Kings and Their Fools

A bit of a post script today to last week’s A Shakespearian Smorgasbord. The National have posted a video this week that was made to accompany the cinema broadcast of Sam Mendes’ King Lear – short but really informative.


In the video Simon Russell Beale mentions having to shave off his hair in preparation for the role and he spoke about this in an interview in The Telegraph with Jasper Rees, which makes for a good read.

Why I shaved my head for Lear

When a classical actor plays Hamlet, a clock starts counting down to his Lear. There should, however, be a decent hiatus. Among those who have bagged both of Shakespeare’s twin peaks, there was a 36-year wait for Ian McKellen, 32 for Jonathan Pryce and 31 for Derek Jacobi.

For Simon Russell Beale, the gap between his “O what a rogue and peasant slave” and his “O reason not the need” amounts to a slender 14 years. And if director Sam Mendes had had his way, the interim would have been even smaller.

“Sam came to see Galileo,” says Beale. “We went and had a beer afterwards. Galileo ends with Galileo being quite old and Sam said, ‘I think we should do Lear before it’s too late.’ I said, ‘What the f— are you talking about? I’m 45!’ ”

Mendes persisted and the play was vaguely scheduled at the National Theatre, but the director’s commitment to Skyfall and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has allowed Beale to edge up to 52.

This will be Beale’s seventh Shakespearean role with Mendes in a collaboration that began with Thersites in the RSC’s Troilus and Cressida in 1990. We meet in the National Theatre’s interview room, where the actor looks across at a picture of himself as Hamlet in 2000. Nowadays, with a full white beard and cropped silver hair, he looks comfortably grizzled enough to be handing over his kingdom to his progeny.

The crop was Mendes’s request. “The two nasty characters I’ve done with Sam – Richard III and Iago – for both of them I shaved my head. The first thing he said to me as Lear was, ‘Can you shave your head because it makes you feel more of a brute?’”


You can see why. After Cambridge Beale wavered between acting and singing. As he would have been a tenor, it seems pertinent to ask whether Shakespeare’s canon supplies roles which, if written for a singer, would be considered more of a stretch. After all, English theatre’s most recent Lear, whom I interviewed as he took on the role at Chichester, is the tall booming übermensch Frank Langella.

“Is there a Fach? I love that word. A Faaaaccchhh.” He stretches the vowel and dwells on the percussive consonant of the German word referring to a classical singer’s performing range. “Um, I don’t know. Of course my really weak suit is Frank Langella’s strongest, isn’t it? That sense of power in the first scene is quite difficult to find for me and that’s the bass baritone. But the last beats of the play, that’s tenor, isn’t it? I dunno. It’s a negotiation between a part and an actor. You have to play to your strengths or you slightly adapt them.”

Even Beale’s polite army of obsessive fans may not know that he first played Lear as a 17-year-old schoolboy at Clifton College. “I remember the smell because we had proper greasepaint and spirit gum. I can’t really remember anything about the performance beyond the fact that it was very exciting. And then when I picked it up to learn it for this, when I read the very first speech – ‘Mean time we shall express our darker purpose’ – it was all still there somewhere in the back of my brain. Whereas if you’d asked me to quote any of Timon, it’s gone.” (Timon in 2012 was his most recent Shakespearean role.)


As Beale returns to the role, it feels like the fulfilment of a prophecy embedded in the epithet “the greatest classical actor of his generation” which has followed him around for a couple of decades.

“It’s happening less now, though.” He unleashes a huge cannonade of laughter. “Obviously my ego is massaged when people say it. It’s flattering but embarrassing. And if you believed it, then you’d be in trouble. And I don’t. I seriously don’t. I think actually I’m a bit second-rate a lot of the time, and that’s not coy.”

He mentions actors of the same age for whom he thinks the tag is at least as apt – Mark Rylance, Stephen Dillane, Roger Allam. But none has privileged the stage over the screen with anything like the same devotion.

Does he ever wish he’d had a parallel life in Hollywood like other great titans of British theatre? “You’re talking about Sir Ian and Sir Michael and people like that. And yeah of course I’d love a career like that. Love it.” What’s to stop him taking some meetings in Los Angeles? “I suppose I could. I’ve got an American manager.”

