Dwight Frye as Renfield in Dracula (1931)
|Created by||Bram Stoker|
|Portrayed by||Alexander Granach (Nosferatu (1922 film)|
Dwight Frye (Dracula (1931 English-language film))
Pablo Álvarez Rubio (Dracula (1931 Spanish-language film))
Klaus Kinski (Count Dracula (1970 film))
Jack Shepherd (Count Dracula (1977 film))
Roland Topor (Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979 English/German-language film))
Tom Waits (Bram Stoker's Dracula)
Peter MacNicol (Dracula: Dead and Loving It)
Nonso Anozie (Dracula (TV series))
Samuel Barnett (Penny Dreadful (TV series))
|Nickname||The Fly Patient, The Fly Man, The Zoophagous Patient|
During the novel
A description of Renfield from the novel:
R. M. Renfield, aetat 59. Sanguine temperament, great physical strength, morbidly excitable, periods of gloom, ending in some fixed idea which I cannot make out. I presume that the sanguine temperament itself and the disturbing influence end in a mentally-accomplished finish, a possibly dangerous man, probably dangerous if unselfish. In selfish men, caution is as secure an armour for their foes as for themselves. What I think of on this point is, when self is the fixed point the centripetal force is balanced with the centrifugal. When duty, a cause, etc., is the fixed point, the latter force is paramount, and only accident or a series of accidents can balance it. — From Dr. John Seward's journal
Renfield is an inmate at the lunatic asylum overseen by Dr. John Seward. He is thought to suffer from delusions which compel him to eat living creatures in the hope of obtaining their life-force for himself. Later Renfield's own testimony reveals that Dracula would send him insects, which he begins consuming. He starts with flies, the death's-head moth, then develops a scheme of feeding the flies to spiders, and the spiders to birds, in order to accumulate more and more life. When denied a cat to accommodate the birds, he eats the birds himself. He also changes his ideas to accommodate Mina Harker by quickly eating all flies and stating that it was an old habit. Doctor John Seward diagnoses him as a "zoophagous maniac", or life-consuming madman. Later Renfield builds up his own courage to harm Dr. Seward, acquiring a knife and cutting his arm; as Seward's blood drips from his hand, Renfield licks it off the floor.
During the course of the novel, the role of Renfield as a patient allows the reader to understand his behavior from the perspective of a psychologist. Through Renfield's demented mind, the reader learns the nature of a vampirism that is eventually revealed to be under the influence of Count Dracula; Renfield attempts to escape from the hospital multiple times to meet him. The vampire, whose abilities include control over animals such as rats, bats and spiders, comes to Renfield with an offer: if Renfield worships him, he promises to make him immortal by providing an endless supply of insects and rats, as Renfield believes that blood is the source of life.
However, when confronted by Mina Harker, the object of Dracula's obsession, Renfield suffers an attack of conscience and begs her to flee from his master's grasp. Consumed by his desire to keep Mina safe, he begs Seward and the others to allow him to leave lest he feel guilty for her fate. When Seward denies his request, Renfield tells the vampire hunters that "[he] warned them!" When Dracula returns that night, Renfield is again seized by his conscience. He remembers hearing that madmen have unnatural strength, and so attempts to fight Dracula. Renfield's strength leaves him after looking into Dracula's eyes, and Dracula throws him to the floor, severely injuring him.
The vampire hunters enter the room shortly afterward, and through an emergency surgery Van Helsing manages to prolong Renfield's life. Renfield tells how Dracula convinced him to invite Dracula in, detailing how Dracula entered the home and went after Mina. They leave him lying on the floor to rescue her. During the party's confrontation with Dracula in Mina's room, they manage to repel him with their crucifixes and wafers of sacramental bread, forcing him to flee the room. However, Dracula flees into other rooms and destroys their records, then back into Renfield's room to break his neck. "When Dr. Van Helsing and Dr. Seward had come back from seeing poor Renfield, we went gravely into what was to be done. First, Dr. Seward told us that when he and Dr. Van Helsing had gone down to the room below they had found Renfield lying on the floor, all in a heap. His face was all bruised and crushed in, and the bones of the neck were broken."
Influence in psychology
The character Renfield has influenced the study of real-life behavior in psychiatric patients suffering from an obsession with drinking blood. The term Renfield syndrome was coined by psychologist Richard Noll in 1992, originally as a joke term, to describe clinical vampirism. Correspondingly, there is also a "vampire personality disorder" (VPD); a diagnosis for clinical vampirism, used for the behavioral profiling of serial killers compelled by bloodlust and for patients who act out violent vampiric fantasies, albeit, this diagnosis is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
The effects of Renfield syndrome follows the pathology of the character in the novel consisting of several stages. Initially the patient exhibits zoophagia, a compulsion to eat insects, or to eat live animals or drink their blood. As the condition worsens, the behavior grows more and more deviant, culminating in a compulsion to drink another person's blood in an act described as True-Vampirism, including intentionally harming another individual for that purpose—the same behavior Renfield is seen exhibiting in the novel.
