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Madness in Drama Dr Iain McClure, Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, NHS Lothian. Writer.

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Presentation on theme: "Madness in Drama Dr Iain McClure, Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, NHS Lothian. Writer."— Presentation transcript:

1 Madness in Drama Dr Iain McClure, Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, NHS Lothian. Writer.

2 Talk about… Introduction Definitions Basic themes Neurotic madness Psychotic madness Summary


4 Definitions ‘Mad’ comes from O.E. gemaed(e)d and O.Sax. Gimed, ‘foolish’. Disordered in intellect; insane; extremely and recklessly foolish; infatuated; frantic with pain, violent passion or appetite; furious with anger; extravagantly playful or exuberant; rabid. [Chambers 20 th Century Dictionary.]

5 Definitions - 2 Drama; Latin, Greek: drama, dramatos—draein =‘to do’ A story of life and action for representation by actors; a composition intended to be represented on the stage; theatrical entertainment; a dramatic situation, or series of absorbing events [Chambers 20 th Century Dictionary.] In drama something has to happen!

6 Definitions - 3 So…  Macbeth kills Duncan...  Lear splits his kingdom into 3 and becomes an outcast...  Othello becomes jealous...  Hamlet is told to kill his uncle by his father’s ghost...  Malvolio develops the belief that his mistress loves him and wears yellow stockings (cross- gartered) for her...  Wozzeck eats too many peas, becomes psychotically jealous and murders his unfaithful girlfriend...  Prior Walter develops AIDS and sees an angel.

7 Some basic themes... Madness / mental illness affects 10% of the population. It has always been a subject of shame and stigma, as it continues to be today, despite 100 recent years of active scientific progress in uncovering secrets of the brain.

8 Some basic themes - 2 Madness defines the boundaries of what it means to be human – this is the source of its stigma – if madness can threaten a person’s humanity, their soul, it is something to be feared. It is inherently dramatic. Madness is, in itself, a calamity to befall any human being and as such, is a proper subject for a dramatist to explore. Mostly this exploration takes a tragic route, but comedy has also featured.

9 Some basic themes - 3 In drama, madness is a vehicle for change; either for better or worse. When mad, the protagonist often sees things as they really are.

10 Some basic themes - 4 Madness is a method by which the drama becomes turbocharged, unpredictable, dangerous, irrational.

11 Some basic themes - 5 Madness can exist not just within a character but within a dramatic setting and within a dramatic mood, permeating the audiences’ unconscious perception. Madness can be a reaction to events within the drama, or a cause of those events.

12 Some basic themes - 6 Because madness defines the boundaries of what it means to be human – playwrights and theatre keep returning to it. Insanity pushes the protagonist to the limits of recognisable humanity. Uniquely in any of the arts, drama provides the audience with an opportunity to vicariously experience madness – in real time, in real space and then, as the play ends, to return to reality ‘cured’ and, perhaps, enlightened.

13 Neurotic madness Neurosis is essentially, mental disturbance that only partially compromises function. The subject has full or near-full, insight into their condition. As such, they know that what they are thinking is not their normal way of perceiving or comprehending the world. Their subjective feelings and perceptions are often distressing, as they cannot see a way out of them.

14 Neurotic madness - 2 Examples of this kind of madness are: Hysteria Obsessive-compulsive disorder Mild depression (sometimes called reactive depression). Drama has explored these types of madness in various ways….

15 Neurotic madness - 3 Obsessional disorder - Lady MacBeth (compulsive hand washing). Obsessive jealousy - Othello (the specific condition of the obsessively jealous husband is known in psychiatry as ‘Othello Syndrome’) Hysteria - dramatically prominent in The Crucible Mild depression - a common feature of Chekov’s protagonists, notably in Ivanov

16 Neurotic madness - 4 In Renaissance times, being ‘melancholic’ was a particular form of social behaviour. The melancholic wore black and was irascible and anti-social. He frequently appeared in drama, usually on the rebound from rebuttal in love, as with Romeo.

