Villain’s Talk

John Bayley

  • The Fisher King by Anthony Powell
    Heinemann, 256 pp, £9.95, April 1986, ISBN 0 434 59926 3

How and why do some writers’ characters live from the word go? It may not be necessary that they should; it may not even be to the writer’s purpose and advantage. Shakespeare’s minor characters often have a life which the drama as such has no real use for and no way to deal with. And yet Hamlet would never have become the universally significant figure that he has if he were not immediately and locally real to the audience as he stands in black in the king’s presence chamber. After that moment he can be or become anything the reader or viewer fancies. Timon of Athens, on the other hand, seems to have been present only as an idea to Shakespeare from the very beginning, with the result that he never achieves more than a sort of powerful anonymity.

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