Thursday, March 20, 2008

Paul Scofield Dies


As a theatre historian by trade, I feel obligated to note the passing of one of the 20th century's greatest actors, Paul Scofield. Check the link on his name for a fuller obituary. Or read an entire history of Tudor costume dramas on film and television in the excellent NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE.
I have long been an admirer of his great performance as Sir Thomas More in the 1966 film of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, but I remember him most for his performance in Peter Shaffer's AMADEUS at the Royal National Theatre in London. I was in the front row center of the Olivier Theatre occupying one of those uncomfortable but very cheap day seats. At the close of the play Scofield as Salieri knelt down not four feet from me and spoke those haunting lines, "Now I go to become a ghost myself. I will stand in the shadows when you come here to this earth in your turns. And when you feel the dreadful bite of your failures . . . I will whisper my name to you, 'Salieri: Patron Saint of Mediocrities!' And in the depth of your downcastness you can pray to me. And I will forgive you." Then he ran a knife across his throat and fell backward to the floor. I can still see that rivulet of stage blood and feel the emotion of that moment. Salieri may have been the patron saint of mediocrity, but Paul Scofield was not a worshipper there. There was not an ounce of the mediocre in his body. His artistry was a match to any competitor and his star blazes equally bright with those of Alec Guiness, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, and Laurence Olivier.

"Good night sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

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