It’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this year. By the end of the year we’ll all be sick to death of the old boy. So in the spirit of January – broke, suffering from SAD, looking for the divorce lawyer’s number, scraping the glitter from the end of one’s nose for the nth time, here is my offering on what must surely be one of the worst lines in Shakespeare.
It’s near the end of King Lear and is spoken by a Gentleman – poor man:
“Tis hot, it smokes;
It came even from the heart of – O! she’s dead.”
KING LEAR ACT 5 SCENE III
Try saying those lines out loud in the privacy of your own home. Try saying them and not cracking a smile. Imagine rushing onto stage and belting out that line in front of an already emotionally drained audience. Just imagine. Incidentally he’s talking about a ‘bloody knife.’ Err, a smoking, bloody knife.
I saw this line delivered in Derek Jacobi’s King Lear. The audience was relatively elderly, very attentive and I would say reverential. There wasn’t a school girl or boy in sight. But when the poor unfortunate actor who had to deliver that line burst onto the stage and belted it out, the audience burst spontaneously into hysterical laughter. Maybe that’s the point of it. After all by that stage it’s all been a bit much – elder abuse, eye-gouging, horrible curses, war, and madness. Oh, a typical Christmas, then. So maybe the audience needs to laugh and the line delivers the sort of hysteria that is never far away at funerals.
I think the line works better if it’s delivered in a horrified whisper. No, actually I think the line works best by being cut. After all you wouldn’t wish that line on your worst enemy, would you?
If you think by the above that I am immune to the joys of Shakespeare you’d be wrong. I love him. In fact tonight I’m off to see The Winter’s Tale with Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh and I can’t wait. And I’m curious to read Jeanette Winterson’s novel, The Gap in Time – a modern day version of the play.
How about you? Are you looking forward to the following year of celebrating Shakespeare? Do you like Shakespeare? Do you have any favourite bad lines?