17 Neurotic madness - 5 Neurotic madness is also found in terms of dramatic setting and mood. In this sense, it is the audience who experience, first hand, something of the experience of this kind of madness. For example: the depressed clarity of Beckett the obsessive menace of Pinter the surreal ambience of Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata

18 Neurotic madness - 6 STUDENT. Drive her out of the house! DAUGHTER. We can’t. STUDENT. Why not? DAUGHTER. We don’t know. She won’t go. No one has any control over her. She has drained the strength from us. STUDENT. Can I send her away? DAUGHTER. No. It is ordained. She must stay with us. She asks what we will have for dinner. I reply. She objects. And, in the end, she does as she pleases. [The Ghost Sonata. Methuen World Dramatists, p185.]

19 Psychotic madness Psychosis is pure madness. It is the experience of having altered thoughts and perception, varying to a partial or full extent, from the subject’s ‘normal’ cognitive and perceptive state and usually occurs within a state of normal consciousness. It can be either acute or chronic.

20 Psychotic madness - 2 Drama has featured psychotic breakdown from earliest times. Almost two and a half thousand years ago, around 450 BC, Sophocles (496-406 B.C.) presented his tragedy Ajax with the message – madness is shameful, a punishment from the gods, a tragedy for the sufferer and their family.

21 Psychotic madness - 3 The effect of prolonged anguish on the mind was a subject that greatly occupied Euripides. In Heracles Madness appears (according to the Chorus) as a ‘horrible figure standing over the palace’ sent by divine agency to cause the protagonist to murder his wife and sons in a psychotic frenzy. The resulting tragedy stems from Heracles’ recovery and realisation of what he has done (a clinical challenge experienced regularly in modern forensic psychiatry).

22 Psychotic madness - 4 MESSENGER....He pushed him back; handled his bow And quiver, ready to shoot his own sons, thinking they Were children of Eurystheus. Terrified, they rushed This way and that; one hid behind his mother’s dress, One in the shadow of a pillar, one behind The altar cowered like a bird. Megara shrieked, ‘What are you doing? They’re your children!’ Amphitryon And all the servants shrieked. Nimbly and swiftly he Spun round the pillar, faced the child, and shot him dead.....He’s sleeping now. Sleep is a blessing – But not to one who has killed his wife and his three sons. Indeed, I know of no man more unblest than he. [Penguin Classics, trans. Philip Vellacott; pp.183-84.]

23 Psychotic madness - 5 Shakespeare has explored the dramatic potential of madness more than any other playwright. Hamlet – his bipolar swings from depression to mania. The duel at the end is fuelled by his manic intensity, as he seeks flight from his depressive insight into the rottenness of the world.

24 Psychotic madness - 6 Lear – he is cleansed of pride and stubbornness by his madness. Twelfth Night - Malvolio is punished by a consciously false attribution of madness, for his comic inflexibility and pomposity.

25 Psychotic madness - 7 MALVOLIO. Sir Topas, never was man thus wronged. Good Sir Topas, do not think I am mad. They have laid me here in hideous darkness. FESTE. Fie, thou dishonest Satan – I call thee by the most modest terms, for I am one of those gentle ones that will use the devil himself with courtesy. Sayst thou that the house is dark? MALVOLIO. As hell, Sir Topas.

26 Psychotic madness - 8 FESTE. Why it hath bay windows transparent as barricadoes, and the celestories toward the south- north are as lustrous as ebony, and yet complainest thou of obstruction? MALVOLIO. I am not mad, Sir Topas; I say to you this house is dark. FESTE. Madman, thou errest. I say there is no darkness but ignorance, in which thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog. MALVOLIO. I say this house is as dark as ignorance, though ignorance were as dark as hell; and I say there was never man thus abused. I am no more mad than you are... [Twelfth Night, Act 4, Scene 2.]

27 Psychotic madness - 9 The modern era of drama was kick-started by the protagonist’s psychotic collapse in Buchner’s Wozzek. Wozzek’s madness is the causative powerhouse of this terrifying insight into human baseness and human goodness.

28 Psychotic madness - 10 WOYZECK On and on! For ever! On, on, on! Stop the music. – Shh. (Throws himself down.) What’s that? – What’s that you say? What’re you saying?..Stab...Stab the she-wolf, dead. Shall I? Must I? -Is it there, too? In the wind even. (Stands up.) It’s all round me. Everywhere. Round, round, on and on and on... Stab her. Dead, dead – dead!! (Runs out.) [Woyzeck; Scene 13; Methuen Theatre Classics, trans. John Mackendrick; p.26.]

