plead for more humane treatment of witches because they were often mentally ill, usually from melancholia, and their delusions and hallucinations were based on such illness, these treatises shed some light on attitudes toward psychiatric symptoms.
Second, a small body of medical literature on mental illness existed, but there was no widely accepted set of theories about mental illness. Most medical ideas of the period derived from Galen, the originator of the humoral theory that Ben Jonson put to such good dramatic use. According to this theory, the body was composed of four basic fluids—blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. All forms of illness, including mental aberrations such as melancholy and purely somatic ailments such as gout, were thought to be due to an imbalance in the humors. Competing with the humoral school was the solidist school, which taught that illness was due to pathological changes in specific solid organs such as the brain or bones.
In the few descriptions of mental illness available in the era, some specific psychiatric illnesses were delineated. Phrenitis or "frenzy" was an illness characterized by confusion and agitation accompanied by fever, and it probably encompassed encephalitis, meningitis, and delirium. Mania, also known as madness or lunacy, was characterized by confusion, agitation, and bizarre behavior. It differed from phrenitis primarily in that it was not accompanied by fever. This diagnosis was broadly used and probably included such varied disorders as schizophrenia, mania (in the modern sense), and various organic psychoses. Finally, melancholia or depression was quite well recognized. In 1586, Timothy Bright wrote A Treatise of Melancholic the first psychiatric monograph written in English. In it he described the various classic symptoms such as insomnia or loss of appetite, the more unusual symptoms such as delusions consistent with the depressed mood, and the intermittent periods of elation and high energy occurring in some melancholics.
Shakespeare appears to have been familiar with the witchcraft tracts and with contemporary medical theories. But Shakespeare was an unusually keen observer of human behavior, and in his plays, one finds clinical portrayals of psychiatric syndromes far more sophisticated than those seen in medical treatises of his time. Physicians were just beginning to realize that one might learn more about disease from observing actual patients than from reading textbooks. Perhaps Shakespeare was fond of visiting Elizabethan madhouses and observing the behavior and speech of the inmates, for he sometimes depicts syndromes so accurately that they could serve as brief case vignettes for modern psychiatric residents. Shakespeare was also a child of his own era, of course, and so we find medically sound descriptions mixed with notions drawn from demonology and witchcraft. Macbeth provides an illustration of his complex blending of medical literature, realistic observation, and instinctive stage sense.
Macbeth: Melancholia and Witchcraft
Macbeth was probably written with the intent of pleasing James I. It appears to have been written for presentation at court—at night by candlelight if its dark imagery is any clue—and it is designed as a history play that would dramatize the greatness of James' forebears and his Scottish background just as the English history plays had done for Elizabeth. It draws on a topic certain to be of great interest to James: witchcraft and demonology.
James VI of Scotland had published his Daemonologie in 1597 to dispute and disprove the thesis of Scot and Weyer that "witchcraft" could be explained by natural rather than supernatural causes. After his accession as James I of England, he republished the book in 1603, and in 1604 he introduced a new Witchcraft Act to replace a milder Elizabethan one. Because of its severities, the Witchcraft Act became a two-edged sword. In an era that was indeed becoming more sophisticated and enlightened about both mental illness and demonology, accused witches were more closely examined than before the Act because of the terrible penalties they would incur if found guilty. The notion that so-called witches might in fact be mentally ill was by now accepted widely enough that doctors were sometimes called in to examine the accused and to testify at trials. Thus, witches indeed got close scrutiny as James wished, but it may have worked to their advantage.
Although Macbeth was probably written primarily to please James I, it contains elements that would please both sides in the controversy. Superficially, as was inevitable in a court play, it presents the side of James I. The play clearly portrays Macbeth as tempted by his consuming ambition to traffic with witches and eventually as possessed by demonic forces. But secondarily it shows him and especially Lady Macbeth as suffering from mental illness in the form of melancholia or depression.
Macbeth: Depression or Possession?—Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are similar but contrasting characters. Both suffer from excessive ambition; both plan and commit murder to fulfill it; and both experience guilt and depression. But their ability to cope with the consequences of their actions is quite different. Macbeth is presented as yet another Faustian character who sells his soul to the devil, although for power rather than for knowledge. He becomes the evil that he does and emerges as a diabolic figure at the end. Initially, he is "noble Macbeth," startled and frightened by the witches. Banquo, a contrast to Macbeth throughout the play in his enduring sanity and morality, doubts the witches, while Macbeth is inclined to believe in their reality. Macbeth, on first hearing their prophecy that he will become King of Scotland, is entranced and obsessed by it. Only a few lines later, he is already planning murder. Ironically, by believing in the witches, he ultimately gives in to them, thereby faring less well than the skeptical Banquo, the legendary forebear of James I.
After the murder, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffer from guilt and symptoms of depression. In their first scene together after the murder, Macbeth is complaining of "The torture of the mind to lie / In restless ecstasy" (act III, scene 2, lines 21-22). But Macbeth is troubled at least as much by the prophecy that Banquo will beget kings. He formulates a plan to murder Banquo and Fleance without even consulting Lady Macbeth. Yet in act III, scene 4, the banquet scene, he is still suffering enough from pangs of conscience to have terrifying hallucinations. Most medical writings of the era describe hallucinations as the result of melancholy and deranged imagination, although some writings on witchcraft interpreted them instead as due to possession. The portrayal in Macbeth is open to either interpretation, and Macbeth can be seen at this moment as both remorsefully depressed and as demonically possessed.
Morally and psychologically, the banquet scene is a fulcrum, and thereafter the balance of Macbeth's character is tipped in the direction of being diabolic rather than mentally ill. Immediately afterward, he seeks out the witches himself. Macduff's wife and children are mercilessly murdered. Various characters describe him as a "tyrant bloody sceptered" (act IV, scene 3, line 104) and as "devilish Macbeth" (act IV, scene 3, line 175). His eloquent soliloquy on the death of Lady Macbeth is his own testimony to his internal desperation and nihilism.
Lady Macbeth: Depression as Punishment for Crime.—Lady Macbeth's characterization is quite different. She is portrayed as stronger, more pragmatic, and perhaps more moral. Because she achieves greater insight about the moral consequences of her behavior, she may be the true tragic character in the play. In the early scenes, she is sketched deftly as a woman of "undaunted mettle" (act I, scene 7, line 73), ambitious for her husband, more persistent than he in planning the murder of Duncan and in tidying up the bloody details afterward. Yet she suffers qualms when she notes that Duncan resembles her father as he sleeps, and she faints when she hears her husband describe his murder of the grooms.
When we next see her in act III, scene 2, she is already experiencing symptoms of depression. She too has insomnia, and she is worried about the personality changes she is noting in him. When he hallucinates in the banquet scene, she attempts in her practical way to talk him out of his ghastly visions. When she next appears (in the sleep-walking scene at the end of the play), her profound depression is based in part on the realization that the murder has transformed her husband from a man into a monster. The physician called to diagnose and treat her recognizes that she suffers from mental illness: "Infected minds / To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets" (act V, scene 1, lines 80-81). His following remark, "More needs she the divine than the physician" (act V, scene 1, line 82), is ambiguous. In one sense, it might imply that she as well as Macbeth is truly bewitched and that the proper treatment should be given by a cleric rather than by a doctor. But on the other hand, the doctor's recognition of the risk of suicide in her guilt-ridden condition and his "God, God forgive us all!" (act V, scene 1, line 83) seem to imply more strongly that she suffers from a severe depression as a result of remorse about her actions and their effect on her husband.
Hamlet: Aspects of Affective Disorder
Hamlet shares many themes with Macbeth, but it is far simpler to deal with in terms of psychiatric nosology. In Macbeth, Shakespeare portrays both major characters as suffering from classic symptoms of depression such as insomnia, despair, and guilt, but he is ambiguous about whether they suffer from true depression or from being bewitched, seeming to imply the former for Lady Macbeth and the latter for Macbeth. In Hamlet, bewitchment is no problem. Hamlet's seeking of revenge is much delayed, in fact, because he is so concerned about the problem of bewitchment and must determine whether his father's ghost is a true one or one sent from the devil to mislead him. The perplexing diagnostic issue in Hamlet is not witchcraft or the nature of Hamlet's illness, but the extent to which Hamlet's illness is feigned or real.
Hamlet as a Melancholic.—There is little doubt that Hamlet suffers from melancholia. His first soliloquy shows him already so depressed that he is contemplating suicide and lamenting how "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable" (act I, scene 2, line 133) life is. This mood is maintained throughout most of the play and is sustained by a series of soliloquies that are among the most eloquent expressions of the subjective symptoms of depression in English: the temptations of suicide in "To be or not to be" (act III, scene 1, line 56), guilt and self-deprecation in "Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!" (act II, scene 2, line 576), lethargy and inability to make decisions or initiate actions in "How all occasions do inform against me / And spur my dull revenge!" (act IV, scene 5, lines 31-32). His symptoms of depression are thus classic.
It is interesting to note that the depression portrayed in Hamlet is given abundant precipitating factors. Shakespeare seems to imply that at least five things triggered Hamlet's depression by putting explanations in the mouths of various characters in the play: (1) grief over his father's unexpected and premature death; (2) disappointment and disillusionment with his mother because of her "o'er hasty marriage" (and some might say because of his unresolved Oedipal conflicts); (3) the treachery and perfidy of Claudius, his own uncle and stepfather; (4) Ophelia's rejection of his love; (5) the dishonesty and betrayal of his old school friends, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern. Hamlet suffers five significant object losses, and thus Hamlet's depression might be due to introjecting his anger about abandonment by significant figures in his life. In any case, Shakespeare does not seem to have a concept of depression as endogenous. Hamlet, Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth all experience precipitating stresses. Perhaps this is because it is more dramaturgically effective to portray motivations in characters, and perhaps it is because of a more philosophical or religious need to seek the causes for all effects, especially intellectually or ethically troubling ones.
Hamlet and Bipolar Affective Disorder.—Thus, Hamlet is clearly depressed. Whether he also suffers from bursts of mania or whether his "antic-disposition" is truly feigned is a more difficult question. Clues within the play suggest that Shakespeare did intend to portray Hamlet as a "bipolar" (ie, having symptoms of both mania and depression). Hamlet has two episodes of inappropriate gaiety in the midst of his melancholic mood before he puts on his antic disposition. Both are with Horatio, first in act I, scene 2 when he jokes about using food from his father's funeral at his mother's wedding, and later when he bursts with energy and impetuosity over seeing his father's ghost. Thus, he is intermittently hypomanic even in the early scenes in the play.
Part of the confusion about the reality of Hamlet's madness arises, however, from the fact that he never becomes more than hypomanic, even after he puts on his antic disposition. He never suffers from grandiose delusions or markedly poor judgment. Rather, even when high he shows some insight and control, leading Polonius to note the method of his madness. The speeches in which he seems most severely deranged, the speeches in which he shows such classic manic symptoms as flight of ideas or clang associations or preoccupation with sex, have a playful quality to them that is only partly hypomanic gaiety. For example, in act III, scene 2 when Ophelia is "loosed" to him by Polonius and Claudius so that his behavior can be observed, he is insightful enough to ask her where her father is and to catch her in a lie at the same time that he permits his thoughts to race loosely, is inappropriately irritable and cruel to her, and talks repeatedly about wantonness and breeding. The observers are not certain as to whether he is truly mad, because of his mixture of insight and inappropriateness. Ophelia observes "What a noble mind is here o'erthrown" (act III, scene 2, line 157), while Claudius notes that "What he spake, though it lacked form a little, was not like madness" (act III, scene 2, lines 171-172). The simple fact is that Hamlet is hypomanic: momentarily high enough to behave naturally and seem somewhat mad, high enough to make inappropriately gay or hostile statements even when he is with trusted friends and need not feign madness, but never so high that he completely loses insight or control.
One cannot leave Hamlet without taking note of the illness found in the other "mad" character in the play, Ophelia. Shakespeare may have had Bright's Treatise available to enhance his innate gifts for observation and lead him to make an excellent clinical portrayal of bipolar affective disorder in Hamlet. Ophelia, however, provides another excellent portrayal of a classic psychiatric illness, but one which was not described until the 20th century: schizoaffective disorder. Her list of characteristics reads like a textbook description: she has a good premorbid personality, suffers several devastating precipitating factors in the death of her father and Hamlet's cruelty, develops a depressive mood combined with incoherent speech and autistic behavior. Her death by suicide is a not-uncommon consequence of untreated schizoaffective disorder.
King Lear: Medical Madness for Poetic Purpose
King Lear is a complex play with many levels of meaning, and Shakespeare's use of madness enriches these many levels. Even in terms of the types of psychiatric illness portrayed, there is an embarrassment of riches. Leaving aside the florid psychopathology in malevolent characters like Edmund, Goneril, and Regan, we are still left with three cases of madness in Lear, Gloucester, and Poor Tom.
Gloucester's Depression.—Gloucester's madness is relatively clear-cut. He suffers from a depressive syndrome similar to that noted in Hamlet, suggesting that Shakespeare perhaps had definite notions about the causes and course of melancholia. Like Hamlet, Gloucester is thrown into depression by a series of object losses which are offered as precipitating factors. He first thinks he has been betrayed by Edgar, then realizes that he has falsely placed his trust in Edmund, and finally, after the brutally traumatic blinding scene, is thrown out into the world bereft of worldly goods without even eyesight (a common symbol of rationality in the Renaissance) to guide him. Like Hamlet, he is portrayed as having psychological symptoms of depression rather than somatic ones: despair, hopelessness about the future, suicidal thoughts, apathy, and an overwhelming sense of nihilism and meaninglessness. Gloucester recovers from his depression rather rapidly after his attempted suicide. One wonders if Shakespeare and his audience saw the "fall from the cliff" as a form of shock therapy, for traumatic somatic treatments such as ducking in cold water were sometimes used in the Renaissance era.
Gloucester's personality and his madness are clearly designed to counterpoint and highlight that of Lear.
Their plot lines are parallel: mistaken judgment about the loyalty and honesty of their children, abandonment and betrayal by the children they have wrongly chosen to trust, terrible suffering and desolation that lead into a period of madness, and recovery from the madness with greater wisdom, compassion, and strength. But Lear's madness does not fit so easily into a clearly defined clinical syndrome, at least as understood in Renaissance medicine, perhaps because it is used more heavily to carry tragic and philosophical themes in the play. Thus, we must look at Lear's madness from two points of view, first from the medical or psychiatric perspective and then from a poetic or philosophical perspective.
Lear's Reactive Psychosis.—Lear's madness can be explained in part as the development of a psychotic disorganization precipitated by severe stress in an elderly man already showing some signs of senile organic brain disease. His age is "fourscore and upward" (act rv, scene 7, line 61), and long before he goes mad his daughters remark about symptoms of senile organicity: he is "full of changes" (act I, scene 1, line 291), and "Old fools are babes again" (act I, scene 3, line 18). Also, he displays symptoms of organicity in his behavior. He shows poor judgment, in rejecting first the loving Cordelia and later the loving Kent. He is moody and unpredictable, alternating between obsequiousness and magnificent cursing rages in his dealings with Goneril and Regan. He is also quite labile, for on several occasions he lapses into maudlin self-pity that contrasts sharply with his dignified pride, as when he complains that he is "more sinned against then sinning" (act III, scene 2, line 60).
As an old man becoming somewhat senile, he is ill-equipped to deal with changes of any kind, much less the severe stresses of betrayal, loss of his kingly position and dignity, loss of all familiar friends and associates except the fool, and the violent indifference of nature during the storm. His symptoms during his madness are what Elizabethans included in the very general category of mania and what we today would call a reactive psychosis or a gross stress reaction. His most prominent symptoms are confusion, visual hallucinations, and some disorganization in his thinking. When he is reunited with Cordelia at the end of the play, his physician prescribes sleep as the only necessary treatment, and he awakens fully recovered.
Recovering Sanity Through Insanity.—Lear's symptoms are thus not particularly difficult to understand, nor is even their rapid reversibility. Their uniqueness lies in the magnificence of the tragic theme they carry. In this sense, Lear's madness surmounts any psychiatric syndrome and becomes a poetic device for portraying re-generation through suffering, the archetypal Aeschylean theme of pathei mathos. Paradoxically, Lear is made to recover sanity through insanity. He is portrayed at the beginning as a rigid and tyrannical man with two great failings: he is excessively proud, and his is un-forgiving. He learns to shed these traits through the poetic redemption of suffering madness. The first critical step begins before he goes mad. Having been humbled by being stripped of his crown, his knights, and finally a roof over his head, he for the first time takes physic for his pomp, identifies with the poor naked wretches of the world, and learns "to feel what wretches feel" (act III, scene 4, line 35). In other words, he achieves empathy with and compassion for the ordinary humble people whom he has ruled for many years without understanding their plight. This is given dramatic visual reality in the scene where he feels so much sympathy for Poor Tom's coldness that he strips off his own regal clothing to achieve identity with him. And as pride is cured by humility, the vindictive un forgivingness that led him to reject Cordelia's blunt honesty is replaced by a sense of sin in himself and finally is cured by compassion. Lear moves from feeling "more sinned against than sinning" through the mad purgatory of confronting the world's hypocrisy and injustice to the realization that since all are joined in the community of sin, so all must be joined in a community of forgiveness: "Plate sin with gold, and the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks. / Arm it in rags, a pigmy's straw does pierce it. / None does offend, none, I say, none" (act IV, scene 6, lines 169-172).
Shakespeare's portrayal of the classic symptoms of organicity and reactive psychosis is paralleled by his classic portrayal of schizophrenia in the character of Poor Tom, the Bedlam beggar. Perhaps the only outdated element in this portrayal is the moralistic speech in which Tom implies that his illness was brought on by excessive indulgence in fleshy delights at the devil's prompting. But except for this search for a precipitating cause (which appears to have been one of Shakespeare's intellectual habits), other details of the portrayal are still medically respectable today. Poor Tom even describes the Schneiderian first-rank symptom of passivity feelings (the belief that his will and actions are controlled by outside forces): the foul fiend is raging in him and making him eat cow dung. He experiences auditory hallucinations as various devils speak to him or call him. And sometimes when he speaks, his associations are so loose as to approach "word salad": "Do de, de, de. Sessa! Come, march to wakes and fairs and market towns. Poor Tom, thy horn is dry" (act III, scene 6, lines 77-79).
The Artist as Scientist
Shakespeare the artist was a better observer by far than the physicians of his own time. Psychiatry as a science has advanced primarily through using direct empirical observation. While Renaissance physicians were carrying leeches and purgatives in their bags and looking at their patients through eyes clouded by Galenic theories, Shakespeare was looking at them afresh and portraying madmen just as he saw them. His desire to be an artist made him a scientist, just as his desire to be a successful businessman made him an artist. Shakespeare chose themes for his tragedies that guaranteed audience appeal: witchcraft and madness. He then portrayed characters suffering from madness not as books or theologians said they should be but as his own observation said they actually were. No doubt, he early realized that looking closely at actual human behavior led to sound characterization and thereby to successful plays. Shakespeare was not an empiricist for lofty theoretical reasons. He was a practical man. He happened to be a practical man with an incredibly shrewd eye for human behavior combined with incredibly rich verbal gifts. And so it happened that his practical bent made him at once a great artist and a "behavioral scientist" in what is now recognized as the empirical tradition. Hamlet, Lear, Ophelia, and Poor Tom are accurate clinical portrayals of people suffering from discrete psychiatric illnesses. As descriptive medicine, these portrayals anticipate the later work of such superb observers as Kraepelin or Langfeldt.
Quotations from Shakespeare are from G. B. Harrison's edition of Shakespeare: The Major Plays and the Sonnets (New York, Harcourt Brace, 1948). The literature on Shakespeare and his plays is far too enormous to list. A. L. Rowse's Shakespeare The Man (New York, Harper and Row, 1973) is an excellent introduction to Elizabethan history and Shakespeare biography.
Standard texts on the history of psychiatry include Gregory Zilboorg and George W. Henry's A History of Medical Psychology (New York, WW Norton and Co Inc, 1941) and Erwin H. Ackerknecht's A Short History of Psychiatry, ed 2 (New York, Hafner Pub Co Inc, 1968). Richard A. Hunter and Ida Mecal pine's Three Hundred Years of Psychiatry, 1535-1860: A History Presented in Selected English Texts (Oxford, Oxford University Press Inc, 1963) contains primary sources dealing with the witchcraft controversy and Elizabethan nosology, including selections from Reginald Scot, James I, and Timothy Bright. These three have also been reproduced in modern facsimile editions. Mary I. O'Sullivan's "Hamlet and Dr. Timothy Bright" (Publications of the Modern Language Association, 61:667-679, 1946), and Ilza Veith's "Elizabethans on Melancholia" (JAMA 212:127-131, 1970) both contain interesting discussions of Renaissance attitudes toward psychiatric illness.
Paolo Valesio (essay date 1971)
SOURCE: "The Language of Madness in the Renaissance," in Yearbook of Italian Studies, Vol. 2, 1971, pp. 199-230.
[In the following essay, Valesio discusses the Renaissance use of "the language of folklore" to characterize the language of madness.]
This study is the outline of a specific hypothesis, not a description of the status quaestionis and an evaluation of all its aspects.1 The hypothesis is that there is a connection between certain cultural phenomena which are not usually considered as being related, and that this connection can be explained. What follows presents this hypothesis in clearcut form not because, at the present stage, this is anything more than a hypothesis, but as a necessary beginning in order to pave way for future research and discussion.
If we look at the way in which mad persons (as characters in certain texts) behave and express themselves, we notice that in medieval literature the emphasis is mostly on the iconic aspect of their madness: they discard all the refinements of culture and civilization, especially clothes, and revert to a state of nature, wandering in the wilderness; they rarely talk, and when they do, there are no specific linguistic elements in their speeches which indicate an abnormal state of mind. This kind of representation continues well into the Renaissance (one of the best instances being offered by Ariosto's poem), but by this time the iconic description of madness conflicts with what has become a more characteristic way of representing madness, i. e. the concentration on its verbal aspect.
Thus, in a period in the cultural history of Europe when the phenomenon of madness receives particular attention, the problem is raised of how to characterize the language of madness. What is needed is a form of linguistic expression which suggests the structural complexity and the sophistication of language, while at the same time being sufficiently differentiated with respect to the language of the higher cultural traditions (philosophy, oratory, poetry, etc.). The language of folk literature provides just such a paradoxical structure; the paradox of these linguistic expressions (which appear as both primitive and sophisticated) is made more acceptable by its use to characterize the behaviour of people who are not in full possession of their mental faculties. This hypothesis will now be discussed with reference to a series of representative texts.
One of the basic images for the typology of madmen2 is that of the possessed man who appears briefly in the Synoptic Gospels.3 The man, who had not always been mad, does not have a house but lives among the tombs and in the mountains, cannot be controlled, because whenever he is captured and bound he flees after having broken his chains, and spends his time, day and night, shouting and beating himself with stones. Apart from the genetical interpretation (the man is not said to be insane; he is 'in an impure spirit' [Mark], or he is one who 'has a demon' [Luke]), the basic type will survive for centuries in literary descriptions as a secular madman rather than as a person spiritually possessed. This type appears in the Vita Merlini (probably composed by Geoffrey of Monmouth some time after 1135, and perhaps reflecting, in part, some popular Irish traditions):4
Inde novas furias, cum tot tantisque querelis Aera complesset, cepit, furtimque recedit, Et fugit ad silvas, nec vult fugiendo videri,
Fit Silvester homo, quasi silvis editus esset. Inde per aestatem totam, nullique repertus, Oblitusque sui cognatorumque suorum, Delituit silvis obductus more ferino. (72-77, 80-83)
It appears when Tristan (in the Berne Folie Tristan, composed probably around the beginning of the XIIth century) decides to disguise himself as a madman:
Ses dras deront, sa chiere grate,
Comme fous va, chascuns lo hue, Gitant li pierres a la teste. (128, 135-136)5
It appears when the knight Yvain becomes mad (to this I shall return later), and so forth.
