Samuel Beckett (1952)

Folio Society, 2000; illustrations by Tom Phillips; bound in illustrated cream boards with olive slipcase.

This play is an interesting litmus test for the would-be literati or cognoscenti.  It is one thing for you to have a copy in your library; it is another thing to say that you have seen the play in production (where, as one critic said nothing happens – twice); but you really take the prize if you can claim both of the above – and that you understood it!  You go straight to the top of the honours class if you are aware of the following dialogue between Kenneth Tynan and Jean Paul-Sartre (which tells you about all you need to know about Sartre).

TYNAN: You once said that you admired Waiting for Godot more than any other play since 1945.

SARTRE: That is true.  I have not liked Beckett’s other plays, particularly Endgame, because I find the symbolism far too inflated, far too naked.  And although Godot is certainly not a right wing play, it represents a sort of universal pessimism that appeals to right wing people.  For that reason, although I admire it, I have reservations.  But precisely because its content is somewhat alien to me, I can’t help admiring it the more.

Sometimes you wonder how France survives its intellectuals.

Samuel Beckett was born into a comfortable Anglican family in Dublin in 1906.  He took a degree at Trinity College, where he played first class cricket, and he then taught in France.  There he came under the aegis of James Joyce.  He took up permanent residence in France, and during the war served in the Resistance for which he was awarded the Croix de Guerre (which, with cricket, distinguishes him from Sartre).  On visiting his mother after the war he had something of an epiphany.   He decided that his path would be different to that of Joyce. 

This play was first published in 1952.  After a rocky start, it gained popular and critical acceptance.  Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize and he rewarded himself with a modest quota of mistresses.  He died in 1989 and was buried in the Cimitière du Montparnasse.  He was a leading light in what is called the theatre of the absurd.

Two characters called Vladimir and Estragon, in a minimalist set, are waiting for someone called Godot.  While they wait – Godot never comes – they muse and squabble, and three other lesser characters intervene.  The script is such as to have driven actors nearly mad when they asked the author what it really meant, and critics have differed wildly about what it stands for.  Beckett got to be relaxed about this as it was obviously a driving force behind the success of the play.  At its Australian premiere in 1957, Barry Humphries played Estragon.

Here is the set: ‘A country road.  A tree.  Evening.’  The writer was not paid by volume.  Early in the dialogue, Vladimir says: ‘One of the thieves was saved.  It’s a reasonable percentage.’  There has been no prior reference to the crucifixion.

Vladimir: Suppose we repented.

Estragon: Repented what?

Vladimir: Oh….  (He reflects.)  We wouldn’t have to go into the details.

Estragon: Our being born?…..

Vladimir: You should have been a poet.

Estragon: I was.  (Gesture towards his rags.)  Isn’t that obvious?

So, the humour is Irish and black.

Vladimir: What do we do now?

Estragon: Wait.

Vladimir: Yes, but while waiting.

Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?

Vladimir: Hmm.  It’d give us an erection!

Estragon: (highly excited).  An erection!

Vladimir: With all that follows…..

Estragon: Let’s hang ourselves immediately.

Toward the end of Act I we get:

Vladimir: But you can’t go barefoot!

Estragon: Christ did.

Vladimir: Christ!  What’s Christ got to do with it?  You’re not going to compare yourself to Christ!

Estragon: All my life I have compared myself to him.

Vladimir: But where he lived, it was warm, it was dry!

Estragon: Yes, and they crucified quick…….I wonder if we wouldn’t have been better off alone, each one for himself….We weren’t made for the same road.

Vladimir: (without anger).  It’s not certain.

Estragon: No, nothing is certain.

Near the end of Act II we get:

Vladimir: What are we doing here, that is the question….We have kept our appointment, and that’s an end to that.  We are not saints but we have kept our appointment.  How many people can boast as much……?

Estragon: (aphoristic for once): We are all born mad.  Some remain so.

The illustrator of the Folio Edition, Tom Phillips, featured bowler hats in his work.  He said that he borrowed them from stills of Laurel and Hardy, ‘the cinematic precursors of Pozzo and Lucky’.  The play was written before the Goons came out, but it would be interesting to know if it had any impact on Joseph Heller before he wrote Catch 22.

Well, like oysters, you will either like this play or not.  But there is no doubting its impact, and if you get it, your intellectual standing will take right off.

Here and there – Populism in Henry IV


Clowns have a licence to go over the top with their audience.  That is an essential part of their schtick.  The populist tends to be amoral.  He – it looks to be in the male domain – can joke about his lack of candour. He exults in his capacity to thrill his audience – whom he despises – by going flagrantly over the top.

So, when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will.  (Henry IV, Part I, 1.2.212 ff)

It is so cold blooded, it takes your breath away.  But that is the hallmark and thick skin of the con man.  He will turn giving offence into an art – and be applauded by his audience.  (The Everyman says that ‘Redeeming time’ is a reference to Ephesians 5:7 ff: ‘Be not ye therefore partakers with them, for ye were sometimes darkness, but now ye are light in the Lord….Redeeming time because the days are evil.’)

Well, if a king could say ‘L’état, c’est moi’, the leader of the people can say: ‘Touch not me – I am the people.’  The French Revolution would see the glorification of le peuple, and ideologues of a certain caste glory in the term ‘the masses’.

No, my good lord; banish Peto,
banish Bardolph, banish Poins: but for sweet Jack
Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff,
valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant,
being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him
thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s
company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.  (2.4.474 ff)

And then the prince says he is up to it in words that make the Godfather look like a croquet player.

I do.  I will.

Is he the coldest prince you ever saw?

Well, the king, his father is past all that.  His wild days are behind him.  He will not be ‘so stale and cheap to vulgar company’ (3.2.41). He can lecture his wayward son on debasing the majesty and mystique of the Crown.

By being seldom seen, I could not stir
But like a comet I was wonder’d at;
That men would tell their children ‘This is he;’
Others would say ‘Where, which is Bolingbroke?’
And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,
And dress’d myself in such humility
That I did pluck allegiance from men’s hearts,
Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths,
Even in the presence of the crowned king.  (3.2.46 ff )

The problem with putting yourself in hock with the motley – when he ‘enfeoffed himself to popularity’ – is:

For thou has lost thy princely privilege

With vile participation. (3.2.69, 86-87)

That’s what happens when you are truant chivalry (5.1.94).

