[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
.

Masterful

As I write this towards the end of2002 a somewhat sombre moodhas crept over me. A number of myactuarial contemporaries, all longstandingfriends, have been afflictedwith terrible illness or personaltragedy. Gloucester’s bitter words inKing Lear spring to mind:As flies to wanton boys, are weto the gods; They kill us for theirsport.Before myself enduring a suddenvisit to hospital in late November Isaw on consecutive nights works bythe greatest dramatist ever, and theinventor of the music drama. Howunfulfilled would life be withoutShakespeare and Wagner? By furthercoincidence the productionshad a common theme. In The MerryWives of Windsor, a very Englishcomedy of bourgeois townsfolk inElizabethan times, we see Falstaff’sself-delusion and pretentiousnesspricked by the sharpness of Shakespeare’spen and wit. Beckmesser, inDie Meistersinger von Nürnberg, istown clerk of an equally typicalcommunity in the 16th centurywhose pomposity and pedantry ischallenged and whose comeuppanceis comparably painful. Shakespeareillustrates Falstaff’s downfallliterally by having him cast into theThames in a laundry basket. (TheElizabethan setting is inconsistentwith Falstaff’s dealings with PrinceHal 150 years earlier, but thisanachronism is convenientlyignored.) Beckmesser’s undoing isdemonstrated by contrasting thebanality of his contribution in asinging competition with the nobilityof the music of his nemesis,Walther.Although Walther is the instrumentof Beckmesser’s humiliation,the architect of his undoing, asdepicted by Wagner, is a real character,one Hans Sachs (1494-1576).This burgher, meistersinger, andpoet was the son of a tailor whobecame a master cobbler. He thenbecame a master in the NürnbergSingschule around 1520 and wasfamous in his time for his aestheticand religious influence. One of hisverse allegories advanced the Reformationin Nürnberg. Shakespeare(1564-1616) has, of course, providedinspiration for generations ofcomposers – including Wagner,who loved the works of Shakespeare,Goethe, and Schiller. Whenhe was 15 Wagner wrote a tragedycalled Leubald which, in his ownwords, was ‘constructed out ofHamlet and King Lear’. His earlyopera Das Liebesverbot is based onShakespeare’s Measure for Measure.The Merry Wives at the Swan inStratford was set as an Ealing comedyin 1947. The period detail wasexquisite and Alison Fiske’s MistressQuickly the epitome of a lost generationof domestic servants, withovertones of Beryl Reid’s nearly contemporaneousradio character, Marlene.Tom Mannion as Ford gave abravura performance of jealousy atwork. The Dr Caius of Greg Hickswas the funniest I’ve seen – Shakespeare’soriginal corruption byCaius’s French accent of ‘By God’into ‘By Gar’ was transformed furtherby Hicks into somethingsounding remarkably, but notexactly, like a present-day profanity.Wagner’s comedy is in a differentleague – to put it mildly – and, afterthe dénouement, high art is panegyrisedin the final scene. An outstandingcast under MarkWigglesworth delivered a magnificentperformance that shook thepacked auditorium of the RoyalOpera House. That final stirring butinfamous chorus glorifying Germanart should have been echoing in mybrain as I succumbed to the temporaryoblivion of Morpheus and theskill of a surgeon’s scalpel. But itwasn’t! All I could hear was the fearin my heart.

02_12_letters-frosty.pdf