- F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922 silent film), loosely based on Stoker's novel, renames Renfield (Alexander Granach) as Knock, and combines him with Mr. Hawkins, the employer of the hero Harker (renamed Hutter).
- In Tod Browning's 1931 film and George Melford's 1931 film, Renfield (played by Dwight Frye in the English version and Pablo Álvarez Rubio in the Spanish version) is the real estate agent who is sent to Transylvania, instead of Jonathan Harker, and falls under Dracula's (Bela Lugosi/Carlos Villarías) power. Frye's performance is the best-known and, as noted below, the most imitated, as well as the role he's best remembered for.
- In the 1970 film Count Dracula, Klaus Kinski played Renfield as mute. His link to the Count is explained in terms of his travel to Transylvania once and his horrible experience near Castle Dracula, when his young daughter died.
- The BBC version of Count Dracula (1977), starring Louis Jourdan in the title role, includes Jack Shepherd as a sympathetic Renfield in a prominent role which highlights his relationship with Mina.
- The 1979 film Dracula, starring Frank Langella in the title role, has Tony Haygarth playing Milo Renfield as an unkempt workman who is enthralled by Dracula while he is unloading the boxes at Carfax.
- Another 1979 film Nosferatu the Vampyre by Werner Herzog, with Klaus Kinski in the main role, features giggling Renfield, the former boss of Jonathan Harker a latter mental asylum patient and a plague spreader, played by Roland Topor.
- Arte Johnson plays Renfield in Love at First Bite (1979), where he is seen being a loyal servant to Dracula in the 1970s as he and his master move to New York. Johnson imitates the Dwight Frye laugh.
- Tom Waits portrays R. M. Renfield in Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film adaptation Bram Stoker's Dracula. The film suggests that Renfield was Jonathan Harker's predecessor as Count Dracula's agent in London; it is implied that this is the reason for his madness. He tries to persuade Mina to stay out of Dracula's grasp out of jealousy, angry that Dracula plans to give her immortality instead of him.
- Peter MacNicol plays the comedic, simple-minded Thomas Renfield in Mel Brooks' 1995 film Dracula: Dead and Loving It. It's a spoof version of Dwight Frye's Renfield in 1931 film.
- Brett Forest plays Renfield in Dracula (2002), where events of the novel were updated to modern time period.
- Manoj portrayed Renfield in the 2005 Indian Malayalam-language television series, Dracula, which aired on Asianet.
- Simon Ludders portrays Percival Renfield in Young Dracula (2006–2014), in which the manservant is depicted as an unwashed dimwit with repulsive taste in food (though this aids him in preparing meals for vampires) and prodigious knowledge of science. Renfield is unquestioningly loyal to Dracula in the hope of one day being turned into a vampire, and seems to partly enjoy the abuse Dracula inflicts upon him when he makes mistakes. Renfield ultimately becomes a vampire in the series' concluding episodes, though he proves inept at using his new powers. Ludders also portrays Renfield's father, a cruel man who is resurrected and promptly enacts a plan to destroy the Draculas, but the younger Renfield ultimately undoes his resurrection.
- Ian Pfister plays Renfield in Dracula Reborn (2012). The events take place in modern times in Los Angeles. Renfield is an associate of Dracula, who moved to California.
- In NBC and Sky Living's 2013 television series, Renfield is portrayed by Nonso Anozie. In contrast to other Renfields, this version is well-educated and fully sane, having been recruited by Dracula to act as his lawyer after Dracula met him on a train, serving as Dracula's confidant and with Dracula expressing complete faith in his loyalty. He is killed by Professor Van Helsing in the final episode when Renfield finds Van Helsing destroying the serum that allows the vampire to walk in the sunlight.
- Samuel Barnett portrays Renfield in the third and final season of the Showtime drama Penny Dreadful (2014–2016).
- Ewan Bailey voices Renfield in 2017 computer animated horror comedy Monster Family, where he is Dracula's butler, who ultimately sides with protagonists against his master.
- In November 2019, it was announced that a film titled Renfield, centered on the titular character is in development. The project was greenlit by Universal Pictures, following a pitch for the project from Robert Kirkman. Dexter Fletcher will serve as director, from a script by Ryan Ridley. The film will be a joint-venture production with Skybound Entertainment. Kirkman, David Alpert, Bryan Furst, and Sean Furst will serve as producers. It's believed to take place during the present day and is not a period piece. This take on the project is described as a comedic, lighthearted approach in the vein of Taika Waititi's vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, in which Renfield realizes he is in a bad, co-dependent relationship.