Coming back for a moment to the Biblical account: nothing specific is told about the way in which the possessed man speaks, yet the two sentences he utters (which will be quoted according to the Vulgate tradition) create a dramatic, hallucinatory, effect. The man shouts at Jesus: "Quid mihi et tibi, Iesu Fili Dei altissimi? Adiuro te per Deum ne me torqueas" (5. 7). Then, when Jesus asks his name, he answers: "Legio mihi nomen est, quia multi sumus" (7. 9). The drama is in the sudden switch, within the same sentence, from the first person singular to the first person plural: one moment the man is talking, the next moment it is the demons who are talking through him.6
Let us now go back to the medieval texts I quoted: what characterizes them is, as I said, the fact that the madness of the characters is presented in iconic terms, nudity being the basic feature. For instance, when the above-mentioned Yvain becomes crazy: "Lors se descire et se despane" (1. 2806) and, significantly, when a lady who knew him in better times wants to explain why she thinks that the noble knight is mad, she points to the coarseness of his behaviour:
Que ja voir ne li avenist, Que si vilment se contenist, Se il n'eiist le san perdu. (2931-2933)7
The detail appears also in the very concise description of one of the spells of madness suffered by Lancelot, an episode in the gigantic prose narrative which marks a turning point in the Arthurian tradition;8 this episode shows the image of the madman as part of a tradition so well established that it has only to be briefly hinted at:
… sambloit quil deust forsener…vne nuit auint quil sembla dez gens Galeholt. et nen porta que ses braies et sa chemise Et de langoisse quil auoit li escreua son nes a saingnier en son lit. si auoit de sanc sainnie bien plain vne escuiele Et ensi sen ala Lancelot.
The iconic detail is made more clear by the syntactic anticipation (the statement: "et non porta que ses braies et sa chemise" preceding rather than following the clause that justifies it: "et ensi sen ala"): the hýsteron próteron, with its fresh and naive connotation, seems to reflect, with particular directness, an oral discourse.
It is not surprising, in this context suggestive of popular traditions, to find that nudity is a widespread element in the folklore of madness; for instance, "Nudity as a sign of madness" (with reference to oral traditions in India) appears in the classic repertory compiled by Stith Thompson.9
The theme of nudity, together with most of the iconic epresentations that were to appear—connected to a different knight—in the poem by Ariosto, reveals its ancient diffusion when it shows up in one of the versions of the Tristan legend, which is quoted here in the Old Italian transposition of an Old French text:10
… e a tale si condusse e venne, ch'egli pasceva l'erba…egli era divenuto nero, livido, magro; e a tale era condotto, che la madre che lo portòe né altri nollo poriano mai avere riconosciuto…E Tristano non diceva niente, anzi mangiava a modo di pazzo…egli vide giacere il pazzo tutto ignudo; e síe dormiva quivi presso, ed era la piú vituperevole cosa del mondo a vederlo. Elo re domanda i pastori chi era quello malaugurato. Gli pastori allora rispuosono, che questi si era uno folle, lo quale usava alcuna fiata con loro.… egli andava guastando e rompendo le cose d'altrui; e se trovava cavalli e uomini, gittavagli a terra, guastava i cavalli … e continuo egli andava ignudo; perché, com'egli aveva i vestimenti, cosí súbito egli tutti gli squarciava.…11
These materials represent only a small part of the descriptions of mad knights that are to be found in the tradition leading from the medieval classics to their Renaissance revival.12 Yet they are sufficient to show what is meant here by iconic representation of madness. It must be added that the importance of this iconic representation is enhanced by the lack of any verbal counterpart to this savage behaviour (as we saw); the madmen, during the period of their madness, either do not talk at all (e. g. Yvain), or talk, but in a way which has essentially nothing to do with their madness: that is, in reasonable discourses which exploit all the resources of well-regulated language, from oratorical solemnity (e. g. Merlin) to astuteness and irony (e. g. Merlin again, and Tristan in his pretended folies).
This iconic representation does not completely disappear in the sixteenth century: in fact the mad Orlando introduced by Ariosto continues this tradition without any really significant change, bringing the medieval icon of the madman reduced to the mute state of nature well into the world of the Renaissance.13 It does not appear that the lack of emphasis on direct speech in the epic poem can be invoked in order to invalidate, a priori, conclusions based on the silence of Orlando, especially because: in the first place, Orlando talks (and very eloquently, too) just before becoming mad; and in the second place (and above all) my evaluation does not refer only to the direct speeches of this character, but also to the way in which he is described (that is, not only to what the character does not say, but also to what we are not told, even in a general way and without direct quotations, about the way in which the character talks).
As for the first point: octaves exxvi-cxxviii in the twenty-third canto (which is, in every sense, central in the poem) are taken up by a speech (probably echoing a Latin poem of the same period) pronounced by Orlando, and rhetorically very sophisticated (with a remarkable role assigned to the figure of anaphora); then, with the following octave (cxxix) Orlando starts acting like a madman, and does not speak any longer (with one exception) for the entire duration of his madness. As for the second, very significant, point: in the course of the poem attention is devoted to what may be called the variability of language, and a good example of this is, in this same canto, the presentation of the discovery that leads Orlando to madness.
Ariosto is careful to point out (cvii.6-8) that he is recording here a translation (from the Arabic), and then he devotes the octave following the quotation (ex) to a description of Orlando's knowledge of Arabic and other languages. It is clear, then, that it would have been perfectly possible, within the framework of the poem, to write about the mad Orlando's way of talking, whether quoting or not actual instances of his speech. The choice not to do so, therefore, is significant; just as it is significant that no linguistic characterization of madness is presented in the description of what Astolfo finds on the moon, while looking for the vial containing Orlando's good sense (XXXIV. 70-92).14
Coming back to the Furioso: if I am not mistaken, there is only one discourse in direct speech made by Orlando (apart from his exclamation: "Aspetta!" in xxx. 11). Now, this speech (xxx. 5-7) has the peculiar con-notation of a popular motif: that of the madman or simpleton who has absurd pretenses and tries to impose them on others.15
This leads to the discussion of the second part of the thesis presented here: the language of folk tradition becomes the privileged linguistic vehicle of the experience of mental illness, in a period in which such an experience plays a very important role in literary descriptions. Of course, I am not referring here to integral and genuine folk texts, but to the language of folk traditions as a component of literary language.
Among the tragic images of madness in Renaissance literature it is difficult to imagine a better-known description than that of the death of Ophelia, and one which, at least apparently, is more compact and clear in its connotations. Yet the clarity of this moving image is somewhat darkened by certain elements that readers and critics alike tend to ignore, mentally "editing" the description in such a way as to concentrate only on the "delicate" side of it. This mental editing is particularly clear in the way the episode is traditionally quoted: for instance, in one of the standard one-volume nineteenth-century editions of Shakespeare the passage in the description of Ophelia's death which particularly interests us here has been put in brackets, as an element of mere philological interest that the common reader had best ignore.16
In other cases, the quotation of the long passage starts some lines after its actual beginning (the second part of 1. 175: "…an envious sliver broke," which introduces the fall of Ophelia, is a good starting point).17 The passage to which I refer the state- parenthetical ment of the Queen, after her first sketch of the scene:
There is a willow grows aslant a brook, That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream. There with fantastic garlands did she come Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them. (IV. vii. 168-173)18
This parenthetical remark ceases to appear as a strange intrusion if we are willing to accept the fact that what we have here is the realization of a specific linguistic dimension, different from the "romantic" one: the language of folklore. If we take this apparently trivial passage as a clue, many things fall into place. I will try to give a concise outline of this linguistic dimension, moving from the microcosm of this specific drama to the macrocosm of the language of Elizabethan drama.
First of all, one notes two different aspects of the language of folklore in this episode alone: the passage I just quoted is constructed with the language of plant lore,19 while at another point in this same discourse folk songs are evoked:
Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes, As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a creature native and indued Unto that element.… (179-182)
It is important to observe that, in this passage, two alternative explanations of Ophelia's strangely serene behaviour are offered, only one of which is usually taken into account by readers and critics; this latter one may be called the simplified psychological explanation: Ophelia lets herself drown because she has gone mad. But if this is all, then the following comparison with a different "creature" loses its meaning.
In fact what is suggested here is made clear by another, immediately preceding, comparison, where it is said that Ophelia is borne up by her clothes "mermaid-like." Thus, behind the image of a courtly damsel something else is hidden; the image of an Elementargeist, an inhabitant of the vast realm of spirits living in contact with nature, and representing a constant source of fascination and mortal danger to human beings, who are present in the folklore of all countries. Thus, the image of the mad Ophelia is much more complex than the conventional, post-Victorian, picture of a damsel in distress: it summarizes the revival of interest in all the manifestations of folk tradition which is one of the distinctive features of European culture from the late fifteenth century up to the end of the sixteenth century.20
The turning point in this analysis comes when one becomes aware of the following fact: the language spoken here about the mad person is the same kind of language that is spoken by the mad person when she is introduced as talking in direct speech. In both her short appearances (IV. v, at the beginning and, after an interruption, again at the end of the scene) Ophelia recites "snatches of old tunes" (and of a folktale), and also refers to plant lore, describing the emblematic value of various plants and flowers.21
But we should not stop at Ophelia: Hamlet himself manifests his state22 by tossing off these "snatches" of folk traditions (cf. his quotations in II. ii and, three times, in III. ii). This encourages us to enlarge the scope of our observations, first to the rest of the Shakespeare canon and then to an important link between the Elizabethan tradition and the Italian tradition of the Furioso.
In the joint work of Shakespeare and Fletcher, The Two Noble Kinsmen, the transition from the language of grief to that of madness is revealing: in the first of the two monologues which mark the beginning of her crisis (III. ii), where the Jailor's Daughter is still sane, what predominates is the description of nature couched in traditional terms; but in the following monologue (III. iv), which marks the beginning of her madness, the language of folklore makes its appearance (folktale figures like "the King of Pygmies," and verses of folk songs). And this language (of folk songs and of folk rituals, like palm-reading) persists throughout the following scenes (III. v; IV. i, where, before she herself speaks, the speech of the madwoman is described by another character; IV. iii; V. ii).23
Finally, in the most famous Elizabethan portraits of madness, those in King Lear, the language of folklore (especially as uttered by the Fool) runs throughout the play and culminates in the list of devils' names and other folk traditions which sustain the fiction of the feigned madman, Edgar (III. iii, and passim).
The best way to pass from the Shakespeare canon to the rest of the Elizabethan tradition is to consider a work which is very important for this typology of madness, because it is the verbal reflex of the iconic tradition of the mad knight: I refer to the play, The Historie of Orlando Furioso by Robert Greene, published in 1594. The folk component in Orlando's speeches manifests itself sparingly, yet it is present, from the very first speech by the mad hero, and throughout the play;24 it is brought about by mixing the images of high culture with the idiom of everyday life. Thus, when Orlando appears on the stage for his first long monologue as a madman (1. 845 ff.), his first words are:
Woodes, trees, leaues, trees, woodes; tria sequuntur tria, ergo optimus vir non est optimus magistratus. a peny for a pott of beer and sixe pence for a peece of beife? wounds! what am I the worse? o minerva! salve; good morrow; how doe you to day?25
The following is a short list (which should be completed, to be sure) of dramatic speeches in which the language of folklore is used to express madness.26 This short list (given the character of this research, which is linguistic rather than literary) goes by linguistic entities, not by plays, or characters, or authors: thus it happens that one and the same performance by a mad character is divided according to its linguistic components. The basic elements seem to be the following:
- The folklore of riddles, jokes, and games: as in the exchange of questions and answers with the feigned idiot Antonio, along the tradition of folk characters like Bertoldo, in the Changeling (I. ii) by Thomas Middleton; or in the mad Lucibella's exclamation: "… i' le run a little course / At base, or barley-breake, or some such toye," in The Tragedy of Hoffman (IV. i) by Henry Chettle. Within this general category one may put also the folklore of tabooed expressions, which are supposed to reveal in a shocking manner the deranged state of the characters: "By my troth I will, by my maidenhead I will," exclaims Lucibella, in the same passage (the delirium of Lucibella is remarkably similar, in the content and variety of its linguistic components, to that of Ophelia).
- The folklore of proverbs, in more or less orthodox variations: for instance, the proverb: "He that drinks but to satisfie nature is damn'd" (uttered by one of the participants in the madmen's parade described by John Webster in The Duchess of Malfi, IV. ii) is probably to be considered as the bizarre reinterpretation of some commonsensical saying.
- The folklore of flowers, pictorial emblems, and similar objects: "For I am going to the rivers side / To fetch white lillies, and blew daffadils / To sticke in Lodowicks bosome, where it bled…We must all ran away: yet all must die. / 'Tis soe, I wrought it in a sampler, / 'Twas heart in hand, and true loues knots and words" (Lucibella, loc. cit.).
- Folk superstitions and traditions: as in the first utterance by Penthea when she goes mad in John Ford's The Broken Heart (IV. ii), with her reference to Sirens and animal folklore: "…the turtle sighs / When he hath lost his mate"; or in Flamineo's description, in The White Devil (IV. ii) by John Webster: "I'll tell you a tale. The crocodile, which lives in the river Nilus…"
- Folk songs: like that sung by one of the characters, disguised "like a Bedlam," and the other sung by a "Sea-Nymph" in the interlude (III. iii) in The Lover's Melancholy by John Ford; or that sung by Pandora, struck mad by the Moon, in John Lily's The Woman in the Moone, V. i: "Stesias hath a white hand / But his nayles are black," etc.: or the two songs by Lucibella, op. cit., V. i: "Downe, downe a downe, hey downe, downe," and "Loe, here I come a woing my ding, ding," etc.
- Folktale themes: as in the first sentences that reveal Ferdinand's madness in the Duchess of Malfi, V. ii, when he wants "To drive six Snailes before me, from this towne to Mosco"; or in the speeches of Alina pretending madness in The Pilgrim by Beaumont and Fletcher, IV. i: "…Pray you, keep his nutmeg; / 'Twas sent me from the Lady of the Mountain"; or in Pandora's desire, loc. cit., based on the image of some Elementargeist: "But shall I have a gowne of oken leaues, / A chaplet of red berries, and a fanne / Made of the morning dew to coole my face?"; or Lucibella's description, op. cit., V. i,: "…a fellow with a red cap told / And bad me keepe me these clothes, and giue them / To a faire Lady in a mourning gowne."
The list of illustrations could continue, although the categories listed here should be sufficient for their classification.27 But I want to conclude this sketch with an instance of the problem discussed above with reference to the Queen's language in Hamlet: it could be called the problem of the narrative as a critical dimension in the language of the drama. In fact, there are two different instances, in the scenes referred to above, in which the language of madness, in its peculiar relationship with the language of folklore, is used in a critical way.
In the already cited passage of The White Devil, Flamineo, feigning madness, concludes the scene with these remarks: "…It may appear to some ridiculous / Thus to talk knave and madman; and sometimes / Come in with a dried sentence, stuff'd with sage." It is difficult to think of a more concisely ironic characterization of folk language, here explicitly quoted as a basic device in the representation of madness.
Then, in the already cited passage of The Woman in the Moone, we have a very explicit illustration of conscious imitation of the language of one character on the part of another character, within the framework of the language of madness: Stesias (elaborating on some sentences uttered by the mad Pandora) talks in a "mad" way, in order to humour her: "Ile giue thee streames whose pible shalbe pearle, / Loue birdes whose feathers shalbe beaten gold, / Musk flyes with amber berries in their mouthes, / Milke white Squirrels, singing Popiniayes, / A boat of deare skins, and a fleeting Ile, / A sugar cane, and line of twisted silke." It is remarkable that Pandora, delighted, repeats all this, in prose ("Streames with pearles? birdes with golden feathers?" etc.), as if switching from the aesthetic, detached imitation of the language of madness to this language as the expression of a hard reality.
We have thus seen, in a short outline, the contrast between the Italian tradition of the epic poem, which preserves the iconic representation of madness as codified in medieval texts, and the English dramatic tradition which shows an important development in the representation of madness: first of all, the verbal representation (as opposed to the iconic one) becomes dominant, and in the second place, folk language plays a crucial role in structuring this verbal representation.28
Although a full review of the pertinent works is not the purpose of this essay, it seems impossible to conclude this outline without a look at the Spanish tradition, because here, at the close of the Renaissance, we find the most famous among the images of madness in this epoch. But just because of this it is necessary, at this point, to be as precise as possible as to the nature of the problem analyzed here. Cervantes' masterpiece is crucially important for the thesis proposed here about the role of folk language in the verbalization of madness; but the problem is not the general one of analyzing the relations between the language of folklore and literary Spanish as present in Don Quijote. It is clear by now that the general description of the adventures, and the specific idea of a madman with an obsession with knightly valour, have roots in the popular tradition (and this, naturally, does not diminish the originality of Cervantes).29 Actually, a significant indication of the deep popular roots of this masterpiece is the fact that its very first line: "En un lugar de la Mancha," is a line quoted from a romance.30
But the problem considered here is different: what we want to see is whether or not the language in which the mad hero talks, in his direct speeches, confirms the thesis presented here about the role of the language of folk-lore. At first sight the situation is not very encouraging, and the meagerness of the material that the Quijote seems to offer us becomes all the more evident in a comparison with the other famous madman described by Cervantes: El licenciado Vidriera?31 In the language of the licenciado, after he goes mad, we witness a very interesting mixture of learned quotations from the classics and the Scriptures together with traditional proverbs and bons mots (including that cruel component of verbal folklore in old Spanish, the anti-Semitic jokes, of which there are at least two instances in the story).
In short, the licenciado offers an excellent illustration of the role of folklore in the language of madness. Not so, on the surface, Don Quijote; although he respects the traditional idiom, and especially the Romancero, his language is solemn and sophisticated. Moreover, this feature has a particular importance because the representation of madness here is essentially verbal; to be sure, there is in the novel a fascinating iconic dimension, but the physical picture of Don Quijote is not primarily meant to suggest madness,32 and his crazy actions receive their peculiar connotation from the verbal context of delirious eloquence provided by the knight himself.
In fact, although (as already noted) Don Quijote is far from scorning popular manners of speech, and although Sancho, with the passing of time, shows that he, too, can be remarkably eloquent, the linguistic structure of the novel appears to be characterized in general by a contrast between sophisticated rhetoric as characteristic of the madman and folk language (especially in the area of proverbs) as characteristic of the simpleton. On the other hand, it does not seem possible to claim that we have here two different kinds of madness: the language of the novel is quite explicit to the effect that only that of Don Quijote is locura, while that of Sancho is simplicidad; and the mental state of Sancho is not surrounded by the ambiquity which characterizes the Elizabethan fool.
I think, however, that this impasse is only apparent, and that what at first sight appeared as a stumbling block for the theory proposed here, turns out to be one of its strongest supports. To suggest in what sense the language of madness in the Quijote can be said to be a folkloristic language, it is not advisable to concentrate on some specific points in the text, or in some detail in Don Quijote's speech.33 On the contrary, any such insistence would be dangerous for this analysis, making it difficult to see the general design. The main theme of Don Quijote's speech is what is crucial here.
It is commonly admitted (although the discussion on the theoretical implications of this phenomenon is still open) that one of the basic forces which give rise to folk traditions is a change (whatever its causes) in the cultural status of certain scientific disciplines, or literary genres or works, or customs, etc. After having occupied a high rank in a formal cultural curriculum or in a sophisticated mundane environment, they lose this rank, are fragmented into various separate components, and become folklore: one of the standard examples of this change is offered by astrology, once a scientific discipline, now a complex of folk beliefs.34
There may also be a series of alternating waves of "promotion" and "demotion," and the tradition of the romances of chivalry in Europe is a good illustration of this complex movement: various folk motifs of different origins become the stuff of sophisticated literature, especially in twelfth century France, and in turn the Old French poems shift to the status of folkloristic elements in medieval Italy, until the Renaissance poets (Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, Tasso) take them up again and endow them with the prestige of sophisticated, individually characterized, literature. These successive waves do not completely destroy each other: chivalric folk tradition continues to exist, in the Romance and non-Romance lands, and, for instance, in Italy the tradition of the Reali di Francia lives on, side by side with the great literary texts on the same themes, until modern times.
Now, by the time of Cervantes the tradition of the romances of chivalry, especially in the Amadís de Gaula line, had long ceased to be a prestigious literary system (and anyway its status in Spain seems always to have been peripheral, with respect to "high" literature) and had become a folkloristic system, an inventory of popular figures and motifs. It is clear, then, in what sense the language of folklore is the vehicle of Don Quijote's madness: while on the Elizabethan scene the language of folklore is the language of the untutored oral traditions which breaks through, disturbing the language of courtly manners (one mentally gives a shocked intonation to the exclamation of the King: "Pretty Ophelia!" on listening to one of her ribald songs), in the Spanish masterpiece the language of folklore is a once-literary language now hopelessly "out of fashion." In both cases, the unifying element is the link between folklore and madness.
It is only this fact, in my opinion, that can explain the verbal side of the madness of Don Quijote. What strikes his interlocutors in his speeches is, as they often say, the contrast between the general dignity, intelligence, and elegance of his way of talking on the one hand, and the wild improbability of most of the images he evokes in these sophisticated speeches, on the other hand. This reaction is significant: what is reproached to Don Quijote (I repeat that I am dealing here with his verbal behaviour, not with his general behaviour, whose heterodoxy is much clearer) is the fact that he ennobles with his sophisticated rhetoric a language which is no longer acceptable in intellectual circles, either middlebrow (the Caballero del Verde Gabán) or high-brow (the Curate, the Duke), since it has become a folk idiom, unworthy of serious attention.35
It must be noted that the unified perspective constructed by this analysis allows us to see more clearly certain significant divergences. What has been shown as present in texts belonging to different languages and genres is a typological connection between the linguistic facts of folklore and the psychological facts of madness; that is, the language of folklore typifies a psychological phenomenon which arises out of causes described in traditional psychological terms (disappointed love as in the heroine of The Two Noble Kinsmen, or remorse as in Ferdinand in The Duchess of Malfi, or grief at a sudden loss, or deep disenchantment with persons once loved, as in the case of Lear, or a mixture of two or more of these causes as in the case of Ophelia, etc.).
But Cervantes goes a step further, and shows how the typological connection may become also a genetical connection: Don Quijote's madness originates in a passionate involvement with the kind of language which symbolizes his madness for all his interlocutors. Cervantes does not only have his hero speak a mad language: he presents this language as the cause of his madness. Thus, the linguistic experiments of the century in which madness is one of the dominant cultural symbols culminate in what may be called a metalinguistic operation: the language of folklore is here not only the vehicle of madness, but lies at the roots of madness. Indeed (using the terms of a once-popular and now, perhaps unfairly, neglected theory) one could say that the disease of Don Quijote is not an emotional disease but a guistics, but also to the history of linguistics.
Thus, in this brief outline of a problem in historical linguistics, that is, in the succession of certain linguistic institutions, we have come to a point in which we are faced with the subjective side of this objective process: in the sense specified above, the contribution of Cervantes may be called a contribution, not only to historical linguistics, but also to the history of linguistics.…
1 No effort will be made here to consider the phenomenon of madness, either in general or in its specific manifestations in the Renaissance, in the perspective of modern psychiatric or psychoanalytic knowledge. Also, no effort will be made to distinguish between "real" and "feigned" madness (a distinction which does not make much sense anyway); the evaluations of this period will be accepted at face value. (But attention will be focused on persons who become mad.) Some remarks of linguistic interest are to be found in chapters 5 and 6 ("The Praise of Folly" and "Fool in Lear") of the book by William Empson, The Structure of Complex Words (Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1961), on pp. 105-124 and 125-157 respectively.
The theme of madness has been made fashionable by Michel Foucault's Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique (Paris: Plon, 1961; an abridged text has subsequently appeared in French, at the same publisher; the English version by R. Howard, introduced by J. Barchilon, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (New York: Pantheon, 1965) is based on a sort of compromise between these two texts). Foucault deals with analogous problems in his Naissance de la clinique: une archéologie du regard medical (Paris: PUF, 1963; translated into Italian with an introduction by A. Fontana, Torino: Einaudi, 1969).
