Not Prince Hamlet

Which character in Shakespeare do you identify with most strongly?

And, assuming you were capable of doing so, which Shakespearean role would you most like to play?

The two questions are not quite the same. When I was asked the first question some years ago over a few drinks in the pub, I had answered “Malvolio in Twelfth Night”. I wasn’t being entirely serious at the time, but, looking back, it wasn’t really such a bad answer. Yes, I trust I am somewhat more self-aware than was Malvolio, but self-awareness is a relative matter: we are all, perhaps, self-deluding to a point; none of us has the gift that Rabbie Burns had wished for, “to see ourselves as others see us”:

O wad some Power the giftie gi’e us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It would frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

So here I am, strutting and fretting like Malvolio, indulging in all sorts of daydreams of what I might be, but without really knowing what I am, or how others see me. This is among Shakespeare’s gifts to us: his comic grotesques are not people merely to be laughed at, and neither are they people for whom we come merely to feel pity: they are people in whom we see aspects of our own humanity.

As for the second question – I think I’d answer Antony: not the Antony in Julius Caesar, but the Antony in Antony and Cleopatra. Why? Partly because, as I advance through my sixth decade, I find myself identifying increasingly with Antony’s weariness with various worldly responsibilities; but looking beyond that – the actor playing Antony gets to snog the actress playing Cleopatra, doesn’t he?

11 responses to this post.

  1. Iago! i think I could play a great Iago. I like reading him aloud more than anyone else, at least. I do not really identify with him. I hope I don’t.


    • A good villain is usually a juicy role to play, so I can see the attraction of that. One problem with playing Iago, I’d guess, is that the audience tends to like characters who confide in them, and there are a number of points where Iago soliloquises – i.e. speaks directly to the audience; and I do think it important not to present Iago as a likable villain. In availabel DVDs of teh play, Ian Mackellen and Bob Hoskins gave very different portrayals of Iago – both very convincing in their different ways.


  2. Q1: Jaques.


    • Jaques is often seen as an absurd figure, but he is possibly the only one in the play (Rosalind excepted) who is true to himself. All the others tell us how wonderful it is to be in the forest, and how much better it is to the false, hypocritical court, but as soon as they get a chance, they bugger off to teh court as dast as they can. Not so Jaques.


  3. Posted by alan on January 30, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    “Nor night nor day no rest: it is but weakness
    To bear the matter thus; mere weakness.”
    No, I don’t really identify with Leontes, but I think I’ve met one or two in my working life.


  4. I’d have to give this one (two) some time, but NOT hamlet on both counts.


  5. Like all important questions to be answered, I slept on this:


    • I wouldn’t go for Hamlet either – yes, he’s an intelligent & witty chap, but he’s always moping about something or other, or making passes through the arras. Bottom is a good choice – who would not want to be loved by the Fairy Queen, even though it meanshaving an ass’s head? But Petruchio? You’re … er … not a feminist, then? 🙂


  6. Posted by alan on February 7, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    I meant the poor judgement as well.
    Perhaps I would be better at playing Leontes, but as for identification I guess I would have to opt for Shylock.


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