You sense that it’ll never happen. Beale may have a vast army of nieces and nephews – he took all eight of them, aged 22 to two, Christmas shopping along the King’s Road the day before we meet, but his other family is here in this building to whose well-being, it is no exaggeration to say, he is as integral as any actor since Olivier. A tally of around 1,600 performances suggests as much. When the National was looking for a new artistic director, the chairman asked him to name his two preferred candidates (Nicholas Hytner’s nominated successor Rufus Norris was one of them). This, in short, is his home.

“I don’t think anything has ever made me as happy as working on a Shakespeare play in a rehearsal room here. It’s to do with a type of intellectual excitement. I’m sure you do get it in film and television, but it’s something absolutely viscerally pleasurable about coming here.”

So how does he feel about leaving the rehearsal room and doing it in what Katie Mitchell refers to as “the other room”? Would he be happy just rehearsing for its own sake? “No, of course not. You’re responsible for telling a story. It’s a bit like being a monk, praying for the world – sometimes you get into a state where you’re thinking that what I’m doing is valuable even if nobody else sees it. Which is, of course, bollocks.”

Perhaps there is no such thing with the capacious leading roles in Shakespeare, but once he does leave the rehearsal room does he feel he has ever strayed close to giving a definitive interpretation? “The simple answer is no,” he says. “But there were moments where you think, I can’t do it any better than that. Just sometimes it goes like a Rolls-Royce and then most of the time it doesn’t quite.”

He came closest to Bardic nirvana, he reckons, in Much Ado, delivering Benedick’s speech about falling in love with Beatrice from an ornamental pond in which he had plunged to hide during the gulling scene. “I always used to joke that the best performances are done in the bath and there I was literally floating in this warm water and talking to audience.”

That memory may be relegated in the coming months as he performs what rehearsals have reinforced for him is “quite simply the greatest play ever written”. Aside from researching dementia with the help of his mainly medical family, Beale has done his usual rummaging in the First Folio and Quarto and alighted on Lear’s obsession with tears.


“When he comes on wearing his flowers in his hair and mad, his first line is ‘They cannot touch me for coining, I am the king himself.’ Which is a moderately interesting line if you’re interested in the Mint. But the other option is ‘They cannot touch me for crying… The next line is ‘Nature is above art in that respect,’ which seems to be about instinct being more powerful than contrivance. It doesn’t seem to apply to coining at all, but it does apply to crying. So I decided to do that version.” He is eager to make a documentary about Shakespeare textual scholarship. Well if anyone can…

The downside of doing Lear at 52 is that there aren’t many peaks beyond. He was once given a lift to Stratford by John Wood, who was playing Lear and Prospero in the same season. “I remember him saying, ‘I really don’t know where to go now.’ It’s weird but you do feel it’s the end of the road.”

He doesn’t feel “a particular lust to do Prospero”. How about Antony? “Oh nooo, he’s a foot taller. I’d like to do Falstaff on stage. [Beale played the fat knight in the BBC’s Hollow Crown season]. “And Jacques, yes. Actually I’d love to do Angelo. Shylock I’m wary of because I don’t know what I think of the play.”

How about running the show? “I think not any more. There was a time ten years ago that I wanted to be an artistic director but not now that I’ve seen it at close hand.”

There is one other role which remains on his to-do list, having by his own admission got it wrong the first time round. Where Hamlet’s fleet-footed intelligence was a bullseye for Beale, Macbeth was thought by many critics to be a stretch when he played the role for the same director, John Caird, at the Almeida.

“I think the critics were right. That was a lesson about not imposing something from outside. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do and it was a result of an essay I did at university. The play seemed to be about a suspension of time which meant that it was very static. And that’s very anti-theatrical. This sounds craven but it’s true: years after the event, most of the horrible things that were said were probably accurate. But I’m determined that Macbeth is in my Fach.”

Beale also talks in the video about research he did into something called Lewy Body dementia in order to create a convincing Lear and he goes into more detail about that in another article for The Telegraph, this time by Hannah Furness, which you can read here.

kinglear20jan2014nine_FotorDespite my dichotomous relationship with Shakespeare, King Lear is one of my favourites. One of the many things I find interesting is the fact The Fool disappears half way through the play without any explanation.  This is often seen as a flaw in the writing, and both directors and actors have to deal with this whenever the play is staged.  In Mendes’ version The Fool is bludgeoned to death in a bathtub by a deranged Lear. Academics have spent much time discussing this sudden departure but the explanation I like best is very prosaic. The Fool and Cordelia never appear on the stage together and it has been surmised that in its original production the roles were double cast, with the same actor playing both parts – so Shakespeare simply begin expedient, then. A question of economics rather that poor narrative construction.