Among all the other recent works that one could quote in this regard, I limit myself to the following, each one of which represents a different language and culture: the elegant essay by Walter Kaiser, Praisers of Folly: Erasmus, Rabelais, Shakespeare (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963), the careful scholarly analysis by Barbara Könneker in her Wesen und Wandlungen der Narrenidee im Zeitalter des Humanismus: Brant, Murner, Erasmus (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1966), and the erudite survey by Vanna Gentili, Le figure della pazzia nel teatro elisabettiano (Lecce: Milella, 1969). As already said, these references are far from exhaustive of the literature on this theme (and the quoted works are rich in bibliographical indications). On the other hand, one can detect the danger of vagueness in this Narrenthematik, which is so picturesque and lends itself so easily to summarize and symbolize vast groups of problems. Thus it seems that an approach like this one, which carves a limited section out of this large mass, and concentrates on it, may lead (directly or indirectly) to some progress in this field.
2 I am leaving aside the theme of madness in Classical Antiquity, and of course my concise analysis of the Gospel passages does not exhaust the theme of madness in the Judaeo-Christian tradition; however, R.K. Harrison notes (in his short article on "madness" in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962) that "there are comparatively few instances of insanity recorded in the Scriptures." There are, however, at least two important images of madness in the Old Testament: that of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4) is important because (whatever the genesis of his illness, and although he is not explicitly presented in the text as being mad) it contains the description of the sick man living like an animal in the wilderness; and that of Saul (I Samuel 16. 14, and passim; 18. 10, and passim; 20. 30, and passim; 28. 21, and passim), because there already is the connection between madness and violence.
But in neither of the two cases have we any "mad" speech as a linguistic characterization of the psychological state of the characters. (We are only told, in I Samuel 18. 10, that: "Post diem autem alteram invasit spiritus Dei malus Saul, et prophetabat in medio domus suae.")
3 Matthew 8. 28-34; Mark 5. 1-17; Luke 8. 26-37. The account by Matthew, in which there are two possessed men rather than one, is the least interesting for this research because it does not contain the dramatic sentence that we are going to quote. Of the two others, Luke contains more details, while Mark is more dramatic. Data from all three versions are combined in my description above.
4 See the discussion on pp. 346-363 of Edmond Farai, La Légende arthurienne: Etudes et documents (Paris: Champion, 1929, 3 vols.), which contains a critical text of the poem; this is the text followed in this quotation. See also
5 I quote from Ernest Hoepffner, ed., La Folie Tristan de Berne (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1934), by whom see also
6 The account I quoted is that given by Mark. It is interesting to notice that in the description by Luke the sentence is not quoted in this puzzling form, and the reader is helped, but at the expense of the dramatic effect; here the possessed man says only one word, immediately followed by the author's explanation: "At like dixit: Legio; quia intraverunt daemonia multa in eum" (8. 20).
7 I quote from Wendelin Foerster, ed., Yvain: Der Löwenritter (Halle a. S.: Niemeyer, 1913.)
8 I quote from "Le Livre de Lancelot del Lac" as it is published in Vols. III, IV, and V of H. Oskar Sommer, ed., The Vulgate version of the Arthurian romances (Washington: The Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1909-1913; 7 vols., plus an Index volume.) The description of this episode of madness appears on p. 154 and on p. 155 of Vol. IV.
9Motif-Index of Folk Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955-1958, 6 vols.)
10 I quote from the edition of Filippo Luigi Polidori of La Tavola Ritonda o l'Istoria di Tristano (Bologna: Romagnoli, 1864, 2 vols.) The account of the hero's madness occupies chapters LXX and LXXX, pp. 252-262.
11 We have here the following lexical variants: (a) zero expression, that is, a specific word is not used, and madness is evoked indirectly, by a description of animal-like behaviour (the sentence quoted first is also the first statement of Tristano's condition); (b) pazzo; (c) malaugurato; (d) folle.
12 Eilert Löseth, Le Roman en prose de Tristan (Paris: Bouillon, 1891); W. Lutoslawski, "Les folies de Tristan," Romania, XV (1886), 511-533; Eugène Vinaver, Etudes sur le Tristan en prose (Paris: Champion, 1925); Joseph Bédier, ed., Le Roman de Tristan par Thomas, 2 vols. (Paris: Didot, 1902-1905); Renée L. Curtis, ed., Le Roman de Tristan en prose (München, 1963); Daniela Branca, / Romanzi italiani di Tristano e la Tavola Ritonda (Firenze: Olschki, 1968). See also in Pio Rajna, Le fonti dell'Orlando Furioso, 2nd ed. (Firenze: Sansoni, 1900; 1st, 1876). The folies described in the classic analysis by Löseth are the following: madness of Tristan, after the recitation of the Lai mortel (pp. 68, 83-86), madness of Lancelot (p. 233), and feigned madness of Tristan (pp. 375-377).
It is very probable that a systematic research would enlarge the significant instances of mad behaviour in this tradition. It must be noticed that the kind of study presented here cannot be based on analytical descriptions of the content of these narratives, but must analyze specific passages; it is in this sense that this is a study in historical linguistics (see the conclusion of the essay.) (Some more recent treatments of madness in the Furioso, like the one by Rocco Montano, Follia e saggezza nel "Furioso" e nell'Elogio di Erasmo, Napoli: Edizioni Humanitas, 1942, and the one by A. Bonadeo, "Note sulla pazzia d'Orlando," Forum Italicum, IV, 1970, 39-57, are not concerned with the linguistic problems discussed here.)
13 It is hardly necessary to note that what I am saying about the traditional nature of the representation of madness in Ariosto's work does not have anything to do with a negative evaluation of the poetic originality of it; the point has already been made a long time ago (for instance, with reference to analogous problems, by Augusto Romizi in his Le fonti latine dell 'Orlando Furioso, Torino: Paravia 1896), and there is no reason to belabour it, especially since poetic values are not my concern here. I would like to observe, however, that it is not necessary, in order to safeguard the undisputed greatness of the poem, to see originality everywhere and at all costs. The description of Orando's madness is a case in point: the praise of this description, as developed already in the essay by Bonaventura Zumbini, "La follia d'Orlando" (in his Studi di letteratura italiana, 2nd ed., Firenze: Le Monnier, 1906, pp. 303-358) is so generic as to be less than convincing.
14 Can this refusal to give a voice to madness be construed as revealing a general trend in the Italian literary tradition (at least, up to Pirandello), namely a choice in favour of iconic, "external" representations of the more irrational aspects of life, avoiding the kind of direct involvement with them symbolized by specific verbal characterizations? Put in these general terms, this question runs the risk of leading us into metaphysical nationalism; still, I think that the question is not absurd or devoid of importance, provided that it is organized in the framework of concrete linguistic research, on a comparative basis.
15 See the "Appendix" to this essay for an analysis of this passage.
16 Henry Irving and Frank A. Marshall, eds., The Works of William Shakespeare, (London: Blackie and Sons, 1890). Irving explains this general function of the brackets at the end of his preface to the quoted edition.
17 This happens, for instance, on p. 80 of the useful book by Edgar Allison Peers, Elizabethan Drama and its Mad Folk (Cambridge: Heffer, 1914); the cultural connotation of this way of presenting the passage appears very clearly when Shakespeare's text is quoted as the source and the background of a modern evocation of this character, as it happens in the anthology edited by Gianfranco Contini (Letteratura dell'Italia unita, 1861-1968, Firenze: Sansoni, 1968), where the quote refers to a poem by Vincenzo Cardarelli, "Autunno veneziano." The atmosphere there goes back to the "exquisitely pathetic" (Peers' words in the quoted book) connotation of the famous episode.
18 The text is quoted according to George L. Kittredge, ed., The Kittredge-Players Edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (New York: Grolier, 1958).
19 Horace H. Furness, in his edition of Hamlet (Vol. 3 of his A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1877) quotes another scholar's analysis of this terminology, showing that the list of plant names is emblematic, and is a part of the long and complex tradition of the "language of flowers," which is reflected in the herbals of the time (such as the one compiled by Lyte, and published in 1578).
20 Some well-known essays on Spanish themes by Leo Spitzer offer a good background for the interpretation of this Elizabethan image; I refer especially to: "El romance de Abenámar" and "The folkloristic prestage of the Spanish romance Conde Arnaldos," both now in his collection, Romanische Literaturstudien, 1936-1956 (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1959), on pp. 694-716 and 716-731 respectively.
21 This confirms the evaluation expressed above apropos of the Furioso. The lack of direct speech by Orlando is paralleled by the lack of information about his language when he is the object of description, and both acts point in the same direction: indifference toward the verbal aspect of this experience, and instead, insistence on its iconic aspect. In the same way, both the direct speech by the mad Ophelia and the description of her state show the same interest for a special kind of language as the vehicle of this experience. The apparently obvious feature of drama as a genre characterized (from a linguistic point of view) by the complete predominance of direct speech, is not as clear as it seems. In fact, we just saw an example of the important role of descriptive language in drama, when a character speaks of another character without directly confronting him.
In such a situation there are at least two possibilities: either the language used by the describer is the kind of language that in general characterizes the describer himself or rather his language is the kind of language that characterizes the described character (as it happens in the Queen's speech). The study of the relationship between these two alternatives (with reference to a specific corpus of plays) would in itself justify a special research. The basic question here is that of the general linguistic constraints connected to literary genres. It is necessary to scrutinize these constraints and their implications very closely: comparing different types and instances of epic poems from the point of view of the relationship between direct speech and indirect language, performing the same kind of analysis on dramatic works, and so on. (For an interesting approach, see the discussion by Jerzy Pete, "On the concept of narration," Semiotica, III, 1971, 1-19).
22 As already stated, I am not concerned here with the distinction between "feigned" and "real" madness.
23 In his quoted work, Peers is very critical of the dramatic value of the cure devised by the Doctor to bring the Jailer's Daughter back to sanity. But the psychological model traditionally applied to literary works has many limits. In this case, it does not seem very useful to discuss this device without seeing it as a part of the traditional folk motif of "sickness (madness) cured by coition." (This is the title of motif F 950. 4, a part of the general category "Marvels" in the quoted repertory by Stith Thompson; and see, for instance, this motif appearing, under the title "Medela insaniae" "Medela Praesens," "Priapi Virtus," etc. in the Liber (or Libellus) Facetiarum by Poggio Bracciolini.)
24 The text is in A. B. Grosart, ed., The Complete Works in Prose and Verse by Robert Greene (New York: Russell and Russell, 1964, 15 vols.). The Historie of Orlando Furioso is in Vol. XIII. The beginning of his speech as quoted here follows an authoritative manuscript that Grosart often quotes as a complement to the text.
25 Speeches like this raise a very important problem for future research: a full typology of the various alternative ways to represent the language of madmen. The following tentative list orders the various forms in what seems to be, for the Renaissance period, a decreasing order of importance: a) the language of folklore; b) the language of Classical mythology (see, for instance, the language of the feigned madman Franciscus in Thomas Middleton's The Changeling); c) the language of nonsense. Clearly (as the quoted passage from the Orlando play shows) these three components are not completely separated the one from the other; yet they should be studied as autonomous alternatives.
It is interesting, for instance, that the language of nonsense appears to play a very limited role, in this period. This typology should also be specified with reference to different genres, and to the different linguistic constraints at work in these genres.
26 My main guideline has been the quoted work by Peers, which is sensible and still useful, altough it is difficult to find a definite point of view in his analysis.
27 The texts have been quoted according to the following editions: for Middleton, that by A. H. Bullen (New York: AMS Press, 1964, 8 vols.: The Changeling is in Vol. VI); for Chettle, the tragedy as published in the Malone Society Reprints (Oxford, 1950); for The Duchess of Malfi, the edition by F. L. Lucas (London: Chatto and Windus, 1927); for Ford, the edition by A. Dyce (London: Toovey, 1869, 3 vols.; both plays referred to are in Vol. I); for The White Devil, the edition by J. R. Brown (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1960); for Lily, the edition by R. Warwick Bond (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967, reprint of 1902 edition, 3 vols.; the play is in Vol. III); and for Beaumont and Fletcher the edition by A. Dyce (London: Moxon, 1843-1845, 11 vols.; The Pilgrim is in Vol. VIII).
28 A related problem of great interest, in this study of linguistic institutions, is the relation between prose and verse. Vanna Gentili (pp. 67-68) notes that, while until 1600 the contrasts between prose in the speech of the fools and verse elsewhere may be explained by general stylistic constraints, in the following decade prose often characterizes the speech of madmen, even where there is no comic intention.
29 It is sufficient, here, to quote the well known essay by Ramón Menéndez Pidal, "Un aspecto en la elaboración del Quijote," now in Cervantes and Lope de Vega, 5th ed. (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1958).
30 Francisco Rodriguez Maríin seems to have been the first to notice this, and he inaugurated the habit of printing the first line in the novel between inverted commas, and separate from the rest. See the long foot-note in his edition of the novel (which is the one used here): El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, nueva edición critica (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1947-1949, 10 vols.).
31 Here, too, I follow the edition by Rodriguez Marin, in the first volume of Novelas ejemplares (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1933, 2 vols.).
32 The medieval icon of the madman is to be found in the presentation of a secondary character: Cardenio in the Sierra Morena episode (I. xxiii ff.). But Cardenio, too, soon starts out by talking in the most refined way.
33 Such a detailed analysis is still an important task, however, and the interesting book by Helmut Hatzfeld, El Quijote como obra de arte del lenguaje (Madrid: Patronato del IV Centenario del Nacimiento de Cervantes, 1949), is far from exhausting this theme.
34 As already said, no specific theoretical position is argued here; in particular, I do not think that this is always the case for folkloristic elements and systems, and I do not think that these facts can be used to prove that popular culture is not creative.
35 The concise statement by the Caballero del Verde Gabán, this embodiment of dignified aurea mediocritas, looms large here: "Tengo hasta seis docenas de libros, cuáles de romance y cuáles de latín, de historia algunos y de devoción otros: los de caballerías aún no han entrado por los umbrales de mis puertas" (II. xvi). The intention of this utterance seems to be that of expressing self-assurance and scorn; but it is possible to see in it a form of timidity: the man is afraid of disturbing his precarious literary balance, of being carried away by his own taste, perhaps, and thus losing his sense of distinction between literature that is "culture" and literature that is not "culture."
Maurice Charney and Hanna Charney (essay date 1977)
SOURCE: "The Language of Madwomen in Shakespeare and His Fellow Dramatists," in Signs, Vol. 3, No. 2, Winter, 1977-78, pp. 451-60.
[In the essay below, the critics examine the linguistic and staging conventions used by Shakespeare and other dramatists to represent "madwomen" on the Elizabethan stage, contending that "madwomen offered the dramatists an opportunity to write speeches of exuberant fancy and lyric grace."]
Mad characters on the Elizabethan stage all have their own special language, costume, and gesture, which depend on a set of theatrical conventions about how to represent madness effectively. These assumptions and expectations are as stylized as those, for example, that govern the staging of ghosts and drunks as well as a variety of ethnic types (some of whom are seen with full-blown accents and mannerisms in Shakespeare's Henry V). We are particularly interested now in the madwomen, who are much more strongly defined than the madmen. Madness allows women an emotional intensity and scope not usually expected in conventional feminine roles. Their madness is interpreted as something specifically feminine, whereas the madness of men is not specifically male.
The madwomen of Shakespeare and his fellow dramatists need to be understood in their contemporary context and especially within the cultural assumptions about women built into the language. Any strong emotional expression is generally thought to be womanish. As Laertes says of his tears for the dead Ophelia, "When these are gone, / The woman will be out" (Hamlet, 4. 7. 188-89).1 In other words, once he has stopped crying, he will have fully expressed the feminine side of his nature. It is, however, shameful for a man to continue in this emotional vein. Hysteria, thought to be caused by a malfunction of the womb, was called familiarly "the mother," as in Lear's passionate attempt to master his imminent madness: "O, how this mother swells up toward my heart! / Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow" (King Lear, 2. 4. 55-56). Like the rising gorge to indicate vomiting, the rising "mother" is an unpropitious physiological sign.
The madness of women in Elizabethan drama is usually brought on by "the pangs of despised love" (Hamlet, 3. 1. 72). Love melancholy fills a whole section of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621)—its causes, its symptoms, and its cure—and Burton is particularly sympathetic to those whose problems arise from sexual inhibition. The exact degrees of love melancholy are difficult to determine, but once the "humours" (essential bodily fluids) are burnt (or "adust," in the technical description), pathology sets in. This pathology may be either neurotic or psychotic—Renaissance authors did not insist on an absolute distinction between the two—and "madness" tended to include a wide range of symptoms.2 Thus "distracted" and "mad" are used synonymously by Elizabethan writers. "Lunatic," a stronger term, is not so common; according to the Spevack Concordance, Shakespeare uses it (and related forms) nineteen times.3 "Frenzy" is another strong term (used fourteen times in Shakespeare), with the related adjective "frantic" (seventeen examples). "Fit" as a noun (twenty-two occurrences, not all relevant to madness) could be used rather vaguely in combinations, such as the "frantic fit" or "lunatic fit." The strongest word for madness in Shakespeare is "ecstasy" (sixteen examples), a sudden fit in which the soul is imagined to be separated from the body (as, e.g., in a mystical state, either erotic or religious). The mildest madness words are those related to "dotage" (fifteen examples) and "dote" (forty-five examples), many of which do not specifically indicate madness at all but, rather, an advanced state of foolishness associated with old age. In popular parlance, "lunacy," "ecstasy," "frenzy," and "dotage" could all be used as generalized (and sometimes comic) equivalents of "madness."
No external sign of madness is more familiar and more often repeated than that of a woman with her hair down,4 virtually an emblem of feminine madness on the Elizabethan stage. Ophelia, for example, who merely enters "distracted" in the Folio stage direction (at line 2766),5 in the "Bad" Quarto of 1603 comes on stage "playing on a Lute, and her haire downe singing."''6 Music, especially the singing of old, wistful, sentimental, and sometimes bawdy ballads, is both a frequent accompaniment of madness (an indication that rational discourse has broken down) and one of the specific cures for disordered wits (as in King Lear, 4. 7. 25).
What are we to make of Ophelia with "her haire downe singing"? That is, what sort of singing and lute playing can we expect from a young girl whose father has been murdered by her lover—compare Juliet's cousin Tybalt murdered by her lover, Romeo—and is now being buried "in huggermugger" (Hamlet, 4. 5. 84) and "with such maimèd rites" (5. 1. 221)? We are grateful to the bad quartos for giving us stage directions that seem to record contemporary stage business, directions that are missing in the more formal texts. In the "Bad" Quarto of Hamlet (also called Quarto 1), we are told that "Leartes leapes into the graue " of Ophelia and that "Hamlet leapes in after Leartes." Ophelia is suffering from the classic symptoms of love melancholy, and her sexual frustration is compounded by grief for her father. We know at once that she is distracted because her hair is no longer in place on its ornamental wire frame (or "tire"). Instead of being "put up," her hair has been "let down." Shakespeare must have known about tires, since he boarded with a French Huguenot tire-maker, Christopher Mountjoy, on the northeast corner of Muggle and Silver Streets in London around the year 1604.7
In Troilus and Cressida as well, Cassandra, "our mad sister," as Troilus calls her, enters "with her haire about her eares" (1082-83), which gives an especially dire quality to her prophecies of Trojan doom, since mad persons were supposed to be psychically in tune with the future. In Marston's extravagant play, Antonio's Revenge, Maria appears with "her hair loose" (3. 2, s.d.),8 and the foolish Balurdo would "kiss the curled locks of your loose hair" (3. 2. 19). Like the rank "unweeded garden" of Hamlet's first soliloquy (Hamlet, 1. 2. 135) and the disordered garden-commonwealth of Richard II, loose hair is an offense against decorum and therefore against the whole hierarchy of orderly correspondences. It is so improper and so overtly sensual that it may conventionally be understood to indicate a loss of reason, either temporary or permanent.
A thin line separates heightened emotion from distraction. Constance, the grieving mother of young Arthur in King John, is clearly not mad in our sense of the term, yet her loose hair expresses a grief excessive enough to be the subject of a little set piece of rhetorical elaboration. The conceit on binding and loosing is so artificial that the whole passage sounds like parody. King Philip of France begins,
Bind up those tresses! O, what love I note In the fair multitude of those her hairs! Where but by chance a silver drop [tear] hath fall'n, Even to that drop ten thousand wiry friends Do glue themselves in sociable grief.… [3. 3. 61-65]
With insufferable fullness, Constance completes the figure of binding up her hairs:
Yes, that I will; and wherefore will I do it? I tore them from their bonds and cried aloud, "O that these hands could so redeem my son, As they have given these hairs their liberty!"
But now I envy at their liberty, And will again commit them to their bonds, Because my poor child is a prisoner. [3. 3. 69-75]
This is like the "sorrow and grief of heart" that make Richard II "speak fondly like a frantic man" (Richard II, 3. 3. 183-84).
Everything that we know about Elizabethan acting suggests that the boy actors understood the conventions of playing madwomen. Otherwise, how are we to interpret a stage direction so cryptic and so compressed as the one in The Spanish Tragedy: "She runs lunatic" (4. 1. 5, s.d.)?9 Without any warning, Isabella, the mother of the murdered Horatio, suddenly goes into her mad role. "She runs lunatic" is a practical and specific stage direction, fully comprehensible to the actor, not just a general invitation to ad lib. There is a similar example in Webster's White Devil: "CORNELIAdoth this in several forms of distraction" (5. 4. 82, s.d.).10 Webster presumably knows that there are various ways, besides the Ophelia-like language of her part, for the grief-crazed Cornelia to express her distraction. Mad folk have sudden starts; whims, cranks, and windmills in their brains; paranoid fears and hallucinations, spirits pursuing them, instructions from unseen powers. They are giddy, fantastic, apish, self-willed, and wild. All of these qualities demand a certain style of acting: spasmodic, lyrical, and intuitive. Even madness has its appropriate decorum—its "answering style."
We can best pursue this argument with examples from the many women characters who feign madness for some special purpose. In Fletcher's Pilgrim, Alinda is able to conceal herself from her own father by playing mad:
ALPHONSO. Dost thou dwell in Segovia, Fool? ALINDA. No, no, I dwell in Heaven; And I have a fine little house, made of marmalade, And I am a lone woman, and I spin for Saint Peter; I have a hundred little children, and they sing psalms with me. [4.1]11
Alinda is so successful in her disguise because she has mastered the pretty, fanciful, childlike style and manner associated with mad girls. Free association produces an extravagance of metaphor not bound by the rules of rational discourse, and the mad speeches often make little separable arias. The mad style offers a way of combining the lunatic, the lover, and the poet of Duke Theseus's speech in A Midsummer Night's Dream: their "seething brains" and "shaping fantasies" "apprehend / More than cool reason ever comprehends" (5. 1. 4-6).
The most frenzied (and most poetic) example of feigned madness is in Middleton and Rowley's Changeling. Isabella, the young wife of the old and foolish Alibius, offers herself to Antonio, who is also feigning madness in the private sanatorium of Alibius. In typical fashion, Isabella's madness is strongly sexual, both in its overt intent and in its covert meanings. She pretends that her lover is Icarus at the very moment that he is falling into the sea, and her hallucination is made vividly dramatic—a fully realized enactment of "fear of flying":
Art thou not drowned? About thy head I saw a heap of clouds Wrapped like a Turkish turbant [turban]; on thy back A crook'd chameleon-colored rainbow hung Like a tiara down unto thy hams. Let me suck out those billows in thy belly; Hark, how they roar and rumble in the streets! Bless thee from the pirates! [4. 3. 131-38]12
This seems to echo Edgar's speech to Gloucester on Dover Cliffs in King Lear (4. 6). On the prosaic Antonio, however, Isabella's lyrical assault is completely wasted. He protests, "Pox upon you, let me alone!" (line 138) and, more violently, "I'll kick thee, if again thou touch me, / Thou wild unshapen antic; I am no fool, / You bedlam!" (lines 145-47). Antonio loses the very ready and willing Isabella, eager to "tread the lower labyrinth" (line 129), from failure of imagination. It is interesting how closely madness is identified with the powers of the imagination. We discover imaginative gifts in the "mad" Isabella that make Antonio wholly unworthy of her.
