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The female body as scapegoat in The Crucible or The Salem Trials

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The Old Vic Theatre at London is hosting till the 13th of September Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (1952). As I am working on a chapter on Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) I am becoming familiar with the New England society in the 17th C, which easily brings to mind the Salem’s trials where some of Hawthorne’s ancestors participated. Thus I felt full of curiosity for Miller’s play, and I really recommend this representation at the Old Vic, it was excellent, a wonderful adaptation with great actors and a very moving acting. The play runs for 3 hours and a half but time flies in such a touching piece of work whose main virtue, I think, is the lack of action and the great dialogues full of feeling and at some points also comical. Hope, anxiety, pity, love or fear are some of the feelings the actors achieved to raise among the public, it is a cathartic piece of work in the Aristotelian sense; behind that, the aesthetics are very well chosen, it is beautiful to see the mise en scène and the whole atmosphere, I wish also to point out that the play has been faithfully adapted, it is not a modern and free adaptation but really settled in the 17th C Massachusetts which helps you to be there.

So, as has been suggested above, The Crucible deals with the Salem witch trials in the Puritan community. To sum up the facts: a group of girl teenagers from the Puritan community go out a night in the woods afterwards one of them is afflicted by some unknown malady, and as it was proper of the place and time, they suspect she has been possessed or gone into some kind of witchcraft. One of the girls starts to think and talk about spirits in the woods and panic arouses: all the girls who were in the woods start to behave as if possessed, which is, after Freud, a hysteric outburst. We may say now with Freud and Foucault that the discourse of the community is so powerful that the girls end up believing they have been victims of witchcraft and one falls after the other: collective hysteria. So, the interesting point is that these teenagers -and I think this age matters here as the introduction to womanhood, sexuality- start to accuse of witchcraft to almost every single woman of the community, that is, puritan mothers and wives. And that is the point I wanted to arrive at: teenagers belonging to a society with a terrific control over sexuality and the female body accuse women of being witches; women is what they are becoming, so a possible interpretation of the situation is the young girls’ sense of alienation with their own bodies and upcoming sexuality. Of course they are unconscious of it, but they are unclosed within the puritan discourse which demands of them to negate the experience of their puberty till, it may be said, it appears taking another form, that is, in the form of possession because this word belongs to the same discourse, so they are familiar with it, and it does not only belong to the same discourse, it is the evil part of the discourse, so is their bursting sexuality.

The situation goes completely out of control, and any woman is arbitrary accused of witchcraft by the girls. The trial is looking for witches, that is, women, so they are the scapegoat of a neurotic discourse, and I dare say, in this case it is a patriarchal one: women were the victims of the discourse, they were seen as dangerous, dangerously powerful, in the puritan context, they have a dangerous sexuality, they attract men to sin. That can be seen as the male control of the female body because they were scared of its power of seduction, and the girls in a sort of reaction against their own future bodies attack women as looking themselves in a mirror.   

What I find most interesting here is the relationship between the text or discourse, and the body in this particular context; there are more to say about it but maybe in another moment.

If you wish to see the play: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2014/the-crucible/

Freud: The Secret Passion

freud-pasion-secreta-1962-psicoanalisisFor those interested in a more visual example of how Freud worked in his theories, I really recommend this film by John Huston in 1962, with an original script written by Jean-Paul Sartre. The film is faithful to the facts and of a high quality; it shows very clear Freud’s beginnings and the reaction of his society. Enjoy!

A Romantic Ecstasy

20080925_friedrich_ruins_of_a_monasteryGeorge Büchner (1813-1837) was a Romantic German writer whose short story “Lenz” (1836) is really a beautiful piece of work. Lenz is an extremely sensitive man able to experiment beauty in an unusual degree. Nature, childhood and religion give him a high sense of spiritual communion in the most holistic sense. The detailed descriptions of nature and his feelings towards it remind Wordsworth’s Preface, which in fact is a a very Romantic approach to this realm. The idealisation of nature, childhood and religion remind as well the Enlightened ideas of Rousseau. In fact, these three realities are the only ones able to calm down the suddenly mood changes of Lenz, which go from ecstasy to depression. Their power to redeem Lenz’s tormented soul is linked to their primitive and innocent beauty.

This story, far from being comical, provokes a feeling of compassion towards Lenz’s madness and an empathy with his sensibility.

The Sweetness of Confusion

quijoteAs Foucault argues in History of Madness, there is just a subtle line between reason and madness. Is the madman completely crazy or the sensible one totally reasonable? What parameters does medicine apply to place such a border? Could “madness” have periods of more lucidity than reason?

K-Pax is an interesting film which exemplifies how madness and reason can be easily confused; how the rationality of medicine is sometimes weak as disease. You can find the whole film in Youtube, by the way, please enjoy the English trailer.

 

Schnitzler, “A Dream Story”

200px-ArthurSchnitzler_DreamStoryThe friendship between Freud and Schnitzler is also reflected in their respective works. Freud said of his friend to be doing the same psychoanalytic work in his novels with an especial reference to A Dream Story. In fact what Schnitzler presents in his book is a blurred border between life and dreams. Fridolin, a young doctor, lives quite strange adventures in the time of a whole night which lead him to experience a surrealistic world and  mysterious facts. Moreover, the novel is aesthetically very well constructed and the role of Fridolin’s wife in his marvellous night is quite intriguing. The relationship of the couple where desire and rancour merge is another fact to be explored.

Marina Carr, “By the Bog of Cats”

30_by-the-bog-of-cats-with-josie-1998I really recommend this adaptation of Euripides’ Medea by the Irish dramatist Marina Carr, By the Bog of Cats. The classical themes of madness, love and despair are greatly put into scene in a totally new setting. The atmosphere represents an in-between of the land of the deaths and the alive; ghosts, witches, snow, gipsies and black swans revive the classical tragedy. Childhood trauma is the modern Freudian incursion in the new tragedy which substitutes Medea’s cold vanity for a traumatic Hester. Irish mythology also finds its place in the work together with some Greek elements. Parricide is displayed in a very different way and is linked to the cause of Hester madness, the abandon of the mother.

The question however remains the same: are children at the mercy of their parents? Could someone justify the murder of an own child?

I find a quite contemporary issue to analyse the position in which children are in relation to their parents or in a family. Until what extent are they used or manipulated by their parents’ emotions and to achieve what goals? Citing Girard, could we say about the children to be the scapegoat of our society or even of their own parents?