In Mendes’ production The Fool is played by Adrian Scarborough and you can watch him discussing the role here or listen here:


The role of the fool, jester or clown is a familiar figure in most cultures, reaching back many centuries. In its The Why Factor strand, BBC World Service broadcast a fascinating pUntitled_Fotorrogramme this week, by Mike Williams, about the history of the fool (the podcast is embedded below). In China they had a whole range of jesters, one with the fabulous name of Moving Bucket In India, perhaps their most famous jester is Birbal from the 15th Century. Even today the clown is a familiar figure in Bollywood movies, one of the best known films being Mere Namm Joker about a clown called Raju, starring Raj Kapoor.


There is a nice, condensed history of the clown, written by Jonathan Baker on the website Silent Clown.

A Shakespearian Smorgasbord

Today’s post is a bit of a pick and mix of all things Shakespeare that have come my way recently. Firstly, a very recent interview with Sam Mendes, acclaimed director of both stage and screen.  His latest theatrical outing was directing Simon Russell Beale as King Lear at the National Theatre in London. Here he is in conversation with Mark Leipacher about that very production.


Along with Mendes, there are a series of video and audio recordings from the National that talk with the actors about their approach to creating all the major roles in Lear. You can listen to Talking Lear here or watch them here.  Another from the same series, which is really interesting, is a discussion hosted by theatre critic Michael Billington between psychoanalyst, Mike Brearley, and academic, Laurie Maguire, where they discuss Shakespeare’s understanding of the complexities of the human mind and how these would appear to be evident in King Lear.


Finally in connection with King Lear Simon Russell Beale wrote a piece for The Telegraph in April, Whys Shakespeare always says something newin which talks at length about playing the Bard, the dangers of editing the text and why he considers that Shakespeare still has something to say today.


Another production that has been making headlines beyond its rave reviews is Titus Andronicus currently at The Globe Theatre, London. Titus is renowned for its violence – 14 deaths, a brutal rape and scenes of mutilation and cannibalism. Inevitably, stage blood is often used by the litre in productions of the play, and occasionally to great and gruesome effect.  This particular production has clearly pushed the boundaries, being described as full of violence and sick humour in Hannah Furness’ article for The Telegraph, Globe audience faints at ‘grotesquely violent’ Titus Andronicus. The fainting count at the time the article went to press was growing rapidly. If rumours are to be believed, the largest number to faint so far in one performance is 43.


It is clear from the publicity photographs why the squeamish are not faring well at The Globe. Indeed those who faint have been dubbed ‘droppers’ by fellow theatre goers and Globe staff. Furness writes:

One theatre-goer, who watched the show’s opening night, said there had been “quite a few droppers” in the audience, who fainted upon seeing so much blood. Another reported he had “almost puked” by the interval, while a third warned: “You will definitely need a strong stomach”. Others praised the “Brilliantly staged and flawlessly acted” production, but warned of “blood and violence galore”

What is amazing that amongst all the gore, the director, Lucy Bailey has also been highly praised for bringing out the darkly comic elements of Titus and making sense of what is often seen as faltering marriage of knock-about humour and extreme suffering on Shakespeare’s part.


I16iht-lon16-superJumbo_Fotorn her article for The Guardian, There’s method in theatre’s blood and goreMarina Warner talks about violence on stage through history, why tragedies such as Titus bring us face to face with intense violence and how they also carry a vital contemporary message. A great read.

There is some really good related reading on The Globe’s website. One is a great piece wittily entitled Food for Thought by Cedric Watts about the cannibal or anthropophagous banquet scene in the play.  Another is The Sound of Cracking Bone by Robert Shore which looks at the rehabilitation of Titus as a play of substance and how staging it in a theatre resembling its original setting allows it to breath again. It also reminded me of my favourite of Shakespeare’s stage directions, which comes from Titus, 

