I was recently lucky enough to attend a theatrical production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Located at The Talking Horse Theater here in Columbia Missouri, the performance was technically a final dress rehearsal prior to the initial opening. It left me pondering the various themes presented in this classical work, particularly the nature of duality within all humans. The characters Jekyll and Hyde are both respective personifications of the “good” and “evil” found at the heart of every man. Portrayed as polar opposites as if on a spectrum, Jekyll is described as a gentlemanly, higher class member of society. Hyde, on the other, is a primal, self-motivated and ultimately malevolent individual. These dual facets of the same character are repeatedly at odds in terms of passions and motivations.
Only towards the end of the production does one begin to realize the overlapping of both extremes and understand that “good” and “evil” may not be so clear-cut after all. After attempting to suppress his “dark” side, Dr. Jekyll begins to reveal an impurity within his own character, and only strengthens the personification of Mr. Hyde. It soon becomes apparent that Jekyll is in fact a combination of good and evil, while Hyde is purely evil. Despite a desperate attempt, it is impossible to fully separate Jekyll’s pure “goodness.” Thus, the idea of a harsh distinction between “good” and “evil” breaks down.
Every personality is merely a conglomeration or result of one’s past experiences—both the good and the bad. Each trait within an individual is determined based on the overall past conditioning that is unique to them. Personality and ego arise from environmental factors. In terms of who a person truly is, there can never be an absolute determination. Our “self” is multifaceted, and in terms of polarity we embody the entire spectrum, not simply one end or the other. Therefore it is incorrect to use the labels “good” and “evil” to describe an individual entirely or debatably even individual characteristics.
Duality within human nature can be expressed in many ways, but these expressions are merely perspectives, or certain lenses through which society looks to categorize itself. The real nature of who we are cannot be determined by looking through a monochrome lens, or one of absolutes. Humanity is not so simple as to be separated into black and white, because truthfully, the universe paints our souls with a kaleidoscope of colors.
With a broad perspective, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde challenges the preconceptions of duality that are common in society. By portraying both the characters of Hyde and Jekyll in polarity at the beginning of the production and then slowly bringing into light just how greatly their opposing characteristics truly do overlap, the audience begins to understand that both personifications of “good” and “evil” are born in unity within the individual Jekyll himself, and thus within humanity as a whole.
Talking Horse Productions — Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — R.L. Stevenson