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Is There a Doctor in the House?

By (October 1, 2008) No Comment
Please: just for a little while, try and forget everything you know about Hamlet. If you are an academic (especially if you are an academic), purge your mind of history and book history and cultural history and critical history; if you are a dramatist, forget every performance you have seen or in which you have participated; if you are a reader, a playgoer, or have come into contact with the play through other means, from the tables of your memory wipe away all trivial fond records.

Sir Ian McKellen, 1971

Forget the sightings of the Ghost of Old Hamlet; forget the fact that Claudius has killed his brother and married Gertrude and obtained the throne; forget that the knowledge of this fact drives Hamlet to revenge; forget the play-within-a-play, the graveyard scene, the fencing, the slaughter at the play’s end; forget the last-minute entrance of Fortinbras and his conquering army. (Actually, this last shouldn’t be too difficult, as Fortinbras’ entrance often gets cut from performance: for example, the recent production of the play at Stratford ended abruptly with Hamlet’s death.)

Given it a go? Good. Thank you.

The Greek physician Galen, who worked in the second century A.D., is credited, along with Hippocrates, as the father of medicine, the progenitor of the diagnostic method, the champion of anatomy at a time when its practice was looked on with suspicion (and rightly so, given the number of eager vivisectionist contemporaries waiting to “examine” condemned criminals). Galen is also among the first in Western practice to link the idea of the mind or soul (for a moment let those two words be interchangeable) and its attributes to the human brain (when most of his colleagues were cardiocentrists, maintaining the heart’s connection to the soul’s functions). What is more, he was perhaps the first physician to study the effects of trauma to the brain and nervous system, and thus to begin to draw the lines between specific functions and specific sections of the brain.

As a surgeon to the gladiators of Pergamum, Galen witnessed first-hand alterations in sensation, movement, and thought which might follow after an unlucky competitor sustained various sorts of head trauma. The deeper and more serious the wound to the brain, the more severely affected the gladiator’s behavior. Through his observations, Galen even managed to discover correlations between the location of the brain damage and the sort of behavioral change which followed: a laceration to one of the brain’s lateral ventricles altered motion and sensation, while damage to the third ventricle could garble reason. (The human brain has four ventricles which store cerebrospinal fluid; in the Galenic model, these ventricles housed refined, not-quite-physical spirits which served the will of the soul.) In one rather infamous public demonstration, Galen countered his cardiocentric detractors by slicing the laryngeal nerve of a squealing pig, arguing as the pig fell silent that the brain and nervous system had far more control over the body, because of their influence from the soul, than the heart.

Note that it would have been extremely difficult for Galen to theorize links between brain and mind without resorting to damaging the one to consider the effects of the other. In the absence of functional magnetic resonance imaging, the physician had to rely on what he could study using his own senses – and naturally there was no way to observe directly the soul acting on the brain, and the brain acting on the body. In Galen’s work, then, are the roots of a very modern conception of cognitive experimentation, namely the idea that the brain must be studied by looking at cases of things that have gone wrong with it.

In modern parlance this is known as the lesion study, and despite its morally problematic consequences, it has enabled modern neuroscientists to learn about the brain’s functions and to tentatively map out neuronal pathways in the brain associated with quite specific tasks, such as short-term memory, delicate motor coordination, and even certain emotions. In an actual lesion study, cognitive scientists usually recruit patients who have – through disease, head trauma, or necessary operations – lesions or damage to a specific section of their brains. A well-known example of an ongoing lesion study with only one subject is the work being done with patient HM, who in 1953 had surgery to treat his severe epilepsy; doctors removed a significant part of his medial temporal lobe, which houses the amygdala and hippocampus, areas of the brain associated with memory, emotions, and navigation (the hippocampus is one of the first areas of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease). Knowing the location and extent of the damage to HM’s brain, those working with him could design cognitive tests to determine the extent of the damage to his memory (HM has significantly impaired short-term memory) – and, in so doing, the scientists could theorize about the roles of those areas of the brain in normal cognition.

