UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Lucid madman in contemporary European drama : an analysis of four plays by Durrenmatt, Frisch and Camus Rosenbluth, Vera Anne


Although the theme of madness has been of concern to writers of all ages, there is a perceptible change in the madness of the dramatic character of the twentieth century from that of the past. This thesis is an attempt to analyse that phenomenon as it is manifested in a number of characters of twentieth century drama. The introduction contains a brief outline of the history of madness in society, and a general discussion as to how it is reflected in literature, from Biblical times to the present. It is found that writers make little attempt to explain the madness of a literary character, other than by attributing to him specific personal reasons for his behaviour; i.e. disappointment in love. The characters of twentieth century drama however, are found to be not "mad" in the same way; their madness is linked to their relationship with the rest of society. Thus, a character who considers the rest of society mad, and acts in a way which counteracts that society, is considered mad by those around him. However, to the audience or reader, who are made to recognize the motives for his behaviour, the character is not necessarily mad, and in fact it may be, the playwright implies, that the people who accept the values of the society as absolute who are "mad." By discussing principally "madmen" of four recent dramas: Romulus der Große (1956) and Die Physiker (I962) by Friedrich Düirrenmatt, Graf Öderland (final version 196l) by Max Frisch, and Albert Camus' Caligula (1944), as well as making peripheral references to other dramas in the Conclusion, definite patterns of behaviour emerge. The "madman" is judged in ways which are not understood by his contemporaries. He is generally more intelligent, more perceptive than the other members of his society, and has perceived a truth which is hidden from others. In revolting against a society whose values he cannot accept, he is making what he considers a positive step towards improving in some way the quality of life. (In this respect he is perhaps different from "madmen" of previous literature who are presented as having chosen to opt out.) In each case the revolt fails, leading to chaos or a reimposition of the old system. Despite the failure of the revolt to achieve permanent change, each hero is found to be an idealist oblivious to the reality around him rather than a "madman." The breakdown of traditionally accepted norms such as religion, has meant that in the twentieth century there are no absolute standards of behaviour. Sanity thus becomes a relative concept. This thesis attempts to explore that nebulous and shifting area between madness and sanity as it is reflected in modern drama.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.