Feigned madness

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"Feigned madness" is a phrase used in popular culture to describe the assumption of a mental disorder for the purposes of evasion, deceit or the diversion of suspicion.

Modern examples[edit]

To avoid responsibility[edit]

To examine the system from the inside[edit]

Investigative journalists and psychologists have feigned madness to study psychiatric hospitals from within:

  • 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 project Okänd, kvinna 2009-349701 to examine power structures in healthcare, the society's view of mental illness and the victimhood imposed on the patient.

Historical examples[edit]

  • 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[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ the story does not appear in Homer, but was apparently mentioned in Sophocles' lost tragedy The Mad Ulysses: James George Frazer, ed., Apollodorus: The Library, II:176 footnote 2; Hyginus, Fabulae 95 mentions the mismatched animals but not the salt.