Enter a messenger with two heads and a hand

The maxim, there’s no such thing as bad publicity seems to have held true for The Globe and they have quietly taken advantage of the ‘droppers’ to garner extra publicity for the show. No one has actually said how much stage blood they are getting through, but it didn’t stop one intrepid journalist heading off to find where it was all made. There will be blood! written by Nick Clark for The Independent visits the suppliers of the fake blood for Titus who make up to 450 litres of the stuff every week and have doubled their production in the last year, largely due to bloody productions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Finally for today, a shout out for The Internet Archive which has recently posted the Orson Welles Shakespeare Collection, a selection of Shakespeare’s plays adapted for the radio by him in the 1930s and which were groundbreaking at the time. Welles is perhaps best known for the movie Citizen Kane, as well as one of the most famous broadcasts in the history of radio, his adaptation War of the Worlds which caused widespread panic when American listeners thought it was real and that an invasion by extraterrestrial beings was taking place

Orson Welles as Brutus in However, he was also a celebrated Shakespearian actor and during the late 1930s, Welles was the toast of Broadway, thanks to a string of audacious revivals of the Shakespeare’s work. The most famous of these was his 1937 adaptation of Julius Caesar. Welles costumed the piece in modern dress with soldiers wearing what looked like Nazi black shirts. The show was lit in such a way as to recall a Nuremberg rally. Obviously this was playing at a time when Hitler’s power was growing, and the production is said to have jolted American audiences and made Welles famous, with Time Magazine even putting him on its cover.

The recordings made available by The Internet Archive are obviously dated and sound quality is not always great, but they have a surprising intensity about them. You can access them here and I have embedded Julius Caesar to give a flavour of what the rest are like.


Birthday Bardolatry

Wednesday marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. Now regular readers of Theatre Room will know that I have a certain ambivalence to the works of the bard and occasionally find myself in arguments with others who refuse to believe anything other that he was the greatest playwright to have ever lived.

MR at The GlobeIt was therefore with some great interest I listened to a programme presented by British playwright Mark Ravenhill (left), who has just finished a two-year stint as playwright in residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. In Shakespeare: For and Against for the BBC, and to quote the promotional material for the programme

…..Ravenhill challenges our adulation of the Bard and asks: Is Shakespeare’s genius beyond question? Casting a sceptical eye over centuries of bardolatry, Ravenhill calls for a new approach to the plays.

Exploring the intellectual tradition that has seen important figures from Voltaire to Tolstoy to Wittgenstein challenge Shakespeare’s supremacy, Ravenhill searches for today’s dissenting voices.

Tracing the transformation of a working playwright into a national poet, global brand and secular god, Ravenhill asks if it’s still possible to enjoy Shakespeare without being overwhelmed by the cultural and commercial baggage of ‘brand Shakespeare’.

It is really fascinating and amongst other people he speaks to scholar Ania Loomba who describes India’s changing relationship with Shakespeare, and Professor Gary Taylor talks about the ambivalence of large parts of America toward the Bard. Have a listen below:

In the interest of balance I would also like to share a piece written for The Telegraph by the highly respected actor Simon Russell Beale (interviewed by Ravenhill in the above) whose latest Shakespearian outing has been playing King Lear at the National Theatre.

Why Shakespeare always says something new

As the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth approaches, the great Shakespearean actor Simon Russell Beale explains his secrets

At the very end of King Lear, a frail, old man appears carrying the corpse of his youngest and much-loved daughter. It’s an image, like that of Hamlet holding a skull or Juliet on her balcony, that has imprinted itself on the minds of readers and spectators over the last four hundred years. For some, it is unbearable, even morally irresponsible; for Lear’s lonely, individual grief seems to reinforce the possibility, iterated again and again in the play, that all human life is essentially meaningless.

Whether one accepts that bleak vision or not, here once again is that familiar magic – Shakespeare’s astonishing ability to open out his work, to manipulate a single storyline, so that it includes, implicates and challenges everyone.


The old king and his daughter do not enter alone, however. They are accompanied by at least one soldier, possibly more. This soldier, about whom we know almost nothing, has a single line later in the scene, but his entrance is not marked in either of the authoritative texts that have been handed down to us – the quarto and the Folio – and, consequently, presents the director of King Lear with a problem. When, precisely, should the soldier, or soldiers, enter? Every line spoken by Lear in this short, final scene is a wonder and I suspect that most directors instinctively feel that his words and the image should be left, as it were, to stand alone.

