Sometimes a piece of drama really captures your imagination. In something of a departure for this blog, I think this will be the second part of a trilogy of posts following my viewing of the National Theatre Live Frankenstein (see the first part, Creating a monster). Last time I focused on the skill involved in creating/performing the role of the Creature and how far Dr Frankenstein’s science or his inhumanity or that of society as a whole went to actually create the ‘monster’.
An interesting discussion with one commenter led me to think more about the role of literature or drama in influencing people. In the book, the Creature happened upon a bag of books which he taught himself to read, comprising Plutarch’s Lives, The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe and Paradise Lost by Milton. In the NT play, it appears that the literature is chosen by the blind man De Lacey as suitable for the Creature’s study. When rejected by De Lacey and his family, the Creature’s response is to consider:
‘What do they do when they feel like this? Heroes, Romans – what do they do? I know. They plot. They revenge.’
In choosing violent vengeance, perhaps the Creature is simply following the examples from Plutarch such as Alexander and Caesar.
In committing an early crime of arson, the Creature here mirrors some of the young offenders I have worked with in the past. Like them, his early stage of development does something to mitigate his level of responsibility and it is easy to see some blame belonging to parent or creator for the actions of those who have not been taught better. However, I was intrigued to consider that perhaps the man De Lacey has some responsibility as well, if he recommended such reading material. While we might be quick to condemn violent computer games and films, classic plays such as Macbeth (which I studied at age 13) are also rather violent in parts. I haven’t heard of Shakespeare classes being blamed for juvenile crime.
In contrast, as a dramatherapist I would argue how drama and theatre can be cathartic in a much more positive and healthy way. Exploring the role of the hero or the monster could both be valuable although I would still be careful if I were introducing a particular play or character. My preference would always be to draw on a story, play or scenario which already resonates for the client or is familiar in some way. In one simple roleplay a colleague and I helped one client explore the idea of being the bully, the victim and the onlooker. Even a simple scene from her school experience was powerful as she explored how it felt to be the victim, which led to helpful discussions understanding more of the feelings of the victim she had harmed.
The act of writing, whether short stories or longer fiction or drama is another method of exploring different ideas and feelings without resorting to actual violence (unless you’re talking a particular brand of performance art of questionable merit/ taste). I suppose there could be negative consequences from dwelling too much on violent acts and imagery in created drama or fiction but as a general rule, putting them into the drama rather than real life seems distinctly preferable and therapeutic.
There’s a risk of reading too much into the creation of some literary/dramatic works and I would be cautious about offering too much interpretation of my clients’ work, preferring to hear what it means to them and encourage their own observations and reflection. Having said that, some themes seem very obviously linked to personal background and experiences. Mary Shelley’s loss of her mother who died when she was just days old seems to be reflected in the lack of mother figures in Frankenstein. Quite what other influences from her life went into the novel could generate rather more discussion than I have space for here. There seems to be evidence both that feelings and challenging experiences create drama and also that drama creates feelings and challenging experiences. In the final part of my blog trilogy I’ll address another more personal connection to the Frankenstein play.