- In the 2020 miniseries Dracula the character, now named Frank Renfield, is depicted as Count Dracula's lawyer in 21st century Britain. He is portrayed by Mark Gatiss, who co-wrote the series with Steven Moffat.
- Renfield appears in 1924 stage play Dracula by Hamilton Deane. In the play he is killed by Dracula for betraying him. He was played by G. Malcolm Russell and Bernard Jukes in English productions. The play was revised by John. L. Balderston for American audiences in 1927. In the revised version Renfield survives. Bernard Jukes reprised the role on Broadway.
- Renfield appears in Dracula, The Musical by Frank Wildhorn. He has his own song "The Master's Song". He was played by Don Stephenson in Broadway production of the musical.
- Renfield was played by Daniel Boucher in Franco-Canadian 2006 musical Dracula – Entre l'amour et la mort.
- Renfield was portrayed by Kevin Poeung in 2019 Northern Ballet's production of Dracula by David Nixon. The production was recorded and showed in UK cinemas on Halloween and then broadcast on BBC4 in 2020.
In other media
- In the Jim Butcher novel Blood Rites, "Renfield" is used as a term for people forcibly turned into mindless henchmen by vampires.
- In the novel A Betrayal in Blood by Mark A. Lathan, it is revealed that Renfield was the solicitor who travelled to Translyvania to meet with Dracula rather than Jonathan; as part of a complex conspiracy against the human Count Dracula, Van Helsing manipulated events to drive Renfield mad, and then helped the Harkers kill the head of the firm so that they could claim that Renfield's experiences were Jonathan's to further justify their 'vendetta' against Dracula.
Characters based on Renfield
- In Drakula İstanbul'da (1953) the character of Renfield doesn't exist. Instead Dracula has a servant in his castle, who obeys Dracula. When this servant tries to help Azmi (Jonathan Harker), Dracula kills him.
- In TV adaptation Dracula (1968) the character of Renfield doesn't exist. Instead Jonathan Harker takes up many of his functions: he goes mad after visiting Dracula's castle, ends up in asylum of Dr.Seward and does Dracula's bidding.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Buffy vs. Dracula" (2000), Xander Harris falls under the spell of Dracula, begins devouring insects and spiders for much of the episode, calls Dracula "Master" and obeys his orders.
- Although he is not present in Van Helsing (2004), Igor takes up the mantel of Dracula's servant, who is ready to do his bidding.
- While not in the 2014 film Dracula Untold, a gypsy portrayed by Zach McGowan, did refer to the titular character as 'Master', a nod to the character himself referring to Dracula. If a sequel would've happened then McGowan would've returned portraying Renfield.
- Bram Stoker's Notes on Dracula. p. 282.
- Dracula SparkNotes; Character list.
- Stoker, Bram. Dracula (PDF). Ch 21, Dr. Seward's Diary, 3 October. p. 400.
Just as he used to send in the flies when the sun was shining. Great big fat ones with steel and sapphire on their wings. And big moths, in the night, with skull and cross-bones on their backs.’ Van Helsing nodded to him as he whispered to me un-consciously, ‘The Acherontia Atropos of the Sphinges, what you call the ‘Death’s-head Moth’?CS1 maint: location (link)
- Stoker, Bram. Dracula (PDF). Ch 11, Dr. Seward's Diary, 17 September. p. 202.CS1 maint: location (link)
- Stoker, Bram. Dracula (PDF). pp. 147, 156.
- Ramsland, Katherine. "Vampire Personality Disorder". Psychology Today. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
For The Science of Vampires, I invented a diagnosis as well. I called it vampire personality disorder (VPD). I included clinical vampires but also killers compelled by bloodlust and people who exploit the vampire image to act out fantasy scenarios in a way that harms others.
- Dracula. Tod Browning. Universal Pictures, 1931. Film.
- Drácula. George Melford. Universal Pictures, 1931. Film.
- Count Dracula. Jesús Franco. Filmar Compagnia Cinematograf, Roma, 1970. Film.
- Count Dracula. Philip Saville. British Broadcasting Corporation, 1977. Film.
- Dracula. John Badham. Universal Pictures, 1979. Film.
- Bram Stoker's Dracula. Francis Ford Coppola. American Zoetrope, 1992. Film.
- Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Mel Brooks. Castle Rock Entertainment, 1995. Film.
- Nonso Anozie Bio NBC
- Kroll, Justin (November 20, 2019). "Dexter Fletcher to Direct a Movie About Dracula's Henchman for Universal". Variety. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
- Orquiola, John (4 January 2020). "Netflix's Dracula: Cast & Character Guide". Screen Rant. Retrieved 4 January 2020.