I had never seen A Midsummer Night's Dream, so when I read it in college, I didn't find much humor in it. Then I saw a Royal Shakespeare Company production in London in December 1977. Playing Bottom was Richard Griffiths. I've seen 17 Dreams since then, and Griffiths remains one of the most indelible Bottoms, and not just because he was the first. He played the part with an innocent sweetness, tiptoeing his large frame through his portrayal of Pyramus as if he were doing a pas de deux with the part. He would merely shift his weight from one foot to the other, and the audience laughed, such was his conveyance of physical comedy.
Griffiths passed away from complications following heart surgery yesterday in England. He was 65.
He was the resident clown for the RSC in the mid-1970s. I saw him play Trinculo in The Tempest, Pompey in Measure for Measure, and The Officer in Trevor Nunn's musical version of The Comedy of Errors where he stole the show from the likes of Judi Dench, Roger Rees, Michael Williams, and Mike Gwilym. He also played the messenger in the 1978 Antony and Cleopatra starring Glenda Jackson. Their scenes together were more memorable than hers with Alan Howard's Antony, and when, as Clown, Griffiths brought in the basket of asps and said, "I wish you joy o'th'worm," Cleopatra smiled sweetly at him. Or was it Jackson who smiled? After all, we, the audience, were smiling.
That's the legacy of Richard Griffiths for me. Thirty-five years later, I'm still smiling at his performances.
March 29, 2013
If you have Shakespearean news to share, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org