The sounds of Shakespeare
From Mr Richard Adams Sir: Frank Johnson (Shared opinion, 30 November) is puzzled, like many other people, over Tolstoy's rejection of Shakespeare's repute by saying that it is merely a mass delusion. I remember being perplexed by this, many years ago. I had to concede, of course, that Tolstoy was not foolish (even if he was a bit of a domestic tyrant). He was, arguably, the greatest novelist who has ever lived.
The answer came to me after a whole lot of reflection. Tolstoy didn't speak English and never heard Shakespeare in English on stage. So he never knew what Shakespeare sounds like. The sheer sound of Shakespeare is the true reason for his greatness and his adulation by English-speaking people. Once you have heard, say, Enobarbus's speech about Cleopatra coming to meet Mark Antony on the Nile, you never forget it. And if you had heard, as I have, a French actor (who thought he was Macbeth) uttering, Demain . . et demain . . . et demain', you could remain in no doubt.
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