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Feigned madness a term used in popular culture to describe the assumption of a mental condition or illness by a person for purposes of evasion or deceit.

Such an act can also be used to divert suspicion, perhaps in advance of an act of revenge.

Modern examples

Modern examples are:

  • The (probable) feigned insanity was American Mafia don Vincent Gigante, seen wandering the streets of Greenwich Village, Manhattan in his bathrobe and slippers, mumbling incoherently to himself, in what police characterized as an elaborate act.
  • American journalist Nellie Bly, who faked insanity to study a mental institution from within.

Historical examples

  • Lucius Junius Brutus, who feigned madness until the time when he was able to drive the people to insurrection— he more faked stupidity than insanity, causing the Tarquins to underestimate him as a threat.
  • Ibn al-Haytham, who was ordered by the sixth Fatimid Caliph, al-Hakim, to regulate the flooding of the Nile; he later perceived the inanity of what he was attempting to do and, fearing for his life, feigned madness to avoid the Caliph's wrath, after which he was placed under house arrest until the Caliph's death.
  • King David, who feigned madness in order to escape from King Achish.

See also