Chapter Fifty-Five of The Haunted Heaven: Paul Scofield and Simone Weil
By Michael Moriarty
His face was exactly like his voice! Increasingly torn and ravaged … but Godlike. Possibly the most underappreciated artist of the 20th Century.
I first heard the Scofield voice from the stage at Stratford, Ontario's Shakespeare Festival, Canada. He was playing the Spanish knight, Don Adriano de Armado, in that theater's 1961 production of Love's Labor's Lost.
I had already performed the play's King of Navarre in a summer Shakespeare Festival in Colorado.
I was a young actor, 20 years of ambitiously escapist dreams!
Little did I know that by the age of 14 Paul Scofield had already performed the roles of not only Romeo's Juliet but as Rosalind in As You Like It as well!
This is the most perfectly Elizabethan training for a great Shakespearean actor of the 20th Century?
When 20 and attending Love's Labor's Lost, I found myself staring down at this lone figure on a thrust stage, performing a role I almost knew by heart but, my God!
I could hardly have expected what I was seeing and hearing, what Paul Scofield was transforming a Shakespearean comedy into?!
This Don Adriano de Armado I had once known as the justifiable butt of jokes and ridicule in an amateur production I had performed in? That former clown was now becoming a sacred mystery rising into my soul through the singular power of Paul Scofield.
Armado, I thought, along with the Love's Labors Lost role I had performed earlier in the summer, are fools! Deliriously unworthy "Worthies"! Self-deluded caricatures among a whole patch of pompous poseurs strung together by Shakespeare to disclose pure human conceit and entertaining folly!
However, and as my beloved Stella Adler would exclaim about great acting: "Something terrible just happened!!"
Terrible and wonderful and frightening and life-changing! I began to feel I was not only looking at but listening to the voice and Presence of God!
Don Adriano de Armado as a Christ figure?!
My very Catholic Lord. My Jesus madly obsessed with his Mary Magdalene!
The perfect metaphor for God being in love with a crazed, five continent-sized, three-ringed slut called humanity.
Shakespeare's Don Adriano de Armado as Christ?!
Later this dazed but indelibly recruited disciple of Paul Scofield would later appear again in the same play as Lord Longaville in Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival.
Again the experience became empty without Scofield's Armado!
Then again, Scofield's Armada … of invisibly winged phrases … that could carry a whole audience into heavens undreamt of before this?!
Finally I made the great mistake of trying to recapture my memories of Paul Scofield by mounting my ill-conceived production of Love's Labor's Lost at the Cathedral of St. John The Divine in New York.
Nothing could bring that moment in Canada back!
Except, of course, to hear Paul Scofield's voice again in anything.
"Transfixing" is how John Hurt describes the power of Scofield in Pirandello's Henry IV, that Divine Maestro's effect upon an audience.
Long before my first encounter with Scofield in 1961, Peter Brook, the unashamedly Communist director of the Royal Shakespeare Festival of Stratford, England, had brought Paul Scofield's Hamlet to Nikita Khrushchev's Moscow. Years later the Red Propagandist, Peter Brooks believes "Beyond Good and Evil" is his undeniably Marxist understanding of the Leninist challenges contained in King Lear.
Was Brooks confirming his interpretation by kudos from Moscow and the likes of Soviet tyranny?!
As a consequence, Paul Scofield with the invaluable help of Peter Brook, had become the pawn, the "useful idiot" of Communist manipulators. Owners of the so-called "teaching moment" that has now plagued the American White House for almost four years. Scofield was even seen regaling us on how warm and welcoming a Soviet Moscow had been.
No, I don't believe that Paul Scofield was a Communist nor, in fact, a zealous member of any political party. The perch he ascended from on stage was already far higher than almost anything and everything on earth.
Except the human voice.
The human voice and its invisible substance, the Godlike words he had lifted to spiritual heights few had ever experienced before?
His "Moscow Lear"?!
Brooks' sympathies for the "Daughters of Lear" I find so … well … "Progressive".
Lear's Goneril and Regan are villainy personified, painted by the Bard as such to make Lear's initial megalomania look almost childlike.
For Brooks to paint these "hags" as justifiably cruel and contemptuous of their father is horrifically Brechtian, intellectually unconscionable before Shakespeare himself! Worthy only of Khrushchev's own brainwashed and usefully presumptuous Brits: an affront to the entire history of not only Shakespeare's monarchic size but all of the English-speaking peoples.
Coming to the very Marxist documentary on Scofield for the first time I now realize what, for me at any rate, is the principle lesson within Peter Schaffer's play Amadeus in which Scofield played the apparent villain, Salieri:
That is why the story of Peter Schaffer's exuberance over one of Scofield's nights on the stage as Salieri, Schaffer's rushing back to Scofield's dressing room to share his joy -- and then Scofield's shutting the door on him?!
No wonder Scofield wasn't chosen to play the role of Salieri in the movie version.
