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Archive for the ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’ Category

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 25

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

A non-captioned version can be found here.

This episode starts with one of Burton’s fabulous plays on scale. On this occasion he zooms in from the macro to the micro. We should keep active because the natural order of the physical world is movement and evidence can be found from the stars downwards.

Next comes an intriguing provocation. He notes that rich are prone to idleness and hence vulnerable to melancholy in contrast to the poor who are never ideal and thus invulnerable to melancholy. It could be argued that in contemporary Britain it is not the very richest people who are inactive but the very poorest. Unemployment, inactivity and depression appear to sit together as an unfortunate set in some cases.

I love the term ‘gargarized’. I believe people should use it more and attempt to do so myself whenever possible.

Finally, I never tire of hearing Craig reel off his great long list of recommended pastimes. It’s amazing what we used to do to divert ourselves before the invention of the television or computer screen. Anyone for quintain?

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 24

Friday, July 24th, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be seen here.

This is one of the series lighter episodes. It is encouraging to learn that we can ‘rectify’ air in order to cure our melancholy and amusing to hear Sutton Coldfield getting name checked for great air and slagged off that the same time. It’s heartwarming to hear Oldbury also getting a shout out, and not slagged off. There is a hilariously elaborate nod towards one of his patrons whose estate apparently has great air.

Initially it is discouraging to hear Burton extolling the value of travel to fight off melancholy when we are unable to travel. Staying at home has been making many of us melancholy, so it’s good to hear tips on how to improve the air in our ‘chambers’ and how even looking out of our windows may bring us some relief.

This resourcefulness in home improvement makes sense, for although the author’s book roams around the world in its quotations the author wether by choice or lack of opportunity ‘never travelled but in map or card’.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 23

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

This version is captioned. A non-captioned version can be found here.

Now, early in the second partition, we start to return to the causes of melancholy set out in the first partition but with recommendations for cures. Where before we heard mostly of food to avoid here we are recommended ‘spoon meat’ and learn how often and how much we should eat in order to be cured. There are also some recommendations on the ‘art’ of going to the toilet if you haven’t been all day.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 22

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be found here.

In the last episode we cleared up the fact that it is okay to ask a doctor to treat you. In this pragmatic episode we learn how to be good patients. Now we are looked after by the National Health Service we are unlikely to be in the position of ‘shopping around’ for a medic, but in 17th Century England you had to pay your doctor yourself and so it is easy to imagine the tensions Robert Burton suggests arise between doctor and patient.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 21

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be found here.

This episode is a fantastic time capsule. It takes us back to a time when we might consider approaching a wizard for their advice with out troubles, of course this is discouraged in The Anatomy Of Melancholy. In fact, as the author is a protestant minister, even praying to Saints is discouraged as folly followed by the ‘papists’ – Jesus Christ is after all our ‘one mediator and advocate’ with God the Father.

Intriguingly at this time there was still an argument to be had as to whether it was heretical to go to a doctor for help. Does approaching a human to cure you betray your lacking of faith in God to sort you out? Perhaps his plan is for you to be ill and you would be undoing this plan by getting yourself cured, who knows? Robert Burton reassures us that so long as we use both strategies in tandem we are probably not going to go far wrong. He continues to explain that medicine can’t be an abomination as Jesus used dirt and spit when healing a blind man, which, though not entirely hygienic, does count as medicine.

Of course debates between faith and the medical intervention are still active. We argue about medical intervention in the inception, extension and termination of life human. We fret about the power of modern genetics to alter future generations and an individual’s religious faith may still prevent them from agreeing to treatments such as blood transfusions and organ transplants. There doesn’t seem to be a great resurgence of Wizards offering advice, but that may just be a question of definition, who else will recommend you use ‘healing crystals’ or ‘reiki stones’?

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 20

Monday, July 20th, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be found here.

This is a tough episode as it deals with suicide as the consequence of melancholy. Burton, the vicar, sets out in no uncertain terms the doctrinal position that suicide is a terrible sin, worse even than murder, for in killing themselves the perpetrator ‘kills their own soul’. However, as is often the case, having set out a harsh position Burton continues and displays considerable sympathy and compassion. Ultimately we cannot know other people’s troubles and what is happening in their minds, it is not our place to judge, we should leave that to God and He, knowing all, may choose to show mercy on a soul in torment.