Unsurprisingly, the man Bolingbroke deposed had a different version.

Ourself and Bushy, Bagot here and Green
Observed his courtship to the common people;
How he did seem to dive into their hearts
With humble and familiar courtesy,
What reverence he did throw away on slaves,
Wooing poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles
And patient underbearing of his fortune,
As ’twere to banish their affects with him.
Off goes his bonnet to an oyster-wench…..(Richard II, 1.4.23 ff)

The populist needs more than a thick skin.  He needs more face than Myers.  When caught on a lie, he bluffs it out with pure front.

FALSTAFF: There is Percy: if your father will do me any honour, so; if not, let him kill the next Percy himself. I look to be either
earl or duke, I can assure you.

PRINCE: Why, Percy I killed myself and saw thee dead.

FALSTAFF: Didst thou? Lord, Lord, how this world is given to

You can be gracious and condescending at the same time – especially if you went to the right school and bear the insignia of the establishment.  There is no harm in humouring the lower classes and you may get some fun between the sheets.

Thine, by yea and no, which is as much as to
say, as thou usest him, JACK FALSTAFF with my
familiars, JOHN with my brothers and sisters,
and SIR JOHN with all Europe.  (Part 2, 2.2.130)

But when it comes time to cast aside the disguise, you show no mercy.

I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream’d of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell’d, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn’d away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.  (5.5.48 ff)

And you utterly repudiate all your former comrades – even the most pathetic, like that portable lighthouse Bardolph.  Even unto death.

We should have all such offenders so cut off…(Henry V, 3.6.112).

If that means that the people will think that their leader has killed the heart of his closest companion (2.1.91), what boots it?  They are after all just the people.  But it is quite in order for the leader to beseech Almighty God not to take it out on him because his father broke the rules in laying his hands on the Crown.

Not to-day, O Lord,
O, not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!
I Richard’s body have interred anew;
And on it have bestow’d more contrite tears
Than from it issued forced drops of blood….(4.1.297 ff)

The parallels with today are so obvious that they chill the blood.



Here and there – Is Hamlet a tragedy?


At a recent course on Shakespeare at Madingley Hall, Cambridge – on All’s Well, Measure for Measure, A Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest – the tutor in his introduction said that Hamlet was a victim of circumstances.  This led me to reflect that Hamlet was the only hero of the big four tragedies who did not morally collapse before his death.  Macbeth was the victim of ambition, and a young wife who could not go the distance.  Othello was made vulnerable to insult and suspicion by slapping the Venetian Establishment in the face by marrying above his station and outside his race.  (He is so obviously open to manipulation that I can no longer watch the play – or the opera.)  By no later than line 141 of Act 1 Scene 1 in King Lear, we know that the weakness and heat of this choleric old man will lead to his unmanning and betrayal and to death and disaster.  (‘Come not between the Dragon and his wrath.’  You might think that’s ripe, but it is just the start.)  But we see no such disintegration in Hamlet.  Is Hamlet then a tragic figure, the hero of a tragedy?

What does that word ‘tragedy’ mean?

Drama dealing with serious themes, ending in the suffering or death of one or more of the principal characters…The tragic hero should be of high worth or standing, but not perfect: a tragic flaw, weakness or transgression…or an excess of arrogant ambition…leads to downfall.  The effect of the inevitable disaster (catastrophe) on the spectators is the purgation or cleansing (catharsis) of the emotion of pity and terror through what they have seen.  (The Oxford Companion to the English Language.)

In the still magisterial Shakespearian Tragedy, A C Bradley said:

In the circumstances where we see the hero placed, his tragic trait…is fatal to him.  To meet these circumstances something is required which a smaller man might have given, but which the hero cannot give.  He errs, by action or omission; and his error, joining with other causes, brings on him ruin….In Hamlet, there is a painful consciousness that duty is being neglected….

We are, then, looking for a flaw in our hero that may prove to be fatal.  (‘Tragic trait’ does look a bit circular.)

What was Hamlet’s fatal flaw?  He is accused of delay and indecision.  Bradley turned this into a ‘neglect of duty’- the injunction by the ghost to revenge the murder of Hamlet’s father.  These allegations are frequently linked to the suggestion that Hamlet is rendered incapable of action because he thinks too much.  (This is a little curious.  When Caesar says Cassio spends too much time considering ‘the deeds of men’, he is giving the most withering assessment of the smiling assassin in our letters: Julius Caesar, 1,2, 198-213).

Is it fair to suggest such a flaw in Hamlet?  In my view, the suggestion is as unfounded as it is unfair.

First, it is wrong to say that Hamlet delayed.  The ghost could hardly have expected his son to race off to Gertrude and the alleged murderer writhing drunkenly and in flagrante in ‘the rank sweat of an enseamèd bed.’  (We may be forgiven for having difficulty seeing Derek Jacobi writhing with Julie Christie in any case at all.)  Even taking the ghost at face value, Hamlet had to seek corroboration and to count the numbers. This playwright was after all the most consummate political analyst the world has known. Sulky young Hamlet could not simply ask the court of Denmark to accept that a young son justifiably upset by his mother’s want of decorum was justified in killing the king – that adds the count of treason to that of murder – because he had the word of his father’s ghost that uncle had murdered dad.*

The second point is the more substantive.  To the extent that Hamlet hesitated to obey his father’s ghost, it was because the ghost was asking him to commit murder.  Murder is a crime both at law and morally.  It does not cease to be a crime simply because it is carried out to avenge a killing.  On the contrary, that motive makes the crime morally worse.

The first object of our law was to end the vicious cycle of revenge.  On the second and third pages of the biblical The Common Law of Oliver Wendell Holmes, we find:

It is commonly known that the early forms of legal procedure were grounded in vengeance.  Modern writers have thought that the Roman law started from the blood feud, and all the authorities agree that the German law began in that way.

(‘German law’ includes that brought to England by the Anglo-Saxons and therefore our law.)

What the ghost was asking Hamlet to do was to commit the crime of murder and by so doing take Denmark back about one thousand years to the Dark Age and to another cycle of vengeance and endless civil unrest.  That is why, as Tony Tanner pointed out, Hamlet is so different from the Oresteia. The intervening two millennia had witnessed the birth and acceptance in Europe of Christianity. Hamlet pauses for a simple reason – he has a conscience, a word that keeps cropping up in this would-be revenge play.

