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The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 21

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 15

July 15th, 2020


A non-captioned version can be seen here

As we approach the end of Robert Burton’s great survey of melancholy’s causes, which together form Section 2 of the the first Partition of his Anatomy, we find the material for today’s episode.

After six sub-sections describing in detail examples of accidental causes – things that happen to us – he has a host of circumstances still to be addressed and so forms them into a concluding list. The list is touching because it is all so familiar to us, close to home and timeless. If we have not experienced a misery arising from an item on this list then we each surely know a family member, friend or acquaintance who has. The exception appears to be ‘Bad Servants’ but translate this to our times as ‘Employees’ and define these as ‘people you pay to do jobs for you’ then who hasn’t felt this gloom?

Hearing this list performed summons in me a pleasurable melancholy that Burton acknowledges, and is tolerant of, but urges us not to indulge in ‘overmuch’. So, if like me you find yourself seduced by the sad beauty of this episode, please don’t re-watch it too many times.

Film On The Radio: Back To The Future

July 14th, 2020

Last night’s broadcast of Film On The Radio: Back To The Future, from The Commentators, is available now to here on the company’s Mixlr showreel.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 14

July 14th, 2020


A non-captioned version can be seen here.

There’s no putting a gloss on today’s episode, it’s pretty bleak. Our author describes to us the anxiety and misery that arise from being poor. He outlines a systemic problem in which those with wealth exploit the labour of those without and in so doing make social mobility impossible. He writes with an aching sense of compassion for those struggling in this situation. I find this episode as compelling in its argument for equality as any political speech.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 13

July 13th, 2020


A non-captioned version can be seen here.

As eager twenty somethings this episode would not have resonated with us as it does now. Now the team are living the anxious role of concerned parents, asking ourselves “how much should we encourage, support, cajole, rebuke, insist or decry?” We want to give our children the best start in life, but what is for the best and how much influence do we really have? To help us in today’s episode we have two very special guest stars.


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