blackbird spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



Monologues from Songs from Bedlam

The play Songs from Bedlam takes its name from Bethlehem Hospital, which in 1547 became London's main hospital for the mentally ill. Its name was soon shortened to "Bedlam," which also came to mean the antics of its inmates. For a modest sum, Elizabethans could visit the hospital and watch the "Lunatickes" at Bedlam. Like the exotic animals in the Tower of London, the mentally ill were on display.

Bedlam became overcrowded so quickly that the mentally ill were routinely turned back out onto the streets half-cured. There they became homeless beggars. Songs about "Tom of Bedlam" and "Mad Mary" became popular, in which the singer described what had led him or her to such a sorry plight and begged alms from passers-by.

Two thirds of today's homeless are mentally ill.

—Douglas Jones

The Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV helped coordinate the production of these excerpts from Songs from Bedlam, which will receive its premiere performance at the Barksdale Theater in Richmond, Virginia. It will play from May 2-May 18, 2003.  

   Contributor's notes