One could argue that work with only one patient might not give us a fully accurate idea of the relationship between brain and mind; after all, we’re all wired slightly differently. There is a way around this: one can simply recruit more patients. A 2006 study, for example, sought to understand the relationship between the superior frontal gyrus – a region of cortex at the front of the brain, which has associations with self-awareness and introspection – and working memory, which stores sensory information briefly, keeping it available for manipulation and for use in planning action. This study examined a group of patients who had experienced lesions to their superior frontal gyri, asking them to complete a memory test called the n-back test, in they were shown a “cue” stimulus (in this case, a picture of a face) for a brief period of time, then shown a “target” stimulus. The patients had to determine whether the target was identical to the cue; the n of the n-back test refers to how many intervening “distraction” stimuli the patients saw between the cue and the target. Compared to those with (more or less) normal brains, the study’s patients had significantly impaired working memory, an effect which increased the more distraction stimuli the patients saw between cue and target stimuli. The study thus concluded, as you might at this point expect, that the superior frontal gyrus does indeed have some involvement with working memory.

Setting aside the inconvenient facts that no two lesions are the same and neither are two people, a researcher can’t rely solely on being able to drum up enough people who have a similar sort of lesion. Thus science has brought us a means of creating temporary lesions in otherwise healthy human subjects, using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS employs magnetic fields to stimulate groups of neurons in the brain to fire simultaneously, which in turn generates a weak electric field. Using TMS, scientists can artificially excite or depress certain parts of the brain and then use various means (functional magnetic resonance imaging, memory tests, etc) to examine the effect such an artificial lesion has on behavior and cognition. Other groups of scientists have in essence recreated the 2006 study I mentioned above, but without requiring the participation of patients with a specific brain injury.

You can, I hope, glimpse in these modern examples their indebtedness to Galen’s paradigm. In a general sense, a lesion study gives you the tools to examine a system whose inner workings you know little or nothing about. You create a change in the system (a lesion), observe the resulting haywire, then ponder the relationship between the system’s structure and its normal functions.

By this point, you should have well and truly forgotten Hamlet. Why is forgetting Hamlet important? Think of yourself as the titular prince, with only the knowledge he possesses when we first see him brooding onstage.

Ham. ’Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forc’d breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passes show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

As both Claudius and Gertrude have observed, Hamlet has been dwelling over-long on his father’s death; here the prince rejects a handful of typical mourning rituals, calling them all “actions that a man might play,” mere “trappings” and “suits of woe” rather than things which could accurately describe the sense of his sorrow. The “that within” of which Hamlet speaks is for him perfectly normal – the greatest sorrows, according to Seneca, were inexpressible – but for the King and Queen it points to something wrong, a sort of damage that they decide must be corrected. At the first, no one can say precisely what has gone wrong in Denmark; certainly the King and Queen can’t guess the reason for Hamlet’s excessive grief, and Hamlet himself loathes his mother’s hasty marriage, arguing as he does that “It is not, nor it cannot come to good,” though he stops short of guessing what might have made it so. A vague lingering malaise is the most concrete symptom of these problems.

Sir Alec Guinness, 1938

Enter then Hamlet’s friend Horatio and the night watch, insisting they’ve seen a ghost. Not just any ghost: the ghost of Old Hamlet. They’ve tried questioning it about its intentions, using a form of catechism traditionally prescribed for dealing with revenants:

Hor. If thou hast any sound or use of voice,
Speak to me.
If there be any good thing to be done
That may to thee do ease, and grace to me,
Speak to me;
If thou art privy to thy country’s fate,
Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid,
O speak;
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which they say your spirits oft walk in death,
Speak of it, stay and speak.

No luck with the Ghost as he doesn’t bother to answer. But in speaking of the Ghost amongst themselves, and in recounting the incident to Hamlet, Horatio and the others take great pains not to jump to conclusions, to record empirical evidence: they call the Ghost “it” or “a thing” and not “hey, that’s Hamlet’s dad,” and they describe the Ghost as being armed, with pale countenance “more in sorrow than in anger,” and having a sable beard. Hamlet himself warily refuses to refer to the Ghost as anything more than “it” until he is alone.

