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Standpoint’s Editor noted last month the remarkable new exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, Charles I: King and Collector. I came away convinced that it was one of the best shows for years: the profusion of Van Dycks, the assembly of just about every major portrait of the king, the wall of Holbein portraits. But what moved me above all was Rembrandt’s portrait of his mother. One of the first Rembrandts to enter a British collection, it shows the elderly lady in an elaborate dark hood, the gold thread detail of which gathers to illuminate her face, turning her grim, worn features radiant. A difficult king. But a peerless collector.


The BBC and Netflix have joined up to make a new eight-part adaptation of  Homer called Troy: Fall of a City. The news brought to mind John Barton, co-founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who died in January. During my last year of school Barton came to give a talk and, as I was an admirer of his book Playing Shakespeare, it was suggested that I walk him out afterwards. We walked slowly along the street and he immediately launched into a conversation about Troilus and Cressida, which I had recently seen and for which Barton acted like an agent. He was an especial admirer of the scene at the end of Act IV when Ulysses and Hector talk on the eve of battle.

Ulysses: For yonder walls, that pertly front your town,
Yond towers, whose wanton tops do buss the clouds,
Must kiss their own feet.

Hector: I must not believe you:
There they stand yet, and modestly I think,
The fall of every Phrygian stone will cost
A drop of Grecian blood: the end crowns all,
And that old common arbitrator, Time,
Will one day end it.

Ulysses: So to him we leave it.

I doubt the BBC/Netflix adaptation will rise to such heights. But one of the most remarkable things about Shakespeare — and Barton’s lifelong evangelism of him — is that treasures like this hide even in the lesser-known plays.
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