That being so, the wonder is not that Hamlet hesitated, but that he even thought about murdering his uncle for revenge.  And, as we know, he never executed the command of the ghost.  He finally kills Claudius for killing his mother and himself.

Let us test our conclusion in three ways.

First, we know from his swift and merciless despatch of the very unlovely Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that Hamlet has no trouble in killing people where the homicide is morally justifiable – which it is in self-defence. (‘Why, man, they did make love to this employment./ They are not near my conscience.’  5, 2, 56-57.)  Here was no neurotic intellectual incapable of decisive, lethal action.  (You may recall that that hypocritical young hot-head, Laertes, expressly renounces ‘conscience and grace’ and dares damnation: 4, 5, 132-136.  Whoever expected Hamlet to act like that?)  Nor was Hamlet slow to accept a duel with Laertes.

Next, look at the models that the author of the play offers his hero for those who act strongly to exact revenge. I might seek to summarize what I have said before on this.

Pyrrhus was the son of Achilles. He murdered the King of Troy, old Priam, to avenge the death of his father. Hamlet was so fond of this story that he knew a lot of it by heart. There was one speech from this play that Hamlet ‘chiefly loved’ (2.2.456). He recites about a dozen lines about ‘Priam’s slaughter’ and then hands over to the Player King. Achilles may or may not have been a homicidal maniac, but he was certainly a manic homicide. Hamlet had nothing – nothing at all – in common with either of them.  They are not just worlds apart, but millennia apart.

The second model available to Hamlet may have been slightly more appealing, and for us more threatening. Fortinbras (a derivative of ‘strong-arm’) leads a Norwegian army against the Poles over a worthless bit of dirt. This sends Hamlet into a whirl of romantic bulldust. He refers to this ‘delicate and tender prince … with divine ambition puffed’ (4.4.48-9). (‘Divine ambition’ is, I suggest, a contradiction in terms.) Hamlet then switches over to a sickening paean to war:

Rightly to be great

Is not to stir without great argument,

But greatly to find quarrel in a straw

When honor’s at the stake … (4.4.53-6)

Men were being commanded to go to their death over a useless piece of earth because ‘honor’ was at stake. Hamlet steadies himself and then romances that twenty thousand men ‘face imminent death for … a fantasy and trick of fame’ (4.4.61). If that kind of thinking ever had any attraction – and it could never have had any place in the thinking of a true follower of the Sermon on the Mount – it went west at Gallipoli, on the Western Front, and in Vietnam, and in Iraq.

No, Hamlet could not get help from either of these two heroes to resolve his moral quandary.

Finally, let us look at the heroes of two tragedies, Macbeth and Othello.  Both are obviously flawed, and as a result both commit murder.  For that we condemn them. Are we to condemn Hamlet because he does the opposite and refuses to commit murder?  You will recall that Bradley spoke of ‘something [that] is required which a smaller man might have given, but which the hero cannot give’.  That is precisely the case with Hamlet – he is simply not able to commit murder to revenge his father’s death.  That incapacity is anything but a flaw – just as the incapacity of Lay Macbeth to extinguish her humanity is anything but a flaw.

Hamlet is not, then, a tragedy in the accepted sense.  I agree that he was not a victim of himself.  That is why, I think, Hamlet plays more like a spy thriller of John Le Carré than a tragedy of Euripides.

Does any of this matter?  Of course not.  Labels are the demons of pin-striped minds.  William Shakespeare made a good living out of entertaining people like you and me.  It’s just that he did it in ways that still leave us smitten with awe.  (Emerson said that when he read Shakespeare, he actually shaded his eyes.)  And it also just happens that Hamlet is I think the most popular play that he or anyone else has ever put on our stage.  And may God bless him for that!

*Going to bed with the man who murdered your husband was politically sensitive when Hamlet was first put on.  Protestants charged Mary Queen of Scots with doing just that, and, as ever, she was not her own best witness.

Here and there – Alan Bennett


Alan Bennett

Faber and Faber, 2009; bound in cloth, with dust jacket featuring photo of the author’s family; copy signed by the author; slip case added.

About thirty years ago, I went to the theatre in the West End to see two one act plays.  Each play featured just one actress.  The first had Margaret Tyzack, and the second featured Maggie Smith – the cream of the English stage.  I can recall standing in a queue to collect my tickets, and hearing the lady behind me say ‘I could listen all day to Maggie Smith reading the phone book.’  In my experience, the English do appreciate that they are fortunate to have the best actors in the world.

I cannot recall the name of the first play, but it was about a woman whose husband, I think a banker, had been convicted of embezzlement.  She had had to live with the degradation.  The mood varied from wistful to wrenching.  But at the end, Margaret Tyzack from a spotlight looked straight at us in the audience and said something like ‘But don’t you dare feel sorry for us – we are not that kind.’  This was the perfect way to evoke the very strong reaction of the audience that the play and performance warranted.  The whole thing was so very English.

The second play was Bed Among the Lentils.  We knew from the program notes that it was about the wife of a vicar who has it off with a Pakistani greengrocer.  Well, that should give a decent playwright something to work with.  As the curtain went up, Maggie Smith was standing centre stage under a narrow spot.  Dressed in grey, white and black, she was drabness and fatigue personified – ennui.  After a considered pause, she looked up at us and said words to the effect: ‘Being married to Geoffrey is bad enough, but I’m glad I’m not married to Jesus.’  Well, the whole theatre just erupted, and it remained cocked on Vesuvial for the rest of the play.  I feared that the lady beside me may not have survived the show – she would wail in anticipation in the same way that some American ladies did in the 60’s when listening to Shelley Berman.

This was a great night out at the theatre.  Great entertainment, and a lyrical reflection not just of the English, but of what is human in each of us.  The playwright was Alan Bennett.  The plays reminded me of David Williamson – with that gift of putting on the stage characters that immediately call to mind members of your family or friends or neighbours.  Some may wish to put the comparison at a higher level.  Ibsen and Chekhov were not minded to write for laughs like that, but the greatest playwright of the lot certainly was – just think of the hilarity with which we greet the outrages of Falstaff.

