The characterisation of Martin Dysart

A significant character

Martin Dysart, Alan’s psychiatrist, is one of the central characters in the play: 

  • Structurally: The play opens and closes with monologues by Dysart and he has a lot of the lines. He is in the majority of the play’s scenes and is the only character who interacts with every other character. 
  • Status: As a psychiatrist, Dysart’s opinions carry a lot of weight, and he is someone with professional experience of being in control. He expects people to listen to him, and himself to be able to help them.

Investigating the character of Dysart...

  • What is your first impression of Dysart?
  • How does this impression change over the course of the play?
  • How is Dysart characterised in the play? Think about the effect of:
    • stage directions
    • the way in which other characters see him
    • his revealing monologues.
  • How much do you think Dysart has in common with Alan?
  • Do you think Dysart is the ‘hero’ of the play? Justify your response.

Professional yet vulnerable

Dysart’s opening monologue reflects the doubts he has about the ability of his profession to heal psychiatric problems. Throughout the play, he periodically expresses these doubts, in monologues and to his friend Hesther. However, towards both Alan and his parents he maintains a veneer of professional behaviour. This professionalism is undercut by the perceptiveness of Alan, who somehow manages to pick on Dysart’s vulnerabilities, as though he is aware of the psychiatrist’s doubts.

A lack-lustre life?

Dysart clearly has strong interests in areas other than psychiatry: for instance, he is very interested in Ancient Greece. However, over the course of his treatment of Alan, he comes to feel that his interest is weak and pathetic, compared with Alan’s passion for horses. Eventually he wonders if perhaps violent passion might be a good thing.

Dysart seems a rather isolated figure. Although he is married, he has little in common with his wife, and receives no emotional nurture from her, which he resents. He is friends with Hesther, whom he respects and with whom he shares a professional understanding of troubled patients. However, she is careful to maintain professional boundaries and frequently challenges Dysart’s judgements. He is not a happy man and his disillusionment heightens this unhappiness.

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