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Separate Theaters: Bethlem ("Bedlam") Hospital and the Shakespearean Stage
by Ken Jackson
The popular and academic understanding of the relationship between London's notorious psychiatric hospital, Bethlem, and the stage is that the hospital was some sort of theater, a place of perverse and fashionable entertainment, where the mad were shown to "visitors." This seemingly strange practice of visitation then was depicted or alluded to in several plays between 1598 and 1630 including Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour (1598), Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton's The Honest Whore, Part One (1605), William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (1601), Hamlet (1601), and King Lear (1606), (1607), John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (1614), Middleton and William Rowley's The Changeling (1622). But the dominant assumption that the stage depicted this institution and practice to tantalize "primitive" elements in its audience distorts both the complexity of the show of Bethlem, which had a very complicated charitable function, and the development of representational dramatic art.About the Author
Ken Jackson is an Assistant Professor of English at Wayne State University.
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