I love this episode, it mixes theology with great compassion.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 19

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be seen here.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy was written to be read by both women and men. Mostly it doesn’t distinguish between the genders, though of course if the activities under discussion have a gender imbalance then the advice will itself be reflect this. Occasionally however women and men are separated out has having their own distinct relationship with melancholy. In Episode 3 we learnt that men are more subject to melancholy but women, if they do suffer from it, suffer more acutely. Menstruation plays an important role, we are after all much concerned with bodily fluids, including blood, its retention and evacuation. You will be pleased to learn we have left phlebotomy out of this adaptation – along with trepanning!

This episode is devoted specifically to women and one of the subtleties of the stage adaptation we have lost here is that in on stage Rochi was dressed as a man, as if she had infiltrated the scholarly fraternity in disguise. In that version she bursts out with these thoughts and then, as if realising she may have blown her cover, backs down apologising, claiming to be a bachelor leading a monastic life. It’s all original Burton text, just distributed in a different way.

I love this episode’s closing section, which is about as animated and forceful as Burton gets in the whole book. He rants about the awful acts that follow on from enforced celibacy in what seems a very personal way and more or less threatens to see those imposing these rules outside in the car park – ‘let the politicians, the physicians and the theologians look out. I shall more opportunely meet with them elsewhere’.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 18

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be seen here.

Dramatising this book for the stage wasn’t easy. We adopted numerous strategies one of which was occasionally to have each of the four actors personify one of the four humours – in a non-naff way.

Traces of that approach can be found in this episode, where we learn how melancholy manifests itself in the behaviour of individuals whose conditions are brought on by an imbalance in each of the four humours. This leads to a petty squabble over whose humour is ‘coolest’, or associated with the most notable figures from history.

Later we see enacted the peculiar tale of ‘an advocate of Paris’. Burton relates this far fetched story as evidence for the effects of ‘melancholy itself adust’ and yet immediately afterwards notes that it is fraom a play. For us this appears to be a clash between ‘truth’ and ‘fiction’ but Mary Ann Lund, from the University of Leicester, reassures us that this division wasn’t so sharp in Burton’s days. Medics would write books describing cases they’d treated alongside those they’d heard tell of. Such notes from famous medics were often published and Burton quotes from them liberally. Such tales may not have entirely met the standards of our British Medical Journal.

Love Melancholy fills much of the book’s third partition (which we don’t take on in this series, but did in our play). Lots of ‘evidence’ Burton uses in his study of Love Melancholy is drawn from works of fiction but again Mary Ann defends him, if as Burton believes melancholy is in part a disease of the imaginatio,n why shouldn’t it be studied using imaginative sources?

There is a certain sense to line of argument I suppose, authors reflect on the human experience of love and use that as the basis for writing their fiction, thus lived ‘truth’ and ‘written’ fiction are comingled. However, this approach does bring to mind Freud referencing classical mythology alongside his own case studies and I’ve long thought this works to be absolute hokum.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 17

Friday, July 17th, 2020

A non-captioned version can be seen here.

Helpfully here, in the first of three episodes focusing on the symptoms of melancholy, Robert Burton gives us an easy guide to help us identify people who are suffering from the complaint, either from their appearance or from their behaviour.

As often happens when digesting The Anatomy Of Melancholy I start this episode thinking “this is crackers” and conclude thinking “actually he’s probably got a point there”. I start by laughing, childishly, at the term ‘flaggy beard’. The notion of identifying someone as melancholic because of he state of their beard strikes me as absurd. Later I revisit the assertion and grudgingly admit that, if someone has given up shaving or given up trimming their beard there’s a good chance they’ve given up caring what they look like, due to melancholia. You may argue that the bearded man is a hipster and thus not truly melancholic, but surely any hipster whose beard is dismissed as ‘flaggy’ would be necessity be miserable. Burton’s point is proved.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 16

Thursday, July 16th, 2020

A non-captioned version can be seen here.

As acknowledged earlier, we are now open to ideas that the health of our bodies may effect the health of our minds, but we are perhaps less comfortable with the idea that poor mental health may be linked more specifically to our stomach, our spleen or the temperature of our liver – be that too hot or cold. I urge you to put that scepticism to one side for now, the glory of this episode lies in the imagery of its language, the ‘purly hunter’, the ’cask’ and its ‘tincture’ and the stunning conclusion, a sobering warning for those who think melancholy is something that only happens to other people.

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