A Life Like Other People’s is a memoire of the early life of Alan Bennett.  It is obviously the work of a naturally gifted writer.  It comes to us clean and simple – pure, even.  You wonder if the writer ever bothered to change a word.  Partly for that reason, the book comes to us as being candid.  It reeks of truth.  (In this, it reminded me of the memoire of Joseph Heller – another natural.)  The book starts this way:

There is a wood, the canal, the river, and above the river the railway and the road.  It’s the first proper country that you get to as you come north out of Leeds, and going home on the train I pass the place quite often.  Only these days I look.  I’ve been passing the place for years without looking because I didn’t know it was a place; that anything had happened there to make it a place, let alone a place that had something to do with me.  Below the wood the water is deep and dark and sometimes there’s a boy fishing or a couple walking a dog.  I suppose it’s a beauty spot now.  It probably was then.

For some people – not many – it’s just like turning on a tap and watching the water flow out.

The photo on the front of the book is of an English family of the time – probably during the war.  Dad is in a suit with a shirt and tie, a buttoned up overcoat, a trilby, a cigarette and a deferential smile.  He looks very like Stan Laurel.  Mum has a buttoned up coat and a beret for a hat.  (Her struggle with mental health is a large part of the book.)  She has her hands on Alan who has a shirt and tie, a home knitted sleeveless jumper and school cap.  The daughter is much younger, but she too sports a hat.

Alan got a scholarship to Oxford and for some time thought of teaching history.  But his involvement with the Oxford Review and people like Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller led him to the stage, cinema and television.  He has been prolific and hugely popular in all fields, especially in his autobiographical writing.  His personal life looks to have had its Byzantine moments.  People like Groucho Marx, Spike Milligan and Alan Bennett, who offer slashing and potentially lethal insights, tip-toe closer to the volcano than the rest of us.  Patrick White conveys the same feeling for me.  (Ibsen and Joyce terrified people – but for different reasons.)

The book fairly ripples with anecdote.  The ultimate threat to his family was to be described as ‘common.’  His Mum and Dad were very shy.  They wanted a quiet wedding – before work.  Dad’s boss would not give him time off to get married.  The vicar agreed to start the ceremony before 8 am but finish it on the knocker so that Dad could be at work by 8.15.  In lieu of a honeymoon they got tickets for The Desert Song at the Theatre Royal.  He once asked Dad an awkward question about whether he ‘touched’ Mum enough.  Dad told him to mind his own business, but years later Mum made a surprising disclosure that ‘Dad does very well you know’ – at seventy-one.  Bennett talks about hugging ‘and that other loveless construct, caring.’  And the aunties were like my Mum – infatuated with Now Voyager.  The attraction of that film, and Bette Davis, to ladies of that generation was fabulous.  ‘Oh, Jerry.  Don’t let’s ask for the moon.  We have the stars.’

This is raw diamond of a book.  It is included here to celebrate the life and work of the author.  It ends this way.

Sometimes as I’m standing by their grave I try and get a picture of my parents, Dad in his waist coat and shirtsleeves, Mum in her blue coat and shiny straw hat.  I even try and say a word or two in prayer, though what and to what I’d find it hard to say.

‘Now then’ is about all it amounts to.  Or ‘Very good, very good’, which is what old men say when a transaction is completed.

Here, then, is someone who tells it as it is – and he didn’t learn how to write like that at Oxford.

Here and there – Reflections on poetry on a bleak day outside Melbourne


On a lousy day at Malmsbury at the beginning of what was supposed to be spring, I wrote to friends along the lines set out below.

I read the Oxford edition of King Lear yesterday.  The editor quoted Keats:

Once again the fierce dispute

Betwixt damnation and impassioned clay

Must I burn through; once more humbly assay

The bitter-sweet of this Shakespearian fruit.

Keats was in truth a fan.  I wonder how often in his short life Keats read this play – in company, and aloud.  I wonder if he saw it performed. I forget.

My favourite lines – perhaps I should say quotes – were:

so out went the candle and we were left darkling


Nero is an angler in the lake of darkness.

Both lines were uttered by fools, actual or pretended, and each is so apt for the foolish darkness all around us now in Australia, England, and America – where the fools are in triumph.  Trump in particular does a fair take on Nero, and he loves nothing more than angling in darkness.  And, Boy, can he put out the candles!

Another phrase that caught my eye was in the press.  ‘Intrinsically disordered’ is apparently a line employed by one church to describe homosexuality.  It’s one of those lines that goes clear out of the back of your head as soon as you have heard it – probably in response to a very healthy defence mechanism.   Himmler may have used that line about the Jews.  We could say a lot about it – including that it is utterly impossible to imagine the holy man whose life and teaching gave rise to this church saying anything like it.

What’s wrong with these people?  A friend of mine is a true and decent follower of the man Einstein called ‘the luminous Nazarene’.  (Kant, too, would never use the name.)  My friend compared the response of the institutional church to marriage equality to the behaviour of the Commonwealth Bank generally.  That’s shockingly sad.

There may not be all that much of a gap between foolish darkness and terminal illness.

You will see, then, that with things as they stand, this Shakespearian fruit is much more bitter for me than sweet.

The reference to Keats, and the weather, sent me back to read for the nth time the letters of Keats from his Scottish tour.  It’s a glorious edition from The Grolier Club, with rough edged handmade paper from the Czech Republic, and a tipped facsimile of a letter (over-written vertically to save on postage) and a portrait and a map.  The portrait is different to that which looks down from my fireplace, but both show the doomed poet with his chin on a hand (although with different hands).  I expect that the portrait shown in the book was done from life; mine was not.

But for two things, the reader may not have thought that the letters came from a poet.  One is that when Keats first saw a waterfall, he spoke ‘if I may say so, [of] the intellect, the countenance of such places.’

The space, the magnitude of mountains, and waterfalls are well imagined before one sees them; but this countenance or intellectual tone must surpass every imagination and defy any remembrance.  I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write, more than ever for the abstract endeavour of being able to add a mite to that abstract of beauty which is harvested from these grand materials, and put into ethereal existence for the benefit of one’s fellows.  I cannot think with Hazlitt that these scenes make man appear little.  I never forgot my stature so completely; I live in the eye, and my imagination, surpassed, is at rest.

These thoughts and his well-known piece about ‘negative capability’ suggest to me that Keats had an intellect of singular analytical firepower.  Medical science being what it was then, Keats should have chosen law.  He looks to me to have been a born advocate.