Horatio and the night watch have, they think, exhausted the possible motives for the Ghost’s appearance. It isn’t there to ask for “any good thing” or to warn of coming danger to the country or to reveal some vast treasure from its previous life. Horatio and the others think of the Ghost as a cause – whereas Hamlet sees it for what it is, an effect or a symptom:

Ham. My father’s spirit – in arms! All is not well.
I doubt some foul play. Would the night were come.
Till then sit still, my soul. Foul deeds will rise,
Though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes.

“Foul play,” “foul deeds,” all being “not well” – Hamlet realizes instantly that the Ghost stalks because something has gone wrong, that the Ghost is a sign of a disruption to the state. Having worked this out, Hamlet must now discover what that disruption is, and then find a means of setting it right. (It is on this last point that Hamlet famously dithers; most Renaissance revenge tragedies were far more efficient in the exacting of revenge.)

Kenneth Branagh, 1997

And, indeed, the Ghost supplies Hamlet with the necessary information.

List, list, O list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love –
Ham. O God!
Ghost. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Ham. Murder!
Ghost. Murder most foul, as in the best it is,
But this most foul, strange and unnatural.

The murder of which the Ghost speaks is “unnatural” because it is less than kin and more than kind: Claudius has murdered his own brother, an act which was the initial “foul play” and “foul deed” of which Hamlet’s melancholy and the Ghost itself are effects. The lesion which prompts study:

Ghost. Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment, whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That swift as quicksilver it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body,
And with a sudden vigor it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine,
And a most instant tetter bark’d about,
Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust
All my smooth body.

Here is the most carefully-described wound of the whole play, and the detail with which the Ghost relates his murder allows Hamlet to glimpse, in his mind’s eye, the exact process by which his father was “Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatch’d.” What has followed has followed because of this act of Claudius; knowing the location and the extent of the damage will help the prince carry out his father’s (ghost’s) commandment.

How shall Hamlet proceed, then? While he does trust the Ghost so far as to believe his uncle a murderer, Hamlet, like a good scientist, requires grounds more relative than this. What will become important for Hamlet is method: “Though this be madness,” observes Polonius after an encounter with the experimenter-prince, “yet there is method in’t.” And an investigator needs a solid method that could be reproducible by others – not unlike the script of a play. But what should dictate this method?

Let me suggest that Hamlet takes as a model for the unfolding of its events not only Senecan revenge tragedies, not only Saxo Grammaticus’ legend of Amleth, not (even) only the mysterious hypothesized Ur-Hamlet (a precursor to Shakespeare’s version which every academic, deep down, dreams of uncovering) – not even simply these, which have been well established as forerunners in literary critical tradition. No, let me suggest that another model for Hamlet comes from something I would call early modern neuroforensics. That is: we have seen how important were Galen’s contributions to the experimental methods of modern neuroscience. Could the notion of the lesion study have a home in Hamlet?

It is not so much a question of whether Shakespeare read the various medical texts in the Galenic tradition that were circulating at the time – influence needn’t be specific to be tangible. Rather, I think the ideas of investigation and experimentation, and, more so, the theory behind the lesion study, were circulating among the literary class in the early modern period. After all, the barriers we’ve since erected between science and art were far more fluid, more porous, then: a student studying to receive a medical degree would be trained not only in anatomy, surgery, and rudimentary chemistry, but also in rhetoric, history, and Classical literature.

David Warner, 1965

Similarly, it isn’t outside the realm of the imagination to think of a playwright as a sort of cultural sponge, soaking up and distilling history and politics past and present, earlier poetic traditions, and (in the case of writers like John Donne, who had studied anatomy) scientific theories of the day. Witness Tom Stoppard in contemporary support of this notion: the playwright has left few intellectual stones unturned in his work.

