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Lear's "noble anger"

King Lear ends the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works Festival. Charles Spencer calls the production with Ian McKellen as Lear and Romola Garai as Cordelia "overpoweringly affecting". It runs until 21 June.

I've spent a little time thinking about what Lear means when he cries, "Touch me with noble anger". Few people see anger as "noble". Today many British and American children are taught that anger is wrong, though children are often angriest when they think they are being treated unfairly.

The English word comes from the Old Norse word angr, and is related to words that mean constriction and affliction. Sometimes my anger has been petty, for instance when I’m trapped in traffic. Other times, when I’m intensely angered by an injustice committed against someone else, I think my anger has been right and possibly “noble”. The feeling of anger certainly played a useful role in spurring me to try to right an injustice. (Whether I responded appropriately is another matter.)

I could be mistaken, but I'm inclined to think that a whole host of men and women in British history fought for freedom out of “noble anger”.

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