Birmingham Stage Company


26 July 2011

I always wonder why there is always so little mention of the psychopathic condition when events occur of the type that have happened in Norway. It was playing Iago in 2007 that led me to study psychopathy - and to discover with amazement that Shakespeare fully understood a condition that wasn't formally diagnosed until 1940 - and not properly characterised until 1992. The more I read, the more I began to understand why men like Iago - and Anders Breivik - behave in the way they do. It is estimated that approx 2% of the population is psychopathic. That's about a million people in the UK. Only a very small proportion of them go on to kill people.

The truth is most people will have come across someone displaying a range of psychopathic characteristics in everyday life and these characteristics have been broken down into 22 symptoms by Dr Robert Hare. If you suffer from all 22 symptoms, you're probably a very dangerous person. But many people will display 5 or 10 of the symptoms and live an outwardly normal life, while potentially causing confusion and distress to those around them. So when the events occurred in Norway, it became obvious that Mr Breivik is a classic psychopath, displaying many of the most obvious characteristics of the psychopathic personality. Yet terms like evil, mad, insane are bandied about as if the world had no knowledge of the psychopathic condition. If you're interested in reading about it, I recommend Dr Robert Hare's book WITHOUT CONSCIENCE. It makes frightening reading, but it explains a lot about something we should all have more knowledge about, particularly when trying to understand the awful actions of men like Anders Breivik.

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