Classroom Exercise Playwriting

Playwriting Exercise: Madness Monologue

I came across this collection of photos over on in their Commons section. All the photos in the Commons are public domain, so it’s a great place to find free images.

These pictures are pretty haunting. They were taken by a doctor in 1856 as part of study of physiognomy. His belief was that in studying people’s faces you could tell something about their mental state. All of the people in the pictures are patients in an asylum and have been diagnosed “mad.”

Choose one of the photos below, or go over to the site to pick one of your own. Then complete the following exercise.

madness monologues


  1. Automatic write on the picture for two minutes. When you see this picture, what comes to mind? Write down everything and anything – there are no bad ideas, there are no wrong answers – put it all on the page.

  2. Create a character profile for the person in your photo. Answer the following questions:

  • Who is this character? How old are they? What is their name?
  • Where do they come from?
  • Who is in their family unit?
  • Why have they been committed to an asylum?
  • What is their most vivid memory?

Write a monologue for this character. Keep in mind where they are and the profile you’ve created for them. Keep your text in character and true to their environment. Some possible topics are:

  • The character is not mad at all but has been placed in the asylum for some other reason. She is trying to convince her doctor that she is not mad.
  • The character is mad and has no concept of place. Where does her mind tell her where she is?
  • The character is mad and talks to someone who is not actually in the room.
  • The character is not mad but is extremely happy to be away from home. Why?

Click here for a printable PDF of “Madness Monologue”


About the author

Lindsay Price