The other thing that alerts us to poetry is that Keats keeps breaking into it.  He says ‘I am sorry I am so indolent as to write such stuff as this – it can’t be helped.’  He climbed the highest mountain.  It nearly killed him. ‘On that account I will never ascend another in this empire.’  Well, he could still write a sonnet ‘on the top of Ben Nevis.’  In it he jotted down or threw off these lines in his windswept exhausted state:

I look into the chasms, and a shroud

Vaprous doth hide them; just so much I wist

Mankind do know of hell: I look o’erhead,

And there is sullen mist: even so much

Mankind can tell of heaven: mist is spread

Before the earth beneath me; even such,

Even so vague is man’s sight of himself.

It’s just not fair!  The poor little bugger just couldn’t help himself.  And to make good the comparison – if I had attempted that climb up Ben Nevis, an emergency call to the  Intensive Care Unit at Fort William or Inverness would have gone out within, say, ten minutes of the start – if Scots wielding straightjackets hadn’t got to my ‘impassioned clay’ first.

A duke of dark corners


Last night I watched again Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight, and the 2006 film of Measure for Measure.  The latter is, among other things, a play about bad government, by a duke of dark corners, and someone he gets to do the job in his reputed absence.  He has not done his job as ruler for a long time, a very long time:

We have strict statutes and most biting laws,

The needful bits and curbs to headstrong weeds,

Which for this fourteen years we have let slip,

Even like an o’ergrown lion in a cave,

That goes not out to prey.

The result?   There ‘goes all decorum.’  But when the substitute mounts a drastic crackdown, then, in the words of Milton, ‘all hell breaks loose.’  But this paragon of ice-cold virtue – when he makes water, it is ‘congealed ice’ – is in turn corrupted.  He seeks to suborn a subject.  The protest contains these lines:

O, it is excellent

To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous

To use it like a giant.

And –

… But man, proud man,

Dressed in a little brief authority

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,

His glassy essence, like an angry ape,

Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven

As make the angels weep; who with our spleens,

Would all themselves laugh mortal.

The film is not for the purist.  It is pared back to the bone to raise the issues with the pungency we associate with Greek tragedy. The play is notoriously difficult to put on.  The comedy sits very edgily with the drama.  The film deals with that problem by deleting almost all the comedy, and leaving out Barnardine and most of Lucio (who was hilariously played by Richard Piper in an MTC production years ago.)

I have forgotten what a whack this play can give, and how instructive it is about what happens when the law is not applied or abused.

For those who might be interested, which should include all lawyers, I said the following about the work elsewhere.



Sweet sister, let me live.

More than our brother is our chastity.


The most morally charged of the plays of Shakespeare is Measure for Measure.  It keeps putting up moral questions for the judgment of the jury constituted by the audience.  It is therefore ironic that the title of the play comes from that part of the Sermon on the Mount that instructs us not to judge lest we be judged.

The ruler of Vienna has not enforced its strict laws relating to sex for fourteen years.  Sexual licence is rife, with the consequent diseases.  The ruler decides to stage an absence and appoints a strict, ‘precise’ deputy to enforce the laws.  The ruler, the Duke, looks on disguised as a friar.  The deputy, Angelo, sentences a young man, Claudio, to death for getting a young woman pregnant.  The crime is fornication.  The sentence is legal but inequitable.  The sister of the condemned man, Isabella, pleads for his life.  Angelo becomes infatuated with her, and offers to spare Claudio if she goes to bed with him.  She is revolted, the more so when Claudio thinks that this may not be too high a price for his life.  The disguised Duke somehow manages to save the day by deceiving Angelo into believing that he has bedded Isabella and executed Claudio when neither is the case.

The play is said to be a ‘problem play’.  These plays give us an uneasy and unvarnished look at our dark side, our mean side, our low side – our ordinarily low side, not our tragically failed low side.  If this play were a painting, we would say it was a painting with ‘edge’.  If properly performed, which it rarely is, it is as entertaining a play as this author has left us.

The most obvious political lesson of this play is one that we did not need Shakespeare to teach us.  All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The Duke invests power in Angelo as a kind of test or experiment:

… Hence we shall see

If power changes purpose what our seemers be (1.3.53-4).

The Duke gives his deputy ‘absolute power’ (1.3.13) and Angelo is corrupted absolutely.  This is corruption in the pure sense, because Angelo uses his position to extort personal advantage, or at least he tries to do so, and in so doing betrays the confidence placed in him and acts against the interests of those whom it is his duty to protect.  By offering to spare a criminal in return for a night of lust, Angelo betrays his own view of justice which requires him to:

… pity those I do not know

Which a dismissed offence would after gall (2.2.101-2).

Justice is for sale.  Within days of his appointment, Angelo is reduced to the level of a judge in Indonesia or Russia.  He also reminds us of those US politicians, and J Edgar Hoover, who launch crusades against gays while propositioning young male members of their staff.

Nor should the Duke have been dismayed.  Angelo could have been carved out of stone.  (Lucio is a little more crass.  He  says that when Angelo makes water ‘his urine is congealed ice’:3.2.113.)  Angelo is a man of ‘stricture and firm abstinence’ (1.3.12), a ‘precise’ man who ‘scarce confesses that his blood flows’ (1.3.51-2).

This, then, is a cruel experiment on the part of the Duke, to get this precise, prim piece of work to bring the boom down on the gay blades and knock-shops of the suburbs of Vienna.  It would be like sending a lay Baptist preacher to clean up a speakeasy in Chicago in the twenties, or the principal of St. Catherine’s to correct the language of drinkers on the terrace at The Storm.  They would be lucky to be offered the alternative of a brown paper bag or a baseball bat.

When the Duke told Angelo of his appointment, he said that ‘mortality and mercy in Vienna’ lived in his ‘tongue and his heart’ (1.1.44-45).  The Duke was more than flirting with veracity here, since he knew very well that Angelo, the precise Angelo, would always be longer on mortality than mercy.

The failure of governance, as we would now call it, which gave rise to this problem in Vienna was twofold.  First, Vienna had made laws relating to morals – in particular, sex –  that were too strict or ‘biting’ to be adhered to by a large part of the people.  We have seen this in our time with laws on abortion.  The result is that the laws are not enforced according to their terms.  The result then is that the operation of the law depends not on its own terms, but on the workings of functionaries.  That is, the laws become political questions rather than legal solutions.  We can see this when a Bill of Rights is stated so absolutely that its meaning and effect has to be determined by an unelected body, the judges.

