In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

At the DonmarJacqueline Rose

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.

In the latest Coors Light Ice Bar cinema advertisement, Jean-Claude Van Damme slices through enormous ice blocks with his bare hands and shatters them with a single thrust of his legs. Perhaps it was because I saw the ad within 24 hours of Phyllida Lloyd’s extraordinary all-female production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, which ends its sell-out London run on 29 November, that the play struck me as an object lesson in masculinity for our times. The posturing Van Damme brought to my mind Jade Anouka’s Hotspur, whose raw verbal and physical energy on the stage turned each scene where she appeared into the frantic assertion of a masculinity heading for catastrophe with every thrust that it makes. Van Damme of course invites parody: there are several hilarious online remakes of the ad in which he straddles the widening gap between two reversing Volvo trucks while intoning ‘a body crafted to perfection, a pair of legs engineered to defy the laws of physics, a mind set to master the most epic of spaces’. Mostly, however, what characterises this version of manhood is that it is completely incapable of parodying, or even seeing, itself.

It was the genius of the women who played the parts of men at the Donmar that, as women, they were able to confront us with a masculinity aware of what is wrong at the very moment of performing itself to perfection. The Henry IV plays offer one of Shakespeare’s most searching analyses of the deadly male triumvirate of power, war, honour. But I have never before seen a production which conveys so effectively that these are the drugs men take to keep themselves in business. They talk of ‘all-abhorred war’, but they love it. Henry IV offers masculinity as self-combustion. In Hotspur’s words: ‘The mailed Mars shall on his altar sit/Up to the ears in blood. I am on fire.’ And Harriet Walter’s king – legs splayed as if on a bar stool rather than a throne – conveyed an authority which the whole world knows is fraudulent because it was founded on a crime (he deposed, imprisoned and some would say caused the death of his cousin Richard II, who had once been his playmate).

Caught between self-command and the most crushing self-doubt, Walter knew how to rise to this part and bring it down in the same breath. The king is wan with care and insomnia – he is guilty. He is also counterfeit; at the battle of Shrewsbury, he ‘has many marching in his coats’ so as to confound the enemy. When challenged, he therefore has to declare himself.

‘What art thou
That counterfeits the person of a king?’
‘The King himself.’

To this extent, Prince Hal’s profligacy can be read as the son throwing the father’s imposture back in his face. The Donmar production wasn’t ‘giving the lie’ to the idea that this is a masculine play, as one reviewer suggested, or shifting the emphasis to the ‘similarity between the sexes’. In two densely packed hours with no exit – the play was set in a women’s prison – we were up against what men so often are and what, by dint of that fact, they are prone to do to each other and to women.

In 1817, Mrs Elizabeth Inchbald pronounced: ‘This is a play which all men admire and which most women dislike.’ There is, in that sense, a beautiful irony in Lloyd’s choice of Henry IV as the second in her projected trilogy of all-female Shakespeare performances. Of Shakespeare’s ten history plays, Henry IV Part I is the one in which women speak the fewest lines (as with all mergings of the two Henry IV plays, the first part dominates this production). As a result the lines of the few women characters in the play acquire an added urgency. Two actors – Sharon Rooney for Lady Percy, and Zainab Hasan for Mistress Quickly – made their impressive stage debut here (also doubling as Gadshill and the Doctor respectively). When Lady Percy pleads in vain with Hotspur not to desert her, her children and their marriage bed, Rooney downplayed the pathos in favour of straight talk, leaving her husband nowhere to hide:

Come, come, you paraquito, answer me
Directly unto this question that I ask.
In faith, I’ll break thy little finger, Harry,
An if thou wilt not tell me all things true.

She also calls him ‘weasel’ and ‘ape’. Slinking off to war then appears as a form of evasive action, as cringing as it is brave.

In Henry IV, it is the women who speak the truth: ‘No, Sir John,’ Mistress Quickly says to Falstaff when he insists he knows she has been hostess to petty crime. ‘You do not know me, Sir John; I know you, Sir John.’ As with Lady Percy, it is the idea of women being in possession of the truth that is the affront. The ensuing crisis produced one of the most unsettling moments of this production. Falstaff responds with sexual insult; to Shakespeare’s bawdy and already offensive repertoire, the players added one or two even more vulgar barbs of their own. Whereupon Mistress Quickly rushed weeping from the stage – ‘We said we weren’t going to do that bit, we said we weren’t going to say those things’ – as if the actors had violated a prior ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ not to go too far. You do a double take before realising all this has been rehearsed. They then repeated the scene with the offending lines excised. Words damage. Lloyd and her cast were making a crucial – but by no means simple – feminist point. Only if we face, or even stage, the worst misogyny, thereby bearing perverse witness to its power, might there be the slightest chance for women to rewrite and efface the script.

