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Bernstein Abstract

The Madness of Hercules from Euripides through the Renaissance

Neil W. Bernstein

This chapter surveys ancient representations of Hercules’ madness from Euripides’ Herakles to the plays of Shakespeare. Genre and context determine the reasons for Hercules’ madness in each of these works. The ancient tragedies employ the standard mythological explanation, persecution by Hera/Juno. Ancient comedy, however, offers other possibilities, including conscious deception or a medical condition. Renaissance drama embeds its raging heroes in a Christian context where persecution by the gods is not an explanatory possibility. What Rolf Soellner entitled the "Hercules Furens convention" enables the Renaissance dramatists to elevate their characters by associating them with Hercules’ outsized passions.