Consider the fact that, around the time Shakespeare was writing Hamlet, the prognosis for your serious head wound was really pretty bad. (So bad, in fact, that in 1682 a physician named James Yonge would write a treatise arguing that it was possible for a patient with severe head trauma to live at all.) You hadn’t a chance unless the physician treating you had a sense of how to apply the specific treatment. This is where the theory behind the lesion study comes into practical practice. Galen’s theories underpinned most of the burgeoning neuroscientific endeavor in the seventeenth century, but even so, the treating physician hadn’t any access to the drugs, surgical and diagnostic techniques which, even today, are often only partially successful at best.

It’s important to note that the method behind the observations and investigations in Hamlet is at least metaphorically related to the method surgeons used to treat head wound patients during the early seventeenth century (and, of course, through much of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries as well; see the exploits of the psychiatrist Walter Freeman, inventor of the “icepick lobotomy,” as detailed in the memoir of one of his patients, Howard Dully). That is, what Hamlet and Claudius do is to make themselves primary investigators in an enormous lesion study. While it’s a bit of a stretch to compare Hamlet to a giant brain, there exists the kind of convergence of ideas in the play that were quite similar to the kind of convergence early modern thinkers argued was going on in the brain, as well. In the (in)famous “To be or not to be” speech, and then throughout the play, Hamlet contrasts thought with action:

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Something (the murder of Old Hamlet) has occurred to unlock the otherwise stable bond between thought and action, and makes the one the agent of disease in the other. Too much thinking precludes any useful actions. Similarly, the workings of the soul, its capacity for reason, memory, and thought, existed in early modern thought in sharp contrast with the action of the body; body and soul typically worked together well, but should some damage occur, that link, too, would be severed.

In the late 1500s the physician Franciscus Arceus lamented that would-be surgeons (i.e., quacks) had no proper knowledge of how to treat head wounds whatsoever. They had no idea of (or desire for) how to think about the damage that might have been done to the brain:

[T]hey do nothing consider of the fracture of the bones, and doe neglect to serch out throughlie whether any thing be hurt or perished in the Rete Mirable [the “wonderful net,” a knot of arteries purported to be at the base of the human brain, through which the soul could interact with the body], or any of the other panicles or compactions of the braine, for the partes of the lower or innermost bone…oftentimes happeneth to be cut in sunder, shivered, dashed, & broken in peeces, and moved out of their places, and that fault is found more oftener in the inner Table, then in the upper. Which thinges first most grievous panges and griefes, and after death it self doth ensue.

The signs Arceus would have us look for are the “grievous panges and griefs” which lead to death – these indeed mark the extent of the damage to the brain, and as symptoms they necessitate careful consideration.

The careful consideration Arceus proposes had a method to it:

1. Discern the cause of the wound: was the instrument sharp or dull, did the patient fall or get hit, what were the patient’s mental and physical states at the time of the injury, how strong was the person who inflicted the damage, what sort of constitution did the inflictor have?
2. Examine the skin: if the skin is broken, is it a lesion (a cut) or a contusion (a cut arising from a bruise)?
3. Break the skin if necessary: this will allow you to assess the extent of damage to the skull.
4. Shave the head and remove extraneous bits of hair, skin, skull, meninges, etc., to give the brain room to breathe; then examine the brain.
5. Apply poultices according to the nature of the wound to the brain.
6. Re-assess the situation every time you change the dressings.
7. Sew up the wound when meninges and bone appear to have healed.
8. Continue observation.
9. Write about your experience, assuming your patient survives (optional).

The first few steps of Arceus’ method concern us primarily here (though there is an argument to be made, elsewhere, that the steps he proposes, standards for the treatment of head wounds, are metaphorically related to the steps Hamlet takes to uncover the mystery surrounding his father’s death). In order to get the sense of the wound, the physician has to do a little detective work – neuroforensics. How did you come by the head wound? Did you fall, or were you drunk, or did someone hit you? If it is the last, what sort of person hit you – strong, weak, male, aged – and with what did he hit you? The idea is to recreate the scene of the damage in order to better hypothesize the solution to the damage.

