Category Archives: Shakespeare, William

‘That glib and oily art’

Dalrymple notes that the increasing tendency in the West to express emotion in public

undermines the ability to distinguish genuine from bogus feeling.

He describes the modern age as one of

reverberating hollowness. We no longer accept the implicit.

It makes people

exhibitionistic. It sets up an arms race in which people have to express themselves more and more extravagantly in order to persuade others, and perhaps themselves, that they feel anything.

King Lear, Dalrymple reminds us,

is about the difference between real and bogus emotion. The two wicked daughters are able easily to deceive the king with extravagant expressions of love that they do not feel, but Cordelia refuses to ‘use that glib and oily art’.

Lear learns too late that

words and emotion are not necessarily connected in simple fashion.


Censorship makes necessary the implicit

Pushkin statue, St Petersburg

Dalrymple ventures to point out that

the great majority of great art was produced under conditions of censorship.

The removal of all censorship

has not resulted in a florescence of the arts, and certainly not in literature, quite the reverse.

He notes that

the golden age of Russian literature was certainly not one of an absence of censorship, nor was Shakespeare entirely free to write what he might have liked.


makes necessary the implicit, which is always more powerful and moving than the explicit.

If we were obliged to disregard that part of the artistic heritage of Man that was produced under conditions of censorship,

there would be practically nothing left. And if, conversely, we were obliged to regard only that part of the heritage that was produced under conditions of complete freedom of expression, we should have but little artistic sustenance from the past.

African hero

With Olof Palme

The evil of Julius Nyerere

Dalrymple points out that the Tanganyikan dictator was cultured enough to translate Julius Cæsar and The Merchant of Venice into Swahili. His influence, however, was

almost wholly pernicious.

He was able to preserve his reputation for sainthood in rich countries, and especially in Scandinavia,

because he shrewdly realised that, to assuage its guilt for its colonial past, the West had need of an African hero.

Pauperisation of an already poor country

He also recognised that his audience

would be far more interested in what he said than in what he did.

Such an audience of Western dupes

had no interest in the reality of the Tanzania he had created.

Civilised rejection of politics

The passion of W.S. Melsome, Dalrymple notes, was

the Bacon–Shakespeare controversy. Some said that he had the whole of Bacon and Shakespeare at his recall, and if either were quoted, could instantly produce a close analogy from the work of the other, which proved their identity.

Dalrymple finds it consoling that Melsome

pursued his obsession during the years when the world about him was collapsing, as if Mussolini and Hitler, and Stalin further east, were historical epiphenomena and that the real question confronting Mankind were: ‘Who wrote Shakespeare?’

Implicit in this, says Dalrymple,

is a civilised—though not, under the circumstances, very practical—rejection of politics as the dominant influence in life: an attitude from which one could learn something.

Life is far too short

Dalrymple writes:

The life of Man being but three score years and ten, nothing on earth would induce me to read Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her electoral defeat.

If he had two millennia rather than only two years to go, he would not read it. In fact, he says,

no memoir by any modern politician would tempt me to read it, since the main characteristic of such politicians is mediocrity tempered by unbridled ambition and lust for power. Better to reread Macbeth. Hillary Clinton, after all, is Lady Macbeth to Bill Clinton’s Felix Krull, the confidence trickster.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 09.51.42


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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.18.51

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