Wednesday, 5 November 2014
The monster with no name
Some things are difficult to get my head around. Film and theatre - no problem. Live performances of plays, ballet and opera screened direct to cinemas - a bit strange having a theatre experience in a cinema space but it makes sense. Showing a recording of a live theatre performance in a cinema many months later feels very strange. However, it gave us to catch up with Danny Boyle's acclaimed production of Frankenstein from the National Theatre. The superlatives of the time were justified, in spite of not getting the full effect of being present in the auditorium.
The new play from the book is powerful in bringing out several themes such as the nature of humanity, prejudice and the inter-dependence of creator and created. But it was the issue of the name of the"monster" that has been running round my head. I use the term "monster" as shorthand but we have to recognise that it is not a name but is a perjorative description.
Boyle has said that he wanted to give the "monster" a voice. In the play he turns from an incoherent being at his creation into someone who aware, well read and articulate (in content, albeit with a speech defect). But, as in the book, he has no name. He describes himself as an Adam to Frankenstein the creator but he does not claim that name, which anyway is a descriptor.
So why, I ask myself, does Frankenstein not give him a name and why does he not give himself a name when he has the intellectual capacity and literary knowledge to do so?
Giving a name or knowing a name is often understood to give power over a person. Traditionally, parents express their authority over a child by naming them. Traditionally, a wife took the husband's name on marriage to indicate whose authority she was now under. People converting to Christianity have often taken a new name, a Christian name, to indicate that they are now under Christ's authority. I could go on about this but I hope it makes the point.
For Frankenstein to name his creation, it would imply taking responsibility for his work. For the "monster" to name himself, it would mean taking responsibility for himself, becoming his own person. So here we have the tragedy - neither wants to be or is capable of being fully human. The non-humanity is not just a feature of the creation but of the creator too.
In the end, they disappear from sight, ineluctably bound together in their inhumanity, to their mutual destruction.