The mad Ophelia, too, is able to draw on an entirely different range of experience from what was available to her as only daughter of the chief counselor of state in Denmark. For her earlier career, "I do not know, my lord, what I should think" (Hamlet, 1. 3. 104) is an entirely characteristic utterance, and she is "loosed" to Hamlet as a mere pawn in her father's plans. Her madness opens up her role, and she is suddenly lyric, poignant, pathetic, tragic. Madness enables her to assert her being; she is no longer enforced to keep silent and play the dutiful daughter.
Ophelia is the prototype of a great many madwomen to follow, who scrupulously imitate her style. She is close to nature, as indicated in her flower imagery and her concern for natural processes, but it is a nature full of folklore perils, especially the danger of self-annihilation.13 Her speech is childlike in both matter and manner, from which she draws a fund of pathos from the audience—"Her mood will needs be pitied" (4. 5. 3). She sings snatches of old ballads and is preoccupied with her own repressed sexuality: "Young men will do't if they come to't, / By Cock, they are to blame" (4. 5. 60-61). Her syntax is broken; her discourse is organized by lyrical free association, with many veiled innuendos and pointed allusions to the state of affairs in Denmark. In her transformation, Ophelia worries Claudius: "Follow her close; give her good watch, I pray you" (4. 5. 74). The loss of rationality is expressed by a shift from verse to prose, as if blank verse were too orderly a vehicle to express Ophelia's wild fancies.
Shakespeare might have learned to represent madness as a sudden shift from verse to prose from Marlowe's Zabina in / Tamburlaine, perhaps the first madwoman in Elizabethan drama (although Isabella in The Spanish Tragedy may also date from the same year, 1587). Zabina is crazed by extreme grief in seeing her husband, Bajazeth, knock his brains out against his cage. She does not go mad instantaneously but takes five exclamatory lines of Marlovian blank verse to lose her wits. No attempt is made to conceal the artifice of Zabina's highly wrought mad style:
Give him his liquor? Not I, bring milk and fire, and my blood I bring him againe, teare me in peeces, give me the sworde with a ball of wildefire upon it. Downe with him, downe with him. Goe to, my child, away, away, away. Ah, save that Infant, save him, save him. I, even I speak to her. The Sun was downe. Streamers white, Red, Blacke. Here, here, here. Fling the meat in his face. Tamburlaine, Tamburlaine. Let the souldiers be buried. Hel, death, Tamburlaine, Hell. Make ready my Coch, my chaire, my jewels, I come, I come, I come. [1 Tamburlaine, 5. 1. 310-18]14
In an emotional frenzy, "She runs against the Cage and braines her selfe." In anticipation of Tennessee Williams's more highly colored "memory" technique (as in The Glass Menagerie), Marlowe uses madness to dislodge fragments of remembered images. Zabina is wilder than Ophelia, her imaginative leaps and repetitions more emphatic; but both characters are suddenly freed by madness from their completely conventional female roles.
The explosive sexual imagery of Zabina and Ophelia is politely echoed by the Jailer's Daughter in The Two Noble Kinsmen, a late play generally attributed to Shakespeare and Fletcher. The madness of the Jailer's Daughter is almost purely ornamental, an occasion for "pretty" discourse rather than a soul-ravaging disorder. As she flees her father and misses her rendezvous with her beloved Palamon, whom she has freed from prison, she falls into charming hallucinations, in which she animates nature in the style of a child's fable:
Would I could find a fine frog; he would tell me News from all parts o' th' world; then would I make A carack of a cockleshell, and sail By east and north-east to the King of Pigmies, For he tells fortunes rarely. [3. 4. 12-16]
As the Doctor puts it so energetically, "How her brain coins!" (4. 3. 40), and "What stuff she utters!" (5. 2. 67). The Jailer's Daughter is the most extensively developed madwoman in all of Elizabethan drama, and her cure is effected with a fullness and specificity that leave little to the imagination. In short, since "'tis not an engraffed madness, but a most thick and profound melancholy" (4. 3. 49-51), she can be restored to her wits only by the generous sexual activity denied her by Palamon but supplied without stinting by the anonymous gentleman called simply Wooer.
The Doctor in this play has typically folkloristic views about the powers of sex:
Please her appetite And do it home: it cures her ipso facto The melancholy humor that infects her. [5. 2. 35-37]
This is the traditional folk motif of "sickness (madness) cured by coition" (Stith Thompson's motif F950.4, "Marvels").15The Two Noble Kinsmen uses the mad-woman motif in an almost completely conventional way, without exploring any psychological nuances. The Doctor, and more specifically the alienist-doctor, like our modern psychoanalyst (but without the stage-German accent), was a familiar figure on the Elizabethan stage. He is nowhere more vigorously represented than in Webster's Duchess of Malfi, where, if all else fails, he threatens to "buffet" Ferdinand's "madness out of him" (5. 2. 26).16
Curiously, there is not a more explicit connection between female madness and guilt, although the implied guilt of sexuality is an important overtone. Lady Macbeth comes closest to a modern feeling of anxiety symptoms. Her sleepwalking scene (5.1) is also a mad scene, since she speaks in a free-associational, non-rational, broken discourse that we expect from Elizabethan madwomen on stage. She plays on the forbidden acts that she cannot properly suppress. Her hands cannot be washed clean of the blood that has stained them—the characteristic gesture of the scene is the attempt to remove from her hands imaginary spots that will not disappear—and she speaks throughout to her husband, who she thinks is with her. Her hallucinations echo a bloody reality that is only too emphatically true. Under these circumstances, Macbeth understands with chilling clarity that his questions to the doctor are purely rhetorical:
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain, And with some sweet oblivious antidote Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff Which weighs upon the heart? [5. 3. 40-45]
"Some sweet oblivious antidote"—some pleasant remedy that cures anxiety by physical means—recalls The Two Noble Kinsmen and the Doctor's remarkable cure in that play, but there seems to be an absolute separation between the madwomen in comedy and in tragedy. In comedy, all is always recoverable, even one's wits, and an episode of madness may prove to be a valuable educational experience. Thus Pandora, in Lyly's Woman in the Moone, goes through a "lunaticke" phase in act 5 under the influence of Luna (or Cynthia). She becomes "new fangled, fyckle, slothfull, foolish, mad" (5. 1. 5), "idle, mutable, / Forgetfull, foolish, fickle, franticke, madde" (lines 307-8).17 These are the "humours" that content her best, but, once they are displayed and she becomes "sober" again, she chooses to remain with Cynthia as the woman in the moon. During her mad fit, Pandora can fully indulge feminine caprices that are not only whimsical but also highly lyrical:
Where is the larks? come, weel go catch some streight! No, let vs go a fishing with a net! With a net? no, an angle is enough: An angle, a net, no none of both, Ile wade into the water, water is fayre, And stroke the fishes vnder neath the gilles. [Lines 25-30]
Her sensuality, volatile and siren-like, anticipates the bored Cleopatra of act 2, scene 5 of Shakespeare's play.
Madwomen offered the dramatists an opportunity to write speeches of exuberant fancy and lyric grace. They also provided a sanction for witty sexual innuendo and outright bawdy, since love melancholy could be pathetic, pretty, and sensual all at the same time. If the madwoman was a conventional role on the Elizabethan stage, it was unconventional—and perhaps even disturbing—in its exploration of feminine consciousness. Through madness, the women on stage can suddenly make a forceful assertion of their being. The lyric form and broken syntax and unbridled imagination all show ways of breaking through unbearable social restraints.
We may conclude from our examples that madness on stage releases the emotional and imaginative powers that the saner women in the play are required to suppress. To put it in a different way, it would seem that only imaginative women have the capacity for either true or feigned madness. There is an art in madness by which a character may bring her imaginative energies to fruition. The literary and theatrical problems of how madwomen express themselves in Shakespeare and his fellow dramatists overlap with the more general problems so polemically formulated in Phyllis Chesler's Women and Madness.18 In the larger context, we need to work through this question of how women are used symbolically and what sort of releases madness offers. The next step in the discussion is to explain the social norms that shape and energize the madness of women in any particular historical period. In this area, we are likely to find remarkable consistencies between Elizabethan attitudes and our own.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, Shakespeare's works are quoted from the paperback editions of the Signet Classic Shakespeare, ed. Sylvan Barnet (New York: New American Library).
2 See J. Leeds Barroll, Artificial Persons: The Formation of Character in the Tragedies of Shakespeare (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1974), esp. chap. 1. See also
3 Marvin Spevack, ed. The Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare (Cambridge, Mass Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1974).
4 See E. R. Leach, "Magical Hair," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 88 (1958): 147-64. This fascinating essay examines the wider context of hair symbolism and its sexual connotations.
5 Quoted from Charlton Hinman's facsimile edition of the First Folio of Shakespeare (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1968). The references are to Hinman's through-line numbering.
6 Quoted from the facsimile edition of the Huntington Library copy of the First Quarto of Hamlet (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931).
7 See Samuel Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 208.
8 John Marston, Antonio's Revenge, ed. G. K. Hunter, Regents Renaissance Drama Series (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965).
9 Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy, ed. Philip Edwards, The Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1959).
10 John Webster, The White Devil, ed. John Russell Brown, The Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1960).
11 John Fletcher, The Pilgrim, in The Dramatic Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, ed. George Colman (London, 1811), 2:299.
12 Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, The Changeling, ed. N. W. Bawcutt, The Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1958).
13 See Paolo Valesio, "The Language of Madness in the Renaissance," Yearbook of Italian Studies 1 (1970-71): 208 ff. We are indebted to Coppélia Kahn for calling our attention to this wide-ranging study as well as for many other valuable suggestions.
14The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, ed. Fredson Bowers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), vol. 1.
15 Cited by Valesio, p. 209, n. 23.
16 John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi, ed. John Russell Brown, The Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1964).
17 John Lyly, The Woman in the Moone, in The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. R. Warwick Bond (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), vol. 3.
18 Phyllis Chesler, Women and Madness (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1972).
Elaine Showalter (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: "Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism," in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, edited by Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, 1985, pp. 77-94.
[Here, Showalter traces the "iconography" of Shakespeare's Ophelia in a variety of art forms in order to reveal the representational connections between female sexuality and insanity.]
"As a sort of a come-on, I announced that I would speak today about that piece of bait named Ophelia, and I'll be as good as my word." These are the words which begin the psychoanalytic seminar on Hamlet presented in Paris in 1959 by Jacques Lacan. But despite his promising come-on, Lacan was not as good as his word. He goes on for some 41 pages to speak about Hamlet, and when he does mention Ophelia, she is merely what Lacan calls "the object Ophelia"—that is, the object of Hamlet's male desire. The etymology of Ophelia, Lacan asserts, is "O-phallus," and her role in the drama can only be to function as the exteriorized figuration of what Lacan predictably and, in view of his own early work with psychotic women, disappointingly suggests is the phallus as transcendental signifier.1 To play such a part obviously makes Ophelia "essential," as Lacan admits; but only because, in his words, "she is linked forever, for centuries, to the figure of Hamlet."
The bait-and-switch game that Lacan plays with Ophelia is a cynical but not unusual instance of her deployment in psychiatric and critical texts. For most critics of Shakespeare, Ophelia has been an insignificant minor character in the play, touching in her weakness and madness but chiefly interesting, of course, in what she tells us about Hamlet. And while female readers of Shakespeare have often attempted to champion Ophelia, even feminist critics have done so with a certain embarrassment. As Annette Kolodny ruefully admits: "it is after all, an imposition of high order to ask the viewer to attend to Ophelia's sufferings in a scene where, before, he's always so comfortably kept his eye fixed on Hamlet."2
Yet when feminist criticism allows Ophelia to upstage Hamlet, it also brings to the foreground the issues in an ongoing theoretical debate about the cultural links between femininity, female sexuality, insanity, and representation. Though she is neglected in criticism, Ophelia is probably the most frequently illustrated and cited of Shakespeare's heroines. Her visibility as a subject in literature, popular culture, and painting, from Redon who paints her drowning, to Bob Dylan, who places her on Desolation Row, to Cannon Mills, which has named a flowery sheet pattern after her, is in inverse relation to her invisibility in Shakespearean critical texts: Why has she been such a potent and obsessive figure in our cultural mythology? Insofar as Hamlet names Ophelia as "woman" and "frailty," substituting an ideological view of femininity for a personal one, is she indeed representative of Woman, and does her madness stand for the oppression of women in society as well as in tragedy? Furthermore, since Laertes calles Ophelia a "document in madness," does she represent the textual archetype of woman as madness or madness as woman? And finally, how should feminist criticism represent Ophelia in its own discourse? What is our responsibility towards her as character and as woman?
Feminist critics have offered a variety of responses to these questions. Some have maintained that we should represent Ophelia as a lawyer represents a client, that we should become her Horatia, in this harsh world reporting her and her cause aright to the unsatisfied. Carol Neely, for example, describes advocacy—speaking for Ophelia—as our proper role: "As a feminist critic," she writes, "I must 'tell' Ophelia's story."3 But what can we mean by Ophelia's story? The story of her life? The story of her betrayal at the hands of her father, lover, court, society? The story of her rejection and marginalization by male critics of Shakespeare? Shakespeare gives us very little information from which to imagine a past for Ophelia. She appears in only five of the play's twenty scenes; the pre-play course of her love story with Hamlet is known only by a few ambiguous flashbacks. Her tragedy is subordinated in the play; unlike Hamlet, she does not struggle with moral choices or alternatives. Thus another feminist critic, Lee Edwards, concludes that it is impossible to reconstruct Ophelia's biography from the text: "We can imagine Hamlet's story without Ophelia, but Ophelia literally has no story without Hamlet."4
If we turn from American to French feminist theory, Ophelia might confirm the impossibility of representing the feminine in patriarchal discourse as other than madness, incoherence, fluidity, or silence. In French theoretical criticism, the feminine or "Woman" is that which escapes representation in patriarchal language and symbolism; it remains on the side of negativity, absence, and lack. In comparison to Hamlet, Ophelia is certainly a creature of lack. "I think nothing, my lord," she tells him in the Mousetrap scene, and he cruelly twists her words:
Hamlet: That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.Ophelia: What is, my lord?Hamlet: Nothing. (III.ii.117-19)
In Elizabethan slang, "nothing" was a term for the female genitalia, as in Much Ado About Nothing. To Hamlet, then, "nothing" is what lies between maids' legs, for, in the male visual system of representation and desire, women's sexual organs, in the words of the French psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray, "represent the horror of having nothing to see."5 When Ophelia is mad, Gertrude says that "Her speech is nothing," mere "unshaped use." Ophelia's speech thus represents the horror of having nothing to say in the public terms defined by the court. Deprived of thought, sexuality, language, Ophelia's story becomes the Story of O—the zero, the empty circle or mystery of feminine difference, the cipher of female sexuality to be deciphered by feminist interpretation.6
A third approach would be to read Ophelia's story as the female subtext of the tragedy, the repressed story of Hamlet. In this reading, Ophelia represents the strong emotions that the Elizabethans as well as the Freudians thought womanish and unmanly. When Laertes weeps for his dead sister he says of his tears that "When these are gone, / The woman will be out"—that is to say, that the feminine and shameful part of his nature will be purged. According to David Leverenz, in an important essay called "The Woman in Hamlet," Hamlet's disgust at the feminine passivity in himself is translated into violent revulsion against women, and into his brutal behavior towards Ophelia. Ophelia's suicide, Leverenz argues, then becomes "a microcosm of the male world's banishment of the female, because 'woman' represents everything denied by reasonable men."7
It is perhaps because Hamlet's emotional vulnerability can so readily be conceptualized as feminine that this is the only heroic male role in Shakespeare which has been regularly acted by women, in a tradition from Sarah Bernhardt to, most recently, Diane Venora, in a production directed by Joseph Papp. Leopold Bloom speculates on this tradition in Ulysses, musing on the Hamlet of the actress Mrs Bandman Palmer: "Male impersonator. Perhaps he was a woman? Why Ophelia committed suicide?"8
While all of these approaches have much to recommend them, each also presents critical problems. To liberate Ophelia from the text, or to make her its tragic center, is to re-appropriate her for our own ends; to dissolve her into a female symbolism of absence is to endorse our own marginality; to make her Hamlet's anima is to reduce her to a metaphor of male experience. I would like to propose instead that Ophelia does have a story of her own that feminist criticism can tell; it is neither her life story, nor her love story, nor Lacan's story, but rather the history of her representation. This essay tries to bring together some of the categories of French feminist thought about the "feminine" with the empirical energies of American historical and critical research: to yoke French theory and Yankee knowhow.
Tracing the iconography of Ophelia in English and French painting, photography, psychiatry, and literature, as well as in theatrical production, I will be showing first of all the representational bonds between female insanity and female sexuality. Secondly, I want to demonstrate the two-way transaction between psychiatric theory and cultural representation. As one medical historian has observed, we could provide a manual of female insanity by chronicling the illustrations of Ophelia; this is so because the illustrations of Ophelia have played a major role in the theoretical construction of female insanity.9 Finally, I want to suggest that the feminist revision of Ophelia comes as much from the actress's freedom as from the critic's interpretation.10 When Shakespeare's heroines began to be played by women instead of boys, the presence of the female body and female voice, quite apart from details of interpretation, created new meanings and subversive tensions in these roles, and perhaps most importantly with Ophelia. Looking at Ophelia's history on and off the stage, I will point out the contest between male and female representations of Ophelia, cycles of critical repression and feminist reclamation of which contemporary feminist criticism is only the most recent phase. By beginning with these data from cultural history, instead of moving from the grid of literary theory, I hope to conclude with a fuller sense of the responsibilities of feminist criticism, as well as a new perspective on Ophelia.
"Of all the characters in Hamlet," Bridget Lyons has pointed out, "Ophelia is most persistently presented in terms of symbolic meanings."11 Her behavior, her appearance, her gestures, her costume, her props, are freighted with emblematic significance, and for many generations of Shakespearean critics her part in the play has seemed to be primarily iconographic. Ophelia's symbolic meanings, moreover, are specifically feminine. Whereas for Hamlet madness is metaphysical, linked with culture, for Ophelia it is a product of the female body and female nature, perhaps that nature's purest form. On the Elizabethan stage, the conventions of female insanity were sharply defined. Ophelia dresses in white, decks herself with "fantastical garlands" of wild flowers, and enters, according to the stage directions of the "Bad" Quarto, "distracted" playing on a lute with her "hair down singing." Her speeches are marked by extravagant metaphors, lyrical free associations, and "explosive sexual imagery."12 She sings wistful and bawdy ballads, and ends her life by drowning.
All of these conventions carry specific messages about femininity and sexuality. Ophelia's virginal and vacant white is contrasted with Hamlet's scholar's garb, his "suits of solemn black." Her flowers suggest the discordant double images of female sexuality as both innocent blossoming and whorish contamination; she is the "green girl" of pastoral, the virginal "Rose of May" and the sexually explicit madwoman who, in giving away her wild flowers and herbs, is symbolically de-flowering herself. The "weedy trophies" and phallic "long purples" which she wears to her death intimate an improper and discordant sexuality that Gertrude's lovely elegy cannot quite obscure.13 In Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, the stage direction that a woman enters with dishevelled hair indicates that she might either be mad or the victim of a rape; the disordered hair, her offense against decorum, suggests sensuality in each case.14 The mad Ophelia's bawdy songs and verbal license, while they give her access to "an entirely different range of experience" from what she is allowed as the dutiful daughter, seem to be her one sanctioned form of self-assertion as a woman, quickly followed, as if in retribution, by her death.15
Drowning too was associated with the feminine, with female fluidity as opposed to masculine aridity. In his discussion of the "Ophelia complex," the phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard traces the symbolic connections between women, water, and death. Drowning, he suggests, becomes the truly feminine death in the dramas of literature and life, one which is a beautiful immersion and submersion in the female element. Water is the profound and organic symbol of the liquid woman whose eyes are so easily drowned in tears, as her body is the repository of blood, amniotic fluid, and milk. A man contemplating this feminine suicide understands it by reaching for what is feminine in himself, like Laertes, by a temporary surrender to his own fluidity—that is, his tears; and he becomes a man again in becoming once more dry—when his tears are stopped.16
Clinically speaking, Ophelia's behavior and appearance are characteristic of the malady the Elizabethans would have diagnosed as female love-melancholy, or erotomania. From about 1580, melancholy had become a fashionable disease among young men, especially in London, and Hamlet himself is a prototype of the melancholy hero. Yet the epidemic of melancholy associated with intellectual and imaginative genius "curiously bypassed women." Women's melancholy was seen instead as biological, and emotional in origins.17
On the stage, Ophelia's madness was presented as the predictable outcome of erotomania. From 1660, when women first appeared on the public stage, to the beginnings of the eighteenth century, the most celebrated of the actresses who played Ophelia were those whom rumor credited with disappointments in love. The greatest triumph was reserved for Susan Mountfort, a former actress at Lincoln's Inn Fields who had gone mad after her lover's betrayal. One night in 1720 she escaped from her keeper, rushed to the theater, and just as the Ophelia of the evening was to enter for her mad scene, "sprang forward in her place…with wild eyes and wavering motion."18 As a contemporary reported, "she was in truth Ophelia herself, to the amazement of the performers as well as of the audience—nature having made this last effort, her vital powers failed her and she died soon after."19 These theatrical legends reinforced the belief of the age that female madness was a part of female nature, less to be imitated by an actress than demonstrated by a deranged woman in a performance of her emotions.
The subversive or violent possibilities of the mad scene were nearly eliminated, however, on the eighteenth-century stage. Late Augustan stereotypes of female love-melancholy were sentimentalized versions which minimized the force of female sexuality, and made female insanity a pretty stimulant to male sensibility. Actresses such as Mrs Lessingham in 1772, and Mary Bolton in 1811, played Ophelia in this decorous style, relying on the familiar images of the white dress, loose hair, and wild flowers to convey a polite feminine distraction, highly suitable for pictorial reproduction, and appropriate for Samuel Johnson's description of Ophelia as young, beautiful, harmless, and pious. Even Mrs Siddons in 1785 played the mad scene with stately and classical dignity. For much of the period, in fact, Augustan objections to the levity and indecency of Ophelia's language and behavior led to censorship of the part. Her lines were frequently cut, and the role was often assigned to a singer instead of an actress, making the mode of representation musical rather than visual or verbal.
But whereas the Augustan response to madness was a denial, the romantic response was an embrace.20 The figure of the madwoman permeates romantic literature, from the gothic novelists to Wordsworth and Scott in such texts as "The Thorn" and The Heart of Midlothian, where she stands for sexual victimization, bereavement, and thrilling emotional extremity. Romantic artists such as Thomas Barker and George Shepheard painted pathetically abandoned Crazy Kates and Crazy Anns, while Henry Fuseli's "Mad Kate" is almost demonically possessed, an orphan of the romantic storm.
In the Shakespearean theater, Ophelia's romantic revival began in France rather than England. When Charles Kemble made his Paris debut as Hamlet with an English troupe in 1827, his Ophelia was a young Irish ingénue named Harriet Smithson. Smithson used "her extensive command of mime to depict in precise gesture the state of Ophelia's confused mind."21 In the mad scene, she entered in a long black veil, suggesting the standard imagery of female sexual mystery in the gothic novel, with scattered bedlamish wisps of straw in her hair. Spreading the veil on the ground as she sang, she spread flowers upon it in the shape of a cross, as if to make her father's grave, and mimed a burial, a piece of stage business which remained in vogue for the rest of the century.
