Colloquy XIV: Playing Mad
Hello Everyone, my name is Clare and I will be blogging for 2013 Blackfriars Conference Colloquy XIV. This colloquy is presided by Symmonie Preston and the presenters are Nicholas Helms, Lauren Shepherd, Christina Squitieri, and Meredith Will.
Preston: This colloquy will allow the speakers to speak a little longer and should have more time for a Question and Answer. Each will present a paper.
Helms: Keys to the Mind, Madness and Spectating Shakespeare’s Characters
Helms looks at applying the philosophy of mind and theories about mind reading to character studies. Mind reading refers to the ability to arrive at logical conclusions about a person based upon his behavior. There is theory, theory of mind reading, and simulation theory of mind reading. Theory, theory applies the theories behind what could trigger a person’s reaction. Helms will be referring to theory, theory as inference. Simulation theory is to try to “walk through another person’s shoes.” Simulation theory also applies to sympathetic emotions. The two different theories have often struggled for dominance, but they should blend. Madness is the inability to communicate, and audience members/readers often erroneously apply it to characters such as Toby Belch for saying things that are out of context. The Jailer’s Daughter is the most extensive presentation of madness in Shakespeare. The doctor uses lots of inference and never speaks the daughter until the end of his last scene with her. The simulation theory and imaginative study better describes her breaking point. The imaginative approach invites the audience to participate in the emotions of the character. She is emotionally compelling in the beginning, weaving a narrative of her present mental state and her fears of the forest, she even states she would rather die than go mad and lose the ability to perceive reality. No one tries to communicate with the daughter, but the doctor proposes that there is a middle ground in which the other characters communicate with her on the level of her delusions. It does not show a full level of mind reading, but it grants credibility in her delusions so that she can feel a part of the community again, and hopefully be brought back into the community. Early moderns considered madness to be a temporary distraction from the norm, and from reality. Some of the ideas for the daughter’s madness may come from the collaborative process with Fletcher. Scenes like this also appear in King Lear with Gloucester and Edgar (who plays into the fantasy of Gloucester’s depression to pull him out of the depression), As You Like It (her cure for love as a cure for madness). Helms hopes to look further into these ideas in his continued research.
Shepherd: Diagnosing Madness on Stage: A Perspective on Madness in Fletcher, Middleton and Rowley, Shakespeare, and Webster.
For Elizabethans, there are different views of madness. Madness and distraction are not as interchangeable as most scholars think they are and the two together are what moderns accept and receive as the mad character in Shakespeare. Specific expectations and events lead to a diagnosis, and the means to a cure. Shepherd looked at The Changeling, The White Devil, The Duchess of Malfi, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Macbeth. Madness is indicated by the direct act of relating to the character as other, the speech patterns the character employs, and the set of questions which characters ask themselves or which other charactes report about them. Madness often starts with the idea that a character is “not himself.” Antonio (Changeling) begins to mimic the teacher at the asylum. It appears through his rhetoric and wit that he knows how to play mad. Gratiano enters mad and distracted and his actions should appear so. He has disjointed language, but has a common theme, so it is not madness, but can be perceived as such. There is an outside influence which affects our vision of his “madness.” Another character displays a number of different symptoms of madness and is diagnosed as such. It appears that the actors may be using madness to resolve their situation. The madness of the women is different. Cornelia recalls bloody hands; many women refer to the bloody hands, flowers and herbs, a night owl screech, and describe the outside with urgency. No one diagnoses Cornelia. Playwrights often subscribe madness of women as specifically feminine and offer female madwomen a wider emotional range to play. The community of others isolated mad women. Playwrights often shaped the mad women like a chorus member with a different agency in the play. Many mad women also sing and have similar speech patterns. Women also often engage in a pathetic language of madness, and employ language concerning the body. Some scholars see the turn towards bodily language as a prelude to death, but this is not consistent in Early Modern women. Confession or sexual intercourse were common cures to temporary madness, but death was the only cure for a complete mental illness. Shepherd is also interested in how people talk about a mad character after he has died.
Squitieri: Catching Passion: Hamlet in the Contagion of Theatrical Madness
The four humors and bodily spirits are synonymous with disease and madness in the Early Modern period. Some spectators condemned players for infecting the audience with a theatrical pattern. Some scholars connect the audience and actors in a moral act by which the two groups undergo a transformation. By entering the playhouse and partaking the play, an audience becomes morally responsible for the way in which the actor can transform him. In Hamlet, the audience can therefore be responsible for driving Ophelia mad. The question also rises whether or not Hamlet becomes mad, or if he merely plays mad, and at what point he may become mad. Hamlet begins by simply acting madness. The vision of Hamlet’s madness begins with a performances for Ophelia. He transforms her. She relates the vision and uses the word “thus” which infers that she is not just remembering, but repeating the physicality of the madness for Polonius. Hamlet’s transference of madness to Ophelia can also come from the physical contact when he grasps her in the vision she reports. Early Moderns also considered physical contact and eye contact as a means of transference (especially eye contact as transference of souls between lovers). The physical act of the play can also encourage the madness, and the “get thee to a nunnery” speech presents madness to her. Ophelia demonstrates a knowledge of the contagion of madness, after these confrontations, she begins to use the same types of epizeuxis which Hamlet uses to portray madness. She also speaks of having “sucked the music of his honey vows” which can also carry disease. Early Moderns believed breast milk was blood which the breasts transformed into milk, and that as such, breast milk could transfer diseases to children. Hamlet’s performed madness changes Ophelia and the spirits Hamlet releases in his performance of madness posses Ophelia. Madness also connects to the idea of sexual unchastit. The idea of plucking petals off a flower becomes Ophelia stripping her own virginity. This play demonstrates the idea that individuals can catch madness, just at the Early Moderns believed.
