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The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 18

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.

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