The French audiences were stunned. Dumas recalled that "it was the first time I saw in the theatre real passions, giving life to men and women of flesh and blood."22 The 23-year-old Hector Berlioz, who was in the audience on the first night, fell madly in love, and eventually married Harriet Smithson despite his family's frantic opposition. Her image as the mad Ophelia was represented in popular lithographs and exhibited in bookshop and printshop windows. Her costume was imitated by the fashionable, and a coiffure "à la folle," consisting of a "black veil with wisps of straw tastefully interwoven" in the hair, was widely copied by the Parisian beau monde, always on the lookout for something new.23
Although Smithson never acted Ophelia on the English stage, her intensely visual performance quickly influenced English productions as well; and indeed the romantic Ophelia—a young girl passionately and visibly driven to picturesque madness—became the dominant international acting style for the next 150 years, from Helena Modjeska in Poland in 1871, to the 18-year-old Jean Simmons in the Laurence Olivier film of 1948.
Whereas the romantic Hamlet, in Coleridge's famous dictum, thinks too much, has an "overbalance of the contemplative faculty" and an overactive intellect, the romantic Ophelia is a girl who feels too much, who drowns in feeling. The romantic critics seem to have felt that the less said about Ophelia the better; the point was to look at her. Hazlitt, for one, is speechless before her, calling her "a character almost too exquisitely touching to be dwelt upon."24 While the Augustans represent Ophelia as music, the romantics transform her into an objet d'art, as if to take literally Claudius's lament, "poor Ophelia / Divided from herself and her fair judgment, / Without the which we are pictures."
Smithson's performance is best recaptured in a series of pictures done by Delacroix from 1830 to 1850, which show a strong romantic interest in the relation of female sexuality and insanity.25 The most innovative and influential of Delacroix's lithographs is La Mort d'Ophélie of 1843, the first of three studies. Its sensual languor, with Ophelia half-suspended in the stream as her dress slips from her body, anticipated the fascination with the erotic trance of the hysteric as it would be studied by Jean-Martin Charcot and his students, including Janet and Freud. Delacroix's interest in the drowning Ophelia is also reproduced to the point of obsession in later nineteenth-century painting. The English Pre-Raphaelites painted her again and again, choosing the drowning which is only described in the play, and where no actress's image had preceded them or interfered with their imaginative supremacy.
In the Royal Academy show of 1852, Arthur Hughes's entry shows a tiny waif-like creature—a sort of Tinker Bell Ophelia—in a filmy white gown, perched on a tree trunk by the stream. The overall effect is softened, sexless, and hazy, although the straw in her hair resembles a crown of thorns. Hughes's juxtaposition of childlike femininity and Christian martyrdom was overpowered, however, by John Everett Millais's great painting of Ophelia in the same show. While Millais's Ophelia is sensuous siren as well as victim, the artist rather than the subject dominates the scene. The division of space between Ophelia and the natural details Millais had so painstakingly pursued reduces her to one more visual object; and the painting has such a hard surface, strangely flattened perspective, and brilliant light that it seems cruelly indifferent to the woman's death.
These Pre-Raphaelite images were part of a new and intricate traffic between images of women and madness in late nineteenth-century literature, psychiatry, drama, and art. First of all, superintendents of Victorian lunatic asylums were also enthusiasts of Shakespeare, who turned to his dramas for models of mental aberration that could be applied to their clinical practice. The case study of Ophelia was one that seemed particularly useful as an account of hysteria or mental breakdown in adolescence, a period of sexual instability which the Victorians regarded as risky for women's mental health. As Dr John Charles Bucknill, president of the Medico-Psychological Association, remarked in 1859, "Ophelia is the very type of a class of cases by no means uncommon. Every mental physician of moderately extensive experience must have seen many Ophelias. It is a copy from nature, after the fashion of the Pre-Raphaelite school."26 Dr John Conolly, the celebrated superintendent of the Hanwell Asylum, and founder of the committee to make Stratford a national trust, concurred. In his Study of Hamlet in 1863 he noted that even casual visitors to mental institutions could recognize an Ophelia in the wards: "the same young years, the same faded beauty, the same fantastic dress and interrupted song."27 Medical textbooks illustrated their discussions of female patients with sketches of Ophelia-like maidens.
But Conolly also pointed out that the graceful Ophelias who dominated the Victorian stage were quite unlike the women who had become the majority of the inmate population in Victorian public asylums. "It seems to be supposed," he protested, "that it is an easy task to play the part of a crazy girl, and that it is chiefly composed of singing and prettiness. The habitual courtesy, the partial rudeness of mental disorder, are things to be witnessed.… An actress, ambitious of something beyond cold imitation, might find the contemplation of such cases a not unprofitable study."28
Yet when Ellen Terry took up Conolly's challenge, and went to an asylum to observe real madwomen, she found them "too theatrical" to teach her anything.29 This was because the iconography of the romantic Ophelia had begun to infiltrate reality, to define a style for mad young women seeking to express and communicate their distress. And where the women themselves did not willingly throw themselves into Ophelia-like postures, asylum superintendents, armed with the new technology of photography, imposed the costume, gesture, props, and expression of Ophelia upon them. In England, the camera was introduced to asylum work in the 1850s by Dr Hugh Welch Diamond, who photographed his female patients at the Surrey Asylum and at Bethlem. Diamond was heavily influenced by literary and visual models in his posing of the female subjects. His pictures of madwomen, posed in prayer, or decked with Ophelia-like garlands, were copied for Victorian consumption as touched-up lithographs in professional journals.30
Reality, psychiatry, and representational convention were even more confused in the photographic records of hysteria produced in the 1870s by Jean-Martin Charcot. Charcot was the first clinician to install a fully-equipped photographic atelier in his Paris hospital, La Salpê to record the performances of his hysterical stars. Charcot's clinic became, as he said, a "living theatre" of female pathology; his women patients were coached in their performances for the camera, and, under hypnosis, were sometimes instructed to play heroines from Shakespeare. Among them, a 15-year-old girl named Augustine was featured in the published volumes called Iconographies in every posture of la grande hystérie. With her white hospital gown and flowing locks, Augustine frequently resembles the reproductions of Ophelia as icon and actress which had been in wide circulation.31
But if the Victorian madwoman looks mutely out from men's pictures, and acts a part men had staged and directed, she is very differently represented in the feminist revision of Ophelia initiated by newly powerful and respectable Victorian actresses, and by women critics of Shakespeare. In their efforts to defend Ophelia, they invent a story for her drawn from their own experiences, grievances, and desires.
Probably the most famous of the Victorian feminist revisions of the Ophelia story was Mary Cowden Clarke's The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines, published in 1852. Unlike other Victorian moralizing and didactic studies of the female characters of Shakespeare's plays, Clarke's was specifically addressed to the wrongs of women, and especially to the sexual double standard. In a chapter on Ophelia called "The rose of Elsinore," Clarke tells how the child Ophelia was left behind in the care of a peasant couple when Polonius was called to the court at Paris, and raised in a cottage with a foster-sister and brother, Jutha and Ulf. Jutha is seduced and betrayed by a deceitful knight, and Ophelia discovers the bodies of Jutha and her still-born child, lying "white, rigid, and still" in the deserted parlor of the cottage in the middle of the night. Ulf, a "hairy loutish boy," likes to torture flies, to eat songbirds, and to rip the petals off roses, and he is also very eager to give little Ophelia what he calls a bearhug. Both repelled and masochistically attracted by Ulf, Ophelia is repeatedly cornered by him as she grows up; once she escapes the hug by hitting him with a branch of wild roses; another time, he sneaks into her bedroom "in his brutish pertinacity to obtain the hug he had promised himself," but just as he bends over her trembling body, Ophelia is saved by the reappearance of her real mother.
A few years later, back at the court, she discovers the hanged body of another friend, who has killed herself after being "victimized and deserted by the same evil seducer." Not surprisingly, Ophelia breaks down with brain fever—a staple mental illness of Victorian fiction—and has prophetic hallucinations of a brook beneath willow trees where something bad will happen to her. The warnings of Polonius and Laertes have little to add to this history of female sexual trauma.32
On the Victorian stage, it was Ellen Terry, daring and unconventional in her own life, who led the way in acting Ophelia in feminist terms as a consistent psychological study in sexual intimidation, a girl terrified of her father, of her lover, and of life itself. Terry's debut as Ophelia in Henry Irving's production in 1878 was a landmark. According to one reviewer, her Ophelia was "the terrible spectacle of a normal girl becoming hopelessly imbecile as the result of overwhelming mental agony. Hers was an insanity without wrath or rage, without exaltation or paroxysms."33 Her "poetic and intellectual performance" also inspired other actresses to rebel against the conventions of invisibility and negation associated with the part.
Terry was the first to challenge the tradition of Ophelia's dressing in emblematic white. For the French poets, such as Rimbaud, Hugo, Musset, Mallarmé and Laforgue, whiteness was part of Ophelia's essential feminine symbolism; they call her "blanche Ophélia" and compare her to a lily, a cloud, or snow. Yet whiteness also made her a transparency, an absence that took on the colors of Hamlet's moods, and that, for the symbolists like Mallarmé, made her a blank page to be written over or on by the male imagination. Although Irving was able to prevent Terry from wearing black in the mad scene, exclaiming "My God, Madam, there must be only one black figure in this play, and that's Hamlet!" (Irving, of course, was playing Hamlet), nonetheless actresses such as Gertrude Eliot, Helen Maude, Nora de Silva, and in Russia Vera Komisarjevskaya, gradually won the right to intensify Ophelia's presence by clothing her in Hamlet's black.34
By the turn of the century, there was both a male and a female discourse on Ophelia. A. C. Bradley spoke for the Victorian male tradition when he noted in Shakespearean Tragedy (1906) that "a large number of readers feel a kind of personal irritation against Ophelia; they seem unable to forgive her for not having been a heroine."35 The feminist counterview was represented by actresses in such works as Helena Faucit's study of Shakespeare's female characters, and The True Ophelia, written by an anonymous actress in 1914, which protested against the "insipid little creature" of criticism, and advocated a strong and intelligent In woman destroyed by the the heartlessness men.36 In womens paintings of the fin de siècle as well, Ophelia is depicted as an inspiring, even sanctified emblem of righteousness.37
While the widely read and influential essays of Mary Cowden Clarke are now mocked as the epitome of naive criticism, these Victorian studies of the girlhood of Shakespeare's heroines are of course alive and well as psychoanalytic criticism, which has imagined its own prehistories of oedipal conflict and neurotic fixation; and I say this not to mock psychoanalytic criticism, but to suggest that Clarke's musings on Ophelia are a pre-Freudian speculation on the traumatic sources of a female sexual identity. The Freudian interpretation of Hamlet concentrated on the hero, but also had much to do with the re-sexualization of Ophelia. As early as 1900, Freud had traced Hamlet's irresolution to an Oedipus complex, and Ernest Jones, his leading British disciple, developed this view, influencing the performances of John Gielgud and Alec Guinness in the 1930s. In his final version of the study, Hamlet and Oedipus, published in 1949, Jones argued that "Ophelia should be unmistakably sensual, as she seldom is on stage. She may be 'innocent' and docile, but she is very aware of her body."38
In the theater and in criticism, this Freudian edict has produced such extreme readings as that Shakespeare intends us to see Ophelia as a loose woman, and that she has been sleeping with Hamlet. Rebecca West has argued that Ophelia was not "a correct and timid virgin of exquisite sensibilities," a view she attributes to the popularity of the Millais painting; but rather "a disreputable young woman."39 In his delightful autobiography, Laurence Olivier, who made a special pilgrimage to Ernest Jones when he was preparing his Hamlet in the 1930s, recalls that one of his predecessors as actor-manager had said in response to the earnest question, "Did Hamlet sleep with Ophelia?"—"In my company, always."40
The most extreme Freudian interpretation reads Hamlet as two parallel male and female psychodramas, the counterpointed stories of the incestuous attachments of Hamlet and Ophelia. As Theodor Lidz presents this view, while Hamlet is neurotically attached to his mother, Ophelia has an unresolved oedipal attachment to her father. She has fantasies of a lover who will abduct her from or even kill her father, and when this actually happens, her reason is destroyed by guilt as well as by lingering incestuous feelings. According to Lidz, Ophelia breaks down because she fails in the female developmental task of shifting her sexual attachment from her father "to a man who can bring her fulfillment as a woman."41 We see the effects of this Freudian Ophelia on stage productions since the 1950s, where directors have hinted at an incestuous link between Ophelia and her father, or more recently, because this staging conflicts with the usual ironic treatment of Polonius, between Ophelia and Laertes. Trevor Nunn's production with Helen Mirren in 1970, for example, made Ophelia and Laertes flirtatious doubles, almost twins in their matching fur-trimmed doublets, playing duets on the lute with Polonius looking on, like Peter, Paul, and Mary. In other productions of the same period, Marianne Faithfull was a haggard Ophelia equally attracted to Hamlet and Laertes, and, in one of the few performances directed by a woman, Yvonne Nicholson sat on Laertes' lap in the advice scene, and played the part with "rough sexual bravado."42
Since the 1960s, the Freudian representation of Ophelia has been supplemented by an antipsychiatry that represents Ophelia's madness in more contemporary terms. In contrast to the psychoanalytic representation of Ophelia's sexual unconscious that connected her essential femininity to Freud's essays on female sexuality and hysteria, her madness is now seen in medical and biochemical terms, as schizophrenia. This is so in part because the schizophrenic woman has become the cultural icon of dualistic femininity in the mid-twentieth century as the erotomaniac was in the seventeenth and the hysteric in the nineteenth. It might also be traced to the work of R. D. Laing on female schizophrenia in the 1960s. Laing argued that schizophrenia was an intelligible response to the experience of invalidation within the family network, especially to the conflicting emotional messages and mystifying double binds experienced by daughters. Ophelia, he noted in The Divided Self, is an empty space. "In her madness there is no one there.… There is no integral selfhood expressed through her actions or utterances. Incomprehensible statements are said by nothing. She has already died. There is now only a vacuum where there was once a person."43
Despite his sympathy for Ophelia, Laing's readings silence her, equate her with "nothing," more completely than any since the Augustans; and they have been translated into performances which only make Ophelia a graphic study of mental pathology. The sickest Ophelias on the contemporary stage have been those in the productions of the pathologist-director Jonathan Miller. In 1974 at the Greenwich Theatre his Ophelia sucked her thumb; by 1981, at the Warehouse in London, she was played by an actress much taller and heavier than the Hamlet (perhaps punningly cast as the young actor Anton Lesser). She began the play with a set of nervous tics and tuggings of hair which by the mad scene had become a full set of schizophrenic routines—head banging, twitching, wincing, grimacing, and drooling.44
But since the 1970s too we have had a feminist discourse which has offered a new perspective on Ophelia's madness as protest and rebellion. For many feminist theorists, the madwoman is a heroine, a powerful figure who rebels against the family and the social order; and the hysteric who refuses to speak the language of the patriarchal order, who speaks otherwise, is a sister.45 In terms of effect on the theater, the most radical application of these ideas was probably realized in Melissa Murray's agitprop play Ophelia, written in 1979 for the English women's theater group "Hormone Imbalance." In this blank verse retelling of the Hamlet story, Ophelia becomes a lesbian and runs off with a woman servant to join a guerrilla commune.46
While I've always regretted that I missed this production, I can't proclaim that this defiant ideological gesture, however effective politically or theatrically, is all that feminist criticism desires, or all to which it should aspire. When feminist criticism chooses to deal with representation, rather than with women's writing, it must aim for a maximum interdisciplinary context ualism, in which the complexity of attitudes towards the feminine can be analyzed in their fullest cultural and historical frame. The alternation of strong and weak Ophelias on the stage, virginal and seductive Ophelias in art, inadequate or oppressed Ophelias in criticism, tells us how these representations have overflowed the text, and how they have reflected the ideological character of their times, erupting as debates between dominant and feminist views in periods of gender crisis and redefinition. The representation of Ophelia changes independently of theories of the meaning of the play or the Prince, for it depends on attitudes towards women and madness. The decorous and pious Ophelia of the Augustan age and the postmodern schizophrenic heroine who might have stepped from the pages of Laing can be derived from the same figure; they are both contradictory and complementary images of female sexuality in which madness seems to act as the "switching-point, the concept which allows the co-existence of both sides of the representation."47 There is no "true" Ophelia for whom feminist criticism must unambiguously speak, but perhaps only a Cubist Ophelia of multiple perspectives, more than the sum of all her parts.
But in exposing the ideology of representation, feminist critics have also the responsibility to acknowledge and to examine the boundaries of our own ideological positions as products of our gender and our time. A degree of humility in an age of critical hubris can be our greatest strength, for it is by occupying this position of historical self-consciousness in both feminism and criticism that we maintain our credibility in representing Ophelia, and that, unlike Lacan, when we promise to speak about her, we make good our word.
1 Jacques Lacan, "Desire and the interpretation of desire in Hamlet," in Literature and Psychoanalysis: The Question of Reading: Otherwise, ed. Shoshana Felman (Baltimore, 1982), 11, 20, 23. Lacan is also wrong about the etymology of Ophelia, which probably derives from the Greek for "help" or "succour." Charlotte M. Yonge suggested a derivation from "ophis," "serpent." See her History of Christian Names (1884, republished Chicago, 1966), 346-7. I am indebted to Walter Jackson Bate for this reference.
2 Annette Kolodny, "Dancing through the minefield: some observations on the theory, practice, and politics of feminist literary criticism" (Feminist Studies, 6 (1980)), 7.
3 Carol Neely, "Feminist modes of Shakespearean criticism" (Women's Studies, 9 (1981)), 11.
4 Lee Edwards, "The labors of Psyche" (Critical Inquiry, 6 (1979)), 36.
5 Luce Irigaray: see New French Feminisms, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (New York, 1982), 101. The quotation above, from III.ii, is taken from the Arden Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins (London and New York, 1982), 295. All quotations from Hamlet are from this text.
6 On images of negation and feminine enclosure, see David Wilbern, "Shakespeare's 'nothing'," in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, ed. Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélia Kahn (Baltimore, 1981).
7 David Leverenz, "The woman in Hamlet: an interpersonal view" (Signs, 4 (1978)), 303.
8 James Joyce, Ulysses (New York, 1961), 76.
9 Sander L. Gilman, Seeing the Insane (New York, 1981), 126.
10 See Michael Goldman, The Actor's Freedom: Toward a Theory of Drama (New York, 1975), for a stimulating discussion of the interpretative interaction between actor and audience.
11 Bridget Lyons, "The iconography of Ophelia" (English Literary History, 44 (1977)), 61.
12 See Maurice and Hanna Charney, "The language of Shakespeare's madwomen" (Signs, 3 (1977)), 451, 457; and Carroll Camden, "On Ophelia's madness" (Shakespeare Quarterly (1964)), 254.
13 See Margery Garber, Coming of Age in Shakespeare (London, 1981), 155-7; and Lyons, op. cit., 65, 70-2.
14 On dishevelled hair as a signifier of madness or rape, see Charney and Charney, op. cit., 452-3, 457; and Allan Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions and Modern Interpreters (Cambridge, 1984), 36-8. Thanks to Allan Dessen for letting me see advance proofs of his book.
15 Charney and Charney, op. cit., 456.
16 Gaston Bachelard, L'Eau et les rêves (Paris, 1942), 109-25. See also
17 Vieda Skultans, English Madness: Ideas on Insanity 1580-1890 (London, 1977), 79-81. On historical cases of love-melancholy, see Michael MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam (Cambridge, 1982).
18 C. E. L. Wingate, Shakespeare's Heroines on the Stage (New York, 1895), 283-4, 288-9.
19 Charles Hiatt, Ellen Terry (London, 1898), 11.
20 Max Byrd, Visits to Bedlam: Madness and Literature in the Eighteenth Century (Columbia, 1974), xiv.
21 Peter Raby, Fair Ophelia: Harriet Smithson Berlioz (Cambridge, 1982), 63.
22 Ibid., 68.
23 Ibid., 72, 75.
24 Quoted in Camden, op. cit., 247.
25 Raby, op. cit., 182.
26 J. C. Bucknill, The Psychology of Shakespeare (London, 1859, reprinted New York, 1970), 110. For more extensive discussions of Victorian psychiatry and Ophelia figures, see Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture (New York, forthcoming 1985).
27 John Conolly, Study of Hamlet (London, 1863), 177.
28 Ibid., 177-8, 180.
29 Ellen Terry, The Story of My Life (London, 1908), 154.
30 Diamond's photographs are reproduced in Sander L. Gilman, The Face of Madness: Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography (New York, 1976).
31 See Georges Didi-Huberman, L'Invention de l'hystérie (Paris, 1982), and Stephen Heath, The Sexual Fix (London, 1983), 36.
32 Mary Cowden Clarke, The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines (London, 1852). See also
33 Hiatt, op. cit., 114. See also
34 Terry, op. cit., 155-6.
35 Andrew C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (London, 1906), 160.
36 Helena Faucit Martin, On Some of Shakespeare's Female Characters (Edinburgh and London, 1891), 4, 18; and The True Ophelia (New York, 1914), 15.
37 Among these paintings are the Ophelias of Henrietta Rae and Mrs F. Littler. Sarah Bernhardt sculpted a bas relief of Ophelia for the Women's Pavilion at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.
38 Ernest Jones, Hamlet and Oedipus (New York, 1949), 139.
39 Rebecca West, The Court and the Castle (New Haven, 1958), 18.
40 Laurence Olivier, Confessions of an Actor (Harmonds-worth, 1982), 102, 152.
41 Theodor Lidz, Hamlet's Enemy: Madness and Myth in Hamlet (New York, 1975), 88, 113.
42 Richard David, Shakespeare in the Theatre (Cambridge, 1978), 75. This was the production directed by Buzz Goodbody, a brilliant young feminist radical who killed herself that year. See Colin Chambers, Other Spaces: New Theatre and the RSC (London, 1980), especially 63-7.
43 R. D. Laing, The Divided Self (Harmondsworth, 1965), 195n.
44 David, op. cit., 82-3; thanks to Marianne DeKoven, Rutgers University, for the description of the 1981 Warehouse production.
45 See, for example, Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, La Jeune Née (Paris, 1975).
46 For an account of this production, see Micheline Wandor, Understudies: Theatre and Sexual Politics (London, 1981), 47.
47 I am indebted for this formulation to a critique of my earlier draft of this paper by Carl Friedman, at the Wesleyan Center for the Humanities, April 1984.
Jack D'Amico (essay date 1989)
SOURCE: "The Politics of Madness: Junius Brutus in Machiavelli and Shakespeare," in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 4, Summer, 1989, pp. 405-22.
[In the following essay, D'Amico examines the relationship between political power and madness in Shakespeare's plays and Renaissance thought, focusing in particular on the political and dramatic figure of Junius Brutus.]
By this means, quoth he, nothing else will be brought to pass, but whiles that I go about to remedy the madness of others I should be even as mad as they.…
Wherefore Plato by a goodly similitude declareth why wise men refrain to meddle in the commonwealth. For when they see the people swarm into the streets, and daily wet to the skin with rain, and yet cannot persuade them to go out of the rain and to take their houses, knowing well that if they should go out to them they should nothing prevail nor win aught by it but with them be wet also in the rain, they do keep themselves within their houses, being content that they be safe themselves, seeing they cannot remedy the folly of the people.
Utopia, Book I; reference to Republic 6.496 D-E
From Plato to Sir Thomas More, it has long been considered a form of madness for a wise man to become involved in the real world of politics. The more enlightened the participant, the more likely it is that he or she will be driven crazy by the futility of trying to get fools to come in out of the rain, or be maddened by the scornful disregard the powerful visit upon the wise. From this point of view there exists an insuperable barrier between wisdom and politics, a barrier created by a combination of folly and the conflicting interests of philosophers and governors. This essay will examine in Junius Brutus a political figure who alters this relationship, for Junius Brutus uses the apparent folly of his private life to overcome the madness of tyranny and return Rome to the sanity of republican government.
In his debate with Hythloday, More makes the point that radical advice will seem crazy, or abrupt, unless couched in terms that the worldly recognize and can respond to. The wise man, he says, must be a persuasive actor taking his cue from the modes of discourse, the habits of thought, and the customs familiar to his audience. To participate in the political world means to act a part convincingly. The political role is the role of madman or fool only as perceived by the wise; it passes for sanity out in the rain. The wise counselor must control this duality, retaining inner equilibrium while adopting those persuasive styles of speech, dress, and gesture that will charm an audience. It is precisely the ability to maintain this equilibrium, and to effect change, that Raphael Hythloday questions. For Hythloday, the sharp distinction between inner wisdom and the role one must play out in society, or deep within a prince's council chamber, constitutes a threat to sanity.
