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To avoid responsibility
- Vincent Gigante, American Mafia don, seen wandering the streets of Greenwich Village, Manhattan in his bathrobe and slippers, mumbling incoherently to himself, in what he later admitted was an elaborate act.
- Allegedly, Shūmei Ōkawa, Japanese nationalist, on trial for war crimes after World War II.
To examine the system from the inside
- American muckraker Nellie Bly; see Ten Days in a Mad-House (1887)
- The Rosenhan experiment in the 1970s also provides a comparison of life inside several mental hospitals.
- The Swedish artist Anna Odell created the projec Okänd, kvinna 2009-349701 to examine power structures in healthcare, the society's view of mental illness and the victimhood imposed on the patient.
- Lucius Junius Brutus, who feigned madness until the time when he was able to drive the people to insurrection— he more faked stupidity than insanity, causing the Tarquins to underestimate him as a threat.
- Alhazen, who was ordered by the sixth Fatimid Caliph, al-Hakim, to regulate the flooding of the Nile; he later perceived the insanity and futility of what he was attempting to do and, fearing for his life, feigned madness to avoid the Caliph's wrath. The Caliph, believing him to be insane, placed him under house arrest rather than execute him for failure. Alhazen remained there until the Caliph's death, thereby escaping punishment for his failure to accomplish a task that had been impossible from the beginning.
- King David, in 1 Samuel 21, feigns insanity to prevent the servants of Achish the king of Gath from recognizing him.
In fiction and mythology
- Shakespeare's Hamlet, who feigns madness in order to speak freely and gain revenge,— possibly based on a real person; see Hamlet (legend),
- Odysseus feigned madness by yoking a horse and an ox to his plow and sowing salt or plowing the beach.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Randle McMurphy feigns insanity in order to serve out his criminal sentence in a mental hospital rather than a prison.