ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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ON PAGE 21 my colleague Irving Wardle reports an interesting development in the handling of Shakespeare: Lady Macbeth, in Robert Lepage's production, masturbates. So does Sharon Stone, in her new film Sliver. When two similar things happen at the same time, we journalists traditionally detect a trend. And when they are of a sexual nature, we columnists traditionally detect an outrage.

Self-arousal in art is nothing new. It is there in nearly every chapter of Martin Amis's Money. It is there in the The Weather in Iceland, the new novel by David Profumo (under the intriguing name of 'a pork pie'). It is there in that line of David Bowie's which every teenager of the Seventies liked and none understood ('Time / Falls wanking to the floor'). It was there way back in 1928, in Dali's The Great Masturbator, which you might expect to be a picture of a fish, a mountain and a clock, but which in fact shows a large penis with a hand around it. (It is now, naturally, in a private collection.)

What may be new is the spectacle of women having what Kenneth Williams called a Barclays (see Lynn Barber, page 31). Considering what a safe form of sex it is, masturbation arouses strong feelings: it's said that the one thing in Amis's books that Mrs Amis cannot stomach is the heroes' handjob habit. But we must resist the temptation to be shocked. Over the years many liberties have been taken with Shakespeare by fashionable young directors; and many acts of sex have been simulated by film stars who are more than averagely desperate for attention. It's not shocking; just a little sad.

THE QUEEN'S Birthday Honours have come under mild fire for not being as classless as we had been led us to expect. In the arts, classlessness is not the issue. Something else is: honours keep going to the wrong people. Not in every case, of course. I'm sure Yehudi Menuhin will be an adornment to their lordships' house, and the knighthood for Colin Stansfield Smith is recognition for an architect of quiet elegance rather than loud egotism. I have no quarrel with Dickie Attenborough's peerage, either; if I did, he'd ring up my editor tomorrow and say how hurt he was, and I'd feel guilty. Patricia Routledge MBE is fine by me. But really - Michael Aspel? Bob Monkhouse? Dame Thora Hird?

These are people who are already rewarded - with fame, money, and precious airtime. Honours are for those whose talent surpasses their fame. Arise, Sir Alan Bennett, Dame Bridget Riley, Sir Richard Eyre, Sir Tom Stoppard, Dame Deborah Warner, Dame Jane Campion, and Sir Brian Eno.