The Psychology of Shakespeare/Chapter 8
MALVOLIO. CHRISTOPHER SLY. COMEDY OF ERRORS.
In the time when Shakespeare wrote, and of which he wrote, there existed no "Imputed Lunatics' Society." At least there are no records of its existence, and not even a tradition thereof. Is it possible that one of the members may have immolated the Secretary on a funeral pyre of the proceedings, and thus converting the whole into the "baseless fabric of a vision, left not a wreck behind." If so, the more's the pity; for if the writings of Shakespeare may be taken as a guide, it was more needed then than it is now; inasmuch as the false imputation of insanity appears at that time to have been quite a common incident.
These characters of imputed insanity were needful to bring Shakespeare's psychological delineations "full circle round." The various phases of real and feigned insanity, which he has depicted with such marvellous skill and truthfulness, needed this one link to complete the chain. In its way it is perfect, as representing not only a masterly and most amusing sketch of the fabrication of imputed lunacy, but also of the treatment thought to be suitable for the insane in those days. Some incidental references to the treatment of the insane are to be found in several of the dramas. Thus Cominius says to Coriolanus,
"If, 'gainst yourself you be incens'd, we'll put you
(Like one that means his proper harm) in manacles."
In Romeo and Juliet also is the following: “Benvolio. Why Romeo art thou mad : Romeo. Not mad, but bound more than a madman is : Shut up in prison: kept without food,
Whipp'd and tormented.” In “As you like it,” Rosalind incidently refers to the treatment of insanity.
“Love is merely a madness, and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do: and the reason
why they are not so punished and cured is, that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.” Malvolio only gets the half of Rosalind's recipe, which he endures without exciting much commiseration; a fact which may lead to the reflection that the ill-treatment of a
real madman is an offence of very different colour to a frolic, however mischievous, with a vain egotistical coxcomb like Malvolio, or a drunken humorist like Sly. A sane man who has behaved himself like a madman, deserves some sort of
punishment; the misfortune of real disease claims ever enduring forbearance and kindness; from whence it results that the interests of an insane person, who has really suffered
ill treatment, and those of a sane person who has brought upon himself the imputation of insanity, are very far from being identical. -
In the frolic of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare prefaces his character for the imputation of madness, with the same skill he has elsewhere displayed in Saying the ground plan for the reality. unalloyed egot in of the major-domo' at
first vents itself in a querulousºttack on the Fook-and on those who ºugh at his folly. Aſhe is one of those men to
self-impºrtant is an insult. Olivia gives the key nôte-of. Missisposition; a testy temper mea whose
suring all things by the rule of his narrow self-esteem.
“Oli. O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition, is to take those things for bird-bolts, that you deem cannon-bullets.”
Though he has right on his side in objecting to Sir Toby's saturnalia, the same priggish vanity is evident in the method of reproof, bringing down upon him the pungent sarcasm of that moist moralist :
“Art thou any more than a steward 2
Dost thou think
because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale 7”
He offends Maria also with his Jack-in-office reproofs. Maria, the “wittiest piece of Eve's flesh in all Illyria,” instantly forms the plan of consummate revenge, namely, to “gull him into a nay-word, and make him a common recreation.” She has taken the exact guage of his self-esteem, and knows every pebble in the hover of vanity where the great trout lies, which she will lure into her grasp with tickling false hoods.
“Mar. I will drop in his way some obscure epistles of love; wherein, by the colour of his beard, the shape of his leg, the manner of his gait, the expressure of his eye, forehead, and
complexion, he shall find himself most feelingly personated : I can write very like my lady, your niece; on a forgotten matter we can hardly make distinction of our hands. Sir To. Excellent 1 I smell a device.
Sir And. I have’t in my nose too. Sir To. He shall think, by the letters that thou wilt drop,
that they come from my niece, and that she is in love with him.