We saw this also in Australia with capital punishment.  The law imposed the death penalty for murder, but for about fourteen years – the lapse of time referred to in the play (1.3.21) – the sentence was commuted.  When a government broke that custom and went ahead with an execution on the grounds of its own dictation, and not those of the law, it was in the eyes of many guilty of murder.

And so it would have been in Vienna.  The Duke knew that it would go badly for him if he just sought to enforce the laws out of the blue – this would be seen as ‘tyranny’ (1.3.36) – which is precisely what it would have been, a capricious reversal of fortune at the whim of the government, unfounded in the laws of the city as custom had rendered them.  It does not cease to be tyranny merely because the governor, wanting the courage of his own convictions, ducks for cover and appoints a deputy.  And not just any deputy.  Old Escalus would have been shrewd and warm enough to have been malleable, but the precise Angelo was going to be anything but malleable.  He was always going to be ‘absolute’.

And so Angelo finds that it is his turn to play the part of that most dreadful threat to a sane and sensible judiciary – the tyro judge who will be the new broom and clean out the stables, which he looks down upon so absolutely, according to his own preconceived ideas – his agenda, if you prefer – and to hell with the consequences.  These interruptions happen about once in a generation – this is our doom – and the crowd correctly says that the people responsible are mad.


This threat of government by men rather than government by laws pervades the play.  The corruption of Angelo leads him not to apply the law.  He had resisted the pleas for mercy by Isabella, saying that it was not he but the law that condemned Claudio (2.2.80).  That simply begs the question on the power to commute or reprieve, in the same murderous way that Sir Henry Bolte did when he refused to commute the sentence on our last hanged convict in Victoria.  Isabella correctly observes that Angelo could pardon the prisoner ‘and neither Heaven nor man grieve at the mercy’ (2.2.50) and all Angelo can do is to say – again pointlessly – that the plea comes too late.

Isabella then warns Angelo against abusing his strength by abusing his power (2.2.108).

Now, laws are administered by people – laws do not administer themselves.  But people administering the laws must act according to the laws.  It may be that the only safe way to neutralise the corrupting effect of judicial power is by having a jury of people selected at random from off the street (and we are in the process of getting rid of the jury).  Otherwise you are left with the problem of every ‘pelting petty officer’ using ‘Heaven for his thunder’.  While Angelo is behaving like a swine, the author puts pearls before him.

… But man, proud man,

Dressed in a little brief authority

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured –

His glassy essence – like an angry ape,

Plays such fantastic tricks before high Heaven

As make the angels weep … (2.2.117-122)

These deathless words should be cast in marble in every court in the country.

The fall of Angelo might be a tragedy in the traditional sense.  As a result of his ‘firm abstinence’, he has wondered how men might fall for women (2.2.186).  Now he knows, and he finds himself on a knife edge.  Having sat on his humanity and suppressed his nature, he found it was time to unlock the gorilla.  We are now sickeningly familiar with the sequence and the consequence.  Whatever else strict abstinence has done for Angelo, it has not left him well balanced.  He is a victim of his own flight from life – of his own virginity.  Are we still so unbalanced – so prejudiced – that we do not say the same for Isabella?

So, the play has touched on two problems that arise when we sit in judgment on others.  What right do we have to set ourselves up to judge others when we are all afflicted with the same frailties?  How do we protect ourselves from the title of one source of this play, The Corrupt Magistrate?

The fault of this Duke has not been just that he has not enforced the laws for a generation.  When he has sat as a judge, he has been one of the two-speed sort – nought and flat out.  With the Duke, it was all or nothing – freedom or death (4.2.136).  This is the worst kind of judge.  There is no law, only the digestion or humour of the official posing as a judge.  Appearing in front of a judge like this is like hitting a tennis ball against a brick wall that is divided by a Plimsoll line – except that the line is invisible.  This is the type of judge who betrays the law – they do not discharge their duty to decide cases according to the law.  They are guilty of moral cowardice. They are also bone lazy.

Vienna has another problem.  There appears to be one law for the city and one for the suburbs – one law for the better people, and another for the rest; authority against anarchy, nuns against punks, chapels against brothels.  Lucio flits between the two and his frank assessment of each is probably as embarrassing to one as to the other.  But the only connecting link lies in that part of human life that we now denominate by the three letter word ‘sex’.  As Tony Tanner remarked, sex is at least potentially ‘a great leveller’.  If you had to choose between the rank flesh and sweat of the knock-shop and the heartless hysterical rigidity of a chapel, you might pause.


That brings us to the Ice Maiden, Isabella.  We are told that the founder of her Order, Saint Clare, decided to put herself in the hands of God when her parents asked her to marry.  We do not know what sent Isabella to the Order, a very strict one according to the books, but when we first meet her she is one of those painfully deluded soi-disant believers whose warped minds lead them to believe that it is easier and safer to get close to God by denying their own humanity than by facing and embracing the humanity of themselves and others.  It is the kind of retreat from the world, itself a kind of moral cowardice, that Gibbon railed at.  Ascetics, he said, ‘obeyed and abused the rigid precepts of the Gospel, and were inspired by the savage enthusiasm which represents man as a criminal and God as a tyrant’; for them, ‘pleasure and guilt are synonymous terms’.

And not just Gibbon.  Measure for Measure is about the conflict of law and equity, earthly rule and the Sermon on the Mount: but it is also about the conflict between the Church or the clergy and the Sermon on the Mount.  If a decree of the clergy is contrary to the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, which is to prevail?  Kant had no doubt at all, and shaped much of his thinking, and got into trouble, to assert the primacy of the word of God over the word of man.  ‘Rule by clergy [pfaffentum or clericalism] therefore is the constitution of a church to the extent to which a fetish-worship dominates it, and this condition is always found wherever instead of principles and morality, statutory commands, rules of faith, and observances constitute the basis and essence of the church’.

In the film Chariots of Fire, the professional coach told his neurotic acolyte that the 100 metres sprint was tailor-made for neurotics.  Isabella and Angelo are neurotics who are tailor-made for each other.  They are both virgins, heading for a bonfire of virginity.  They are what we would now call control freaks (and so is the Duke).  They might also be called absolutists.  Isabella sees this.  She refers to someone ‘as absolute as Angelo’ (5.1.54-5).  (Perhaps her own absolutism is one of the things that attracts Angelo to her.)

