The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1817 Tuesday, 26 September 2000.
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 19:54:58 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 11.1799 Re: The Power of Words
Comment: Re: SHK 11.1799 Re: The Power of Words
1. Acting always requires an actor to extend or transcend his physical
and personal limitations. The question in every case is whether he has
succeeded in doing so. The answer will vary from actor to actor. It
will also vary from role to role, and sometimes from year to year of an
actor's working life.
2. There can be no blanket rule that an actor's sexuality is irrelevant
to his performance. In some cases, his sexuality will not be an issue;
in other cases it will be either (a) an asset, or (b) an impediment.
The actor may be able to overcome that impediment, or he may not.
3. So far as I know, Patrick Stewart is not gay.
4. Derek Jacobi is, and has become increasingly feminine with age, in a
manner reminiscent of Dame Edna or Aunt Pittypat. This makes him
unconvincing as Julie Christie's virile seducer, or as a brutal,
uxorious warrior who unseams his opponent from the nave to the chops.
He was splendid as Alan Turing, however.
5. As for Sher's Tamburlaine, I didn't feel like getting into it at the
time, but having been chided for my bald statement, I'm happy to
The issue, I'm glad to say, wasn't sexuality. Different roles present
different challenges and different opportunities for success or
failure. With Sher's Macbeth, I sensed (among other things) an actor's
discomfort with the erotics of his role. With Sher's Tamburlaine, I
sensed a rhetorical discomfort, arising from his inability to color and
vary the endless parade of mighty lines. It takes considerable forensic
skill to play Marlowe, a skill that Sher does not have. To distract us
from this deficit, he engaged in foolish stunts, e.g., shinnying up a
rope, wrapping it around his legs and hanging upside-down. These circus
tricks were meaningless: I would have more impressed if he had
delivered his speeches effectively. He didn't; and the results were
monotonous and boring. Ditto for his effort to redress his lack of
commanding stature by adopting an unchanging look of glowering
intensity. Albert Finney's Tamburlaine (National Theatre, 1976) was
hardly great acting, but it was head and shoulders above Sher's
performance, in every sense of the phrase. And Donald Wolfit's
recording of a single speech is better than both of them.