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Alexander, F. (1933). A Note on Falstaff. Psychoanal Q., 2:592-606.

(1933). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 2:592-606

A Note on Falstaff

Franz Alexander

In the study of human nature there is one method which certainly cannot lead to reliable results. This is to ask people about their own personality. Nevertheless, many serious psychologists and sociologists still have a naïve confidence in this method, and practice it by sending out questionnaires to thousands of individuals. The sociologist who uses this method in order to establish the presence of certain psychological traits in masses of people, does not know the most elementary characteristic of human nature, which is that people do not know themselves. We might hope that people's actions are more characteristic of them than their opinion of themselves. Actions are indeed more valuable than words, and questionnaires on behavior would yield more interesting results if one could rely on the correctness of the answers. On the other hand, the observation of overt behavior does not disclose real predilections because to a great extent people behave not as they really like to, but as they are supposed to.

Theoretically, the only way to learn about human nature might be to put people on the analytical couch for a year or so and collect reliable data; but unfortunately the whole of humanity cannot be put on the analytical couch and the limitations of the application of this method are well known. There is, however, one situation in which people manifest their innermost feelings more reliably than by words or actions and this is when they attend a play in the theatre or when they read a book. If we could register what people feel at different times during a theatrical performance or while reading a book, we could learn much about their most intimate characteristics. The reader of a book or the spectator of a drama cannot be made responsible for what he feels.

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