This is a book about the theatre, about dramatic representations of madness, about the emblems and devices that are deployed to signal madness in the theatre. Conduct, bodily posture, gait, gestures and facial expressiveness, language, and dress are some of the ways that are used to communicate madness to the audience. Why is this subject of interest to a psychiatrist? Psychiatry is principally concerned with psychopathology and this is determined by careful observation of conduct, posture, gait, gestures and language among other things. Attention to language, to the explicitly stated, to the overt meaning, the unsaid and covert meaning, the mis-said and mis-heard, are part of the stock in trade of psychiatry. Dramatic dialogue, particularly since Henrik Ibsen and in Harold Pinter, relies on the ambiguity of language, the very aspects that psychiatrists too work with in the clinic. Therefore, it stands to reason that the crafts of the dramatist, the actor and the psychiatrist have much in common.
To elaborate on these points further, when a psychiatrist sees a patient who is dressed in bright colours, who is restless, jovial and exuberant, he is likely to conclude that a mood disorder is likely to be present. This is the same thing as saying that manifest behaviour is interpreted as a sign of internal, emotional experience. In the theatre, this same principle is at play: the actors signal internal, inner feeling by visible behaviour. In this, at least, there is a correspondence, if inverse, of method and interest between clinical psychiatry and the theatre. Thus, this book is about the symbolic representation of madness in the theatre and it suggests that codes and conventions exist for denoting mental states. How far these conventions borrow from the behaviour of the mentally ill and how far the theatrical codes themselves influence the behaviour of the mentally ill is uncertain but worth pondering. Do the mentally ill, by a process of cultural osmosis, come to know what is ‘expected’ of them when in a disturbed state? Are psychiatrists too inculcated into these codes both by their training and by cultural osmosis? There are, as yet, no definite answers to these questions. But, it is intriguing to consider the origins of the many and varied behaviours that denote and signal emotional turmoil and psychiatric pathology.