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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: September ::
New Thread: Observations of Bedlam
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0831  Friday, 11 September 1998.

From:           Roy Flannagan <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Sep 1998 10:32:42 -0400
Subject:        New Thread: Observations of Bedlam

This may be a naive question, but is the old observation about Bethlehem
Hospital as a place where Londoners, say in 1603, might go to see and
laugh at the antics of insane people-is that an accurate rumor?  And did
Shakespeare live near enough at one time or another that he would have
to pass Bedlam often?  Here are two references cited in the OED:

 Shakes. 2 Hen. VI, v. i. 131 To Bedlem with him! Is the man growne mad?
1605 ---- Lear i. ii. 148 With a sighe like Tom o' Bedlam.

Edgar becomes Tom: he looks and acts mad but isn't; Lear becomes insane,
but recovers.

My questions are biographical and critical: what exposure might
Shakespeare have had to real insanity, and what theories of insanity
govern his depictions of Edgar as Tom, Lear as temporary madman, and
Hamlet's feigned or real madness, and Ophelia's real madness?

In class Wednesday, a students brought up the biblical support for the
theory of demonic possession, the Gaddarene swine, into whom devils were
driven from people.  What else was there for Shakespeare to draw on, for
depiction of the insane?

Roy Flannagan

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