Foucault and Shakespeare
The theatre of madness
in Foucault’s theatres
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Foucault was interested in Shakespeare from 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. Foucault’s first two major publications appeared in 1954 – Maladie mentale et personnalité and the introduction to his translation of Ludwig Binswanger’s Dream and Existence. Foucault then 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 revised in 1962. This chapter interrogates the important role that theatre and Shakespeare play in Foucault’s early writing on madness and mental illness.

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