Animal Magnetism 3 (2010)

Premiered December 9th 2010 at Black Box Theater, Oslo
Text by Sidsel Pape


The trilogy “Animal Magnetism” by Henriette Pedersen is a tribute to all hysterics throughout human history. The first written sources describing hysteria are on papyrus from 1900 B.C. The syndrome is strongly tied to the female sex, therefore the name “hysteria,” Greek for uterus. Few are aware that many men are also affected, but can hysteria ever be masculine?

In our theatrical age it is natural to make a theme of a syndrome characterised by simulation and acting. The symptoms of hysteria have changed with time, but have always had similarities with the era’s “popular” diseases. The syndrome continuously adopts new expressions, but also changes name according to the sex practicing it.

Hysteria reached epidemic proportions and occupied many doctors during the upheaval around the turn of the last century. Since this golden age of hysteria, 1870-1910, the symptoms have changed from demonstrative to more introverted. The behaviour commonly called “hysterical” today, resembles the syndrome as it was expressed 100 years ago. Animal Magnetism III deals with the demonstration of the male hysteria from its golden age until today.

During the first decade of the 20th century there was a public interest for so-called “animal magnetism.” According to the German researcher Franz Anton Mesmer, there is a magnetic fluid in all living creatures. Using magnets and the laying-on of hands, Mesmer restored the balance in, amongst others, hysterics, from which comes the English “mesmerized.”

Both hypnosis and hysteria were objects of investigation during the golden age at Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. The influential neurologist Jean martin Charcot categorized, almost choreographed hysteria’s symptoms and attacks in aesthetic illustrations. Charcot broke with Antiquity’s gynaecological and the Middle Age’s demonological explanations of hysteria. He described the syndrome as neurological. Amongst Charcot’s patients were many men, something his followers wrote out of medical history. Hysteria continued therefore to be “the quintessential female malady” right up to our time.

Globus hystericus

At Salpêtrière Charcot staged hysterias great fits by releasing well chosen hysterical patients on the public every Thursday. In the auditorium many men were inspired, amongst others August Strindberg and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. Amongst those who would later take over the research were Freud and Gilles de la Tourette. They did not consider it suitable to call affected men hysterical, and instead proposed “Melancholy” and “Hypochondria” as diagnoses. And then the 1st World War broke out and Shell Shock was introduced.

Hysterical men had, according to Charcot, much the same symptoms as women, but fewer and shorter fits. They were especially prone to “Globus Hystericus,” a large lump located in the throat, which paralysed the vocal chords and gave the patient the sensation of being choked. (Other masculine stigmata are listed). 150 years after Charcot, Henriette Pedersen tests his research findings alongside her performers. Pedersen’s “star hysteric,” Kristine Karåla Øren, has also tried Charcot’s four-phase hysteria on her own body, particularly the perfect fit as it was staged in Animal Magnetism I.


During the Victorian age it was considered distinguished to be hysterical: “The English Malady” conferred status. Without hysterical tendencies, one wasn’t worthy to be a member of the upper class. Amongst Freud’s patients and male research objects we find the extremely wealthy, Russian Wolfman. Freud understood hysteria to be a disease of the mind and his development of psychiatry was anchored in the syndrome. Freud’s favourite syndrome, Don Giovanni, presents one of the most hysterical male characters in the history of scenic arts. His hysteria in characterized by projecting ones feelings onto others. Such a smokescreen creates great confusion and frustration in the male hysterics surroundings.

Both Charcot and Freud, but also the psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell, believe that trauma is a condition for hysteria. Mitchell asserts that sibling jealousy predisposes for the syndrome, since hysterics seek out the physical condition if symbiosis with the mother. The sufferer “regresses” to the time before a sibling replaced him. But for anyone who isn’t an infant, it is intolerable to be both body and feelings. The hysteric reacts by adopting any behaviour or symptom that allows him to “be someone.” The adopted identity causes re-traumatisation. In this way, the hysteric is imprisoned in a hysterical spiral, “only body, nobody, somebody & back.”

Hysterical spiral
In Animal Magnetism III dancer Kristine Karåla Øren finds herself in a hysterical spiral with tenor Fredrik Strid. They inhabit a foggy no-mans land, probably in the inter-war period. Maybe they are siblings, or soldiers? This time Pedersen’s star hysteric has adopted the male hysteria, not least literally in the form of a military green suit. Does she then become hysteria’s great defender, as Charcot was at Salpêtrière? Is Mr Stride a hospitalized hysteric? Which one has infected the other? Under Øren’s suit jacket the syndrome’s feminine history hides as a low cut and see-through “body” from Animal Magnetism I.” Can hysteria ever be masculine?

Through 5000 years hysterics have simulated other diseases. All who act out hysteria are not just colluders to spreading the syndrome; they also choose hysteria’s expression! When Pedersen’s series Animal Magnetism makes hysteria a theme, we have no idea what we’ll receive, but there’s no doubt that we will receive.

Get well soon!

Bondevik, Hilde (2007) Medicine’s order – hysteria’s disorder. Hysteria in Norway 1870-1915
Gardiner, Muriel and Freud, Sigmund (1918) The Wolfman by the Wolfman
Enqvist, Per Olov (2004) The Book of Blanche and Marie
Freud, Sigmund (1932) New Series of Lectures on The Introduction to Psychoanalysis
Micale, Mark S. (2008) Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness Mitchell, Juliet (2001) Mad-men and Medusas
Plato, (360 BC) Timaeus. (Dialogues on nature and the physical world)

Choreographer: Henriette Pedersen
Performers: Kristine Karåla Øren, Fredrik Strid
Light design: Tilo Hahn
Dramaturge: Sidsel Pape
Music Consultant: Timo Kreuser
Costume Consultant: Dagny Drage Kleiva
Producers: Anette Therese Pettersen and Pernille Nonås Mogensen
Supported by: Arts Council Norway, Fond for lyd og bilde (Fund for sound and picture), Fond For Utøvende Kunstnere (Fund for performing artists) and Dansens Hus Stockholm
Co-producer: Galleri Maria Veie and Black Box Teater

Stigmata of male hysterics:
•    Globus hystericus, extremely large lump in the throat
•    Loss of sense of taste
•    Muteness, stuttering, slurring
•    Paralysis of the left side of the body, especially of the tongue and epiglottis
•    Uncontrolled retching
•    Swearing, obsession with using strong language in public
•    Speaking in strange languages, speaking in tongues
•    Compulsive greeting and tics
•    Extra sensitive hysteriogenic zones, especially along the sperm ducts
•    False ovaries
•    Feminine bodily hair pattern
•    Stiff or immobile limbs with a duration of a few month to several years
•    Hysterical fits with a duration of 30 seconds to 30 minutes
•    Storm in the hysterical atmosphere