Foucault and Shakespeare: The Theatre of Madness

My paper ‘Foucault and Shakespeare: Ceremony, Theatre, Politics’ should appear in The Southern Journal of Philosophy in late 2017, in the Spindel conference supplement. I’ve recently agreed to write a second piece developing out of this work:

Foucault and Shakespeare: The Theatre of Madness

Foucault was interested in Shakespeare from the beginning to the end of his career. Examples from Shakespeare’s plays appear in his earliest works on madness, through 1970s courses looking at the transition from sovereign to disciplinary power, to a reading in his final lectures of 1984 of King Lear’s opening scene as a test of parrēsia. In each Foucault is intrigued by the relation between the theatre as a representation and theatre as a ‘tear in the fabric of the world’. This contribution re-examines Foucault’s work on theatre and madness in the light of new documentary sources, notably Foucault à Münsterlingen, a report of a visit to a Swiss psychiatric asylum in 1954. There, Foucault attended a ‘fête des fous’, a carnival of the mad, a festival with roots back to the Middle Ages. 1954 was the date Foucault’s first two major publications appeared – Maladie mentale et personnalité and the introduction to his translation of Ludwig Binswanger’s Dream and Existence. After 1954 Foucault published very little until The History of Madness in 1961, a book which took a very different approach to these questions, and which led to Maladie mentale et personnalité being comprehensively rewritten as Maladie mentale et psychologie in 1962. Tracing this interest in madness, and the recurrent role of Shakespeare within it, this chapter interrogates the important role that theatre plays in Foucault’s early writing.

I’m not sure yet, but I think I will try to give this as a lecture or two before submission. It is also perhaps the first piece of a larger project on the early Foucault.

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