We see what we would now call the repressed nature of each of these characters almost immediately they appear on the stage.  In the fourth line that Angelo utters (1.1.48), he asks for some more tests to be made of his mettle before he is promoted.  In her third line (1.4.4), Isabella is seeking a ‘more strict restraint’ than apparently then offered by the sisterhood of St. Clare.  They are both, in the common phrase, buggers for punishment.

Isabella must have had something.  This cold-hearted refugee from the world spends about half an hour with each of the two leading men of the State, and each of them propositions her as a result – one for a one night stand, and the other for life.  Was it that she was a novice?  A nun?  That she could give as good as she got?  That she had a mind as well as a body?  That she was just innocent?  That she may have appeared to be out of reach?  Or that she was just one of those unhappy creatures who seem to call for violation?  Were the men maddened at the thought of this woman becoming a bride of Christ?  Was she terrified that if she gave in to Angelo to save the life of her brother, she might be disqualified from that race, even though her own Saviour had consorted with prostitutes?

It is a measure of his sex driven madness that Angelo tells Isabella that if he cannot have her, he will torture her brother to death (2.4.166).  All this in the city that gave us Sigmund Freud. Angelo and the Duke are examples of those characters who are mesmerised by innocence.  (Pontius Pilate may well have been another.)

Now, it is fair to say that the conduct of Isabella toward her brother may have been better received in 1604 than it is in 2009.  But it must have been hard even then.  Claudio remarks, not unnaturally, that ‘death is a fearful thing’ (3.1.117) and prays:

Sweet sister, let me live (3.1.133).

For that he gets called a beast, has his parenthood questioned, and is told to die quickly.

Then, Isabella, live chaste, and, brother die.

More than our brother is our chastity. (2.4.184-5)

Question answered.  Equation denied.  Irrefutably.  As someone said elsewhere, ‘Yours in the ranks of death’.  There are dark and carnal secrets here. Isabella comes near to rapture when her brother says that if he has to die, he ‘will encounter darkness as a bride’ and hug it in his arms (3.1.84).  A brother becomes a bride of death so that his sister may become a bride of Christ.

Isabella is confident that Claudio will die a martyr’s death.  Heaven awaits him.  In the nature of things, the martyr is not so enthusiastic.  He would prefer another two generations to elapse before he ascends to God.  He is after all facing death for giving life.

This, then, is an appalling example of how wrong we can be when man-made doctrine is allowed to overrule the simple greatness of the Sermon on the Mount.  Tony Tanner has a beautiful line from Langland.  ‘Chastity without charity is chained in hell.’  In truth, in her fall, Isabella mirrors Angelo in his fall – these two fanatics are both prepared to put their adherence to their calling to a strict test – the need to enforce the law to the letter, or to preserve a rule regardless – over the life or decency of another.  In so acting, each is guilty of that moral failing that is perhaps our ultimate threat – the readiness to sacrifice humanity – real people – for a mere idea.

When Isabella is induced to break her moral code by lying, her extenuation is merely that ‘the doubleness of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof’ (3.1.263-4).  The ends, for Isabella, therefore justify the means.  If it took a saint to catch a saint, it would also take a thief to catch a thief.  Two things.  This rule does not apply where her own physical or moral condition is concerned.  The loss of the head of her brother does not warrant the loss of her spotlessness.  His losing his life does not warrant her going into sin.  Secondly, the maxim that the means are justified by the ends can lead to unpleasant consequences in the hands of people like Napoleon or Hitler.

Doubtless Isabella still has her champions.  Her champions would be of the ‘Be absolute for death party’ (3.1.5).  This is one of those maxims that is easier said than done – unless someone else does the dying.  Geoffrey Bullough says that the argument of Claudio that nature dispenses with a sin to save a life has ‘a specious plausibility’.  He argues that the law Isabella ‘serves is one above Nature; and she conquers in the struggle between natural affection and supernatural injunctions’.

An invocation of the defence of superior orders does not become any more attractive than the version rejected at Nuremberg just because you invoke the supernatural.  At least the Wermacht and the SS knew that Hitler was there.  The contrary is the case now. People who drive planes into tall buildings are not heard to justify their actions by saying that they were acting under orders from God – some supernatural injunction..  And it would certainly inflame the sentencing court if they described the result of their struggle between natural affection and obedience to God as a ‘conquest’ for God.  But if the point is that the tenet of the church that Isabella was asked to contravene is non-negotiable, this would be in character for her as an ‘absolutist’ of a very heartless kind.

One of Bullough’s sources is Augustine De Sermone Domini in Monte (the Sermon on the Mount).  Augustine appears to countenance a woman giving up her body to a cruel governor in order to save the life of her husband.  The passage of the centuries means that the reasoning of the Saint may not now command the universal assent in every part of every household.  He appears to have countenanced the surrender of the wife if the husband asked her to do so since ‘the conjugal master of her body to whom all her chastity was owed’ could proceed on the footing that he was ‘disposing of a matter properly his own’.  Geoffrey Bullough thought the reasoning somewhat dubious but said that in any event ‘no brother could rightfully demand the ‘monstrous ransom’ of a sister’.

However that may be, it is the absence of a guilty motive that makes baseless the fear of Isabella that she ‘by redeeming him / Should die forever’ (2.4.107-8).  Was there a God ever conceived, let alone this one, who could so punish a human being for an act of redemption?

It follows that insofar as Isabella denied Angelo because her acceding to him would lead to her dying forever, she was impaling herself on a false dilemma.  After all, even our law has sufficient charity generally to require the finding of a guilty mind before it finds that someone has committed a crime against its laws; and a moral law that lags behind the strict law faces serious problems.  And if we are wrong there, which is a real possibility, we may find it hard not to follow Gibbon in concluding that the God of this ascetic – Isabella – is indeed a tyrant.  And that just may be a true dilemma for Isabella.

