Category Archives: Shakespeare, William

Folie à deux

Lasègue-Falret Syndrome (psychose partagée)

There are cases every day, writes Dalrymple,

that defeat the neurochemists and would have baffled Shakespeare himself.

He recalls a spinster in her fifties who lived in a council flat with her brother. They

appeared to be suffering from standard (if I may put it so) paranoid delusions.

The spinster believed that her neighbours, a simple and inoffensive West Indian couple,

  • were pumping poison gas into the flat
  • had invented an electronic thought scanner that read all her thoughts. She heard them talking about her, plotting to kill her, and referring to her in the most abusive terms

Her brother, who,

though only an unskilled worker, insisted on going everywhere by taxi and smoked cigarettes through an ivory and silver holder, like a proletarian Noël Coward,

also heard the voices and strenuously denied that his sister was mad. To prove it, he handed over to Dalrymple 10 tapes — 15 hours in all — of recordings of what he said were the whirring sound of the thought scanner and the voices of the neighbours taunting and insulting his sister.

Dalrymple promised to listen to the tapes when he had a spare 15 hours.

Encounter in Pyongyang

The Study House in Kim Il-sung Square

The Study House in Kim Il-sung Square

Strolling through the North Korean capital, Dalrymple finds himself

in the enormous and almost deserted square in front of the Grand People’s Study House. (All open spaces in Pyongyang remain deserted unless filled with parades of hundreds of thousands of human automata.)

A young Korean slides surreptitiously up to him and asks:

Do you speak English?

It is, says Dalrymple, an electric moment, for in North Korea, unsupervised contact between a Korean and a foreigner is as unthinkable as shouting, ‘Down with Big Brother!’ Dalrymple nods. The young Korean says:

I am a student at the Foreign Languages Institute. Reading Dickens and Shakespeare is the greatest, the only pleasure of my life.

It is a

searing communication. We parted immediately afterwards and of course will never meet again. For him, Dickens and Shakespeare (which the régime permitted him to read with quite other ends in view) guaranteed the possibility not just of freedom but of truly human life. Orwell and Huxley had the imagination to understand why—unlike me, who had to go to Pyongyang to find out.

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Why Shakespeare should not be taught in schools

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 19.08.33There are, Dalrymple discovers,

no Chinese characters in Shakespeare,

despite the Chinese representing a fifth of the global population. Moreover, fewer than 16 per cent of Shakespeare’s characters are women — a fact drawn to Dalrymple’s attention via electronic message by Oxford University Press. Dalrymple is shocked, and believes

it is time to impose quotas on the sex of characters. Until Shakespeare is rewritten to include more women, his plays should not be taught in schools, banned from them in fact.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 19.13.22If, he points out,

you measured the proportion of lines spoken by women in Shakespeare, the situation would be worse.

While, Dalrymple says,

the impact factor of certain female Shakespearean characters, such as Gertrude and Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, etc., is considerable, it is numbers that count.

Villainous company hath been the spoil of me

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.10.43In Henry IV, Part 1 (act 1, scene 2), Falstaff accuses Prince Henry thus:

O, thou hast damnable iteration and art indeed able to corrupt a saint. Thou hast done much harm upon me, Hal; God forgive thee for it! Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing; and now am I, if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked. I must give over this life, and I will give it over: by the Lord, and I do not, I am a villain: I’ll be damned for never a king’s son in Christendom.

Such rationalisations, writes Dalrymple,

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.15.52have particular resonance for me because I have heard them a thousand times from my patients (I would not stoop to such rationalisations, of course).

In the prison where Dalrymple works,

practically every heroin-addicted prisoner whom I ask for the reason that he started to take the drug replies: ‘I fell in with the wrong crowd.’ They say this with every appearance of sincerity, but at the same time they know it to be nonsense.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.17.52They laugh when Dalrymple says to them

how strange it is that, though I have met many who have fallen in with the wrong crowd, I have never met any member of the wrong crowd itself.

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I have no way, and therefore want no eyes

From The Tragedie of King Lear, actus quartus, scena prima

From The Tragedie of King Lear, actus quartus, scena prima

Dalrymple writes that in these nine simple words

of great rhythmic beauty, Shakespeare not only describes utter despair but makes us feel it ourselves, or at least helps us know what it might be like to feel it. And, at the same time Shakespeare tells us that to have no way, literally or metaphorically, is the greatest of human misfortunes.

Shakespeare, says Dalrymple,

seems not only to have described but experienced his myriad characters from the inside, as it were; and because of his incomparable literary gifts, he helps us to do so as well.

On the Cliff: Gloucester and Edgar, Boardman Robinson, 1938

On the Cliff: Gloucester and Edgar, Boardman Robinson, 1938

Lady Macbeth

Such is the force, writes Dalrymple, of Shakespeare’s human genius, that his characters often seem more real to us, and occupy our imaginations more fully, than do many of our acquaintances

If one calls Mrs Clinton Lady Macbeth, writes Dalrymple, little remains to be said. Everyone knows what one means. Such is the force of Shakespeare’s human genius that his characters often seem more real to us, and occupy our imaginations more fully, than do many of our acquaintances.

The immensely learned J. Thomas Looney

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Author of the 1920 work Shakespeare Identified

Looney, founder of the Oxfordians, was, Dalrymple points out, somewhat

unfortunately named.

Dalrymple suspects that intellectual snobbery is part of the motive of the anti-Stratfordians, who

at least subliminally dislike the notion that the greatest author in the history of the world was not highly educated, or at least attended no university, which seems somehow against the natural order of things. Perhaps one day a society will be formed to prove that Bill Gates was not the real founder of Microsoft, on the grounds that he never completed a university degree in information technology.

 

Get a hold of yourself!

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 10.28.10Dalrymple argues that psychology

doesn’t help us understand ourselves. In the last 100 years we haven’t found anything of any value. We haven’t moved beyond Shakespeare.

On psychoanalysis, he remarks:

I daresay some people will have benefited from it, but they will have benefited from witch-doctors. It doesn’t help us to understand the human condition. I’m not sure anything will ever do better than literature, and even literature doesn’t help that much.

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 14.46.33Dalrymple explains (from 37:05) that a book was recently sent to him through the post by its publishers

in the hope that I would make some reference to it or even review it.

In 360 pages, the book

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 14.40.02sought to prove, with an immense machinery of academic references, that human beings, on the whole, are happier if they have some face-to-face and person-to-person contact.

Dalrymple’s comment:

Imagine someone going to Shakespeare and earnestly explaining to him the content of this book.

‘Well, William. Did you know that human beings need one another to be happy? I bet you didn’t, because, poor chap, you lived in the 16th century.’

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 14.31.50I don’t think the Bard would have been bemused, because nothing human bemused him, but he might have been amused.

Two lines of his might have run through his head: Lord, what fools these mortals be!* and O brave new world, That has such people in’t!

*A Midsummer Nights Dream, Act 3, scene 2, 110–115; †The Tempest, Act 5, scene 1, 181–184

Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?

'While to be constantly at the service of others is good and admirable, it is not the only good or the only just cause for admiration. There needs to be moderation in self-sacrifice as in other things'

‘While to be constantly at the service of others is good and admirable, it is not the only good or the only just cause for admiration. There needs to be moderation in self-sacrifice as in other things’