The tragedy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The tragedy of Jekyll and Hyde is that Jekyll can not extract himself from Hyde. He has gone too far down the path of evil, concretized the hideously malformed body of Hyde with a glare of evil in his eyes, to return the gentlemanly Dr. Jekyll.   He is trapped in a creation that was “designed” to free him. It is the finale of The Fly. But unlike The Fly’s protagonist, Jekyll has not only tried to play god, but tried to play God in order to be sinful. So why does deserve our sympathy? Why should we can about so vile a creature?


Why? Because we love him, we envy him, we wish we were him:  Hyde, not the good doctor Jekyll. Hyde, with all of his lascivious leaching from his pores, not the prim doctor in his fancy clothes and elegant manners. We don’t want to be him, no matter how handsome he is or how beautiful and innocent a woman is in love with him. Oh, they’re a dime a dozen. If we are to wish to be someone other than ourselves, it is to be the one without repression.

So the films allows us to be simultaneously lascivious and horrified, to feel lust and revulsion simultaneously.   We may want to deny our identification with Hyde, but we are lying to ourselves.


(Film versions put the incident of Hyde stomping on the body of a small child he’d knocked down because the child was in his way far later in the telling of the story.   This is in part because film versions are sequential. The book has greater freedom to go back and forth temporally, because it tells the story via the device of letters. This could be played with in a staged production, but the danger is that the audience has no idea where they are, sequentially, and find it more of an irritant than a fascination.}


And so we can also simultaneously sympathize with Hyde wanting to return to Jekyll, his own self-loathing and his own fear, his Jekyll and Hyde as one wanting it all to stop.   And we can understand that part of tragedy is it’s inevitably. Having gone this far over the line into playing God and having murdered a human being and done horrible things, no doubt, to many others, and having let his “dark side,” his lasciviousness and his rage loosed upon innocent humans, he cannot return to innocence. [“I’m trying to get as far away from myself as I can.”]  Innocence is gone forever.  Dr. Jekyll’s life is gone forever.


Essentially, it’s Faust: A man promises his soul to the Devil if the Devil will satisfy his every earthly need and desire and one day the Devil comes to collect his due. Jekyll’s science fails him, as it must, as all human efforts to play God must.


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