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Theaters of MadnessInsane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture$
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Benjamin Reiss

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226709635

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226709659.001.0001

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Bardolatry in Bedlam: Shakespeare and Early Psychiatry

Bardolatry in Bedlam: Shakespeare and Early Psychiatry

(p.79) Chapter Three Bardolatry in Bedlam: Shakespeare and Early Psychiatry
Theaters of Madness
University of Chicago Press

This chapter resurrects a substantial body of Shakespeare criticism in the first-ever psychiatric journal, the American Journal of Insanity. In this work, the physicians cite the Bard as a precursor to themselves, modern mental health specialists, on the basis of his theories and even practices of mental science, and they appropriate his legacy in an attempt to legitimate their new profession. For the early psychiatrists, William Shakespeare's medical infallibility both mirrored and masked their own fiercely guarded institutional authority. In their role as critics of modernity who nonetheless were at the vanguard of progress, they appealed to him as a premodern visionary who intuited the modern world but was uncorrupted by it. The chapter concludes with an account of patients reading Shakespeare and responding—sometimes strenuously—to what they perceived as their doctors' misreadings; they used the almost scriptural authority of the Bard to contest the regime of their doctors in much the way that slaves used the bible against the masters who gave it to them.

Keywords:   American Journal of Insanity, mental health, William Shakespeare, medical infallibility, modernity, patients, doctors, authority, mental science, psychiatrists

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