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Serjeant Musgrave’s disease
  1. G E Langley
  1. Correspondence to:
 G E Langley
 Hanningfields, Warborough Hill, Kenton, Exeter, Devon, EX6 8LR;


The present title takes a liberty with the title of playwright John Arden’s Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, but not with the text. Toward the end of the play, Serjeant Musgrave exclaims “There used to be my duty: now there’s a disease”. So what is the serjeant’s “disease”? The play, subtitled “an unhistoric parable” is a commentary on an unspecified late 19th century war in a British protectorate as experienced by four soldiers, now returned to England and visiting a North country colliery town, ostensibly to recruit, but with a deeper motive not initially apparent. Readers of Medical Humanities will know that the arts hold more for doctors than direct clinical relevance, and this play is no exception. There is a powerful account, not inappropriate at the present time, of the disruptive effects of war and violence on the soldiers involved, their families, and the civilian populations. War is contrasted with the industrial unrest in the local colliery. My present concern is to examine Serjeant Musgrave’s mental state, and the dynamics within his band.

  • PSTD, post traumatic stress disorder
  • soldiers
  • conflict
  • post traumatic stress disorder

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  • Page references throughout the paper are to this 1982 Methuen student edition of the play.

  • Dr Langley is a retired consultant psychiatrist.