We have been speaking, thus far, of the wise counselor or guide. When we consider the philosopher-king, like More's King Utopus, we find wisdom and power joined. The political and social system created by such an individual may in all or certain respects appear foolish to outsiders (as do marriage customs in The Republic, or in Utopia) but the paradoxical relationship between wisdom and power disappears inside the system. Access to power is via intellect, not via a Lilliputian performance designed to catch the attention of fools, or to conceal radical ideas from those who fear such ideas.
But what of the person who puts on the garb of madman or fool as a means of gaining or of wielding power? In the real world the philosopher-king often gives way to the fool-king, but in the example of a Junius Brutus a dramatic moment transforms the seeming fool into an effective leader. While the counselor may, in a sense, play the fool to make palatable his radical ideas, Junius Brutus uses folly as protection, as a prelude to leadership which keeps potential opponents off-balance. As interpreted by Machiavelli and Shakespeare, the Junius Brutus model focuses attention on what we might call the politics of madness. In the very real world of Livy's History, Machiavelli's Discourses, and Shakespeare's Henry V madness becomes both a refuge and an ambush, a political stratagem that requires a considerable degree of control over private objectives and public guises. Perceived irrationality, such as Nikita Khrushchev's shoe-banging out-burst at the United Nations, functions as a stratagem, as long as it is in fact a controlled performance. As a contrasting example, Hamlet demonstrates the problem of maintaining a strategic separation between private standards and political action. In Hamlet's case, we are not sure whether irrational behavior is a stratagem, or a symptom of this split between the inner life and the demands of public life.
Differing cultural definitions of madness can make it difficult to decide whether the behavior of a feared adversary is a sign of some dangerous instability, a form of cultural or religious madness, or merely their way of doing things. In Act II, scene iv of Shakespeare's Henry V the French King reviews the steps that have been taken to defend his nation against the invading English. His son, the Dauphin, regards the English attack as no more threatening than "a Whitsun morris-dance" because the English are "idly king'd" by "a vain, giddy, shallow, humorous youth," the erst-while Prince Hal of Eastcheap. To this remark, the Constable responds that the Dauphin has misjudged the man who is now King Henry V:
you shall find his vanities forespent Were but the outside of the Roman Brutus, Covering discretion with a coat of folly.… (II, iv, 36-38)
The Constable refers to Lucius Junius Brutus whose "coat of folly" Shakespeare probably would have known from Livy's History I, 56, where we learn that Brutus masked his true character while the tyrant Tarquin attacked the Roman nobility. Pretending to be dull or stupid (hence the appelation "brutus"), Brutus protected himself against a ruler who respected no rights.
Brutus subsequently led the overthrow of the Tarquins after Sextus Tarquinius had raped Lucretia and she had committed suicide. The union of apparent folly and deep prudence in the life of Brutus creates a striking political example. His willingness to be mocked, to lose his patrimony, and to appear a person of no account serves the public good. Posing no apparent threat, Brutus remains free to bide his time, awaiting the opportunity provided by the rape of Lucretia to lead Rome back to its republican freedoms. It is as much the dramatic transformation in his character as the suicide of Lucretia which arouses the Romans and leads to the banishment and eventual death of the Tarquins.
In his narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare describes the sudden transformation of Brutus as the throwing off of a "shallow habit" and the putting on of his long-hid wit (1807-17). Having played the court jester, esteemed "As silly jeering idiots are with king, / For sportive words and utt'ring foolish things" Brutus reveals the "deep policy" that had dictated the outward garb. His wit becomes identified with the knife Lucrece used to preserve her honor, a knife now turned against the Tarquins. Having "arm'd his long-hid wits advisedly" Brutus can seize the occasion and turn tears of sorrow to rage.
Shakespeare may have picked up the image of Brutus as a court jester from Livy's account of how Tarquin's sons, Arruns and Titus, took Brutus on a visit to Delphi to amuse themselves. When the brothers asked who will be the next king of Rome, the oracle gave the mysterious answer: "The highest power of Rome shall be his, young men, who shall be first among you to kiss his mother." While the brothers drew lots to determine who should return to Rome and kiss their mother first, Brutus had reached a different conclusion: "pretending to stumble, he fell and touched his lips to Earth, evidently regarding her as the common mother of all mortals" (I, 56, 197). The comic pratfall both conceals his cleverness and serves as a means of fulfilling his political ambition.
Similarly, Shakespeare's Prince Hal covers his discretion with a coat of folly before burying the old self with his dead father (and Falstaff) and putting on the "state and pride" of kingship. As early as Henry IV, Part 1, the Prince refers to his loose behavior as something he can and will "throw of f (I, ii, 203). Claiming he imitates the sun which permits base clouds to smother or seem to strangle him, the Prince predicts a change in his behavior, a reformation that will shine all the more impressively for having been temporarily covered or obscured by his loose behavior.
The Prince is not, of course, protecting himself from a tyrant. The danger of tyranny rests within Hal's own sportive flaunting of the law. From the point of view expressed by Hotspur and the rebels, Henry IV might be seen as a Tarquin who, having used them to gain power, now seeks to destroy the nobility (I, ii, 168ff.).
On the other hand, the Prince's sportive behavior typifies the Lancastrians because it puts his opponents off their guard. The father had once thrown off the base garb of exile in a daring bid for power. Recounting that transformation to Hal, the King compares the impact his reappearance made to a holiday or feast more appreciated for its rarity:
My presence, like a robe pontifical, Ne'er seen but wonder'd at, and so my state, Seldom, but sumptuous, show'd like a feast, And wan by rareness and solemnity. (III, ii, 56-59)
For Henry it was King Richard who wore the coat of folly and played the court jester: "The skipping King, he ambled up and down, / With shallow jesters, and rash bavin wits" (60-61). Prince Henry answers the accusation that he is as much a fool as Richard II was by promising a transformation through battle, a dramatic public reversal that will strike the citizens of England as rare precisely because of his former behavior. While the father had carefully built up his public image, the son will, more like Brutus, undergo a sudden change:
I will redeem all this on Percy's head, And in the closing of some glorious day Be bold to tell you that I am your son, When I will wear a garment all of blood, And stain my favours in a bloody mask, Which, wash'd away, shall scour my shame with it.… (III, ii, 132-37)
The dramatic change in character is again marked by a death and consecrated in blood. We can never be quite sure whether we witness a conversion, as the words reformation and redeem would suggest, or something closer to what Brutus effected—the outward revelation of a preconceived political design that cleverly employed a kind of madness.
When the Prince becomes King (2 Henry IV, IV, v, 200) and wears the garment of Lancastrian rule successively, he performs a symbolic act of tyrannicide.
He does not, to be sure, restore a republic as Junius Brutus had done. But in burying the father who came to the thrown by crooked byways and becoming himself the embodiment of legal succession, he kills off both the justification for rebellion and the potential for tyrannical rule. His reconciliation with the Lord Chief Justice establishes the character of his rule. The "new and gorgeous garment, majesty," will be worn, Henry says, in the English, not the despotic Turkish style (V, ii, 44). Having risked his personal reputation, he can bury the past and establish a degree of political legitimacy that might have eluded a more conventional heir.
Henry's use of disguise before the battle of Agincourt (Henry V, IV, i) can be seen as the continued use in power of a device first employed to legitimize power. As King and father, he tests the loyalty of his citizen-sons before the great crisis of the new political order. The striking interplay between folly and wit continues, with the King taking on the role of the trickster in his conversation with the soldiers Williams and Bates. He answers their questions about the Tightness of his cause and the responsibility for lost lives and damned souls by separating the commands a father or King gives from the spiritual salvation of his citizen-sons. We recall that by means of the execution of his sons (Livy, II, 5), Junius Brutus taught members of the republic to distance themselves from their appetite for the old regime and to separate the demands of the state from the natural attachment to the family. In what he tells his citizen-soldiers before the battle, Henry makes it clear that the King and his fellow Englishmen are one family bound together by the political traditions and the customs of the nation. But as their legitimate leader, he may have to send them into battle, obliging them to sacrifice "those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle" (IV, i, 136) while they carry out his political errands. He cannot take responsibility for their appetites or for the sins they carry into battle; they may have to die for the regime and it is necessary that a leader be able to sacrifice citizen-sons, former friends or brothers, to the security of the state. Henry never answers the question of whether his responsibility extends to the justness of the battle itself, because the war will serve to unify the nation.
When Henry reflects on his conversation with com mon men who think the King less vulnerable and more responsible than they are, he focuses on ceremony. The man whose early disguise as fool helped him conceal his sharp wit looks out from behind the whole ceremonial apparatus of government. Isolated within the forms of public life, he seems to miss the natural rhythms of work and sleep that dominate the life of the "wretched slave." Those guises through which the active mind operates lead to the security of a "bed majestical." But the bed cannot provide contentment. For the English King understands that effective political action requires constant wakefulness.
From the point of view of simple soldiers there is a kind a madness in the ambition of a conquering prince and folly in the constant vigilance required to maintain power. Having cast off the garb of madcap prince, the King puts on the ceremonial robe of ruler, only to find himself in many ways the fool of his own ambition. But we know this man will not crack. For him even the irrational furor of battle can be considered a mask, or a stratagem, the kind of calculated demonstration of total war that is more frightening to an opponent because it combines "licentious wickedness" with control, "the cool and temperate wind of grace" (Henry V, III, iii). The "discretion" which Henry hid behind "the outside of the Roman Brutus" allowed him to establish himself as a new prince and to identify the Lancastrian dynasty with his conquests rather than with his father's dubious claim to the throne. This personal and public renewal of political order does not, however, last beyond his own lifetime; after Henry's death England collapses into the folly of civil war. Henry is what Machiavelli would surely call a man of great virtù, but unlike Junius Brutus he does not quite succeed in using the politics of madness to effect a lasting renewal of the state.
Machiavelli begins Book III of the Discourses with a discussion of how to renew a state's orders. External pressure can, occasionally, force a reformation, a return to good government and self-sacrifice. Good orders within the state effect such reform without the danger posed by outside intervention; or a good man, someone of exemplary virtù, may lead citizens back to civic health. Machiavelli cites Junius Brutus (III, 2) as one such exemplary individual, noteworthy for the prudence and wisdom displayed in his feigned stoltizia (stupidity). Claiming that Livy gives no reason for his dissimulation other than Brutus' desire to live securely with his patrimony, Machiavelli judges that Brutus sought the right occasion to overthrow the Tarquins. Since Brutus was an unarmed individual looking for the opportunity to take political action against a powerful tyrant, his tactic provides an example to those who are discontented with a prince. Machiavelli claims that, for such an individual, the less dangerous and more honorable course would be to wage war, provided that he has assessed his forces and has found them adequate. Lacking the military force needed to be an enemy, one must turn to the exemplary tactic used by Junius Brutus. One must appear to be a friend. In Machiavelli's interpretation, the unarmed and discontented individual must draw near the prince, his enemy, seeking to encourage those things which delight the prince. By means of this closeness (dimestichezza) the malcontent achieves security within the very regime to be undermined.
Machiavelli shifts from referring to all those who are discontented to the singular and familiar you. What does Machiavelli mean when he says that you will have the means to satisfy your soul (e ti arreca ogni commodità di sodisfare allo animo tuo)? He might refer to the satisfaction derived from restoring a republican form of government, as Junius Brutus did. Or the satisfaction may come, whatever the new regime, with the shift from the guise of private flatterer to a position of authority. According to Machiavelli, no apolitical middle ground exists at a safe distance from the prince; any attempt to distance oneself from the center of power will not, he says, be taken at face value. Anyone considered apt for politics, identified in any way with some opposition past or present, will be watched by the prince and sought out by other malcontents. Hence, the necessity to create a screen by playing the fool or madman (fare il pazzo . . . fa il matto). Machiavelli eventually employs stronger terms than the stultizia of his opening sentence. Opposition between the bent of your soul and all that gives delight to the prince stands at the center of the madness which is less safe and less honorable than open military opposition. One plays the madman by laudando, parlando, veggendo, faccendo cose contro allo animo tuo per compiacere al principe (III, 2, 385); that is, one must know how to priase, speak, observe and do for the prince while concealing contrary interests and delights within one's own soul. The madness appears not so much in the outward behavior as in the inner tension. The verbs suggest something closer to the activities of a courtier, perhaps a counselor, one who can delight with comedies and know how to conceal intentions, someone like Machiavelli, Ariosto, or Tasso. You must know yourself and the prince, must be distant intellectually while also close at hand (stringersi con loro). In the Discourses I, 58 Machiavelli says that the prince who disregards the law and follows his desire is mad. In the example of Junius Brutus, as developed by Machiavelli (III, 2), we find a man who must play at and with madness while awaiting the opportunity to reveal inner sanity. For Machiavelli, the malcontent who plays the fool is only mad when judged by the standard of his own soul. It is essential that the malcontent not appear mad to his opponents, as Livy's Junius Brutus did. Knowing how to speak the language and encourage the delights of the court, the Machiavellian Brutus will appear most sane from its point of view. This is a dangerous game and a dishonorable one, as Machiavelli indicates, because it requires something more than the covering of stupidity that makes one appear of no account. The Machiavellian disguise requires active participation, the dishonor of playing up to delights repugnant to one's soul. This tension may also lead to greater release or satisfaction in the political act that eventually satisfies the inner self and destroys the existing regime.
However, the tension between intention and appearance never reaches the level of contradiction we might identify with Hythloday's position because Machiavelli does not introduce an alternative to the political life.
What delights one's soul, as opposed to the prince, would be a different political order, not the rejection of politics. Playing up to the prince remains a strategic maneuver executed by a conspirator whose inner objectives are clear.
When the division between private intention and public role threatens one's sanity (as was suggested by Hythloday), the temptation is to abandon politics. The strategic separation that becomes an irreconcilable division brings us to the ever-fascinating example of Hamlet, a figure intertwined with madness, politics and philosophy. After having seen his father's ghost, Hamlet enjoins Horatio, in a much discussed passage, not to reveal what has transpired on the battlements. He does this by way of preparation for any alteration in his behavior that a friend might attribute to the night's strange events. He will "bear" himself in a manner that will seem strange or odd and will put on an antic disposition, a somewhat theatrical guise. Hamlet seems to test out some forms of impersonation when describing the odd gestures and phrases he might use (I, v, 175-88). While an observer might judge Hamlet to have been unhinged by his encounter with the ghost, he anticipates an occasion ("As I perchance hereafter shall think meet") that will require precisely this behavior and make it appropriate. Like Junius Brutus, Hamlet will adopt the outward guise of one distracted, while inwardly retaining his armed wit.
However, instead of allowing him to bide his time unregarded, Hamlet's way of playing the madman, as first reported by Ophelia, draws considerable attention to the Prince (II, i, 76-84). Of course Hamlet has the disadvantage of his pre-antic reputation as a student. Even allowing for some exaggeration from the ill-treated but still loving Ophelia, we have to remember what he had been: "Th'expectancy and rose of the fair state, / The glass of fashion and the mould of form" (III, i, 154-55). If he was observed before, he is certainly noted after he begins to mock the glass of fashion.
Claudius calls the change a "transformation" because to him neither the exterior nor "inward man / Resembles that it was" (II, ii, 5-8). To be effective as a disguise, or a blind from which the seeming madman can strike, the guise must be convincing. If we recall Machiavelli's advice, the man who would follow Junius Brutus must know his own soul. To play the fool effectively, the inward man must remain fixed, merely awaiting the occasion to throw off the disguise and take effective political action. And the hated opponent must not suspect. Hamlet must undergo a double transformation, first from scholar to son whose noble mind seems "o'erthrown" and then from madman to armed avenger.
Hamlet certainly does not seek to please the tyrant, drawing close to what delights him in the Machiavelian mode. For all his interest in the profession of acting, Hamlet does not have the distance on himself that might allow him to delight Claudius while awaiting the opportunity to please his own soul by destroying the man he had beguiled. His "O what a rogue" (II, ii, 544) and "How all occasions" (IV, iv, 32) soliloquies echo Machiavelli's judgment that warfare would constitute the safer and more honorable course of action. It is in the players and a speech they bring to mind that Hamlet seems to discover the key to a Machiavellian form of entertainment that will serve his soul's intent. Pyrrhus and the Greeks used the inoffensive appearance of the Trojan horse to conceal their armed intent (II, ii, 450); Hamlet's wit, or brains (1. 584) hatch a theatrical plot, his not-so-entertaining Murder of Gonzago. What his soul loves, however, is to know or note, rather than to flatter and then destroy.
Knowledge becomes more important to Hamlet than it is to the Junius Brutus figure because the intent behind his disguise aims at a particular man, the man who killed his father (if he did) and corrupted his mother. Only the death of that man will satisfy his soul. Junius Brutus seizes the occasion of Lucretia's honorable suicide to transform tears of suffering into political action. He leads the Romans against the institution of kingship, not against the particular rapist. By attacking the institution, he attacks the root cause of abuse; he forces the weeping Collatine to integrate personal grief with public rebellion. By requiring those who follow him against the Tarquins to swear by the Capitol, Lucretia's chaste blood and soul, heaven's fair sun, the country's rights and the bloody knife, Brutus draws together familial, civic and heavenly orders. Machiavelli underlines the political character of these events in Book III, Chapter 5, where he observes that the rape would not have caused the downfall of the Tarquins if the King had not lost political support. Junius Brutus knew how to focus private outrage on the political weakness of a ruler who undermined his own authority by disregarding the law and governing tyrannically.
While Junius Brutus knows his own soul and his commitment to the spirit of republican freedom, the spirit of Hamlet's father calls for personal revenge and starts a different kind of assessment of the hero's spiritual forces. Hamlet's irrational outbursts are at times a stratagem, the politics of madness, but at others a very personal reaction to the madness of Elsinore.
As Machiavelli says of the malcontent, no one will believe his claim to be without political ambition. Hamlet cannot become the man who hides behind the mask of fool, though he uses that guise to put off the spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (II, ii 228 & 251). And that dangerous, if not mad young man uses the cover of darkness on board ship to ambush Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as he is being escorted to England. Typically, however, at the moment when Hamlet's deep-hid wit takes action—"Or I could make a prologue to my brains / They had begun the play" (V, ii, 30-31)—he has no audience and is far from court. He has, that is, no audience but Horatio to whom he recounts the stealthy cleverness with which he devised a new commission that would lead his escorts to sudden death. He remains concealed behind the fair hand used to counterfeit the commission and his "father's signet" used to seal it.
When Hamlet returns to England, he discovers in a graveyard the skull of a jester, a man who knew how to delight and whose gibes, gambols, songs and flashes of merriment (V, i, 183) are of the kind a Machiavellian malcontent might employ to amuse and distract a high and mighty king before taking him down. But even as he recollects "poor Yorick" Hamlet dismisses the imperial rulers Alexander and Caesar, high and mighty rulers who died and returned to dust.
When we see Hamlet in V, ii, surrounded by the shows and deadly props contrived by Claudius, we cannot compare him to a Junius Brutus. Despite his antic disposition and his whirling words, he is not the man who can turn a personal tragedy to political advantage. He berates Ophelia and his mother for allowing themselves to be used by "a vice of kings, / A cutpurse of the empire and the rule" (III, iv, 98-99) but it is Laertes who, unlike Junius Brutus, tries to transform personal loss, the murder of his father and suicide of his sister, into a political uprising. When we reflect on Hamlet's antic disposition and compare it to the behavior of Prince Hal or Junius Brutus, it appears more an expression than a cover, not a guise put on to be thrown off at the opportune moment but the prolonged weighing of inner forces. His dazzling performance includes politics but pushes toward some quintessence in man that cannot be acted out on the political stage. Effective political action of the kind represented by Junius Brutus and praised by Machiavelli requires a cool assessment of what your soul loves and of what delights both victims and rulers of the regime you would destroy.
How do we distinguish the madness of politics from the politics of madness? To maintain power, a tyrant-despot will behave in ways normal men consider insane. Can we measure the politics of madness with reference to inner control and do we know enough to judge whether the man of action controls, or is controlled by the robe he puts on? We often let the event, success or failure in performance decide. Machiavelli's prince must be lion and fox, which means that he must know how and when to change. Unpredictable behavior, as judged by others, can be a source of power and the key to survival, for the great leader must know how to change as conditions change (Prince, 25). The politics of madness requires great self control, even when breaking the norms others live by; the madness of politics surfaces when we consider the difficulty of meeting the ever-changing conditions of fortune with always the right guise. For those who must judge from a distance it may be impossible to reach a sane conclusion—are We seeing another act in the ongoing drama of political madness, or being manipulated by an actor who knows how to employ the politics of madness?
Today we often consider this question under the rubric of character. When we ask whether a public figure is fit to bear the responsibilities of public office, the question seems to slide from the moral to the pragmatic. We look for some sign of the private self behind the public guise; a break in self-control, the flare up of lust or anger signals weakness and may cause indecisive leadership. Whether mad, or simply bad, the leader's lack of judgment poses a threat to the nation. We do not like to think of public and private roles as masks, guises that can be put on or taken off to suit the interests of an ambitious politician. We look for integrity, wholeness.
As Machiavelli suggests, playing the Junius Brutus role is often demeaning, less honorable than an armed up-rising or coup. In some form, the madness of politics derives from this split between the public and private selves, the inner and outer worlds. Though political systems may differ, each requires a kind of performance only acceptable to the wise because it constitutes a prelude to power, or to what pleases the soul. In a democracy a candidate for public office will have to play out many roles. Just as Machiavelli's Brutus figure must play the madman in order to please the prince, while concealing his true intentions, a candidate may have to please the public by saying what the polls tell her the people want to hear. The divided self becomes a condition of political life.
It would be a necessary part of the politics of madness to control this split. If there is no division we are left with another version of the madness of politics, for one who is no more than a court jester, the prince's yes man, or the slave of public opinion can please but cannot govern. We require some inner resolve or toughness that may not be at all pleasing, something like the action Brutus takes against his own sons once he is in power. Does anyone expect candidates to behave in office as they do while on the campaign trail? Would the genuine fool make the best candidate, one of us, out in the rain and pleased to be there?
It is an inescapable paradox that the Junius Brutus figure succeeds because he can remain for a time hidden. The guise of fool or madman provides protective camouflage for one who is capable of enacting a sudden transformation. But there is danger in gambling everything on the dramatic moment. Fortune provides Junius Brutus with the tragic rape and suicide of Lucretia, Prince Hal finds the right foil in Hotspur, while for Hamlet either the occasion eludes him or the political role is not ultimately what he seeks. To reverse the public image of philanderer a contemporary figure would need a similar blend of skill and good fortune.
It may seem madness to play the fool if fortune never provides the dramatic opportunity it did for Brutus when he "pluck'd the knife from Lucrece' side.… Burying in Lucrece' wound his folly's show" (Lucrece, 1807-10). Fortune—the woman Machiavelli tells us a prince must master (Prince, 25)—provides the occasion to bury shame and to redeem honor. The question of whether Machiavelli considered women capable of rule is beyond the scope of this essay, but it is worth noting that Machiavelli's own version of Lucretia, his Lucrezia in the play Mandragola, is described as "fit to govern a kingdom" (I, 3) and she does rule the domestic kingdom at the conclusion of the play, just as an older wife rules in his Clizia (there are also striking instances of women demonstrating exemplary virtù in the last book of his Florentine Histories). Lucrezia is particularly noteworthy because in the last scene of the play she is very much in control of outward appearances and the hidden truth of her relationship with Callimaco, while he, the masculine hero, has never been in control of the divisions he experiences (see IV, 1), hence his need to rely on Ligurio as a counselor and guide.
