chapter  1
24 Pages

Actors, Academics, Selves

As rehearsals start for the RSC’s The Winter’s Tale, Anthony Sher faces a problem:

A big problem. One that has taxed not only every actor and director who has tackled the play, but countless scholars, audiences and other Bard-watchers over the centuries. What causes Leontes’s jealousy? His life seems terrific. He’s the king of a prosperous country, happily married to a good woman, Hermione, with one child, another on the way, and enjoying a reunion with his boyhood friend, Polixenes. But then-bang! Out of the blue and with no evidence, he decides Hermione is screwing Polixenes, and, ignoring all denials, destroys everything in sight. I find his violence-a kind of domestic violence-more shocking than that of other Shakespeare characters I’ve played. At least Richard III is driven by ambition for the crown, Shylock and Titus by revenge. But Leontes’s violence seems motiveless. This has affected his reputation, and he is sometimes branded with crude labels: wicked king, mad tyrant, fairy-tale monster.1