Will: A Pansy for Your Thoughts: Ophelia’s flowers in Film Adaptations
Some symbols which Shakespeare used have lost their meanings for contemporary audience. Ophelia’s flowers are one of these symbols. Many modern productions have to find a new means of presenting these symbols. Theater facilitators often connect the flowers to the world of the feminine. Areas early moderns connect to the female realm are emotion, and nature, and Ophelia embodies both. Ophelia sings and reveals the truth in her madness. Directors often either substitute the prop flowers with other symbols or have Ophelia use bodily actions which render the flowers useless. In one film, Ophelia passes out Hamlet’s love letters, now making them public (or fragments of love letters). The letter fragments infer a specific interpretation to her reason for madness. She also must distribute specific sections of the love letters to other members of the court which indicates a method to her madness. One director has Ophelia distribute bones and pieces of straw. They are from nature, and represent death. The director does not indicate the source from which Ophelia procured these much more menacing props. These props also confuse the ideas which the flowers represent. These may give different ideas, but the audience can experience and impact these props. The other option is to have physicality explain the flowers and the way in which she distributes them. Using body language tends more towards the emotional side of the idea of madness. In another production her hands are filled with flowers and she does not give the flowers, but throws some, and spreads out the other flowers. The way she plays her emotional state is the way that the characters and audience memebrs understand the meaning. The Emphasis of the visual effects can allow the audience to gain a deeper understanding of Ophelia through different methods, despite the grief of Shakespeareans who bewail the loss of her written lines. (Will also asked that further questions about further films be directed to her).
Preston: Let’s look at Two Noble Kinsmen 5.2
In this scene, the jailer’s daughter does not act like the usual mad person, beginning with the fact that she speaks in verse when mad characters typically speak in prose. This play frequently has characters eaves dropping on other characters, and jumping into scenes. The rhetoric in this particular scene suggests that she is eaves dropping on the others. The doctor’s cure worked, and she is now playing mad in order to get what she wants from her suitor. She has multiple verbatim repetitions of what others have said before she enters (such as “in the way of honesty” which has different meanings coming from the father and then from the daughter). She also suggests finding a blind priest for the marriage (a blind priest will realize it is not Palamon). The biggest repeat the doctor’s use of “twenty times” they should kiss, and when the suitor suggests they kiss a hundred times she replies “and twenty?” The two can share his response “and twenty” as a means of recognizing her sanity. Another proof of her sanity is that she clearly notes the difference of men (the height of Palamon vs. Arcite). She now loves the suitor who has corrected his means of wooing (she complains about his methods earlier and emphasizes things important to her and he does these things when he pretends to be Palamon). She sets up a fake Palamon and fake Arcite in this last scene and points out that their height difference has changed (“how you have grown”). Many Shakespeare plays have the men masked (when they should not be) and the woman refers to the end of the world, as a descriptor for marrying the right person. The jailer’s response to her request to sleep is “Yes, marry, will we” showing his desire to marry her. Just previous to this, a messenger enters to relay information we already know which heightens the intensity of the scene and allows the two characters to come further.
How often are male characters treated for madness? Not often, but we have more examples of their supposed madness being treated than their actual madness.
The Dark Room and Malvolio: The idea behind the use of a dark room is to mute the sensory overload, but for sane characters it drives him mad. Some characters even speak of such sensory deprivation as a means which would drive them mad.
Why does only Ophelia go mad with the idea of transference? Women were supposed to be more susceptible to madness, and Hamlet first chooses Ophelia to watch his performances of madness.
Is there a way to show catching the infection of madness?
There are some ways; one would have to ask a director. Not everyone in a modern audience would understand the means of transference, so there are only a few ways that this can be staged.
What is the clinical discourse of madness and the humors in the Early Modern period? Since we live in a clinical culture, we often think that we can separate the metaphor from the clinical, but that is not always necessarily so (breast milk does transmit certain illnesses). The flowers are always metaphors, so you have to make a different metaphor. How do you relate our medical language to the play?
The theatrical language is particularly interesting in exploring this idea.
There is not always a distinct clinical discourse, the focus is on excess of qualities, it is more about a tipping point than distinct lines and we can identify an excess or a balance of the humors.
Even today we cannot always identify what is wrong with mental illnesses.
The idea that we can put mental illnesses in check boxes is beginning to erode, and the distinction was very blurred in Early Modern England.
How does the idea of transference in Hamlet relate to the idea of holding a mirror up to nature, and trying to enlist the audience on Hamlet’s side?
Hamlet is aware of the idea of transference and how others can receive madness. He is conscious of the perception of theater.