Junius Brutus stands out as a hero who reconciles opposites, including the passive and active roles traditionally identified as feminine and masculine. If we equate occasion, or fortune with Lucretia, this woman abused provides not only the opportunity for the hero to demonstrate his mastery of fortune but also the heroic example that becomes the catalyst for his transformation from a passive fool to a man of action. This dramatic union of opposites make Junius Brutus a character particularly attractive to writers such as Machiavelli and Shakespeare, men who are reflective but who draw their intellectual energy from the lively, paradoxical world of political realism. Thomas More's spokesman Raphael Hythloday rejects all "deep policy" and turns from the real world of European kings and princes to the "wise and godly ordinances of the Utopians." But he can do so only by excluding from consideration the madness of politics and that fascinating complexity which makes Junius Brutus a figure worthy of our study and perhaps even imitation.
Karin S. Coddon (essay date 1989)
SOURCE: "'Suche Strange Desygns': Madness, Subjectivity, and Treason in Hamlet and Elizabethan Culture," in Renaissance Drama, n. s. Vol. XX, 1989, pp. 51-75.
[In this essay, Coddon uses the transgression and punishment of Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex,as an example of how Shakespeare's depiction of madness functions within—and against—structures of Elizabethan power, and asserts that "Shakespeare's investigation of the interplay of unreason's 'strange desygns' and the 'wild minds' of the body politic stands in reciprocal rather than imitative relation to the offstage drama of disobedience and melancholy, treason and madness, that led Robert Devereux to the scaffold."]
"For, to define true madness, What is it but to be nothing else but mad?" reasons Polonius (2.2.92-94). Whether Robert Devereux; second earl of Essex, was actually mad in any clinical sense of the word is not an issue for historicism.1 But that his "madness" was poor Robert's—and ultimately, the Tudor state's—enemy may be as illuminating for discussions of madness in Shakespearean tragedy as humoral psychology and the vogue of melancholy. Essex seems to have suffered from what Timothie Bright would have called a "melancholie madnesse," replete with bouts of near-stuporous despair and religious mania (2). The possibility that the earl was punished with a "sore distraction" is frequently viewed as a kind of colorful biographical sidelight to the rebellion of 1601: Essex, "brilliant, melancholy and ill-fated," becomes the embodiment of the Elizabethan mal du siècle, his Icarian fall mirroring the fate of a generation of aspiring minds.2 "The flowre of chivalrie" who fell heir in his own lifetime to the heroic legacy of Sir Philip Sidney, Essex has been identified as the historical inspiration for Henry Bolingbroke, Hamlet, and Antony. But the affinities between Essex and the heroes of Shakespearean drama evoked in contemporary accounts of the earl's madness suggest a reciprocity more complex than a mere one-to-one correspondence between history and fictions. Essex's madness, whatever its precise pathological nature, was profoundly engaged in his transgressions as subject, according to John Harington's diary entry of a few months prior to the insurrection:
It restesthe wythe me in opynion, that ambition thwarted in its career, dothe speedilie leade on to madnesse; herein I am strengthened by what I learne in my Lord of Essex, who shyftethe from sorrowe and repentaunce to rage and rebellion so suddenlie, as well provethe him devoide of good reason or righte mynde; in my last discourse, he uttered suche strange desygns that made me hastene forthe, and leave his absence; thank heaven I am safe at home, and if I go in suche troubles againe, I deserve the gallowes for a meddlynge foole: His speeches of the Queene becomethe no man who hathe mens sana in corpore sano. He hathe ill advysors, and much evyll hathe sprunge from thys source. The Queene well knowethe how to humble the haughtie spirit, the haughtie spirit knowethe not how to yield, and the mans soule seemeth tossede to and fro, like the waves of a troubled sea. (225-26)
Harington attributes Essex's madness to "ambition thwarted in its career," articulating a Tudor and Stuart commonplace: "Ambition, madam, is a great man's madness."3 But in Harington's discourse the causal relation between overreaching and insanity is ambiguous; ambition may "speedilie leade on to madnesse," but madness spurs the subjective overthrow of the pales and forts of reason that should constrain the "haughtie spirit." The discourse of madness becomes virtually indistinguishable from the discourse of treason: "he uttered…strange desygns"; "His speeches of the Queene becomethe no man who hathe mens sana in corpore sano"; "the haughtie spirit knowethe not how to yield." Harington finds Essex's madness so alarming not because it is irrational but because it speaks "strange desygns": reason, or treason, in madness. And yet he represents Essex nonetheless as a victim as well as violator subjected by his own disordered subjectivity: "the mans soule seemeth tossede to and fro, like the waves of a troubled sea." The mad Robert Devereux is, then, as radically self-divided a subject as Hamlet, though not because the fictive prince was "inspired" by the historical earl. Madness is mighty opposite of the ideology of self-government, or what Mervyn James has called the "internalization of obedience" (44). As such, madness disintegrates the identity so precariously fashioned by notions of inward control and self-vigilance, notions whose contradictions become increasingly critical toward the end of Elizabeth's rule. Madness renders the subject not more but less himself; it becomes the internalization of disobedience, prerequisite and portent of the external violation of order.4
Not all of Essex's transgressions against Elizabethan authority, of course, were merely internal. Yet even at the height of his political/erotic courtship of the queen, his potentially unruly disposition is a topic of courtly conversation. William Camden recalls of Essex, "Nor was he excusable in his deportment to the Queen herself, whom he treated with a sort of insolence, that seemed to proceed rather from a mind that wanted ballast, than any real pride in him . . ." (qtd. in Matter 5; emphasis mine). That Camden casts the earl's "insolence" as a psychological rather than spiritual defect is a telling qualification. Essex's subjectivity becomes the site of the displacement of sin by disorder; the Luciferean sin of pride has metamorphosed into a dangerous inward unfixity. This apparent displacement does not mitigate the earl's "insolence" so much as it inscribes the inextricable—but here, disturbingly precarious—relation between subject and subjectivity; the instability of the latter is reciprocally engaged in the performance of the former, as in Harington's description of the "haughtie spirit." This shift from soul to subjectivity is bound up in the cultural shift from medieval ecclesiastical authority to Renaissance secular authority; as the sinner was to the Church, now the disordered subjectivity is to the secular state. Subjectivity, "a mind that want[s] ballast," is identified as the site of potential transgression and the object of authority and control.
The period between 1597 and 1601 saw the deterioration of Essex's favored position with Elizabeth, a change that would culminate in the queen's fateful refusal to renew the lucrative sweet wines monopoly. But Essex's fall from grace was only partly due to the parsimony and caprice of the aging queen. In 1598 occurred the notorious ear-boxing incident, in which Essex responded to Elizabeth's sharp cuff on the ear by reaching for his sword. The apparent if swiftly checked impulse toward regicide was compounded by Essex's self-justification questioning the infallibility of the sovereign will. "What, cannot Princes err? cannot subjects receive wrong? Is an earthly power or authority infinite?" he wrote in a letter to Sir Thomas Egerton. "Pardon me, pardon me, my good lord, I can never subscribe to such principles" (qtd. in Lacey 213). But "such principles" were precisely those to which Tudor propaganda demanded subscription:
al subjects are bounden to obey [Magistrates] as god's ministers: yea although they be evil, not only for feare, but also for conscience's sake…let al marke diligently, that it is not lawful for inferiours and subjectes, in any case to resist or stand against the superior powers: for s. Paule's words be plain, that whosoever withstandeth the ordinaunce of god. (An Exhortation concerning good order and obedience, to rulers and Magistrates)5
Moreover, the writer of the Exhortation deems it "an intolerable ignoraunce, madnes, and wickednes, for subjectes to make any murmuring, rebellyon, resistance or withstanding, commocion, or insurrection against there most dere and most dred soveraygne Lord and king …" (66; emphasis mine). Essex's outrage may have been as temperamental as political, the effect of what Egerton diplomatically referred to as his need "to conquer [himjself," but the surly defiance of his letter accords with the "strange desygns" that perturbed Harington and the sometimes flagrant insubordination that characterized the earl's misadventures in Ireland in 1599. Openly disregarding the queen's orders, Essex conferred knighthood upon over eighty members of his company "without even the justification of a military victory."6 But when he chose to return to England against the queen's wishes, and burst in upon a half-dressed Elizabeth in her private chamber, his violation of the boundaries of subject took on yet more dangerous implications. If his making for his sword symbolically threatened the queen's body politic, his intrusion into her private room also threatened the sacred, gendered body of the royal virgin.7 Just as the subject's identity was enabled by his inward and outward adherence to the prescriptions of authority, the monarch's identity depended upon the uniformity of obedience, as Elizabeth well understood: "I am no Queen. That man is above me," she raged to her godson Harington (Nugae Antiquae 134). Like Diana surprised by Actaeon, Elizabeth exacted physical punishment upon the intruder, though confinement, not dismemberment, was Essex's sentence. Essex spent nearly six months in the custody of the Lord Keeper Egerton. A letter from John Donne, then secretary to the Lord Keeper, to Henry Wotton provides a window into the perception of the prisoner's condition:
He withers still in his sicknes & plods on to his end in the same pace where you left us. the worst accidents of his sicknes are that he conspires with it & that it is not here beleeved. that which was sayd of Cato that his age understood him not I feare may be averted of your lord that he understood not his age: for it is a naturali weaknes of innocency. that such men want lockes for themselves and keyse for others. (Qtd. in Bald 108)8
While Essex was hardly suspected of putting on an antic disposition, Donne's comments reveal the degree to which the physical and mental anguish of the insubordinate earl was subjected to political scrutiny.
"Madness in great ones must not unwatched go" (3.1.89), Claudius observes in Hamlet. With Essex's most erratic behavior explicitly bound up in gestures of disobedience, his inward distress ("he conspires with it") becomes as suspect as his public comportment. Donne's conclusion "that such men want lockes for themselves and keyse for others" is of a piece with Harington's comment that "the Queene well knowethe how to humble the haughtie spirit, the haughtie spirit knowethe not how to yield," and with Camden's reference to Essex's "mind that wanted balast." All three observations imply an antagonism not only between the subject and power, but between subjectivity and power, anticipating both the confrontation and the outcome. It is an agon in which the subject necessarily turns upon the "self as well as upon authority. For if, as Foucault has suggested, power is realized and resisted in its effects, i.e., in its "government of individualization," contestation disrupts the "form of power which makes individuals subjects"—subjects in both senses of the word.9 The problem of containment becomes one of confinement. The disruption of the internalized relation between authority and inwardness transforms the dialogue of "subjectification" into a problem of material subjugation: as authority gives way to coercion, the body, not subjectivity, becomes its object. Ultimately, "a mind that want[s] ballast" can be disciplined only by the exaction of punishment upon the body. In Hamlet, the restoration of the "mad" hero's wits is necessarily punctuated by the death that swiftly follows his recovery of sanity. If the deployment of physical punishment transforms as much as fulfills power relations ("The Subject and Power" 794-95), the literal silencing of madness by confinement, constraint, or extinction of the body is itself an unstable strategy of containment. For the division of inwardness and the body that enables post-Reformation subjectivity situates madness nonetheless in the equivocal space between interiority and exteriority. Neither wholly confined to nor estranged from inwardness, madness in its semiotic excess problematizes the closure that is the object of rites of punishment, on both the stage and the scaffold.
Historian Lacey Baldwin Smith remarks that "[b]y the time Essex turned to treason, the deterioration in his character had passed beyond the point of hysteria: it was bordering on insanity which led him to confuse the fantasies of his own sick brain with reality" (The Elizabethan World 266). Smith's reference to the rebellion as "an act of political madness" seems particularly resonant precisely because it may be tacitly redundant: was Essex's madness—or the madness of great ones, both onstage and at court—ever not "political," that is, charged with implications against the inscription of order, obedience, and authority that fashioned and controlled identity in late Tudor and early Stuart England? When Essex's "strange desygns" finally bodied forth action on February 8, 1601, the equivocal boundaries between representation and rebellion almost wholly collapse, though not quite in the way the earl had planned. If the playing of Shakespeare's Richard II "40 times in open streets and houses" failed to rouse the support of the citizens for the rebels, the consequences of the failed insurrection produced a spectacle of trial, repentance, and noble death that seemed to duplicate the form and effect of the tragic denouement. Although Essex repeatedly declared his innocence during the trial, once his fate was decided paranoiac self-justifications gave way to compliance with the art of dying. Entailing confession, repentance, and "the return of the traitor to society and to himself," as Steven Mullaney puts it (33), such performances were commonly described and, perhaps, implicitly prescribed in ars moriendi handbooks, published accounts of executions, and penultimate moments in contemporary tragedy.10
On February 25 Essex faced the executioner with a noble set speech in which he confessed his spiritual and political transgressions, forgave and prayed for forgiveness, and affirmed throughout the absolute justice of the authority that condemned him:
Lord Jesus, forgive it us, and forgive it me, the most wretched of all; and I beseech her Majesty, the State, and Ministers thereof, to forgive it us. The Lord grant her Majesty a prosperous reign and a long one, if it be His will. O Lord, bless her and the nobles and ministers of the Church and State. And I beseech you and the world to have a charitable opinion of me for my intention toward her Majesty, whose death, upon my salvation and before God, I protest I never meant, nor violence to her person; yet I confess I have received an honourable trial, and am justly condemned. And I desire all the world to forgive me, even as I do freely and from my heart forgive the world. (Qtd. in Harrison 323)
As J. A. Sharpe has discussed in a suggestive essay, the theatricality of "last dying speeches" on the scaffold in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England served a specific ideological function: noble traitors and common criminals alike became "willing central participants in a theatre of punishment, which offered not merely a spectacle, but a reinforcement of certain values.… they were helping to assert the legitimacy of the power which had brought them to their sad end" (156). And following James's analysis of Tudor and Stuart "ideological controls" in the face of limited coercive power, Sharpe has suggested that this "theatre of the gallows" demonstrated the condemned man's "internalization of obedience," the willing representation of inward acquiescence to good order (158-61).11 The case of Essex, then, seems particularly stirring: not only the avowed traitor, but the disordered, self-divided subjectivity is restored, identity—as noble, Christian subject to her majesty and her ministers—recovered in the assertion of the righteousness and coherence of authority.12 "I am no Queen," Elizabeth had complained upon Essex's violation of her royal imperatives; in dying, Essex effectively reaffirmed the monarch's identity as well as his own.
Yet there was enough uncertainty about semiotic containment in such spectacles of death that Essex's execution, like Mary Queen of Scots' beheading, was kept a semi-private affair, printed transcriptions of the event rather than the event itself entrusted with the dissemination of its ideological significance.13 Hence the ideological efficiency of "the theatre of the gallows" may be no less equivocal than the "strange desygns" that prefaced the performance. As Foucault has remarked, "there was…on the part of the state power, a political fear of the effects of these ambiguous rituals" (Discipline and Punish 65). The willingness to spare Essex the humiliation of public execution may have stemmed in part from fear that the propaganda value of such a spectacle could beckfire, especially given the popularity of the earl with the citizens.14 Nor was the proliferation of official propaganda any insurance that the populace would be duly awed by the terrible enactment of power and punishment:
The condemned man found himself transformed into a hero by the sheer extent of his widely advertised crimes, and sometimes the affirmation of his belated repentance. Against the law, against the rich, the powerful, the magistrates, the constabulary or the watch, against taxes and their collectors, he appeared to have waged a struggle with which one all too easily identified.… If the condemned man was shown to be repentant, accepting the verdict, asking both God and man for forgiveness for his crimes, it was as if he had come through some process of purification: he died, in his own way, like a saint. (Discipline and Punish 67)
Indeed, three years after Essex's death one Robert Pricket published a tributary poem about the earl, "Honor's Fame in Triumph Riding," in which the earl's downfall is attributed chiefly to the machinations of his enemies, just as he had claimed during his trial. The verses sent Pricket to prison (Matter 78). For while the poem is not explicitly subversive, such lines as "He died for treason; Yet no Traitor. Why?" stand in sharp contradiction with the official exegeses of the earl's demise.15
The ways in which that other great Elizabethan spectacle of death—tragedy—duplicates, appropriates, and, sometimes, questions the strategies of power informing productions of authority and punishment on the scaffold are thus ideologically as well as aesthetically significant. As Leonard Tennenhouse has commented, "The strategies of theater resembled those of the scaffold, as well as court performance…in observing a common logic of figuration that both sustained and testified to the monarch's power …" (15). But the apparent exclusion of madness, of unreason, of disorder, from the final transcriptions of the actual traitor's death is consistently called into question, even subverted, in the punishment meted out by an ostensible tragic order. In the middle tragedies of Shakespeare, discrepancies between the spectacle and its discursive record bequeathed to the survivors undermine the closure apparently evoked in the hero's "restoration to himself in death; the words of Horatio, Edgar, and Macduff seem glaringly inadequate even as plot summaries. "In Shakespeare…madness still occupies an extreme place, in that it is beyond appeal. Nothing ever restores it either to truth or reason. It leads only to laceration and thence to death" (Foucault, Madness and Civilization 31-32); the highly stylized return to self before death is unsettled by the madness that out-lives the individual subject in the gulf between tragic experience and its final retelling.16 Madness does not deny authority so much as testify to a fissure in the structure of authority—and subjectivity, an excess that is not recuperated by the "government of individualization," to disrupt both subjection and subjectivity. As such, its discourse of "wild and whirling words," of a "soule…tossede to and fro, like the waves of a troubled sea," is peculiarly resistant to strategies of containment.
Accordingly, among the most important mandates of Foucault's landmark if controversial work is that madness and its representations be investigated in terms of their functions within—and against—structures of power.17 If the political drama of Essex's madness, rebellion, and noble death shares marked affinities with the tragedies contemporary to it, so does the theater itself duplicate and reflect upon a more insidious crisis of authority swelling in late Elizabethan England. What will distinguish madness in such plays as Hamlet (1601) and King Lear (1605) from its depictions in the equally pathologically fixated tragedy of the late 1580s and early 1590s is the subordination to which it will subject other plot elements: madness does not serve narrative so much as narrative serves madness.18 This narrative non serviam constructs a split not so much between "plot" and "character" as between agency and inwardness, a division clearly manifest in the so-called "problem" of Hamlet but also informing tragedies as early as Marlowe's Edward II (1593) and as late as Webster's Duchess of Malfi (1613). The antagonism between subjectivity and the drama's "syntygmatic axis" (Moretti 55-64), between disorder and a linear mimesis, duplicates the position of power's subject in relation to the authority that, like the narrative, both constricts and constrains him. But the notion of tragic madness as overtly or even covertly "subversive" is problematic.19 In fact, madness displaces action, metaphorizing it but also taking its place. If madness seems to privilege and enlarge the tragic hero's subjectivity, so does it also fragment, check, and defer it. As an inversion of internalized "ideological controls" madness by definition precludes the realization of a stable, coherent subjectivity in opposition to the disorder from without.
Foucault has discussed the historical liminality of the Renaissance madman positioned between the wandering lunatic of the Middle Ages and the construction of bourgeois individualist subjectivity, the rise of the modern "anatomo-politics of the body" that banishes unreason (Madness and Civilization 35-64; History of Sexuality 139-45). Recent critical works by Francis Barker, Catherine Belsey, and Terry Eagleton have applied the Foucauldian notion of liminality to the Shakespearean subject, particularly in the paradigmatic case of Hamlet.20 The absolute impenetrability of Hamlet's mystery, the absence of the full interiority apparently promised in the prince's claim that "I have that within which passes show" (1.2.85), leads Belsey to conclude that "Hamlet is…the most discontinuous of Shakespeare's heroes," riddled almost to the point of unintelligibility by the "repressed discontinuities of the allegorical tradition" (41-42). Barker and Eagleton go a step further; because humanist subjectivity has yet to fully emerge in the late sixteenth century, "in the interior of [Hamlet's] mystery, there is, in short, nothing."21 But this nothing's more than matter; because the privatized subjectivity is incomplete, "wild and whirling words" are never wholly opaque, much less transcendent. The discourse of madness, feigned, real, or a combination of both, remains in Shakespeare's plays as in Harington's diary a language of "strange desygns," of matter and impertinency mixed. The break between subject and society is equivocal rather than absolute, and the idiom of unreason in Shakespeare retains resolutely social resonances.22 The idealization of madness as a transcendent world metaphysically autonomous of its material conditions is a romantic and post-romantic construct: "Garde tes songes! Les sages n'en ont pas assez beaux que les fous!" concludes Baudelaire's "La Voix." But in Elizabethan and Jacobean theater the mad hero is never an absolute exile; even when banished, like Lear, he is accompanied, if only by a parodic progress. His threat tras gressive more than nihilistic, the mad tragic hero, un-like the fully demonized savage or "ungovernable man," violates and recognizes social boundaries simultaneously.23 In his tragedy he lingers in the dangerous, equivocal space of "reason in madness," but he is never completely marginalized. For he remains bound up in the social situation from which he is (subjectively) divided, linked to the specter of a former self whose public form he reassumes in dying.24
Therefore, to consider the problem of madness in Hamlet—and in Hamlet—is to examine its manifestly political implications in the play. Political not in the sense of topical allusions to historical persons such as Essex, but rather in the sense that Hamlet's madness articulates and represents a historically specific division by which inwardness, breaking down the pales and forts of reason, enacts the faltering of ideological prescriptions designed to define, order, and constrain subjectivity. The similarities between the madness of fictive Hamlet and that of historical Robert Devereux, the unreason that violates the sanctity of a virgin's private chamber or defies a monarch's command, derive from the transgression of ideological boundaries governing both treason and madness. That Shakespeare problematizes Hamlet's "antic disposition" at every turn is significant; the fact that Hamlet's madness cannot be pinned down, clarified, or debunked allows its consistent perception as a conduct of "strange desygns" and a threat to the sovereign. The various attempts at diagnosing Hamlet's malaise ventured by Claudius, Polonius, and Gertrude are informed by a recognition that in the ambiguous space in which reason and madness intersect lies treason. As with Essex, it is not madness itself but the insidious presence of method in it that constitutes "strange desygns." This particular danger characterizes no less the madness of Ophelia:25
Her speech is nothing. Yet the unshaped use of it doth move The hearers to collection. They aim at it, And botch the words up to fit their own thoughts, Which, as her winks and nods and gestures yield them, Indeed would make one think there might be thought, Though nothing sure, yet much unhappily. (4.5.7-13)
As Laertes quite rightly observes, "This nothing's more than matter" (175); Ophelia's "unshaped" speech no less than Hamlet's "wild and whirling words" threatens to inscribe its disorder on the "ill-breeding minds" of the body politic. In Hamlet it is not transcendent truth that unreason speaks, but "dangerous conjectures" rooted in the subject's problematic relation to the authority against which his—or her—inwardness is constructed.
Madness in Hamlet, then, while engaging and even subjecting subjectivity, is not contained within it. As a particular mode of discourse it continually threatens to be construed—or misconstrued—into an incitement of social and political disorder. The metonymie markers for order—moderation, stoicism, obedience—are undermined throughout the play by the dangerous if impenetrable subjectivity of the hero. When Claudius urges Hamlet to give over his obdurate mourning, he invokes a series of maxims on authority and obedience to natural and divine order:
But to persever In obstinate condolement is a course Of impious stubbornness. 'Tis unmanly grief, It shows a will most incorrect to heaven, A heart unfortified, a mind impatient, An understanding simple and unschooled. For what we know must be, and is as common As any the most vulgar thing to sense, Why should we in our peevish opposition Take it to heart? Fie, 'tis a fault to heaven, A fault against the dead, a fault to nature, To reason most absurd, whose common theme Is death of fathers. (1.2.92-104)
Claudius may be "a little more than kin, and less than kind," but his reasoning articulates views about mourning and self-government that were commonplaces of Elizabethan The Protestant religious as well as psychological thought.26 The protestant emphasis on an all-encompassing providence identified the will of God in all human experience regardless of how apparently arbitrary or unpleasant, while the government of passions was particularly imperative in a culture with more than its share of life-threatening hazards (see Thomas 1-21). Similarly, Claudius's insinuation that such mourning is effeminate tacitly genders melancholy; it is worth noting that Ophelia's madness, with its "unshaped" content of sexual and political allusions, doubles and even parodies Hamlet's distraction (cf. Showalter 80-83). That Claudius is so eager to attribute Ophelia's madness to "the poison of deep grief (4.5.76), indeed, the filial grief for which he upbraids Hamlet in 1.2, suggests that the feminization of madness in later periods has its seeds in the cultural construction of the rational, obedient male subject (see Foucault, History of Sexuality 104, 121).
