Men in great place […] have no freedom; neither in their persons, nor in their actions, nor in their times. It is a strange desire, to seek power and to lose liberty: or to seek power over others, and to lose power over a man’s self. [a]
“this it is, when men are ruled by women” – or at least by their groins …
Although I’m never going to end up on stage, I often compare teaching to acting.
Non-teachers, think for a second: up to six performances a day, with audiences who require subtly different characterisations from you. (My timetable goes from Y12 to Y7 without interval on a Friday afternoon, for instance). That plus the teacher persona you can only shrug off when you’re safely indoors (because even walking down the street you end up intervening when you see pupils in uniform mucking about). To say nothing of the range of people you have to be – in five minute chunks – at Parents’ Evenings …
No wonder I’m perpetually exhausted.
But if I were asked to play a Shakespearean role, what would be my top three choices?
BOTTOM: I will discharge it in either your straw colour beard, your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain beard, or your French-crown-colour beard, your perfect yellow. [a]
Although The Guardian confidently proclaimed we’d reached ‘peak beard’ two years ago – in fact exactly two years ago today [b] – I stopped shaving before Christmas. I’m far from a fashion victim: this was initially sheer laziness (I loathe shaving); now increasingly compounded by curiosity about exactly what I might grow. After nearly thirty years of a more-or-less maintained goatee, I’ve gone wild.
It’s a work in progress (and had to survive a pre-Portugal pruning by She Who Must Be Obeyed), but I’ve ended up with a hybrid: think the hirsute love-child of Hemingway and Fidel Castro … the addition of a very disreputable cap during my Easter hols jolly to the Algarve has added, I like to think, a revolutionary aura to the whole thing. Plus, some students have given it a name of its own, like a stray dog. So, the beard is staying – for now.
Naturally, this started me thinking about beards and the Bard …
Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince, (transl. George Bull, ed. Anthony Grafton), (Penguin Classics: London, 2003). e-book ISBN: 9780141912004 (£2.99)
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Niccolò Machiavelli … the name has a seductive musicality, like all the Devil’s best tunes, and in Italian, ‘Il Principe’ uncoils like a snake, before hissing and then biting. This, his most famous work, has insinuated its way into our psyche until ‘Machiavellian’ has become part of a sinister cabal of authorial-adjectives including ‘Orwellian‘, ‘Lovecraftian’ and ‘Kafkaesque‘.Yet how many people appreciate its true meaning, having read ‘The Prince’?Is its reputation merited?Is it a useful, topical read, or a dusty, centuries-old curiosity?
My life has been filled with obsessions, and for reasons too complex to go into here, about twenty-five years ago, one of them was Scottish history. With no knowledge ever completely wasted, it’s contributed to where and who I am today, struggling with this play, and especially to find any kind of empathy with its male characters.
Put simply, if I had a daughter, none of these men would be son-in-law material …
Pollard, AJ: Edward IV, The Summer King (Penguin Monarchs) (Allen Lane: London, 2016)
It happens in the best of families. Royalty is often an accident of birth, and doesn’t guarantee fitness for rule, as we’ve seen in the exploits of Henry VI and Edward II – weak sons of strong fathers.