29 Psychotic madness - 11 In The Father - Strindberg explores the frightening otherworld of paranoia, in a bourgeois setting. The paranoid Captain suspects his beautiful young wife, Laura, of having been unfaithful and that he is not the biological father of their daughter. His suspicion destroys his marriage, his status in society and, at the end of the play, he is admitted to an insane asylum in a straitjacket. However, all through the play, the dramatic tension is maintained by the fact that we never finally discover if the Captain has imagined Laura’s unfaithfulness or if he is, in fact, correct to suspect her. We the audience vicariously share the paranoia of the protagonist.

30 Psychotic madness - 12 LAURA Those suspicions of yours about the child are completely unfounded. CAPTAIN That’s just what’s so horrible. If they were real, at least one would have something to grip on, something to cling to. Now there are only shadows, hiding in the bushes and poking out their heads to laugh – it’s like fighting with air, a mock battle with blank cartridges. A real betrayal would have acted as a challenge, roused my soul to action. But now my thoughts dissolve in twilight, my brain grinds emptiness until it catches fire! Give me a pillow under my head! And put something over me, I’m cold. I’m so terribly cold! [The Father, Act 3, Sc.7; Methuen World Dramatists, trans. Michael Meyer; p75.]

31 Psychotic madness - 13 The Dwarfs - Pinter’s character, Len, has schizophrenia. He is tolerated by his two, apparently normal, companions, Pete and Mark. But at the end of the play, we suddenly realise that Pete and Mark may have been figments of Len’s psychotic imagination, dwarves of powerful visual and auditory hallucinations. Pinter’s exposure of the unknowableness of reality is chilling. In being in the audience, watching Len, we are dramatically involved in his psychotic world. In being in the audience, perhaps we become, for the duration of the play only, as, or more mad, than Len.

32 Psychotic madness - 14 MARK: You’ve been wasting my time. For years. PETE: Don’t push me boy. MARK: You think I’m a fool. PETE: Is that what I think? MARK: That’s what you think. You think I’m a fool. PETE: You are a fool. MARK: You’ve always thought that. PETE: From the beginning. MARK: You’ve been leading me up the garden. PETE: And you. MARK: You know what you are? You’re an infection. PETE: Don’t believe it. All I’ve got to do to destroy you is to leave you as you wish to be. He walks out of the room. MARK stares, slowly goes off as lights fade. Lights come up on down centre area. Enter LEN. [The Dwarfs; Harold Pinter: Plays 2; Faber and Faber, p. 104]

33 Psychotic madness - 15 In Angels In America – Kushner’s exploration of AIDS shows various characters experiencing apparent visual and auditory hallucinations that are powerfully dramatic – notably when a great angel unapologetically crashes into Prior Walter’s flat causing apocalyptic devastation.

34 Psychotic madness - 16 The ANGEL and PRIOR in PRIOR’s bedroom, three weeks earlier: the wrecked ceiling, PRIOR in the bed (he changes into his PJ’s as he moves to it), the ANGEL in the air. BELIZE watches from the street. ANGEL. Greetings, Prophet! The Great Work Begins: The Messenger has arrived. PRIOR. Go away. ANGEL. Attend: PRIOR. Oh God there’s a thing in the air, a thing, a thing.

35 Psychotic madness - 17 ANGEL. I I I I Am the Bird of America, The Bald Eagle, Continental Principality, LUMEN PHOSPHOR FLUOR CANDLE! I unfold my leaves, Bright steel, In salutation open sharp before you: PRIOR WALTER Long-descended, well-prepared... PRIOR. No, I’m not prepared, for anything, I have lots to do, I...

36 Psychotic madness - 18 ANGEL (with a gust of music). American Prophet tonight you become, American Eye that pierceth Dark, American Heart all Hot for Truth, The True Great Vocalist, the Knowing Mind Tongue-of-the-Land, Seer-Head! PRIOR. Oh shoo! You’re scaring the shit out of me, get the fuck out of my room. Please, oh please... [Angels In America; Act 2, Scene 2.]

37 Summary Madness is a strong theme – the driving force- (?) – within great drama, throughout the ages All kinds of madness have been explored Madness defines the boundaries of what it means to be human – which is the source of its stigma and which is why drama and theatre keep returning to it.

38 Questions...?

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