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?