But the claims of obedience upon inwardness are deflected by "that within which passes show," by the implication that the wisdom of authority—divine, royal, filial—can neither order nor account for the subject's perception of his own experience. The mor alization of the inward space ("'tis a fault to heaven"), designed to encourage the subject's self-surveillance against the possible disruption of "unmanly" passion and madness, fails to dissuade Hamlet from his melancholy. But with the failure of inward constraints authority seeks to impose its will on the subject's body: Hamlet must stay in Denmark while Laertes is allowed to return to France. The inward refusal of covert ideological controls moves power to expose and flex its coercive underpinnings. As the play develops and Hamlet's melancholy intensifies into the more dangerous "antic disposition," the question of his physical constraint becomes all the more literal and imperative. Denmark does become a prison: Rosencrantz warns Hamlet, "You do surely bar the door upon your own liberty if you deny your griefs to your friend" (3.2.345-46), while Claudius plots the ultimate physical curtailment: "For we will put fetters about this fear, Which now goes too free-footed" (3.3.25-26).
But while madness addresses and reproduces the problematics of authority, the internalization of disobedience precludes taking arms against a sea of troubles. The radical inutility of unreason divides subjectivity and agency, and hence the question of Hamlet's "delay" should be considered in light of the more pervasive antagonism between inwardness and authority. The appearance of the ghost does not counter the vacuity of the preceding exercises in patriarchal authority but rather duplicates and even literalizes it in the equivocal space of the supernatural.27 Hamlet's initial address to the ghost identifies its ambivalence:
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned, Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell, Be thy intents wicked or charitable, Thou comest in such a questionable shape That I will speak to thee. (1.4.38-44)
As a figure of boundless semiotic ambiguity the ghost is aligned with madness and "break[ing] down the pales and forts of reason" (1.4.28). Horatio, the paradigmatic reasonable man, is even more ineffectual than Claudius against unreason:
What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord, Or to the dread summit of the cliff That beetles o'er his base into the sea, And there assume some other, horrible form, Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason And draw you into madness? (1.4.69-74)
The threat of madness or demonic possession, like Claudius's admonishment of unnatural grief bound up in the ideology of self-vigilance, holds no sway over the prince, who "waxes desperate with imagination" (1.4.87).
The uncertain origins of King Hamlet's ghost have been well documented. But its eschatological ambiguities may be less significant than the rhetoric of filial duty and natural bonds, the very idiom that Claudius employs in 1.2, in which the ghost couches its exhortations to revenge: "If thou didst ever thy dear father love"; "If thou hadst nature in thee, bear it not" (1.5.23,81). But unlike the apparitions of The Spanish Tragedy and Antonio's Revenge, the specter of King Hamlet is a figure of contamination as much as one of justice. "Taint not thy mind" (1.5.85), it urges Hamlet, yet it is not revenge but its own sickly idiom that the ghost inscribes within the "distracted globe" of Hamlet. The ghost claims in what is actually a mode of occupatio:
But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres, Thy knotted and combined locks to part, And each particular hair to stand an end Like quills upon the fretful porpentine. (1.5.13-20)
But in reappearing to Hamlet in Gertrude's closet the ghost seemingly effects its own prophecy on Hamlet, whom Gertrude describes almost exactly as the ghost has hypothetically in 1.5:
Forth at your eye your spirits wildly peep, And, as the sleeping soldiers in th' alarm, Your bedded hair like life in excrements Start up and stand on end. (3.4.120-23)
Although speaking from the conventional position of justice, the ghost shapes its claims on the government and direction of the subject through fragmentation, contamination, madness. It is worth noting that the so-called "problems" of Hamlet's character—the obscurely motivated "antic disposition," the delay, the swift transitions from brooding soliloquy to "a kind of joy"—do not arise until the end of 1.5, after the encounter with King Hamlet's ghost. The radically ambivalent nature of the ghost serves as an almost emblematic contradiction that subsumes the play's manifest attempts at narrative coherence. Intention and consequences will diverge wildly and overtly; wills and fates will so contrary run. Hamlet's subjectivity is riven by an exhortation to obedience undermined by its own ontological and discursive equivocation.
That the dead king's exhortation to revenge and remembrance is neglected by the play as well as the prince demonstrates Hamlet's consistent reluctance to privilege wholeheartedly any generic or hierarchic discourse of authority, with the possible exception of playing itself.28 "The time is out of joint," Hamlet says at the end of 1.5, words that are all but literalized in the act that follows. The elapse of fictive time between the first and second acts, during which Hamlet has apparently done nothing save "put on" the ambiguous "antic disposition," and the centering of the plot almost exclusively on his "transformation" serve to turn the play away from the revenge plot commanded and authorized by the ghost. The discontinuities between 1.5 and 2.1 are as provocative as those informing Hamlet's "too much changed" character, the only striking "remembrance" of the precedent scene Ophelia's description of Hamlet surprising her in her closet. Because the strange encounter takes place offstage, the authenticity of Hamlet's demeanor remains, as is true of almost all of his "mad" conduct, uncertain. But if Ophelia gives a typical enough picture of the conventional melancholy lover for Polonius to make an immediate, confident diagnosis, her reference to his "look so piteous in purport / As if he had been loosed out of hell / To speak of horrors" (82-84) contradicts the relative benignity of love-madness with an evocation of the supernatural, irrational incident of the prior scene. Again, it is significant to note that Ophelia speaks of Hamlet in terms markedly similar to those in which the ghost describes "the secrets of my prison house."
It is not until well over four hundred lines into 2.2 that madness gives way to the subject of revenge, and even here it is a player's speech, "a dream of passion," that recalls to Hamlet—and to Hamlet—the purpose exhorted by the ghost. But while playing is aligned neither with the specious aphorisms of the ideology of self-moderation nor with the radically disintegrating forces of unreason, Hamlet's play-within-a-play, unlike Hieronymo's in The Spanish Tragedy, speaks daggers but uses none. Its purpose falls upon the inventor's head, alerting Claudius not only to Hamlet's knowledge of the fratricide but also to an apparent threat to the king's own life. Far from a vehicle of revenge, the play-within-a-play comprises but another obstacle. Significantly, closure for "The Mousetrap" is literally disrupted when the king, "frighted with false fire," hastily departs. In "The Mousetrap" as in Hamlet, in the place of closure there is madness; the ostensible revenger sings snatches of ballads, calls for music, and boasts to Horatio, "Would not this, sir, and a forest of feathers—if the rest of my fortunes turn Turk with me—with two Provincial roses on my razed shoes, get me a fellowship with a cry of players, sir?" (3.2.284-87). Hamlet's antic foolery and incongruous festivity counter and parody the sober purpose and implication of the preceding performance. Thus the authority of playing is problematized by the play's contradictory and ambiguous effects.
Hamlet's crisis of subjectivity, then, is Hamlet's crisis of authority; the ideological constructs that shape power and subjection as mutually constitutive, specifically, the ideology of inward obedience designed to bolster the pales and forts of reason, are scrutinized and exposed as ineffectual. The disintegration of subjective identity—madness—corresponds to the airy nothing of ghostly authority, to the "king of shreds and patches," to the "dream of passion" of the players. If his "mousetrap" incites Hamlet to act, he nonetheless inverts the ghost's express command, bypassing the opportunity to kill Claudius and instead focusing on Gertrude, against whom he was told not to "contrive." First confronting the queen with words so "wild and whirling" she fears for her life, then inadvertently stabbing the eavesdropping Polonius, Hamlet proceeds to deliver, ironically enough, a high-minded lecture on the queen's failure to govern her passions. But his argument for self-restraint swiftly gives way to a morbid explication of the particularly sexual nature of Gertrude's betrayal, the source of Hamlet's melancholy even before he learns of his father's murder.29 As madness impedes narrativity, purpose degenerates into repetition, a motif Shakespeare manifestly explores in King Lear. In Hamlet, a play still marked by the absent linear form of revenge narrative, hollow gestures toward purpose are approached only to be reversed. The sudden appearance of the ghost functions not only to remind Hamlet of his "almost blunted purpose," but also to rehearse the earlier encounter. Yet when it departs, Hamlet promptly reverts to another argument for sexual self-restraint ("Assume a virtue if you have it not"). As for Polonius, whose corpse has been almost comically forgotten for over a hundred lines, Hamlet asserts rather decorously that
For this same lord, I do repent. But heaven hath pleased it so, To punish me with this, and this with me, That I must be their scourge and minister. I will bestow him and will answer well The death I gave him. (3.4.173-78)
But identity—as noble revenger—is no sooner restored than overthrown by madness, which resists closure and subverts purpose. Hamlet requests "One word more, good lady," then launches into an "antic" tirade upon Gertrude's sexual relations with "the bloat king." And in overt contradiction of his lofty repentance of lines 173-78, Hamlet announces that "I'll lug the guts into the neighbor room," and far from "answering well' for Polonius's slaying, stashes the body in a cupboard.
The fragmentation displaced in the grotesque mutilations of earlier revenge tragedies has become in Hamlet the condition of the hero's subjectivity, the principle governing dramatic structure, the violence inscribed on the body of the play instead of on the body of the villain. Indeed, Hamlet's strange business with the body of Polonius replaces what is in the source stories the actual dismemberment of the spying minister. In the very brief scene 4.2, often cut from stage productions, and in the ensuing interrogation by the king ("Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?" "At supper."), Hamlet's mysterious inwardness intersects with the contradiction of the body, the body that is at once absent and material, a thing and a thing of nothing. Madness, a discourse that collapses the ostensible distinction between the body and the "self," speaking an idiom that conflates and confuses the political and the "private," here posits as its referent the great leveler of differences, death. As Michael Bristol has commented, "Hamlet's 'extreame show of doltishness' reinterprets the basic distinctions of life: between food and corrupt, decaying flesh, between human and animal, between king and beggar. Temporal authority and indeed all political structures of difference are turned inside out" (187).
Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service—two dishes, but to one table. That's the end. (4.3.20-24)
Madness, then, is not so much metaphor as metonymy for death, a moment in which the materiality of the body overturns the authority of distinctions out of which coherent, unified subjectivity is constructed. For in Hamlet subjectivity is still engaged in materiality even as the autonomy of the "self ("is") from the body ("seems") is being asserted. By the graveyard scene the death-madness of 4.2 and 4.3 has become externalized, literalized in the representation of a gravedigger who "sings in gravemaking" (5.1.66), in Hamlet's hypothetical histories of the skulls of courtiers, politicians, as "Imperious Caesar" whose dust may stop a bung-hole. There is Yorick, too, the "mad rogue" whose literal antic disposition was "wont to set the table on a roar" (190).30 The prince and the gravedigger discuss "Young Hamlet, he that is mad and sent to England," in the third person, as though the radically fragmented hero of acts 2 through 4 has been banished across the imaginary sea. Madness, death, fragmentation, hereto-fore located in Hamlet's "wild and whirling words," are in 5.1 presented as conditions of the play's world. Hamlet is again "good as a chorus," pointing out, commenting upon and interpreting the old bones in the graveyard, the "maimed rites" of Ophelia's funeral. At once justification and near-parodic literalization of the stuff of Hamlet's privileged subjectivity, the gross materiality of the grave seems to claim an authority that subsumes inwardness and difference. If the scene owes a debt to the memento mori tradition, the skulls emblematize not so much the vanity of the world as the material necessity that implicates subject and authority alike.31 Hamlet recognizes the authority of death as absolute and inviolable, yet even as recognition of authority confers, accordingly, the unified identity ("This is I, Hamlet the Dane!") disrupted by the more problematic relations to power, Hamlet's "towering passion" returns to destabilize the seemingly restored noble self. The scuffle with Laertes has an almost black comic aspect in contrast to the sober meditations on mortality that precede it, given the "bravery" of Laertes's speech, reasonable Horatio's typically ineffectual "Good my lord, be quiet," and Hamlet's some-what incongruous question to the man whose father he has killed, "What is the reason that you use me thus? I loved you ever" (285-86). The containment apparently evoked in the dialogue with the gravediggers is contradicted as soundly as Hamlet's promise to "answer well" for Polonius's death, madness once again violently usurping narrative order.
Yet Hamlet's outburst at Ophelia's grave exhausts his "wild and whirling words." In the final scene the hero at last becomes the "courtier, soldier, scholar" of Ophelia's tribute, recounting to Horatio the rash but providentially sanctioned actions on the ship, bantering wittily with Osrick the waterfly, graciously agreeing to the king's request for the conciliatory game with Laertes. Hamlet's placid fatalism despite his premonition of death and his acquiescence to providential design transform "distracted" subjectivity into noble subjection to the "divinity that shapes our ends." Hence Hamlet's apology to Laertes renounces madness, the unruly and disruptive force in the play as well as in his own "distracted globe": "His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy" (5.2.233). In the past, critics have debated over the sincerity or lack thereof of Hamlet's apology, a consequence of overemphasis on Hamlet as a naturalistic character rather than as central feature of a play in which the ambiguities, the "strange desygns," of madness are so foregrounded. Even when considered in a theatrical rather than purely textual context, wherein an actor is personating Hamlet, the tragic hero's last formal set speech, like that of Othello or even the premature "Let's away to prison" speech of Lear, engages the public dimension informing rites of symbolic closure in Elizabethan England. In Hamlet as in the scaffold speech of Essex, an eloquent if stylized confession redeems the transgressing subject and affirms the order he has violated, disclaims "a purposed evil" and restores the speaker to himself. Because the audience knows what Hamlet only presciently suspects, his death seems inevitable, in accord with the narrative logic so consistently violated before by the now-renounced madness.
But Shakespeare's decorous ritual of death, for all that it seems to observe a form of ideological closure, does not contain madness even by the hero's death and the extinction of his problematic subjectivity. "Madness dissipated can be only the same thing as the imminence of the end.… But death itself does not bring peace; madness will still triumph—a truth mockingly eternal, beyond the end of a life which yet had been delivered from madness by this very end" (Foucault, Madness and Civilization 32). For Hamlet "the rest is silence"; he bequeaths his "story" to reasonable Horatio. But Horatio's recapitulation of the tragic events contradicts Hamlet's own providential interpretation of his tragedy:
So shall you hear Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, Of accidental judgements, casual slaughters, Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause, And in this upshot, purposes mistook Fallen on th' inventors' heads. (5.2.374-79)
Moreover, Horatio urges that the rather skeletal tale be recounted to ward off the semiotic slippage aligned with disruptive madness; his task must be performed "Even while men's minds are wild, lest more mischance / On plots and errors happen" (388-89). If Hamlet has retracted his madness, Hamlet stops short of following suit. The division that breeds "dangerous conjectures" rests unreconciled; the condemned man's words enact a rite of obedience but affirm an order that is still estranged from the disorderly social reality of "wild minds." Shakespeare's tragedy, performed on the public stage, makes no attempt to contain the potentially dangerous play of signification that moved Tudor authority to make the executions of Mary and Essex semi-private affairs whose printed reports are as safely decontextualized as Horatio's account of what happens in Hamlet. Indeed, Shakespeare's investigation of the interplay of unreason's "strange desygns" and the "wild minds" of the body politic stands in reciprocal rather than imitative relation to the offstage drama of disobedience and melancholy, treason and madness, that led Robert Devereux to the scaffold. Whether Shakespeare's reflections were actually prompted by the ill-fated career of the queen's last favorite is ultimately less important than the pervasive crisis of inwardness and authority, enacted in Hamlet, acted upon by the earl of Essex. The ambiguous boundaries between treason and madness in Elizabethan England testify to the politicization of subjectivity, the traces of which essentialist readings of Hamlet—and of the history of "the self—have repressed but not effaced.32
1 Lacey Baldwin Smith has recently argued that the apparent madness of Essex, as well as of a number of other Tudor traitors, was a manifestation of a more insidious "cultural paranoia." That is, "the cause of irrationality need not lie exclusively in the tortured chambers of the mind; it can be external, and the self-destructive traitor can be a symptom of his society as well as a victim of his private insanity" (Treason in Tudor England 12). For an acute commentary and critique, see Christopher Hill's review.
2 See Wilson 228, and Esler 97-99.
3The Duchess of Malfi, 1.2.125. For discussions of the relation of failed ambition to melancholy and madness, see Babb 122-23; Esler 202-43; and Knights 315-32.
4 Cf. Smith's characterization of the Tudor traitor as "so unbelievably bungling and self-defeating…that it is difficult to believe [the traitors] were totally sane or that their treason, as perceived by the government, actually existed at all …" (Treason in Tudor England 2).
5 Reprinted in Kinney 63. For a valuable discussion of the inadequacy of "the orthodox Elizabethan framework…to absorb effectively the facts of heterodoxy and social flux" (59), see Montrose, "The Purpose of Playing."
6 Stone 401. Stone estimates that Essex was responsible for over twenty-five percent of the total knighthoods conferred during Elizabeth's reign.
7 '"Tis much wondered at here, that [Essex] went so boldly to her Majesty's presence, She not being ready, and he so full of dirt and mire that his very face was full of it," wrote Roland Whyte to Sir Robert Sidney about the incident (qtd. in Matter 14).
8 R. C. Bald holds that "the writer shows the kind of knowledge of Essex's condition that one would expect from an inmate of York House, and more perhaps than the current gossip would furnish him with" (108n2).
9 Foucault writes, "This form of power applies itself to immediate everyday life which categorizes the individual, marks him by his own individuality, attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him which he must recognize and which others must recognize in him.… There are two meanings of the word 'subject': subject to someone else by control and dependence; and tied to his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge. Both meanings suggest a form of power which subjugates and makes subject to" ("The Subject and Power" 781).
10 Beach Langston considers Essex's death as an embodiment of the ars moriendi tradition in "Essex and the Art of Dying." Cf. my article on Macbeth, "Unreal Mockery: Unreason and the Problem of Spectacle in Macbeth."
11 Cf. James 43-54. Other enlightening discussions of the stylistics and ideological implications of executions in early modern England are Foucault, Discipline and Punish 3-69 and Edgerton.
12 Mullaney has written suggestively on the condemned traitor's recovery of decorum in the ritual of execution: "Confession, execution, and dismemberment, unsettling as they may seem, were not so much punishment as they were the demonstration that what had been a traitor was no longer, and that which had set him off from man and nature had been…lifted from him. When the body bleeds, treason has been effaced; execution is treason's epilogue, spoken by the law" (33-34).
13 Langston's essay considers a number of the printed accounts of Essex's "beautiful death." For a thorough overview of the ars moriendi in the English literary tradition, see Beaty.
14 See Foucault, Discipline and Punish 59-69.
15 Quoted in Matter 78.
16 Cf. Franco Moretti's commentary on Jacobean tragedy: "Fully realized tragedy is the parable of the degeneration of the sovereign inserted in a context that can no longer understand it" (55).
17 For critiques of Madness and Civilization and of Foucault's methodology, see Midelfort and Feder 29-34. Shoshana Felman offers a comparative critique of Foucault and Derrida on madness in her Writing and Madness (35-55).
18 What Robert Weimann observes of Hamlet's "antic disposition" seems to me to be true of madness in much late Elizabethan and early Jacobean tragedy: "Madness as a 'method' of mimesis dissolves important links between the representer and the represented, and can only partially sustain a logical or psychological motivation. What, especially in the court scenes, the 'antic disposition' involves is another mode of release from representivity" ("Mimesis in Hamlet" 204).
19 The "subversion/containment" debate has provoked lively and often constructive debate among the practitioners of "new historicism" and "cultural materialism." These positions are perhaps most clearly exemplified by Stephen Greenblatt's Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, which argues that subversion is inevitably contained in Renaissance representations; and Jonathan Dollimore's Radical Tragedy, which aligns representations with contestatory and revolutionary discourses in early modern England.
20 Barker 25-41; Belsey 41-42; Eagleton 70-75.
21 Barker 37. Eagleton concurs: Hamlet is "a kind of nothing…because he is never identical with himself" (73).
22 Weimann offers an analysis of the popular culture and morality context of "reason in madness" in Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater (120-33).
23 On the "ungovernable man," see Greenblatt 147-48.
24 On the death of the tragic hero Barker comments, "Tragic heroes have to die because in the spectacular kingdom death is in the body. There is no 'merely' or metaphorically ethical death which does not at the same time entail the extinction of the body, and even its complete and austere destruction" (40).
25 Elaine Showalter offers an enlightening commentary on critical representations of Ophelia's madness in "Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism."
26 See MacDonald 72-85. Michael Neill considers the relation of tragedy to the post-Reformation problem atizing of death, with the Protestant rejection of "the whole vast industry of intercession, and masses for the dead" (180); see '"Exeunt with a Dead March': Funeral Pageantry on the Shakespearean Stage." Clare Gittings also considers at length the social and psychological effects of the Reformation upon grieving and funeral practices in Death, Burial, and the Individual in Early Modern England.
27 On the interplay of the equivocal, the irrational, and the supernatural (with particular reference to Macbeth), see Mullaney; Coddon.
28 On the theater's construction of—and reflections on—its own authority see Montrose, '"Shaping Fantasies': Figurations of Gender and Power in Elizabethan Culture."
29 Margaret Ferguson offers an interesting reading of the problematics of the closet scene in her fine essay "Hamlet: Letters and Spirits" (see esp. 296-97).
30 Insightful comments on the "antic" qualities of the graveyard scene may be found in Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater 239-40; Barker 39-40.
31 Ferguson's essay considers the complex function of the memento mori in Hamlet (302-05). For a reading of Hamlet as a "memento mori poem," see Morris 311-41.
32 In each of its many metamorphoses, this essay has benefited from the criticism, guidance, and encouragement I have received from Louis A. Montrose; to him I extend my gratitude.
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Ferguson, Margaret W. "Hamlet: Letters and Spirits." Parker and Hartman 292-309.
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——. History of Sexuality. Vol. 1. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon, 1978.
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——. "The Subject and Power." Critical Inquiry 8 (1982): 777-81.
Gittings, Clare. Death, Burial, and the Individual in Early Modern England. London: Croom Helm, 1984.
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——. '"Shaping Fantasies': Figurations of Gender and Power in Elizabethan Culture." Representations 44.2 (1983): 61-94.
Moretti, Franco. Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms. Trans. Susan Fischer, David Forgacs, and David Miller. London: Verso, 1983.
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Mullaney, Steven. "Lying Like Truth: Riddle, Representation, and Treason in Renaissance England." ELH 47 (1980): 32-47.
Neill, Michael. '"Exeunt with a Dead March': Funeral Pageantry on the Shakespearean Stage." Pageantry in the Shakespearean Theater. Ed. David M. Bergeron. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1985. 153-93.
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Coddon, Karin S. '"Unreal Mockery': Unreason and the Problem of Spectacle in Macbeth." ELH 56, No. 3 (Fall 1989): 485-501.
Examines the links between "treason, madness, and the supernatural" in Macbeth.
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Offers a general treatment of the concept of feigned madness in literature and social history with a brief discussion of King Lear.
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Provides a detailed discussion of the psychology of Shakespeare's characterizations, including an analysis of the playwright's portrayal of madness.
Feder, Lillian. Madness in Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980, 331 p.
Presents a detailed study of the theme of insanity in literature from that of Ancient Greece through the twentieth century. Includes discussion of Renaissance theories of madness and of Shakespeare's King Lear.
Jorgensen, Paul A. "Hamlet's Therapy." The Huntington Library Quarterly XXVII, No. 3 (May 1969): 239-58.
Uses Renaissance treatises on madness to argue that Hamlet achieves tragic wisdom and sanity by becoming his own "psychotherapist."
Kuin, Roger. "Feint/Frenzy: Madness and the Elizabethan Love-Sonnet." Criticism XXXI, No. 1 (Winter 1989): 1-20.
Analyzes the convention of the lover's madness in the Elizabethan sonnet tradition, paying particular attention to the origins of the sonnet in troubadour poetry.