Hamlet proves to be quite good at such recreation: his play-within-a-play (cunningly titled “The Mousetrap”) replays (twice) the scene of his father’s death, first in a pantomime and second with overly-wrought phrases. (The play-within-a-play was staged with extreme cleverness in the Stratford production I mentioned: the pantomime was a bawdy, raunchy comedy, while the spoken segment was stiff and extremely formal. The two represent, for Hamlet, the extremes of his now-parents’ relationship, a fact hit nicely home by the maniacal contortions of David Tennant in the title role.)

David Tennant, 2008

Hamlet’s point in staging the play? By recreating the scene of the crime he hopes to coax forth signs of guilt from Claudius – to “catch the conscience of the king.” Make up the conditions of the wound and study the effects, the better to determine the appropriate solution. And he desires an independent observer to corroborate his observations, namely, Horatio, to whom he says:

Ham. There is a play tonight before the king:
One scene of it comes near the circumstances
Which I have told thee of my father’s death.
I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul
Observe mine uncle. If his occulted guilt
Do not itself unkennel in one speech,
It is a damned ghost that we have seen,
And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcan’s stithy. Give him heedful note;
For I mine eyes will rivet to his face,
And after we will both our judgments join
In censure of his seeming.

In the midst of “The Mousetrap” Hamlet cannot contain himself and give up the play’s plot – “A poisons him i’th’ garden for his estate…. You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife” – at which point the King rises and storms off the stage (pausing, in the Stratford production, to glare ominously at the seated and incredulous Hamlet).

Hamlet and Horatio believe they have their empirical evidence:

Ham. O good Horatio. I’ll take the ghost’s word for a thousand pound. Didst perceive?
Hor. Very well, my lord.
Ham. Upon the talk of the poisoning?
Hor. I did very well note him.

Never mind that Hamlet, in his outburst (the “talk of the poisoning”), has failed in his role as objective empirical observer. As Arceus reminds us, at times one needs to interfere, and to irritate the wound in order to fully understand it:

When…shalbe knowen by apparent signes, (as we have saide) after that the place [the wound to the head] shalbe opened, the incision being artificiallye made, there will appeare a manifest chaune or rupture, then shall ye easilie judge that there is a greater fracture within, then there is without, as for example: he that striketh an earthen vessell with a stone, shall perceive that there is a more greater cracke within, then there is without. But although there be nothing fractured within, yet it is not to be doubted, but that something hath beene brused within, as the fracture of some veine hath followed the same bruse, out of which veine the brused blood being shed and congeled, is putriffed and turned into impostumation and matter, for the which when there is no place open to purge and issue foorth, it commeth to passe the panicles environing the brayne, yea and the brayne it self is inflamed.

In other words, one would have to read the “signes” before one “opened” the patient’s head, but doing so would allow one access to the mysteries therein lurking; and it’s important to keep in mind that even though the outside of the skull might not be damaged, what was inside could easily have suffered. Purgation, which is what Arceus recommends in such cases, is a fine euphemism for the bloodbath at the play’s end. Most people will wonder why it takes Hamlet so much time, and so much equivocation, to enact his revenge. One answer is that he is studying the effects of the initial damage too closely – he allows himself to be carried away by thought, rather than moving towards action, until action is thrust upon him at the play’s end. The opposition Hamlet draws between thought and action points as I said to a deeper, related opposition, one which continues to intrigue and to plague us by turns today: the opposition between mind (or soul) and body, two entities so incompatible in the Renaissance but linked intimately in the brain. The soul/mind/thought should be all-powerful, should dictate the actions of the body. But these ties can so easily be undone when there is damage to the brain. Is the brain then mind or body? And how do we know something has gone wrong with the “brain” in the play?

