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The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 33

August 2nd, 2020


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

This episode contains a detailed recipe for a dish of ram’s brain that will cure melancholy. It is a passage I once used when explaining to the uninitiated how The Anatomy Of Melancholy mixes credible advice with crazy seventeenth century nonsense. However, since talking to a neuroscientist last year I’ve had to abandon this approach. He considered the cure not to be totally beyond the bounds of possibility. His reasoning was that if our melancholic had low serotonin levels and the ram’s brain contained serotonin then eating the brain could help, provided it were cooked gently and the serotonin survived the stomach’s acids.

I enjoy being taken to a world in which coffee is just an exotic rumour, being so drunk you vomit is recommended once a month and drug called Bang puts its adherents into a state of ecstasy. Much of this comes as a welcome contrast to the author’s familiar promotion of moderation as the best policy.

So far no one has stepped forward to persuade me that I’ll be cheered up by having hot ram’s lungs applied to my forehead. Surely that is crazy seventeenth century nonsense, but then maybe we shouldn’t dismiss anything without trying it out.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 32

August 1st, 2020


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

This episode weighs up the merits of using medicines to cure melancholy and there is much to enjoy here.

Initially Robert Burton shares with us his cautious scepticism, after all there is an ‘accurate description’ of people who live an extraordinary span of years in Iceland by entirely avoiding the medical profession. He backs this argument up with a macabre joke about the relative dangers of treatment by physicians or pharmacists before conducting a witty retreat to ensure he doesn’t alienate those may later have to call on for help.

A concern about side effects leads to caution about too ready or lavish a prescription of medicines, a caution which remains with us today.

There is a brilliant cutting down to size of ‘bombast physicians’ (a phrase I am constantly looking to adapt for everyday use). Their cures, which now sound like ‘alternative medicine’, Burton characterises as ‘prodigious, sumptuous, far-fetched, rare [and] conjectural’. One wonders what the few known common garden herbs’ were used by ‘many an old wife or country woman’.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 31

July 31st, 2020


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

The book’s first partition regularly reads like a big list of depressing things that can make you feel depressed. The second partition, focusing on cures, is much more positive and in line with its mirroring of the first, here is a big list of reassuring advice for life. If you feel able follow its suggestions then yours will be a good, content life lived with an easy conscience.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 30

July 30th, 2020


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

This episode is short and sweet, a balm for anyone who is furious about being overlooked or overshadowed, squeezed out or undervalued. It speaks to a lot of what we see today and was apparently also seen four hundred years ago – presumably has always been seen.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 29

July 29th, 2020


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

Classics are coming think and fast now. Yesterday’s episode was my favourite episode yesterday, today’s episode may well be my favourite today.

What can you do to cure someone of the misery of a loved one dying? It seems impossible and yet Burton tries. He appeals to logic, that sleep is peaceful and death is a continual sleep, so why should we be afraid of that. In a beautiful passage about the inevitability of death he describes how great cities have a limited span before being ‘involved in perpetual night’. He tries the religious consolation of a happy second meeting before setting out the consolation of a happy release. Finally, in a heartbreakingly touching passage he takes us through a consolation for a mother who has lost a child. It is sad and yet glorious stuff.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 28

July 28th, 2020


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

I love everything about this episode, it is possibly my favourite of the full 35.

I love the argument about the virtue of poverty and the conclusion that this can easily be argued by those who are not poor, but only carries legitimacy from those who are – which calls to mind Marx and historically the great wealth of monasteries, the popes and established religion.

I love the hight of luxury being epitomised as a cloak made from the beards of giants – though personally I’d not find such an item psychologically comfortable.

Most of all I love the consoling words in the final section. I love them as a form of poetry and as a reassuring message. In this performance we were privileged to have an unexpected guest star who make her unscheduled appearance at an extraordinarily appropriate moment. If this doesn’t make you well up then you don’t need to be watching video adaptations about a book helping you avoid melancholy, you need to be seeking counciling for those who have lost their very soul.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 27

July 27th, 2020


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

This episode starts with a reflection on whether force of will is sufficient to stave off the advance of melancholy. Recent public information campaigns to increase the understanding of mental health take a clear position on this, they seek to rebuff the idea that depression reflects a weakness of character, depression is an illness, traced in many cases to a chemical imbalance, a lack of serotonin, in this circumstance to tell a depressed person to ‘snap out of it’ is akin, as robert Burton says “[to] bid him that is diseased not to feel pain”

In recent months we have all been enforced or encouraged to isolate or distance ourselves from other human company. We will each have our own judgement on the psychological effects of this change. Perhaps we now have a stronger sense of the uplifting powers of good company and friendship than we did before, certainly Burton is convinced of them. He is convinced that if we are feeling melancholic then hanging out with a friend should help. Rather controversially however his advice does encourage friends melancholics to flog them if being nice to them doesn’t cheer them up – it is difficult to imagine how this might help and we do not endorse this course of action.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 26

July 26th, 2020


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

Sound and ready sleepers can’t easily put themselves in the place of those who struggle to acquire and retain the state. A lack of sleep is depressing and debilitating, a vicious circle in which anxiety over sleep makes sleep more difficult. In this episode Robert Burton offers sensible advice and our actors pass this on from their beds.

An adaptation of Robert Burton’s extraordinary 400 year old book.

More details on this series, the stage version and Stan’s Cafe at: www.stanscafe.co.uk

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 25

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

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’.


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