It’s a well known fact: Shakespeare writes great plays. Many books have been written explaining why his plays are great, as if an explanation were needed: the truth is people like going to see them, and have done for four hundred years or more. But that does require some explanation, surely?

I don’t dispute all the ingenious reasons given: the brilliant plotting, the imaginative characters, the amazing language, the deep themes, and so on and so forth. Here’s one more contribution to the genre: take one line of Shakespeare and feel the genius!

I especially love the one line of Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night. The context is a riotous drunken party that is interrupted by Malvolio. Maria outlines her plan to ridicule and humiliate Malvolio; Sir Toby Belch, who is having a relationship with her, comments she adores him; and at this point we need to understand that Sir Andrew is a fool, a dupe, a gull – in short, an idiot who is totally manipulated, at great loss to his income, by Sir Toby.

On hearing Sir Toby say that Maria adores him, Sir Andrew is given one line: “I was adored once too.” This is – as the play is a comedy – very funny: we become immediately aware of how preposterous it is that someone as clownish as Sir Andrew could be adored. Simultaneously, we feel a completely different emotion: “I was adored once too” – we feel the yearning to be loved – the need of everyone to have love, and the desperate awareness of how unlikely this is in his case. From a joke to the butt of jokes Sir Andrew – for a small moment – attains a full roundedness of character – and we feel for him, even though we laugh.

What is this, then? It’s Shakespeare’s ability to reach – even in the most unlikely character – into the human heart and reveal it. And what is in that heart – so often, and here in Sir Andrew in particular?

In Bhuddism it sometimes seems that the stuff that is the universe is also the same as the power which drives it. They call it: compassion. Compassion is the energy which drives all the miracles of the universe and life.

We feel compassion for Sir Andrew in that moment. And because that’s an energy, it’s motivating – we want, except we can’t of course as spectators, to help him. But the motivation is good and purifying. This is why Shakespeare’s plays are spectacularly awesome: their effect on us is to increase our compassion for life. They go with the grain of life, the grain of the universe – they help to heal us of our selfishness.

So next time you feel down, motivate yourself by remembering: you were adored once too!



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You just motivated me - thank you.

james sale


Thank you very much for your kind comment. It is excellent news that the blog has helped! All the best.

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