Thank God F. Murray Abraham was there to build his intensely more romantic version of what amounts to Peter Schaffer's own exuberance over the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – and what once was that playwright's ecstasy over a great actor's similar genius.
When the Divinities of One's Youth fall in your estimation, it is a crashing blow to even your sense of sanity. Daniel Day Lewis eventually thought his idol, Paul Scofield, had "feet of clay"?!
"What was I thinking of … to fall in love with a heartless theater technician?!"
An acting machine?! A mesmerizing robot?! No such thing.
Who am I, a former Liberal and naïve pawn, the "useful idiot" of New York's Joseph Papp and his own incompatibly Shakespearean and Marxist dreams, to "talk"?!
Who am I to complain about Paul Scofield riding his own well-deserved gravy train into Soviet Moscow?!
Scofield, at 13 years of age, entered the universe of William Shakespeare playing the Bard's heroines! Not their heroes! Their heroines!
After that youthful and profoundly omni-sexual experience, where could Scofield's soul and intellect possibly reside but in the heavens, excruciatingly high above the rest of us?!
Both the Ying, Yang and Euphoria of Shakespearean genius running through Paul Scofield at lightening speed but with an inborn, Buddhist soul beneath it?!?! The child/man unafraid of silence?
The child/man more aware of the power of silence than any of his contemporaries or the contemporaries of almost all other eras?!
The vital balance between words and silence, silence and words?!
Why then does this artist, this giant of a man inevitably lead me to memories of the most bizarre example of Latter-Day Catholic Sainthood, Simone Weil?
One, Simone, had been a committed Communist and the other, Paul Scofield, an artist eternally surrounded by Communists.
The bio-video on Scofield seems to begin with the avowed Communist Peter Brooks and end with a tribute by the other well-know Red of the Theater, Vanessa Redgrave.
I once, in my theatrically halcyon days … or rather during my few months of wild success in the theater … approached Vanessa Redgrave with a play based upon Thomas Wolf's novel, The Web and The Rock.
Within twenty-four hours of receiving the script she dismissed it as "sentimental" fare unworthy of "serious" artists of the theater.
Well, within a week I get a call from Vanessa Redgrave inviting me to be a member of the International Communist Party!
Despite her machine-gun salesmanship on the phone, I tried, as best I could, to politely decline. Her tank-like determination rolled over me like that of a Jesuitical Lenin!
A fanatic breed that seems breathtakingly ubiquitous these days.
All the way to the White House.
Almost a tragedy now that Vanessa Redgrave is too old to portray Simone Weil whose own fanaticism she would have understood almost completely.
Simone Weil was a devoted Communist most of her life. Until, however, she began reading the poems of both George Herbert and John Donne. These lines by Herbert Simone Weil had learned by heart:
Redgrave would dismiss it in the same way she dismissed Web and The Rock: "Sentimental tripe!"
George Herbert entered the heart of Simone Weil, however, and fed her. Weil left Communism and became a Catholic.
The voice of Paul Scofield entered my heart and fed me with the very same message that George Herbert gave to Simone Weil.
Though surrounded by Communists and Marxist ideologues, Paul Scofield became the truest messenger of his entire entourage.
Paul Scofield's fame as the Catholic saint Sir Thomas More reinforced the apprehension I have that God sent Scofield to where he was most needed: among the lost, the misguided children of a Communist delirium.
Communists do not play a Catholic hero who is willing to die for his Catholic faith.
An appointed saint of theater plays Sir Thomas More to the very lost men and women he had befriended. He doesn't preach to them. He simply is doing his job as an actor.
If they're at all salvageable they'll catch on eventually.
Then again, they might, like the director of the very Communist Arthur Miller's The Crucible, point to Scofield's equally committed examination of Christian hypocrites.
Then again, our Lord was known to not only court the company of sinners but actually prefer their presence in His life over that of the Righteous and Powerful, the Elitism of which ultimately destroyed him with the most profound "learning moment" known to man: the Crucifixion.
God-willing Vanessa Redgrave will read the life of Simone Weil and remember the role that Paul Scofield is best known for: the Sir Thomas More of devout Catholic commitment.
If, however, Arthur Miller and his hypocritical "men of the Lord" are more to her liking? Then I presume to suggest that Vanessa Redgrave has received only half of Scofield's message for her entire life. If, on the other hand, there's someone who can tell me for certain that Paul Scofield was a proud "fellow traveler"?
An unflinchingly loyal Comrade? If there's someone who is eager to break the heart of a poor old player like myself?
Feel free to write me.
After surviving heart failure five years ago, I'm an even tougher old bird than I was when I first saw Paul Scofield in Love's Labor's Lost and Scofield's labors won and I lost my heart to him forever.
I've met the best of Communist "experts" on Shakespeare, Joseph Papp being one of the fiercest. I loved Joseph Papp and worked for him many times and for many years.
That didn't mean I ever really agreed with him.
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.