Travel Log: Imagine Time-Traveling


If you could be a psychiatrist at a different time in history, when would you practice?




Do you ever wonder what it might have been like to be a psychiatrist at a different time? How about during the time of the emergence of Freud and his ideas? How about the ensuing times and place of Nazi Germany? Or maybe you might want to be beamed up to a future where our knowledge of the brain will yield better understanding and interventions. Yes, I predict that will happen.

Playwrights and theatre directors have no such limitations. Take the production of “Richard II” at the Shakespeare Festival in Canada. “Richard II” is the first of Shakespeare’s epic 4 history play cycle of the conflict between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, culminating in the War of the Roses. Richard II lived from 1367-1400. He became King at the age of 14 and was disposed of in 1399. Shakespeare apparently wrote the play about him between 1595-1596, perhaps using the history to more metaphorically and safely comment on his own political times.

At Stratford, the play was adapted by Brad Fraser, who brought it up to date to the late 1970s and early 1980s and the party place of Studio 54 in New York. AIDS had become rampant by then, and a similar illness is suggested in the adaptation.

It was a hedonistic and greedy time for some in the United Stated, as depicted in the adaptation. Richard II is clearly gay in the play, with only a very tenuous historical verification of that possibility during his actual life. He is also portrayed as a Black male actor identifying as nonbinary, not at all publicly likely in his time.

Both history and the adaptation do focus on his leadership experiences and impulsive decision-making, leading to his demise and much trauma. Too late he begins to achieve some wisdom.

The dangers of a malignant degree of narcissism in a leader is dramatically apparent. Such leaders are much more concerned about themselves than the people and their country’s needs.

There were no psychiatrists in the times of Richard II and Shakespeare to help address such personal and societal risks. Come to think about it, patients in our times often go back in their psychological history to reimagine their future. Also learning from Shakespeare, we can be their guide along the way in the present.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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