There are enough complex characters in literature to keep us guessing and wondering about the human condition for many years. However, there are a few that are as distressing to think about as Dr Henry Jekyll’s personality. How could we not feel perplexed? He represents the “good” alter ego of the highly destructive Mr Edward Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson’s supernatural, albeit fictional, account of two personas in a single body has stirred not only the social but also the psychological realm for many years.
In fact, Mr Stevenson’s novel might have been the key to a deeper and more public understanding of schizophrenia, especially at rather conservative time, 1886, when the subject was nearly considered taboo. (Kiely, 1983) The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde opens with a recollection and wonder from Gabriel John Utterson, Dr Jekyll’s friend, of an incident he saw one evening when a man of questionable veneer appeared and almost harrassed a little girl.
From then on, we discover that such man was Dr Jekyll’s evil ego, Mr Hyde, who only surfaces after the good and quiet doctor drinks a potion he has made. The destruction and death toll rises in the city and investigators start to be riveted more and more to Dr Jekyll as a suspect, or as a close ally to the infamous Mr Hyde, without knowing of the two characters’ true relationship. (Stevenson, 1980) Throughout the story, Dr Jekyll serves as the piece de resistance to Mr Hyde, who as it appears, is merely a product of the doctor’s frustrations and hidden feelings of anger and spite toward his surroundings.
While we as the audience do not really see anything wrong with Dr Jekyll’s life, as compared to our interpretation of what a normal and peaceful life is, we simply conclude that his feelings of inadequacy and the choking hand of restraint could have been the cause of his being reclusive. Or the result of the previous failures he’s had in his life. Comparing the two personas, we notice a stark difference. Dr Jekyll, who is the good of the pair, is rather quiet and feeble-looking, while Mr Hyde comes on strong as a brute who values only his own happiness and who does not bother with niceties and is always portrayed in a hunched manner.
In fact, Mr Hyde is depicted as a monster. A man with bloodshot eyes and greening skin. And rightly so. Why shouldn’t he? He embodies everything that society has dictated a normal person should not. His portrayal as not just a simple brute but a heartless and soulless creature of the night all the more magnifies the polarity of the two characters’ identities. This way, the start contrast between the two is more clearly emphasized. We see this conflict whenever Dr Jekyll is tempted to drink the potion that will turn him to Mr Hyde. He wants to stop, but he also does not want to. This is probably why he is Dr Jekyll’s alternate.
He represents everything the doctor hopes to be able to do if not for society’s restraints and ‘rules’. Watching his struggle, we tend to want to jump out and throw the vial away. In fact, if we were probably to delve deep into his psyche, we would see that Dr Jekyll actually enjoys the level of wanton destruction Mr Hyde is afforded. And if were to also dig deep into our minds as the audience, we will probably see that we, too, had difficulty deciding whether to stay put where we are or intervene, even in our heads. Throughout the performance, we become open to the many possibilities that could arise if a person controls his emotions.
Our eyes are introduced, if we do not know it yet, to the fact that on certain occasions, such as a drinking of a bitter juice, we can transform into people we are not but who we’d like to be if we’re in a parallel universe. The story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, although described as supernatural fiction, is actually true for every person, only in varying degrees, depending on our self-control. The story is not simply a form of entertainment, but an eye and consciousness-opener. And the play does just that. In theatrical performances, it does not difficult to portray either of the main characters because they represent total opposites.
One is an ordinary man, while the other extraordinary, as depicted by the monstrosity of his looks and actions. With both characters alone, and with proper lighting techniques, the audience is already riveted and engaged. Even in a bare stage, Robert Louis Stevenson’s story would stand firm. BIBLIOGRAPHY Stevenson, Robert Louis. (1980). The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. New York: New American Library. Kiely, Robert. (1983). “Robert Louis Stevenson”. Dictionary of literary biography. Vol. 18. (pp. 281-297).