But, as so often, Shakespeare gives us a context for Lear’s pain, a counterpoint. The soldier is there to remind us, amongst other things, that the old king is not simply a grieving father but also a prisoner- of -war (a war for which he is ultimately responsible) and to confirm, with his single line, that Lear is still powerful and angry enough to have killed the man who was murdering his child.

This is a tiny example of another Shakespearean manoeuvre, one to set against his skill at articulating the big things like love and hate. It’s the type of thing that makes mounting Shakespeare’s work endlessly fascinating, demanding and frustrating. For whatever reason – the way the texts have been transmitted, carelessness on the part of the writer, a change of intention – the plays, in their lack of precision, often raise questions for which the playwright has provided no clear answer. Any actor or director in search of clarity could be forgiven for interpreting this as an opportunity or a challenge.

If this challenge seems, at times, difficult to meet then it’s comforting to know that we are not alone. Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s younger contemporary and a writer whose narrative was always meticulously charted, found his older colleague’s work, for all its beauty, sloppy and often absurd. He probably found the paucity of information about Lady Macbeth’s child, for instance, infuriating. Unfair though it might be, however, Shakespeare’s capacity for absorbing endless reinterpretation, in contrast to the demands that Jonson makes, is maybe one reason why the latter’s work has never been as popular as his colleague’s. Perhaps we should be braver with Jonson, but the truth is that, over nearly thirty years of working on Shakespeare’s plays, there have been countless occasions when, in the rehearsal room, I have witnessed (and expended) a great deal of enjoyable effort in the attempt to sort out apparent inconsistencies and ambiguities. We could leave the plays alone, I suppose, but that seems the lazy and irresponsible option. Shakespeare demands a more considered response, I think.

This is a tricky business, however. One never wants to “tidy up” Shakespeare’s writing without considering as many options as possible and ambiguity is often a good thing. There are sometimes unexpected discoveries to be made by investing fully in something that is apparently confusing. The soldier in the final moments of King Lear is there precisely to complicate matters. In this case, the king may very well be embodying a profound and far-reaching pain that has universal relevance, but the playwright cannot resist providing a more mundane and savage context. Lear is not floating free of the real world; and this may remind us that it is in the oddities of Shakespeare’s writing, his exploration of the confusion and ugliness of any situation, his absolute refusal to sentimentalise, that a great deal of his power lies.


The fact, too, that the plays are, from an interpretative point of view, open-ended leads satisfyingly to our questioning, not only the playwright, but also each other. We may not agree with a particular analysis or interpretation, but if it is neither wilful nor illogical, then it may well be, despite our preconceptions, valid. Shakespeare’s plays are very hospitable. As a fellow actor said to me recently, interpreting Shakespeare is “a game we can all play”.

The feeling that one is standing on shifting ground is there right at the start of any close reading of the text. The astonishing work of literary scholars over the last century has radically changed our view of the plays as comprising an unchanging and rigid canon. Not one of Shakespeare’s plays exists in a single, unchallenged version. There are, as I mentioned earlier, two authoritative texts for King Lear – with significant differences – and three for Hamlet. Plays like Measure for Measure are frankly a bit of a mess and Timon of Athens is clearly unfinished.

It seems that Shakespeare’s plays are, in some sense, there to be adapted. We have to tread carefully, of course, because we are dealing with a man who was unquestionably a genius;, but he was also a working man of the theatre and, it seems, was willing to adapt his work, responding to his own changing ideas and, presumably, to the demands of those he worked with. What this all boils down to is that you can’t perform a play by Shakespeare without first editing it. There is no set text.

The reason why this is a worry for some is that editing is necessarily an interpretative activity and our judgment of a play can therefore be manipulated. Choosing between options that the playwright himself offers is not, of course, objectionable, although many are surprised at how different these options sometimes are. For instance, one of Hamlet’s famous soliloquies, his last, “How all occasions do inform against me” is not in the Folio version of the play.

Difficulties arise when theatre practitioners change things that Shakespeare did not clearly authorise. In the production of King Lear that I am currently involved with, there is a glaring, perhaps even controversial, example of this. The Fool, one of Lear’s few friends, disappears halfway through the play and this is considered by commentators as either gratifyingly mysterious or simply unsatisfactory. We decided that the King, now mad and predictably violent for much of the time, should club the Fool to death.