Malvolio has made enemies on every side, by the tale bearing arts of upper-servant diplomacy, so that recruits to the ambuscade of frolic are easy to find. Fabian will be boiled to death with melancholy, “rather than lose a scruple of the sport,” and Sir Toby will “fool him black and blue.” The poor victim's proclivity to folly is carefully elaborated before Maria's wicked device of the letter makes the cup brim o'er. “He has been yonder in the sun practising behaviour to his own shadow this half hour.
Observe him for the love of
mockery, for I know that this letter will make a contem
plative idiot of him.” Malvolio's egregious vanity expressed in his overheard soliloquy is so preposterously flagrant, that it scarcely needed the dish of poison dressed for him in the feigned letter from the Countess, to bring it to a climax so closely resembling
madness, that Olivia should accept the fact, without further proof than the absurd demeanour which the poor “baffled fool” puts on before her : “Mal. 'Tis but fortune; all is fortune. Maria once told me, she did affect me : and I have heard herself come thus
near, that, should she fancy, it should be one of my com plexion. Besides, she uses me with a more exalted respect, than any one else that follows her.
What should I think
The steward's conceit has not the common quality of good nature to redeem it. He is testy and quarrelsome among his fellow servants, and a willing tell-tale of their failings, an ill-disposed sheep-dog of the domestic flock, a “niggardly rascally sheep-biter,” as Sir Toby calls him. He is a man who has no pity for others, having himself put into prison the captain who rescued Viola, for some unspecified offence. His adhesion to Olivia is founded upon selfishness alone. He not only displays no real affection for her, not even that of a faithful servant, but from the first he treats her with that off-handed
upper-servant want of respect, which seems to say that she is honoured by his service. The folly of his aspiration to her hand has not therefore a breath of excuse or palliation. He can love no one but himself, and the demeanour, which he
puts on in consequence of Maria's letter, is but the expression of his own previous thoughts and aspirations. He dons himself in yellow stockings, a colour which Olivia abhors, cross garters himself, a fashion she detests, and presents himself before—not the goddess of his idolatry, but the step ping-stone to his ambition, with the apish manners of an underbred dandy. Maria having previously prepared her mistress's mind for the most obvious explanation of his absurdities.
He's coming, madam ;
But in strange manner. He is sure possess'd. Oli. Why, what's the matter does he rave 7 No, madam,
He does nothing but smile : your ladyship Were best have guard about you, if he come ; For, sure, the man is tainted in his wits. Oli. Go call him hither.—I’m as mad as he,
If sad and merry madness equal be.— How now, Malvolio !
Mal. Sweet lady, ho, ho,
Oli. Smil'st thou ?
I sent for thee upon a sad occasion. Mal. Sad, lady ?
I could be sad : This does make some
obstruction in the blood, this cross-gartering; But what of that, if it please the eye of one, it is with me as the very true sonnet is : Please one, and please all. Oli. Why, how dost thou man what is the matter with thee ?
Mal. Not black in my mind, though yellow in my legs: It did come to his hands, and commands shall be executed. I think, we do know the sweet Roman hand.
Oli. God comfort thee! Why dost thou smile so, and kiss thy hand so oft? Mar. How do you, Malvolio ! Mal. At your request ? Yes; Nightingales answer daws. Mar. Why appear you with this ridiculous boldness before my lady ?
Mal. Be mot afraid of greatness.-'twas well writ,” &c. “Oli. Why, this is very midsummer madness.” In what midsummer madness is supposed to differ from that
of the rest of the year is not certain, unless it may be that the heat of the weather is supposed to increase that of the brain,
and render its vagaries more rampant. Olivia's injunction to Maria, to “let this fellow be looked to,” and that the people should have special care of him, though immediately following the expression of her opinion that he is mad, has so little the effect of opening his eyes, dimmed with the scales of egotism, that he draws from the half contemptuous expression a perverse and flattering meaning. “Let this fellow be looked to ; fellow ! not Malvolio, nor after my degree, but fellow ! nothing that can be, can come
between me and the full prospect of my hopes.” Not even the direct accusations of the conspirators that he is mad, can excite a suspicion of the foolery of which he is both the agent and the butt. They are idle shallow things, not of his element; they will know more shortly, and have reason to behave more respectfully. This bantering scene is pregnant with comicality, and with reference to the old
fashioned ideas of madness and disease. While Sir Toby and Maria wickedly refer the cause of the supposed insanity to demoniacal possession, Fabian hits the more sensible expla– nation afforded by humoral pathology. “Fab. Here he is, here he is :—How is't with you, sir? how ist with you, man 7
Mal. Go off; I discard you ; let me enjoy my private ; Lo, how hollow the fiend speaks within him I did
not I tell you ?—Sir Toby, my lady prays you to have a care of him.
Mal. Ah, ah
does she so :
Sir To. Go to, go to ; peace, peace, we must deal gently with him ; let me alone.
How do you, Malvolio 7 how is't
with you? What, man defy the devil: consider, he's an enemy to mankind. Mal Do you know what you say ? Mar. La you, an you speak ill of the devil, how he takes it at heart | Pray God, he be not bewitched : Fab. Carry his water to the wise woman. Mar. Marry, and it shall be done to-morrow morning, if I live My would not lose him for more than I'll say. Fab. No way but gentleness; gently, gently; the fiend is
rough, and will not be roughly used.
Sir To. Why, how now, my bawcock? how dost thou, chuck 2 Mal. Sir 2
Sir To. Ay, Biddy, come with me. What, man 'tis not for gravity to play at cherry-pit with Satan: Hang him, foul collier |
Mar. Get him to say his prayers; good sir Toby, get him to pray.
}} My prayers, minx : Mar. No, I warrant you, he will not hear of godliness. Mal. Go, hang yourselves all ! you are idle shallow things : I am not of your element: you shall know more hereafter.” The unscrupulous tormentors have some apprehension that he may verily go mad, from the complete success of their device. Sir Toby at first thinks that he may become actually insane from disappointment, when he finds that the castle building of his ambition is all in the clouds. “Why, thou hast put him in such a dream that when the image of it leaves him, he must run mad.” Now, however, they think that the very excess of his morbid vanity will bring him to this consummation.
“Fab. Why, we shall make him mad, indeed. Mar. The house will be the quieter. Sir To. Come, we'll have him in a dark-room, and bound.
My niece is already in the belief that he is mad; we may carry it thus, for our pleasure, and his penance, till our very pastime, tired out of breath, prompt us to have mercy on him ; at which time we will bring the device to the bar, and crown thee for a finder of madmen.”
He is put in the dark room and bound; and to carry on the riotous fun, an exorcist is provided in the Clown, repre senting Sir Topaz the Curate. “Clo. What, hoa, I say, Peace in this prison 1 Mal. [In an immer chamber.] Who calls, there? Clo. Sir Topaz, the curate, who comes to visit Malvolio the lunatic.
Mal. Sir Topaz, Sir Topaz, good Sir Topaz, go to my lady. Clo. Out, hyperbolical fiend how vexest thou this man 7 talkest thou nothing but of ladies?
Sir To. Well said, master parson. Mal. Sir Topas, never was man thus wronged : good sir Topas, do not think I am mad ; they have laid me here in hideous darkness.
Clo. Fye, thou dishonest Sathan . I call thee by the most modest terms ; for I am one of those gentle ones, that will use the devil himself with courtesy: Say'st thou, that house is dark 2
Mal. As hell, sir Topas. Clo. Why, it hath bay windows, transparent as barricadoes, and the clear-stories towards the south and north
lustrous as ebony; and yet complainest thou of obstruction ?
Mal. I am not mad, sir Topas; I say to you, this house is dark.
Clo. Madman, thou errest : I say, there is no darkness, but ignorance; in which thou art more puzzled, than the Egyptians in their fog. Mal. I say, this house is as dark as ignorance, though ignorance were as dark as hell; and I say there was never man thus abused : I am no more mad than you are ; make the trial of it in any constant question. Clo. What is the opinion of Pythagoras, concerning wild fowl 2
Mal. That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.
Clo. What thinkest thou of his opinion ? Mal. I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion. Clo. Fare thee well: Remain thou still in darkness: thou
shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras, ere I will allow of thy wits; and fear to kill a woodcock, lest thou dispossess the soul of thy grandam. Fare thee well.” This interview represents, a caricature of the idea that madness is occasioned by demoniacal possession, and is curable by priestly exorcism. The idea was not merely a vulgar one in Shakespeare's time, but was maintained long afterward by the learned and the pious ; more than a trace of it, indeed, remains to the present day in Canon LXXII. of the Church, which provides, that no Minister without the license of the Bishop of the Diocese shall “attempt, upon any pretence whatsoever, either of possession or obsession, by fasting and prayer, to cast out any devil or devils, under pain of the imputation of imposture or cosenage, and deposition from the ministry.” I have known more than one ceremonial of exorcism
performed without this reference to episcopal authority, which was doubtless intended to check injudicious zeal in the employment of a superstitious rite. The exorcism of the false Sir Topaz is supposed to be proceeded with in the proper place, namely, the Church, and hence the reference to the bay windows and to the clear-stories. This ceremonial must have been of no uncommon occurrence in Shakespeare's time. In Catholic countries it is still resorted to ; and in the
lunatic colony of Gheel, in Belgium, it appears to be the usual active treatment to which recently admitted patients are subjected.
There is nothing new under the sun, at least, in human nature; to this conclusion, a careful study of Shakespeare must inevitably lead, for either from contemplation or obser vation, he seems to have known all the absurdites, and all the
shades of man's intellectual weakness and pride. Could he arise again, would he not find this century rather dull and uninteresting, compared with his own 7 Material improve ments excepted, would he not find the world rather worse for wear, more crowded and less merry, more pretentious and less truthful, more knowing and less wise; and would he not find existing follies as numerous as old ones, only less picturesque ! If the old world system of exorcism is caricatured by the false Sir Topaz, one of the modern tests of insanity is also keenly quizzed. The idea of testing the existence of insanity,
by questions on the doctrine of transmigration, may find its counterpart in more than one recent legal investigation, S in which it has been argued by very learned counsel, and maintained by very eminent physicians, that, because an educated gentleman retains some knowledge of his previous acquirements, it is impossible that he can be insane. It is noteworthy that Shakespeare does not introduce the
exorcist in the grave and tragic instances of insanity, but only to cope with the comic instances of falsely imputed madness, in Malvolio and the Antipholi. The Clown puts off the character of the reverend exorcist, and appears in his own. He well advises Malvolio to “endea vour thyself to sleep and leave thy vain bibble babble;” and in the very acme of pretended good faith, he exhorts the victim, “tell me true, are you mad indeed ? or do you but counterfeit?” and in reply to the strenuous denial of both, he closes the argument with the assertion which might have prevented it, “nay, I'll never believe a madman 'till I see his brains.”
The Clown provides the poor dupe with materials and means to write a letter, and undertakes to carry it to Olivia, whom
Malvolio thinks the cause of his ill-usage. The Clown, how ever, does with the letter much as the letters of insane pa tients are too often treated at the present time. He detains it until the writer comes in question respecting the imprisonment of Viola's friend, the sea captain, and then presents it with the remark that, “a madman's epistles are no gospels, so it skills not much when they are delivered.”
The Duke rightly thinks that the letter “savours not much of distraction.” Malvolio comes into the presence, and gives a temperate account of the treatment by which he has been “made the most notorious geck and gull that e'er invention played on.” It is to be feared, however, that if the steward's vanity is diminished under treatment, the gall and malice of his dispo sition are increased.
He takes leave with the threat, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you," foreshadowing a criminal information for conspiracy, or at the very least an action for assault and false imprisonment. The theme of Christopher Sly's imputed madness in the Induction of Taming the Shrew turns on the old point of indis tinguished identity. The frolic, to “practise on the drunken man” by letting him awake from the insensibility of his liquor, surrounded by the circumstances of a lord, at once suggests the old question, “Would not the beggar then forget himself?” Sly, we fear, is a sad rogue, though he denies it. “The Sly's are no rogues. Look in the Chronicles, we came in with the Conqueror.” But descent barreth not bad qualities, and a man's lineage may have “crept through scoundrels, ever since the flood.” He would almost barter his birthright for a pot of small ale, and it is not therefore surprising that he should readily enough give up his identity, when bribed with an atmosphere of sensual gratification. Consciousness and conscientiousness are not merely allied in sound. There is exquisite drollery, if there is also some inconsistency in making Sly, who is sane, accept this oft repeated test of alienation. Sly's readiness to submit to a change of identity, is proof positive, if other proofs were wanting, that this test is not trustworthy. He is at first very positive. “What, would you make me mad : Am I not Christopher Sly, old Sly’s son of Burton-heath ; by birth a pedlar, by education a card-maker, by transmutation a bear-herd, and now by present profession a tinker ? Ask Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife of Wincot, if she know me not : if she say I
am not fourteen pence on the score for sheer ale, score me up for the lyingest knave in Christendom. What I am not bestraught !” Here is identification with circumstance : but, alas, the
tempter comes to prove all this is but a strange lunacy, and to proffer the delights of lordly luxury, and the sensualist gives up his past existence to embrace that of the sybarite. After all it is but a change of manner. “Am I a lord? and have I such a lady ? Or do I dream, or have I dream'd till now
I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak; I smell sweet savours, and I feel soft things:– Upon my life, I am a lord, indeed; And not a tinker, nor Christophero Sly.— Well, bring our lady hither to our sight; And once again, a pot o' the smallest ale.” Self-identification is, indeed, no test of sanity or insanity. An insane man, who fancies himself made of butter, or of
glass, is not convinced to the contrary by fire not melting him, or blows not breaking him, and is not likely to be
convinced by the persistence of ordinary sensation in a sub stance which ought to be senseless. The power of the delusion which overlooks the attributes of that which it believes to
exist, is not likely to succumb to the attributes of that which it believes not to exist. Moreover sensation may be de fective or perverted, while emotion and intellect remain sound. The prick of Lear's pin might be inflicted on a limb which had lost the sense of feeling; and if the organs of vision
had been affected, Sebastian might neither have seen the glorious sun nor the pearl, or might have seen them multiplied or distorted. In the Comedy of Errors, madness is imputed to four of the
principal characters, namely, to the two pairs of twins. There is more of fanciful incident than of delineation of character in
this piece. The idea of insanity first presents itself to the mind of the courtesan to whom Antipholus of Ephesus denies
the ring he has had from her.
The idea once suggested is
eagerly seized upon by his shrewish wife and her partisans, to
interpret the violent and absurd conduct of her lord. Mis taken identity is again the pivot of the imputed madness, but in this instance the mistake is not made by the subject of it, but by the public. Adriana procures the assistance of a conjuring exorcist, Pinch. The marks of anger are inter preted into the signs of madness. “Alas, how fiery and how sharp he looks : “Mark, how he trembles in his extasy" “Pinch. Give me your hand, and let me feel your pulse. Ant. E. There is my hand, and let it feel your ear. 1xx
Pinch. I charge thee, Satan, hous'd within this man,
To yield possession to my holy prayers, And to thy state of darkness hie thee straight; I conjure thee by all the saints in heaven.” This of course adds fuel to the fire of the angry man's excitement; discussion leads to violence; master and man over
powered and bound together are put in a dark and dampish vault.
Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse, the other halves of the identity, as they may be called, take refuge from their persecutions in the sanctuary of the cloister. The interview of the Abbess with the zealous and jealous wife is the fine
passage of the play. Adriana must have drawn upon her fancy for the account of the premonitory symptoms, or have thus interpreted the ill-humour caused by her own shrewish temper. The Abbess makes a wrong guess or two at the cause, but her keen eye reads the only probable one in the feature language of the wife. The manner in which she inveigles the latter into self-accusation, and then describes the distracting effect of domestic cark and worry is finely graphic. Abb. How long hath this posession held the man 7 Adr. This week he hath been heavy, sour, sad, And much, much different from the man he was ;
But, till this afternoon, his passion Ne'er brake into extremity of rage. Abb. Hath he not lost much wealth by wrack of sea 7 Buried some dear friend ? Hath not else his eye Stray'd his affection in unlawful love? A sin prevailing much in youthful men, Who give their eyes the liberty of gazing. Which of these sorrows is he subject to ? Adr. To none of these, except it be the last; Namely, some love that drew him oft from home. Abb. You should for that have reprehended him.
Adr. Why, so I did. Abb. Ay, but not rough enough. Adr. As roughly, as my modesty would let me. Abb. Haply, in private. Adr.
And in assemblies too.
Abb. Ay, but not enough. Adr. It was the copy of our conference : In bed, he slept not for my urging it : At board, he fed not for my urging it :
Alone, it was the subject of my theme; In company, I have often glanced it ; Still did I tell him it was vile and bad.
Abb. And thereof came it, that the man was mad :
The venom clamours of a jealous woman Poison more deadly than a mad dog's tooth. It seems, his sleeps were hinder'd by thy railing; And therefore comes it, that his head is light. Thou say'st his meat was sauc’d with thy upbraidings ; Unquiet meals make ill digestions, Thereof the raging fire of fever bred ; And what's a fever but a fit of madness
Thou say'st, his sports were hinder'd by thy brawls : Sweet recreation barr'd, what doth ensue,
But moody and dull melancholy, Kinsman to grim and comfortless despair; And, at her heels, a huge infectious troop
Of pale distemperatures, and foes to life 2 In food, in sport, and life-preserving rest To be disturb'd, would mad or man, or beast :
The consequence is then, thy jealous fits Have scar'd thy husband from the use of wits.” The imputation of disordered mind is cast upon many other characters in these dramas, but in no other is there a
discussion, or so to say, an inquisition upon the truth of the fact, except in Measure for Measure, when Isabella throws herself before the Duke, praying for justice upon his hypocrite deputy, the saintly Angelo. The imputation of disordered intellect is here made in all seriousness, to discredit the
accuser, and avert the punishment of crime. Angelo replies to the maiden's denunciation. “Angelo. My lord, her wits, I fear me, are not firm. She hath been a suitor to me for her brother
Cut off by cause of justice
By cause of justice Angelo. And she will speak most bitterly and strange. Isabel. Most strange, and yet most truly will I speak.” Isabel.
The accusation is made, and the Duke answers in well
assumed belief in Angelo's truth and Isabella's distractedness; thus eliciting from her that discrimination between the impossible and the improbable, which ought never to be lost sight of, in estimating dubious statements of suspected minds. “Duke.
Away with her ;-Poor soul,
She speaks this in the infirmity of sense. Isabel. O prince I conjure thee, as thou believ'st, There is another comfort than this world,
That thou neglect me not, with that opinion That I am touched with madness; make not impossible That which but seems unlike.”
The duke accepts the distinction, and applies the best possible test to the reasonableness of the statement, namely, the just consequence of one idea on another, the “dependency of thing on thing.” “Duke. By mine honesty, If she is mad as I believe no other, Her madness hath the oddest frame of sense,
Such a dependency of thing on thing As e'er I heard in madness. Isabel. O gracious
Harp not on that ; nor do not banish reason For inequality; but let your reason serve To make the truth appear where it seems hid.” This imputation of insanity to smother truth is as old as the time when it was replied to by the great apostle of truth, in the very spirit of Isabella's appeal: "I am not mad most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness." The test which the Duke applies is the only one valid in regard to the reason, although it is opposed to Locke's theory, that madmen reason right on wrong premises. But the right statement of the premises is a great part of the reasoning process: the dependency of one premise on another being duly set forth, the conclusion follows as a matter of course. Hence it follows, that although it may be needful to apply other tests to ascertain the soundness of other functions of the mind, that of the reason, strictly so called, must ever be estimated by the due sequence of ideas, the "dependency of thing on thing."