By setting the play in a women’s prison, Lloyd adds a crucial gender dimension to past performances of the Henry plays such as the 1964 RSC production (part of a complete history cycle marking the quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth), which took place on a set that looked like a stone and steel cage, described by co-director Peter Hall as a metaphor for ‘the mechanism of power’ at the core of the histories. I cannot describe how irritated – oppressed might be closer – I felt by the way the audience at the Donmar was held across the road until summoned and marched by steely-faced guards into the prison space of the auditorium for the performance to begin. It did not, however, take long for me to get it. The women cast were performing women prisoners putting on a production of Shakespeare in which men dominate and women are mostly dismissed as objects of contempt. They were being given back their agency, as each one became the raconteur and analyst of the world that had failed them. As Deborah Coles writes in the programme, for women the road to prison is most often lined with sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, exploitation, homelessness, self-harm, educational disadvantage, racism, drug and alcoholic abuse (the list is endless). Eighty-three per cent of women prisoners are inside for non-violent crimes. The factor of racism is important. This must be one of the most ethnically varied casts – and with an array of Welsh, Scottish and Irish accents – ever to have performed on the London stage.

The reference to prisons was far more than a theatrical gesture. Coles is the director of INQUEST, which provides support for those who’ve been bereaved by a death in custody. The staff and residents of HMP Askham Grange are thanked in the programme. The theatre company Clean Break, founded in 1979 to perform the lives of two women inmates who needed their story to be told, is part of an educational collaboration with the Donmar (Harriet Walter is a patron of Clean Break). The prisoner playing the part of Lady Percy, we were given to understand, had a history of self-harm. When she exposed her damaged arm in the dispute with Hotspur, she was telling us (telling him) that violence is not confined to the battlefield. She was also, without an ounce of self-pity, turning a wound into a statement. If the lives of women are to improve, men must stop treating them as goods and chattel, but they must also stop killing each other.

Two moments in the original that did not make it into the final cut also give the strongest support to the prison setting: Falstaff conscripting his army of near corpses and prisoners, and the prostitute Doll Tearsheet carted off to prison. ‘She shall have whipping-cheer enough,’ the first Beadle announces (whipping was the recognised punishment for prostitution in Bridewell). When he hears of this, Falstaff vows: ‘I will deliver her.’ Instead, at the end it is Falstaff who is dragged off the stage by prison guards. He will be incarcerated with the prostitutes whom, if things had turned out differently, he would have set free. This was also the one moment when Ashley McGuire’s Falstaff dropped his guard and was unequivocally a woman prisoner.

For the rest of the play, McGuire’s Falstaff managed to be as dignified as he was base. We have never seen so much of Falstaff’s body before. Giving a woman’s body, whatever shape or size, such freedom to roam is a feminist statement in itself. McGuire would have stolen the show, as reviewers suggested she did, were she not so perfectly pitted against Clare Dunne’s lyrical, lilting Prince Hal, whose poise, even in a pub brawl, left the audience uncertain whether his final kingly transformation is necessary or for the best. In one of her most underplayed and effective moments, McGuire stood on the stage softly tearing the concept of honour to shreds. ‘Can honour set to a leg? Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No … Honour is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.’ By losing the bombast at which she had excelled up to this point, McGuire gave the speech special resonance. The question the production threw up was not only about the morality of Hal’s repudiation of Falstaff, on which many critics focus, but rather what price kingship, what price government, if it has to close its ears to the ‘wisdom [that] cries out in the streets’ (a question which has not gone away).

In the middle of Henry IV Part 2, the Archbishop of York makes the case against further rebellion on the grounds that friends are now so ensconced with enemies that there is no distinguishing between them. He explains:

So that this land, like an offensive wife
That hath enrag’d him on to offer strokes,
As he is striking holds his infant up,
And hangs resolv’d correction in the arm
That was uprear’d to execution.

Wife-beating, he is stating, is justified, and only halted in its tracks by a mother’s brute manipulation of her child (what mother, we might ask, would use her infant as a human shield?). The scene was not included in this production. But the sheer misogyny of these lines would persuade even the faint-hearted of the bloodline it ran from now to then, when the forms of sexual injustice and hatred of women it laid before us were as brazen and unapologetic as they still are today.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.