Whatever arguments we can produce for such a decision – and I, of course, think they are watertight, despite the fact that much later in the story Lear mentions that the Fool has been hanged – there is no doubt that some find such a departure from the text distressing. Years ago, in a production of The Tempest (also directed, as it happens, by Sam Mendes), I played a rather haughty Ariel who, at the moment of being given his freedom by Prospero, spat in his master’s face. This seemed to me to be an absolutely understandable protest given Ariel’s long years of servitude, but many spectators, for understandable reasons, disliked it intensely.


My defence is that the texts themselves are not stable and that, anyway, we are following Shakespeare’s footsteps. For instance, editing a play for performance often means cutting lines and we know that some of the plays exist in shorter versions, presumably intended for particular occasions and I’m sure he changed things for other reasons than that of length. Even if the principal aim of a group of practitioners is simply to reduce the playing time, rather than something more devious, distortion of some (largely mythical) ur-text is inevitable.

This process of editing may challenge our preconceptions about a play and those preconceptions, especially if they manifest themselves in a desire for something that we can easily define, are often very difficult to shift. I’m aware, when watching a production of a Shakespeare play I know well, that I have to work hard not to impose my rigid requirements on the performers in front of me. There is always a danger that, while working on a Shakespeare play over months or even years, one can persuade oneself that a certain interpretation is the only one possible. After all, it is part of an actor’s job to convince an audience that, within the context of the production, this is momentarily the case. But Macbeth need not be, as I saw him, a man whose poetic imagination is liberated by a murder that is a gift to his wife. Iago may not have a second-rate mind, as I would argue, but perhaps is really is some sort of Machiavellian superstar.

I know I have to fight against my own prejudices (and acknowledge that, in any case, my ideas can change). Equally well, I have been guilty in performance of smoothing over, rather than embracing, difficulties, in the vain hope that no one will notice. For instance I have always found it hard that Hamlet, a character that I love and admire, is guilty of a puerile misogyny and, perhaps, more worryingly, of the unnecessary deaths of his old friends from university, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. When I played him, I could find reasons for the misogyny but half- ignored the murders. The conflict and, most importantly the play on our sympathies are there, however, and should not be ignored.

The question of sympathy is one that has been exercising me over the months that I’ve been working on King Lear in Sam Mendes’s production for the National Theatre. If the soldier in the final scene is a reminder that Lear is not just a poor old thing but an angry, indeed homicidal, man, operating, however feebly, in a harsh world, then the first scene of the play is a direct challenge to our natural desire to like the central character. Unlike Othello or even Macbeth, we never get a chance to see Lear at his best, to see the man that Cordelia loves and that Kent and Gloucester, his devoted allies, respect. There are ways of softening the scene up, of playing it in a more vulnerable way, although I feel that this dodges the issue. What the king does in dividing his kingdom and banishing his daughter is, in Kent’s word, “evil”. Consequently, it’s a long haul back to forgiveness both from the other characters and from the audience; to be honest, I’m not sure we ever really get there.

Forgiveness, and the difficulties of defining it, is something that Shakespeare seems always to have been interested in and this interest becomes especially intense in his later plays. In The Tempest we see Prospero offering forgiveness to his errant brother in a manner that looks suspiciously like another arbitrary display of power. The brother, perhaps significantly, does not answer. Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, wracked with a guilt that seems for a long time too deep-rooted to shift, faces a wronged wife who talks, not to him, but to their daughter. Not a word is spoken that promises unequivocally a settled and happy resolution.

Shakespeare recognised that the wish to be forgiven and the desire to forgive is the start of a process, that reconciliation or redemption take time, and time, of course, is the one thing that Lear and Cordelia do not have. That is what ultimately is so heartbreaking about King Lear. Not all mistakes can be fully rectified, all damage repaired and all love restored – at least, not here and now. The best we can do is accept the muddle of it all.

What Shakespeare always demands, though, is our sympathy, because, to put it simply, he writes about people like us. Offhand, I can think of only one character he wrote – Iago in Othello – that slips through the safety-net of his concern. Shakespeare might not agree with Lear’s sweeping and anarchic assertion that “none does offend”, but he sensed, I think, the danger of easy judgement. He recognises that self-worth and dignity are hard-won and that our lives cannot but be inconsistent, unpredictable, and confused. The only sane response for all of us, perhaps, is to emulate him – to look carefully, to withhold quick judgment and to try to understand.

It would suggest you read the comment’s that follow Beale’s piece – they make interesting reading. This one says it all for me: