A wealthy banker, a Pilates instructor, a bitter divorce case, a High Court Judge… And the words of William Shakespeare

According to The Independent, Mr Justice Mostyn consulted Act 2, Scene 4 of King Lear to aid his decision when awarding a £1.2 million settlement to the banker’s Pilates instructor ex-wife.

Pointedly, this is the scene in which Lear’s daughters, Goneril and Regan, strip the aged monarch of his retinue.

In the space of a few cruel words, Lear’s personal escort is reduced from 50 knights to nothing.

An incredulous Lear responds with the impassioned speech that begins:

“O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.”

256px-King_Lear

It’s a very interesting example of the way in which top professionals sometimes use Shakespeare to assist their decision-making process.

But as is so often the case with Shakespeare, there’s a sting in the tail.

The speech in question marks the beginning of Lear’s descent into madness.

One interpretation could be that Mr Justice Mostyn is basically saying:

“Even though this settlement figure is extremely high, I am going to give this person the amount she says she needs, because otherwise she is liable to go mad.”

Lear’s harrowing madness ultimately leads to self-knowledge and redemption – along with heart-rending personal loss and his own death.

Shakespeare’s most powerful play would certainly be a lot shorter if Regan and Goneril had simply given him what he asked for…

Go here to read the original news story from The Independent.

The latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine features another High Court Judge acting alongside players from Shakespeare’s Globe.

 

 

Is Shakespeare to blame for modern-day prejudice against people with skin problems?

Some experts are saying that Shakespeare may have handed down a fear of skin lesions along with his literary legacy.

In Elizabethan times, warts, sores and blisters were harbingers of contagious diseases such as plague, syphilis and smallpox, so the fear of them was well founded. But in a world of modern medicine such persistent distrust and dislike is unwarranted and often harmful to individuals.

But can the Bard be blamed for this?

From King Lear’s denunciation of “Thou are a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle” to the constant abuse heaped upon Henry IV‘s Bardolph for his nose like “an everlasting bonfire-light”, Shakespeare has no lack of skin condition-derived insults.

bardolph falstaff

Nina Goad, a spokesperson with the British Association of Dermatologists, believes that these barbs have perpetuated discrimination against those with skin problems.  Speaking with the Telegraph she said, “Nobody is suggesting that we edit Shakespeare but maybe we should ensure that new films and books don’t reinforce this stereotype”.

The paper “Is Shakespeare to blame for the negative connotations of skin disease?” presented at BAD’s annual conference says that while Shakespeare “may not have accepted Elizabethan society’s negativity towards skin disease, it can be argued that his success has led to its perpetuation”.

Scholars have been quick to defend the Bard.

“Has any writer in history ever suggested that the symptoms of skin disease are attractive?” Professor Michael Dobson, director of Birmingham University’s Shakespeare Institute, asked the Telegraph.

Read more on this subject here.