The curious thing I’ve discovered in Hamlet is that every instance of the word “brain” has to do with the organ being ill or shaken or emptied or mistaken – in other words, the brain is constantly seen to be fallible in the play, a thing forever malfunctioning and which no amount of thought or action seems to be able to set right. Horatio, for example, fears that the Ghost may put “toys of desperation” into Hamlet’s brain; Hamlet famously offers to wipe his brain so that the Ghost’s commandment will live there; Hamlet rails against his own brain for making him (ironically) so pigeon-livered as to lack gall to stand against his uncle; Claudius worries that Hamlet’s brain puts him “from fashion of himself”; Gertrude, after Hamlet has seen the Ghost which she has not, fears that it was an hallucination, a “coinage” of his brain.

The only thing to do with this stubbornly misfiring piece of equipment is to purge it. The notion of purgation has survived today: you are, for example, more likely to survive a brain injury if your skull is cracked, because an injured brain needs the space to expand the cracked skull affords. Without that space, you’re likely to suffer encephalitis and to die. Early modern physicians knew this, which is why trepanning was so often the recommended course of action in cases of head wounds.

Derek Jacobi, 1978

Claudius, unlike Hamlet, proves far more interested in staunching and purging the wounds than in uncovering (to put it in Polonius’ words) the cause of the effect defective. Certainly he is willing to try his hand at a little investigation, sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Polonius, and Ophelia into Hamlet’s path and observing the reaction. As he says to Hamlet’s ill-fated school chums:

King. Something have you heard
Of Hamlet’s transformation – so I call it,
Sith nor th’exterior nor the inward man
Resembles that it was. What it should be,
More than his father’s death, that thus hath put him
So much from th’understanding of himself
I cannot dream of. I entreat you both
That you vouchsafe your rest here in our court
Some little time, so by your companies
To draw him on to pleasures and to gather,
So much as from occasion you may glean
Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus
That, open’d, lies within our remedy.

Aha. Opening, drawing on, gleaning, the promise of treatment and a remedy for the strange transformation: this is what Claudius is after. Hamlet suspects as much, badgering Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to tell him whether they were sent for; he reveals his reason for his famous existentialism:

Ham. I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory, this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals – and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me – nor woman neither.

This beautiful speech wanders lightly over the entire known universe without touching on the one thing for which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were sent. Even more so: what Hamlet produces here are not causes so much as further symptoms (and, as in the Stratford production, a gentle reminder with “this majestical roof fretted with golden fire” and a wave of the hand that the audience is part of this “goodly frame” as well). Hamlet never openly divulges the reason for his feigned madness – likely because, to him, the madness was an instrument of experimentation, not a symptom of some illness or wound – but the difference between the prince and the king is that where the failure of resolution, of answer, of cause, would turn Hamlet immobile with thought, Claudius earnestly does what he can to stop the wound from getting worse. He packs Hamlet off to England to be executed, and, when that doesn’t work, he enlists the help of Laertes to achieve his end.

But this is an end which, over the course of the play, Hamlet has come to accept. Where initially Claudius termed Hamlet’s over-long lament for his father as something against nature, finally Hamlet understands the role of death in the purgative process, as a natural consequence of the initial trauma, a necessary end to the suffering:

Ham. We defy augury. There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows aught, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.

Hamlet’s final act is both letting be and being ready. Only after he himself has been mortally wounded (and can utter the strangest of lines, “I am dead, Horatio”) does he manage to enact his revenge. (To reference the Stratford production one last time, Claudius, played by Patrick Stewart accepted the poisoned cup at foil-point from Hamlet, then shrugged, as if to say, “The hell with it,” before knocking back the whole in one.) The end of the play brings about the realization that, even if one has investigated a wound from every angle, has thoroughly recreated the scene of the crime, has experimented and studied the results, has dreamt up a cure – even then, the original wound remains. It simply can’t be undone. The only way to stop the spread of the damage is purgation. After which, “the rest is silence.”

Sir Laurence Olivier, 1948

Lianne Habinek is a Phd candidate in English literature at Columbia University. She is working on a dissertation about literary metaphor and 17th-century neuroscience.

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