But let the divines say and the ecclesiasts rule as they may, we may stay with the text that the author has left to us.  We might merely reflect that when our law has to resolve moral questions, it tends to refer the issue to the conscience of the court, or the general verdict of an inscrutable jury.  (We are, after all, the product of the Protestant Ascendancy.)  The first is what the lawyers call equity.  If Isabella were to proceed on the basis that she should act according to her conscience, she may not take long to decide.  She has to live with her decision, and her brother might have to die because of it.  For what it is worth, that proposition may not leave all that much room or need for juggling.

(The play does refer to our other method of resolving moral issues.  Habsburg Vienna would not have had much time for juries, and Angelo was expressing an English view when he said that a jury of twelve would have one or two ‘Guiltier than him they try’ (2.1.21).  The same may go for judges.)

Isabella prefers the gloss of the commentators to the words of the text. This problem  bedevils our law.  Common lawyers feel uneasy when they stand before a naked act (statute).  They need to baptize it into their tradition and then drench it in their gloss.

How stands it, then, with the Duke, the character perfectly described by Lucio as ‘the Duke of dark corners’ (4.3.159-160)?  Born to reign, rather than to rule, the Duke lets his state go to waste; then he refuses to apply the correction himself; then he chooses the wrong deputy in an experiment on live subjects that goes badly wrong; then he enjoys himself playing puppet-master –he is a real live boss at last! – while posing as a priest and deceiving his subjects with news that is both false and hurtful.  Meanwhile, he cannot get either Lucio or Barnadine to obey him.

It is silly to compare this Duke with Prospero.  Prospero is out to avenge his ‘high wrongs’.  This Duke meddles about while mired in his own mediocrity.  He is another control freak, but a badly failed one, and a worse hypocrite than either Angelo or Isabella.  That, you might think, is a very large statement, but the Duke pretends to adopt the high moral ground even though the whole problem has arisen only because of his gormlessness.

Then, while fraudulently imposing himself on believers as a priest, he takes confession and then boasts of having done so (5.1.530).  It is hard, off hand, to think of a more complete or despicable betrayal of faith or a breach of trust, and this in a city that was to give such a warm welcome back to Adolph Hitler.

And then, suffused – no flushed – with his own goodness, he propositions the novice nun.  Is this an abuse of office?  Of course it is.  It is the abuse of two offices.  He has won the confidence of Isabella while posing as a priest.  (We do not know if he took the confession of Isabella as well as that of Mariana, but if he had been asked to, he would not have hesitated – he was into that kind of game, a kind of loaded charades.)  Then he seeks to benefit from using his power to save the brother of his target.

The difference between Angelo and the Duke is that Angelo promised to save Claudio after Isabella has gone to bed with him; the Duke saves the brother, and then seeks his reward in the form of a more permanent coming across – from someone young enough to be his daughter.  It is conduct in a public office of such an awful kind that it would warrant the promotion of its holder to the highest rank in politics.

That is why the author left open the response of Isabella to the limp-wristed proposals of the Duke, and why the best productions show her giving the Duke the cold shoulder. The RSC, it is said, shocked its audience in 1970 when it showed Isabella rejecting the Duke.  Forty years later, assuming that women have raised themselves above the status of serfs in the Russia of Ivan the Terrible, it might come as a serious shock to the sensibilities of audiences now to see Isabella accept the proposition.

The final delinquency of the Duke is his failure to execute due process of law on Angelo.  If you are going to have a death penalty, and if it is to be applied by due process rather than personal decree, Angelo had to suffer it.  (Remember that Claudio was sentenced to death for ‘fornication’).  Angelo traduced the office of a judge.  He attempted to rape Isabella – and that is undoubtedly what it was, an attempted rape.  He then attempted to murder Claudio.

The Duke lets all of this go, and not for reasons that are light years away from those that corrupted Angelo.  He, too, is infatuated with Isabella – he must be if he is asking her to marry him – and he wants to impress her.  Opinions might differ on whether this abuse of power is worse than Angelo’s. Some think  that it is, since the consequences of his abuse of power may be more terminal.

Two things might be said in extenuation of the failure to execute Angelo.  First, everyone appears to have been very sensitive about executing people.  You have to be certain that the condemned are ready to die.  (Remember the ghost in Hamlet?)  This was urged on behalf of Claudio (2.2.83-4) and, hilariously, by the self-confessed murderer and drunk, Barnardine.  He simply declines to die because he had been drinking all night and peremptorily shuts the Duke up when the Duke dares to suggest the contrary (4.3.54-63).  (Barnardine, like Lucio, has a clear-headed view of the world, and looks sane by comparison to the three heroes.  It is part of the high dramatic technique of this playwright that their outlook comes out in scenes of surrealist comedy that might remind you of the Goon Show or the brothel scene in the Ulysses of Joyce.)

Secondly, as John Fletcher remarked, the idea of tragi-comedy is to bring none to death but some near it.  But, of course, only for the author is this an excuse.

The year before this play was put on, 1603, James I came to the throne and observed:

Laws are ordained as rules of virtuous and social living, and not to be snares to trap your good subjects: and therefore the law must be interpreted according to the meaning and not the literal sense. 

These conflicting impulses run through the law and equity of both Rome and England.  They led to a dog’s breakfast in the Vienna of our play.  Two people to come out of the play enhanced are the Provost and Mariana.  When asking Isabella to plead for the life of her then husband, Angelo, Mariana says:

They say, best men are molded out of faults:

And, for the most, become much more the better

For being a little bad. (5.1.442-4)

Well, as someone said in another play, for this relief much thanks; nor may it hurt to be a little mad as well as being a little bad.

The modern film set in a  British base in post-war Germany is well worth a look, but the performance by Kate Nelligan for the BBC is both riveting and peerless.

Measure for Measure shows  us what Milton called ‘darkness visible’.   The problem then is that these characters seem to us in some way so much more real than those that paddle about in our own little duck pond.  This effect of this play on us, and its insight into our dark corners, are an enduring testimony to the matchless humanity of its creator. The play continues to reveal to us truths about us and our laws, when we seek to apply the laws too hard or too softly, or when we let people put themselves above the law – or when we put the laws too far above people.


Tanner                       Comedies, Vol 2, p clxvi

Gibbon                         See, S P Foster, Melancholy Duty, Kluwer, 1997, pp 191, 213                

Kant                           Religion within the Boundaries of Reason, Hlisaarp, 1960, p 167-8

Tanner (Langland)   above, p clxiv

Bullough                     Vol.2, p 408

Milton                         Paradise Lost, 1.63